Top Ten Classic Brian May Guitar Solos

July 19, 2017

“The best solos are something which you can sing as well as the melody line,” says Brian May, guitarist for rock icons Queen. “The kind of solos I enjoy are where there’s a line which reflects the melody line, but subtly changes it in some way which adds to the song.”

As often, Dr May (surely the only guitar hero with a PhD in astrophysics) is being a little too modest: many of his great solos have not only complemented but transformed the songs they’ve appeared in. By way of celebrating a phenomenal player and all round good guy, uDiscover picks ten of his greatest guitar performances on record with Queen.

The list is in no particular order, but it seems only right to open with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ to which May contributes not only a remarkable, timeless solo but some of the most brilliant guitar textures to augment the rest of the band, particularly Freddie Mercury’s lead vocals.

“For me, the guitar is a lead instrument and can be a voice, but it has to be always playing underneath the vocal,” Brian May explained to Guitar Player in 2012. “This is what I tell my guitarists all around the world who play in [the musical] We Will Rock You —be free and be creative, but always remember that if you’re doing something that messes up the vocal, you’re in the wrong playing field.”

Then there’s ‘Keep Yourself Alive,’ track one on Queen’s self-titled first album, and their debut single; and ‘Stone Cold Crazy,’ now often seen as a proto-thrash metal track, which came from 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack, and was a live favourite of the band’s in the 70s.

From 1976’s A Day At The Races comes the great Queen rocker ‘Tie Your Mother Down,’ written by Brian May before the band even existed, improbably on Spanish guitar. “People jump up when they hear it, which is a good feeling,” Brian told Guitar World in 2013.

Brian May 3Big hits underpinned by Brian May’s guitar heroics, such as ‘It’s A Hard Life,’ ‘Killer Queen’ and the rock’n’roll-flavoured ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ sit alongside widely-admired album tracks such as ‘Bijou,’ from 1991’s Innuendo and an example of the band in their live pomp, with the version of ‘Brighton Rock’ (originally from Sheer Heart Attack) on the Live Killers set.

The playlist concludes with the solo that Brian himself has said is his own favourite, from ‘Was It All Worth It,’ the Freddie Mercury composition on 1989’s The Miracle. “It’s got a killer solo on it,” May observed. “I pick up and down on those arpeggios. I can do it for short periods, but after that my brain short-circuits and my hand gets confused. I actually like those rising lines. I like lines that suggest harmonic content. I tend to play across chords rather than along lines,” he reflected.

“I don’t think as a guitar player my technique changed that much from the beginning to the end,” May told Guitar Player. “What changed was just the experience in getting the ideas to their fruition.”

Follow the Queen Best Of playlist for more of Brian May’s phenomenal work with this most legendary of bands.

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30 comments

  1. Kim
    Reply

    White Queen/as it began, white man, father to son and it’s a kind of magic. Those are the best Brian May moments for me.

  2. Shibaprasad Bhattacharya
    Reply

    Can’t agree with the list to be very honest.
    One of BM’s best work was in “Too much love will kill you”
    Many more are missing too. Nevertheless Happy Birthday Legend.

  3. David Bosman
    Reply

    O yes, he is/was mindblowingly good at summarising a song in a solo!
    He has the marvellous ability in finding the balance between melody, rhythm, timing and (sound of) tone. Much of his solos sound very simple and logical, but if you really (really!) listen well to them, analysing how he operates from tone to tone and hearing how the next sub-melody line of which you think it just started, actually already sprouted in the previous melody (line), you’ll be mind blowed by the sophistication that lies in there. The solo of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, for instance!
    He’s one of the few who gives you the feeling he really is his guitar sound and tone, certainly mid-end seventies live. Listen to the last to Queen live releases (Live At The Rainbow ’74 and A Night At The Odeon) to found this confirmed.

    And to name just a few other songs with great solos:
    You Don’t Fool Me, The Millionaire Waltz, Play The Game, Back Chat, The Miracle, Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy and of course the studio version of Brighton Rock, which feels as it’s almost a guitar solo on itself.
    And of course.2: Good Company! Any list on Brian’s guitar playing, cannot be complete without this song.
    Oh and what a marvellous piece of music The Prophet’s Song is…

  4. JD
    Reply

    Last Horizon is one of my favorites. It is, quite simply, one of the most beautifully composed pieces I’ve ever heard from Queen/May… And that’s obviously saying quite a bit!

  5. Jennifer
    Reply

    Songs that make me break out the air guitar are missing. Folds up, fits in your back pocket, feels like you’re sitting on nothing. It’s quite nice. Top Ten lists are goofy anyway.

  6. Erik Vroon
    Reply

    The best Brian May solo for me will always be A winter’s tale. It send a shiver down my spine whenever I hear it. It sets the mood for the song so well, the guitar just speaks to me.

  7. EK Poole
    Reply

    Although not a guitarist myself, I often read interviews and articles about the greats and had the opportunity to see Queen in the original line up back in 1982. Another famous guitarist recently stated that while many of the greats are copied, Brian May’s sound is the most unique and hardest to imitate. There is a great Queen Tribute out of LA named “Queen Nation”, check them out, they are great and very authentic. The left handed guitarist playing the part of May is exceptionally wonderful. Lastly, I agree with some of the comments here that “It’s Late” is truly the hit that never was. A great Brian May piece that was part of that huge “News of the World” album.

  8. Hersain
    Reply

    What about These Are The Days Of Our Lives? It´s an Amazing song, but the incredible solo almost makes me cry!!!

  9. Ralph
    Reply

    Every Brian May solo stirs me.
    His sound is groundbreaking and inestimably unique.
    From the first time I heard the maddeningly-brief and stunningly-explosive blasts in “Killer Queen” (on AM radio), I was a disciple.

  10. Alvin Correa
    Reply

    For me Brian’s best single is ‘Brighton Rock’ but I really like the drama that Brian gives to each solo as ‘Last Horizon’, ‘It’s A Hard Life’, and ‘The Prophet’s song’ … They take you to another world … Thanks Brian !.

  11. Dénes
    Reply

    As a guitarist I am in love with Brian’s guitar playing. Songs like Dragon Attack, Brighton Rock, Was It All Worth It or Breakthrou are excellent. But please listen carefully and multiple times to Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – that’s the true masterpiece.

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