Friday Top: 20 Best Guitar Solos in Pop Songs

As voted by UG community.

Ultimate Guitar
Friday Top: 20 Best Guitar Solos in Pop Songs

This week's traditional Wednesday Question saw the people of UG community discussing the matter of the greatest guitar solos in pop songs. Based on votes and more than 200 comments, we summed this one up into a Top 20 rundown.

NOTE: Some artists in this week's top are kind of rock (pop rock, etc.), but we decided to include these songs anyway.

But before we say anything, here is a solo so good that we weren't allowed to put it on the list with all these other noobs. Ladies and gentlemen, Nick Jonas:

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And before kicking things off, the honorable mentions are:

  • Falco - Out of the Dark
  • Huey Lewis and the News - I Want a New Drug
  • Lionel Richie - Running With The Night
  • The Knack - My Sharona
  • Tina Turner - Private Dancer
  • Commodores - Easy
  • Mike Oldfield - Moonlight Shadow (feat. Maggie Reilly)
  • A Flock Of Seagulls - I Ran
  • Whitney Houston - Queen of the Night
  • M83 - Go! (feat. Mai Lan)
  • Joan Osborne - One of Us
  • Billy Ocean - Loverboy

The full rundown awaits below.

20. Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram - Somewhere Out There

This song was written by James Horner, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann who also recorded the guitar. The song was part of the soundtrack for the Don Bluth directed the animated movie "An American Tail."

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19. Savage Garden - To the Moon and Back

Savage Garden's "To the Moon and Back" quickly became a hit when it came out in 1996. It features a guitar solo by a session guitarist Rex Goh.

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18. Roxette - Listen to Your Heart

Swedish guitarist Jonas Isacsson really did an amazing work for this Roxette's track. Simple and emotional solo for a simple pop song.

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17. Shania Twain - Man! I Feel Like a Woman

One of the most famous song by Canadian singer Shania Twain was released in 1999. And no, it's not those guys in the video who recorded guitars on it, it was Dan Huff.

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16. Janet Jackson - Black Cat

There are actually four or five different guitar players on different versions of this song, including Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt. But the thematic guitar solo was recorded by Dave Barry. And according to Janet herself, she is the one who wrote the main guitar riff.

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And album version:

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15. George Michael - Faith

Even though it's George Michael in the video holding the guitar, the solo is actually played by Hugh Burns, who also played the guitar on the George's previous single "Careless Whisper."

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14. Tears for Fears - Shout

The legendary pop outfit Tears for Fears have released this song in 1984. And what's interesting is that it included a long guitar solo by the band's Roland Orzabal, which was kind of unusual for their music.

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13. Robert Palmer - Addicted to Love

Duran Duran's Andy Taylor provided lead guitar work on this one. So it wasn't these nice girls from the video playing the fingerpicking/fingerstrumming technique.

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12. Chris Isaak - Wicked Game

One of the most romantic and most covered songs features guitar work by James Calvin Wilsey. His gentle and subtle vibrato on 1965 Fender Strat and those few opening notes are one of the reasons of this song's popularity.

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11. Alannah Myles - Black Velvet

Not only a song with a great groove, but it also has the distinctive and memorable solo by Kurt Schefter.

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10. Duran Duran - Ordinary World

User Phaneron said about this solo, performed by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo:

I realize the solo is just a distorted electric guitar recycling the lead acoustic figure from the intro, but I feel it's still really effective.

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9. Michael Sembello - Maniac

One of the most famous pop songs of all time has the simple and to the point solo delivered by Sembello himself. The track is best known as the soundtrack to 1983 movie "Flashdance."

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8. Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The first solo in the song is by the band's guitarist Roland Orzabal, and the second one is by Neil Taylor. These prove that you don't need some shredding to get it to sound good. Amazing performance by both players.

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7. David Bowie - Let's Dance

Seems like the best way to make your pop song amazing is to hire a blues-rock guitarist. This Bowie's song, coming from the album of the same name, has the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn on it.

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And here's an album version:

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6. Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

The song was released back in 1978 and it quickly climbed up to top positions on the charts. It features a solo by guitarist Hugh Burns who managed to fit it perfectly in the style of the track.

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5. Michael Jackson - Give in to Me

Need a good guitar solo in your pop song? Just call Slash and he will handle it.

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4. Prince - Purple Rain

Some fine guitar magic coming from the Prince here. He was not just a great singer and songwriter, he was also a brilliant multi-instrumentalist.


3. Kenny Loggins - Danger Zone

Could easily blame this one on so many speeding tickets. The signature song of "Top Gun" features a solo by Dann Huff of Giant. The song itself was written by Giorgio Moroder.

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2. Santana - Smooth (feat. Rob Thomas)

Carlos Santana keeps it the way it should be, not too long, exotic, tasty, and, well, smooth. Completely in the style of the song.

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1. Michael Jackson - Beat It

And the absolute winner for this week is Eddie Van Halen's solo for Michael Jackson's hit "Beat It." When the guitarist was contacted by the producer Quincy Jones to do this solo, he thought that it was a prank call. In the end, he was so thrilled that he did this solo for free. One of the best guitar works in modern music.

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That's all folks! Feel free to post more great guitar solos in pop songs in the comment section below. And we hope you enjoyed the top, stay tuned until next week for another WQ!

48 comments sorted by best / new / date

    What happened to Lil' Wayne?
    I honestly can't believe My Sharona didn't make it to the list. Could be because it isn't considered much of a pop song and maybe more of a rock song but still, that solo is amazing.
    I didn't nominate Daft Punk - Digital Love because I thought someone must have already suggested it.  Regardless...The outro from Digital Love melts my face everytime.
    There are some great songs on this list that I forgot existed. Thanks for the nostalgia trip, UG!
    To be real here: About 95% of the guitar playing in #2 is one big solo. There's just one melody/lick that reoccurs, and the rest is just smooooth licks
    I have overlooked this WQ, but if  I were to made a nomination i would choose this song: Belinda Carlisle - Leave A Light On. Beautiful slide solo at 34 mark.
    And for SRV solo in a pop song I prefer "China Girl" (also David Bowie), but this list is good nevertheless.
    Next week's question - best bass line or bass song opener. Some great stuff: GNR - its so easy WHITESNAKE - love hunter MADONNA - papa dont preach!!!!! 80s rules and papa dont preach has killer bass.
    Best opening line is more interesting. I'll throw in Nirvana- Sliver Sabbath - NIB Offspring - Bad Habbit
    I don't know if it really counts as it's accompanied by the crazy synth but Duran Duran's "Rio" has got one hell of a bass line. John Taylor is fucking incredible.
    Let's not forget the incredible guitar-work on "Staring down the Demons" by Animotion.Solo starts at 2:20
    That single note Prince hits to get the solo started around 5:20 gets me every time.
    Every time I see that Nick Jonas solo I wanna beat him to death with his guitar. Some awesome tunes on here non the less!
    I had no idea who Hugh Burns was before this list, guess I ought to check out more of his stuff.
    Usher - You got it Bad Solo played by William Odum (I think that's his name)
    The solo on Don't lose my number by Phil Collins is phenomenal. Daryl Stuermer, Phil's longtime guitarist played it on the studio album. 
    For me, nothing beats the solo in 'Toy Soldiers' (Martika original, not that Eminem garbage). Never has a short little solo "moved" me as much as that one.
    Eddie Van Halen did a lot more than just the solo for Beat It.  When he was called in to do the solo, he listened to what they had done already first, and he end up reworking a lot of the pieces of the song, moving parts around, dropping a few pieces in different areas, and taking a few pieces out of the song.  Many accounts of this, including an interview with CNN 5 years ago for the 30th anniversary of Thriller.
    I never really listened to 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman' close enough to remember the rockin solo BUT, I will admit that every time it is played, it's part near impossible not to sing along or at least get stuck in your head.  oh and eff ya 'Smooth' what a tune  
    I was surprised to not see any Maroon 5 songs on this list. Their first two albums have some great solos.
    I think everyone thinks Shania Twain's is one of the best because of her outfits not the solo.
    Where is "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar?!  I thought for sure that would be on here.  That solo is tasty as hell.