79 "Silver Rocket"
Sonic Youth (1988)
Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo formed Sonic Youth as a temple to the electric guitar, spurning lead and rhythm roles in favor of noise and more noise. Here they're a two-headed beast, crashing through open-tuned riffs and throwing in a bristling, free-form feedback blizzard in lieu of a solo.
"Silver Rocket" from Daydream Nation (Geffen)
Sonic Youth performing "Silver Rocket" live
80 "Kid Charlemagne"
Steely Dan (1958)
In the late seventies, Steely Dan made records by pushing a revolving crew of monster session dudes through take after take, which yielded endless jaw-dropping guitar solos. Larry Carlton's multi-sectioned, cosmic-jazz lead in this cut may be the best of all: It's so complex it's a song in its own right.
"Kid Charlemagne" from The Royal Scam (MCA)
Steely Dan performing "Kid Charlemagne" live
81 "Beat It"
Michael Jackson (1982)
There had never been a soul hit with as much heavy guitar as this or a heavy-metal hit with as much soul. Paul Jackson Jr. and Steve Lukather play the menacing riff, but Eddie Van Halen's speed-shred solo is the coup de grâce. Van Halen says producer Quincy Jones' only advice was "go be yourself."
"Beat It" from Thriller (Epic)
Michael Jackson performing "Beat It" live