Best Guitar Solos of the 80s (with Tabs)

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Best Guitar Solos of the 80s

Let’s have a look at the best guitar solos of the 80s! After heavy metal, hard rock and glam rock, punk rock and new wave (post punk) emerged in the late seventies. Famous bands in this genre are the Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Television and the English Joy Division, which was succeeded by New Order. The guitar playing of this movement is relatively simple and was succeeded in the early 1980s by the movement “alternative rock”: punk rock-inspired bands that did not fit into mainstream music. Examples include the American ban R.E.M. and the English band The Cure.

The exciting guitar work in the 1980s came mainly from 1) the ‘new wave of British heavy metal‘, with English bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, with heavier American heavy metal bands like Metallica 2) ‘glam’ or ‘hair metal’ as played by bands like Europe and Bon Jovi 3) combinations of blues and rock by bands like Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith and 4) Instrumental rock by solo guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

Below you’ll find the best guitar solos of 80s. For the best guitar solos of other decades, check these posts:

10. Angus Young – Back in Black

Recorded with AC/DC in 1980

The song is a tribute to their singer Bon Scott and was to celebrate his life. Brian Johnson wrote the lyrics, at the request of the band members. The lyrics about abusing his nine lives and beating the rap summed up Scott perfectly, and his new bandmates loved it.

AC/DC - Back In Black (Official 4K Video)

The album was released five months after Bon Scott died. Malcolm Young had the opening riff on a tape recorder and almost threw it out because he thought it sounded too heavy but Angus told him to keep it.

The song was included in he 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list from Rolling Stone and in [VH1]’s 100 Best Hard Rock Songs list. Back in Black became one of the best-selling albums in the history of music with over 50 million copies. The album proved that AC/DC could indeed carry on without Scott.

Download Guitar Tabs for Angus Young – Back in Black.

9. Alex Lifeson – Limelight

Recorded with Rush in 1981

The guitar work of Alex Lifeson is tight, technical and consistently precise, and this song contains one of the greatest guitar solos of the 70s. The song’s solo is one of Lifeson’s favorites to play live. A limelight was used in theatres at the second half of the 19th century to illuminate the front of a stage, putting the main performer in a spotlight. The song was about Neil Peart who was very much a person that needed solitude an had to come to grips with fame, autograph seekers and a lack of privacy.

Lifson about his solo: ‘”The approach on that solo was to try to make it as fluid as possible. There was a lot of bending with lots of long delay repeats and reverb so notes falling off would overlap with notes coming up. I spent a fair amount of time on that to get the character, but once we locked in on the sound, it came easily. (…) We set up a couple of amps outside of the studio as well as inside, so we got a nice long repeat with the echoing in the mountains.”

Download Guitar Tabs for Alex Lifeson – Limelight.

8. Prince – Purple Rain

Recorded as a solo artist in 1984

Purple Rain was the lead song from the album of the same name. It is a rock ballad with elements of pop, gospel and country. The song achieved a No. 1 spot on the charts in many countries. The song won an Oscar for the best song of 1984.

Purple Rain could refer the purple rain that falls in the sky after a woman dies on the operating table. The song begins with a short guitar solo that is followed by a drum and an organ. A gospel atmosphere then develops. In the three succeeding verses, the ePrince has played the song on virtually every tour since 1984motion element of the song grows. After the main section, a guitar solo takes over the song, after which the song comes to a second emotional climax. The song ends with violins.

Prince - Purple Rain (Official Video)

Prince has played the song on almost every tour since 1984 (except after his name change, when he didn’t want to be reminded of old hits). He extended the solo to as much as 15 minutes. In the video below from 2007, Prince shows how well he can shred.

Download Guitar Tabs for Prince – Purple Rain.

7. Kirk Hammett – Fade To Black

Recorded with Metallica in 1984

Fade to Black is Metallica’s first ballad and is about a person who is fed up with life and wants to commit suicide. The song came into controversy because of this sensitive theme. For James Hetfield himself, who wrote the song, the song was primarily a reaction to having one of his favorite and first amps stolen. Hetfield said in an interview by MTV that he and band member Lars Ulrich did obsess over death at the time. The song begins and ends with guitar solos by Kirk Hammet. The last solo is completely improvised.

Metallica Fade to Black in real HD !!!! awesome !!!!

Hammett once told us that he thought about depressive issues while soloing. With the arpeggios, he added his signature element to the solo. In an interview with Total Guitar he told about this: ‘I know how I want to start it, but then I am in an area where I can improvise for 16, 18 or 24 bars, and then Lars will hit a certain fill, which means that it’s up and it’s time for the arpeggio part. And then I just slide right into those arpeggios.’

Download Guitar Tabs for Kirk Hammett – Fade To Black.

6. Stevie Ray Vaugn – Lenny

Recorded with Double Trouble in 1983

Stevie Ray Vaugn was one of the leading figures in the blues revival of the 1980s, together with Robert Cray, Jeff Healey, Robben Ford, and Walter Trout, amongst others. The song is a tribute to his wife Lenora ‘Lenny’ Bailey. It was written as a ‘thank you’ for his wife for buying a ’65 Fender Statocaster, together with his friends, as a birthday present.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Lenny (Live at the El Mocambo)

The songs is a masterful use of double stops, extended chords and the combination of major and minor scales, and pick and fingers. Stevie and hist fellow bandmates from Double Trouble were introduced in the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Download Guitar Tabs for Stevie Ray Vaugn – Lenny.

5. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

Recorded with Double Trouble in 1983

Stevie Ray became closely associated with his cover of Larry Davis’ “Texas Flood”. In 1983, the band got to perform on the famous television show Autin City Limits, after which Stevie and Double Trouble’s career quickly went uphill. The band recorded a new album almost every year.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (Live at the El Mocambo)

In the song Stevie weaves magical blues licks with a warm and tender tone between the verses, delivering the idea of devastating floodwaters with ease.

Download Guitar Tabs for Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood.

4. Eddie Van Halen – Beat It

Recorded with Michael Jackson in 1982

Quincy Jones was the one who invited Eddie Van Halen to take on the solo of the song Beat It. But that wasn’t the only thing he added. Before Eddie walked into the studio, he neatly knocked on the door. That gave Jones and Jackes the idea to add the knocking sound just before the solo began. Just goes to show you how music is there for the taking in everyday life. 😉

Michael Jackson & Eddie Van Halen "Beat It" live 1984

Making music is co-production: Edward was dissatisfied with the chord changes of the part of the song where the solo was conceived. He changed the chords so they fit better with his solo.

Eddie about that: ‘ I Said: ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song.’ Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo but to actually care about the song and make it better.'” Salient detail: Eddie asked for no money for his musical contribution.

Download Guitar Tabs for Eddie Van Halen – Beat It.

3. Slash – Sweet Child O’ Mine

Recorded with Guns N’ Roses in 1988

Sweet Child O’Mine was written by Als Rose, Slahs and Izzy Stradlin during a six-hour brainstorming session. During discussions about a proper ending for the song, the question “Where do we go now?” was repeatedly asked. This eventually became the song’s ending.

Guns N' Roses - Sweet Child O' Mine (Official Music Video)

The intro riff of the song Slash often used as a warm-up exercise for gigs. The solo builds from a laid-back and modal section to a more aggressive and raw blues sound using the pentatonic scale, spread over two octaves.

Download Guitar Tabs for Slash – Sweet Child O’ Mine.

2. Randy Rhoads – Crazy Train

Recorded with Ozzy Osbourne in 1980

Crazy Train is about madness in a world where millions of people consider each other enemies. Two years after the release of this single, Rhandy Roads’ life would end via a tragic plane crash. He was only 25 years old at the time. Rhoads learned to play the classical guitar and combined classical influences with hard rock and heavy metal. This can be heard clearly in his excellent solo on Crazy Train: The solo begins with classically infused two-handed tapping and modal-styled runs before returning to the dark, dramatic chorus theme.

Steve Vai tells about his first hearing of the solo: “I remember when I first heard ‘Crazy Train’ and then its freight-train of a guitar came screaming in, I think it’s the first rock track I heard where the solo came in and got scared.” Rhoads had to “double” all of his guitar parts, as he did with most of the guitar solos he recorded with Ozzy. This meant that he had to play every note of this extremely difficult solo twice. This is one of the reasons why the recording’s solo sounds so different.

Download Guitar Tabs for Randy Rhoads – Crazy Train.

1. Joe Satriani – Fyling In A Blue Dream

Winner of best guitar solos of the 80s

Recorded as a solo artist in 1989

This is a song on Satriani’s third album, which he released in 1989. With this album, Satriani showed that he is not only an extraordinary guitarist, but also a fantastic composer. In the beginning of the song, he uses legato shred licks in the Lydian mode to express the dreamy feeling. oe’s uses slides, vibrato, and hammer-ons to make a basic melody into a strong statement.

Later in the song Satriani switches from Lydian to Mixolydian mode for more traditional rock phrasing. After that he returns to the Lydian mode and at the end of the song the chord pattern generates such a feeling that the tune doesn’t even require a melody, and Satch’s feedback effects only add to the ambiance.

Joe Satriani - Flying In a Blue Dream (from Satriani LIVE!)

Download Guitar Tabs for Joe Satriani – Flying In A Blue Dream.

Be sure to check out our other posts in this series!

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Friso is as excited about playing guitar as the moment when he picked up the instrument for the first time, about 35 years ago. He is the founder of where he likes to share his knowledge about guitars, guitar gear and guitar playing.

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