A group of critics, artists and musicologists were polled by Classic Rock magazine to determine the greatest guitar solos of all time and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven came out on top.
The choice is interesting from a number of standpoints. The most obvious is that the guitar part from that song was recently the subject of a court case brought by the heirs of former Spirit guitarist Randy California, charging that Zeppelin had stolen the part from a song they had heard Spirit play while supporting them on tour. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page won the court case but the estate is appealing.
Other polls have also had mixed opinions on the best guitar solo much less the best from Zeppelin. In 2009, Guitar World chose Stairway as the best but a 2011 article in Guitar Player chose Heartbreaker as Page’s best. Rolling Stone called Stairway the eighth best Guitar Song of all time with Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love at eleven (they thought Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode was the best) and NME called Stairway the second best, behind Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Finally, even Jimmy Page isn’t sure that Stairway is his best. He told Classic Rock “Is Stairway To Heaven my best Zeppelin guitar solo? No, but it’s pretty damn good. … If everyone else says it’s my best solo then that’s great, that’s good, but there are others that I prefer.”
Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour came in second with the solo from Comfortably Numb while Don Felder and Joe Walsh took third for the Eagles’ Hotel California.
The top ten:
Stairway to Heaven – Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
Comfortably Numb – David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
Hotel California – Don Felder and Joe Walsh (Eagles)
Freebird – Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Eruption – Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
Killer Queen – Brian May (Queen)
Sweet Child of Mine – Slash (Guns N’ Roses)
Purple Rain – Prince (Prince and the Revolution)
Paranoid – Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
The full top 100 will be in the upcoming issue of Classic Rock.