March 20, 1991 Eric Clapton’s 4 year old son, Conor, fell to his death thought an open window from the 53rd story of his mother’s New York City apartment. Clapton was staying nearby in a hotel after taking his son to the circus the previous evening. The tragedy inspired his song “Tears In Heaven.” As I have discussed previously, music can be therapeutic, helping process sadness, grief, and even death, as well as promote healing. This touching song appears in my playlist “From The Beginning,” a playlist celebrating the best acoustic guitar intros in rock and pop.
Some of my favorites, my top 25, if you will, with just amazing guitar intros, in order of the playlist, not necessarily in order of greatness, include “From The Beginning,” “Suite Madame Blue,” “Little Guitars,” “Roundabout,” “Closer To The Heart,” “More Than Words,” “Dust In The Wind,” “Solsbury Hill,” “Time In A Bottle,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Crazy On You,” “Hitch A Ride,” “Here Comes The Sun,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Over The Hills And Far Away,” “More Than A Feeling,” “Hotel California,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Operator,” “Romeo And Juliet,” “Night Moves,” and “Time In A Bottle.”
Some of the great rock guitarists on the list are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Eric Clapton, each with 4 songs on the playlist, Brad Delp (Boston), George Harrison (Beatles), Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Nancy Wilson (Heart). Absent are a few high-profile guitar greats, including Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, as electric guitar was their axe of choice. Some great folk guitarists/groups include James Taylor with 7 songs on the playlist, America, Jim Croce, Dan Fogelberg, and Cat Stevens, among others.
These intros aren’t rock solos or necessarily the most amazing or intricate guitar playing, though some are, but many are just icon intros to beloved songs. And one song, “Going To California” is more about the melding of beautiful harmonies between Jimmy Page’s guitar and John Paul Jones’ mandolin.
Two songs that made the list but are absent from your listening pleasure are by Crosby, Stills & Nash. They in coordination with Neil Young have removed much of their music from Spotify over concerns regarding COVID misinformation being shared on Joe Rogan’s podcasts. Thus I’ve included YouTube video versions of the songs. “Find The Cost Of Freedom” has a great folk guitar intro. The video gives a few glimpses of the Live Aid concert from 1985 that I have referenced in previous blogs. The song additionally features beautiful harmonies.
And the same goes for “Helplessly Hoping”:
My uncle Joey, a lifelong musician, turned me on to Monte Mongomery. He felt this was one of the best acoustic guitar performances he had ever heard. After watching, I felt it was hard to argue with that:
While a great guitar intro song in its own right, Jack Black and Jimmy Fallon’s video cover Extreme’s song “More Than Words” is pretty ridiculous. Here’s a side by side comparison, though you can search either to watch on their own. Just amazing:
Perhaps the best all time acoustic guitar performance from perhaps the most bad-ass woman on guitar, Nancy Wilson, performing with Heart “Crazy On You”:
Here Nancy breaks down the intro of the song, called “Silver Wheels”:
Mark Knopfler, of Dire Straits fame, one of my favorite guitarists, and possibly one of the most underrated, here explains some of the intricacies of playing guitar. For those interested in a genius’ approach to the guitar, give it a watch:
For those of you less familiar with his guitar work, here’s one of his signature acoustic songs, “Romeo And Juliet”, played on a dobro (metal resonator guitar):
Included twice on the playlist is “Hotel California.” The first appearance is the original album cut, which has one of the greatest guitar intros in rock history. But then if you can believe it they improved upon near perfection achieving sheer genius with Joe Walsh and Don Felder’s live flamenco style improvisation intro during their Hell Freezes Over Tour. It’s not available on YouTube, though you can watch it if you buy the concert video, which is well worth the money. The Eagles’ music is so great and harmonies so tight that they sound better than they did in the 70s, again if you can believe that. It’s that great.
So continuing on with the flamenco theme from that version of Hotel California is the Gypsy Kings interpretation of the Disney classic “I’ve Got No Strings,” available on the compliation “Simply Mad About The Mouse.” The recording has some other greats, including Harry Connick’s cover of “The Bare Necessities,” LL Cool J’s “Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf,” Soul II Soul’s “Kiss The Girl,” Michael Bolton’s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, and “Billy Joel’s “When You Wish Upon A Star.”
My brother had a CD of Al Di Meola when I was in college. He is an acoustic and electric jazz guitarist. My favorite song on the disc was “Mediterranean Sundance.” Here is a performance of the song by Di Meola along with flamenco great Paco De Lucia, and jazz guitarist great John McLaughlin, in likely the greatest collection of instrumental guitarists playing together ever:
A great influence for Paco de Lucia was a Spanish flamenco guitarist Agustin Castellon Campos, better known as Sabicas. Born in Pamplona, where the running of the bulls takes place, he was exiled to Mexico in 1936 during the Spanish civil war. He was eventually regarded as one of the premier flamenco guitarists in the world. Here is a video of Sabicas performing “Malaguena”:
And yet another offering, with “Fantasia”:
When in college I spent a semester in Granada, Spain. I developed an increasing love of flamenco guitar in particular, and acoustic guitar, in general. Trying to immerse myself in Spanish culture, I sought out activities with the Spaniards rather than just hanging out with my Dartmouth classmates. While I still enjoyed drinking a 65 cent beer that came with free tapas, paella my favorite, if you were lucky, I wanted to chat with the Spanish patrons, and find cultural activities with the locals. That sometimes led me to the Albaicin and Sacromonte.
The Albaicin is the old Arab quarters of Granada, located on the hill across from the Alhambra, had a previous population of 30,000 inhabitants and housed 30 mosques. When the Moors were vanquished from Spain in 1492, Granada their last stronghold, the mosques were razed and churches were built. Luckily the mosques in Cordoba and Sevilla were saved. The Albaicin, with its narrow cobblestone streets, bars, and terraces is still old word Spain. The following song, much in the flamenco style, “Entre Dos Aguas” by El Chalo y El Lirola is sung from the Albaicin across from the Alhambra. The “dos aguas” are the two rivers of Granada, the Daro and Genil.
Next to the Albaicin is Sacromonte, with its caves carved into the hillside, home of many gyspies. There you can hear emanating from taverns and bars the music of Cante Jondo, or “deep song” is a vocal style in Spanish flamenco, an unspoiled form of Andalusian folk music. Federico Garcia Lorca wrote “Poemas del Cante Jondo” in 1931.
The cante jondo approaches the rhythm of the birds and the natural music of the black poplar and the waves; it is simple in oldness and style. It is also a rare example of primitive song, the oldest of all Europe, where the ruins of history, the lyrical fragment eaten by the sand, appear live like the first morning of its life. …It is the only song on our continent that has been conserved in its pure form, because of its composition and its style and the qualities it has in itself, the primitive songs of the oriental people.Federico garcia lorca
One evening my professor took me to the outskirts of Granada for an evening of flamenco that was serving as a retirement of sorts for a local flamenco and cante jondo legend. Before the performance I was privileged to share company with my professor and this flamenco star sipping cognac, a taste for which I had not yet acquired, while they smoked cigars, a taste I never acquired. The music was deeply moving, a night I’ll never forget.
One day a decade and a half or so ago, while listening to a pop radio station, I heard a flamenco-ish instrumental song that was just fantastic. I couldn’t believe it was on pop/rock radio. It was “Diablo Rojo” by Rodrigo y Gabriela, a Mexican guitar duo who got their start in playing heavy metal in Mexico, then journeyed to Europe, settling in Dublin and developing their own acoustic style with roots in neuvo flamenco, rock, and metal.
I had the privilege of seeing them at a small music venue in New Hampshire on Cinco de Mayo. They were spectacular, their guitar prowess undeniable. When Gabriela percusses the guitar, it sounds like bass drums exploding in time with the rhythm of flamenco guitar and muted string melodies of Rodrigo – simply amazing. All of their sound is created with just 2 acoustic guitars, with the guitar bodies providing all of the percussion – no drums allowed! If you ever have the opportunity to see them, do so. You won’t regret it. Here they are performing “Diablo Rojo.”
And similar in styling, though a bit more etherial, is my favorite busker, Estas Tonne. Born Stanislav Tonne in 1975 in the Ukraine, of German and Jewish descent, he moved to Israel, and eventually New York. He now travels the world performing, often on city streets. Here is the first song I ever heard him play, finding him on YouTube, “The Song Of The Golden Dragon”
And while I remember Roy Clark hosting the country variety show “Hee Haw” as a kid, I never know how accomplished a guitarist he was. Here he is performing “Malaguena” on, of all shows, “The Odd Couple”:
Then there’s the Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian guitarist often hailed as one of the greatest acoustic guitarists of all time. Known for his complex fingerstyle, here is his cover of “How Deep Is Your Love”:
And my son found Kent Nishimura, who plays a version fingerstyle acoustic guitar as well. Give him a listen on his cover of the Chicago great “25 Or 6 To 4”:
Now circling back to the playlist – I’ve included some of these instrumentalists at the end of the the list. While not acoustic guitar intro songs, their feel and the beauty of their acoustic style and artistry just seemed appropriate to be present. So on to the playlist. I’m certain you will find it one of my best, with each song fantastic in its own right, but additionally due to its amazing acoustic guitar intro.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment.
Enjoy the moment.
Love the moment.
Listen to the MUSIC!