The making of a good song requires all kinds of choices, with lyrics, with instrumentation, with production, and more. The solo break generally presents fewer options, guitar, of course, filling the vast majority, with piano or saxophone likely being next in line. Some notable exceptions, though, do exist. Midway through ‘Pictures Of Lily’, one of many hits from 1971’s Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, The Who do not call on a windmilling Pete Townshend solo, but instead a series of blares on the French horn (as played by bassist John Entwistle).¹ And on AC/DC’s 1975 rock standard-bearer ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’, guitar-playing brothers Angus Young and Malcolm Young take a back seat in a song practically dominated by bagpipes solos contributed by original lead singer Bon Scott,² who did so at the suggestion of Angus & Malcolm’s brother George, despite never having played them before (George had encouraged it upon learning that Scott played in a pipe band, which he had, only he’d been the drummer).
One of my favorites, though, and perhaps the strangest occasion I can think of, came in an otherwise forgettable lite-rock tune by one-hit-wonders Starbuck. Their 1976 song, ‘Moonlight Feels Right’ breezes along at a leisurely pace, with keyboard/synthesizer filling most of the musical space through two low-key verses and choruses, when suddenly the solo break arrives and we’re practically assaulted by some madcap malleting of the marimba (this occurs from 1:51 to 2:23 in the attached clip and just must be seen, as the bare-chested marimbist is almost too spectacular to describe). The difference, by the way, between a marimba and its more commonplace cousins, the xylophone and the vibraphone? I’m still not sure. I wish I could ask Starbuck’s prize player, Bo Wagner, but sadly he died only last year, taking his marimba skills and secrets with him, as well as my title for best/most bizarre solo in rock history.
¹French horn begins at 1:28, with Entwistle shown at 1:32
²Scott cradles the bagpipes throughout, leads a squadron of pipers beginning at 1:24 and into a long call-and-response with guitar and bagpipes through the middle section, then starting at 4:12 plays the same pipe note 16 times in a row to the fade-out