A great guitar outro can serve as the sonic equivalent of an exclamation point, something to drive home the power of a song in an emphatic way. Some outros exude subtlety and ambiance, while others bite and sting like an angry hornet. Below are 10 of the very best.
“Layla” – Derek And The Dominos
The soaring blues anguish that drives this masterpiece finds release in the song’s majestic coda. Recorded three weeks after the main track was put down, the outro finds Duane Allman delivering poignant slide work, with Eric Clapton’s acoustic guitar and drummer Jim Gordon’s piano composition riding on top. The “crying bird” sound at the end of the track, a great touch by Allman, is said to have been done as a tribute to jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker.
“Hotel California” – The Eagles
Joe Walsh often gets credit, but actually it was Don Felder who came up with the main parts for the outro that powers this classic. “[I was] tinkering around with an acoustic 12-string when those ‘Hotel California’ chords just oozed out,” Felder once told Guitar World. “I added some electric guitars, [and] mixed down to mono, ping-ponging back and forth on a little four-track. I wound up with a cassette that had virtually the entire arrangement that appeared on the record, verbatim, with the exception of a few Joe Walsh licks on the end.” Felder’s Les Paul never sounded better.
“Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Allen Collins fashioned his lead on a Gibson Explorer for this sensational outro, while Gary Rossington handled rhythm duties on a Les Paul and added slide fills with an SG. The band’s record company tried to persuade Skynyrd not to include the song on their debut album, insisting the track was too long. Fortunately, the group held its ground. The extended live version that appears on the 1976 album, One More From the Road, sealed the song’s classic status.
“Moonage Daydream” – David Bowie
Mick Ronson’s muscular guitar work was the key ingredient in David Bowie’s music during Bowie’s “Ziggy”-era glory years, and his extended outro on “Moonage Daydream” constitutes one of glam rock’s definitive moments. Shaping the tone of his Les Paul Custom with a wah pedal, Ronson unleashed a series of thrilling slides and bends seemingly headed for astral plains. Think Jeff Beck in a spacesuit and you get an idea of Ronson’s finest solo on record.
“Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd
Producer Bob Ezrin once said of David Gilmour’s instrumental touch that you could “give Gilmour a ukulele and he’ll make it sound like a Stradivarius.” That talent was never more fully on display than on the outro for this classic. As told on Guitar.About.Com, Gilmour pieced the outro together from five or six solos. “I just followed my usual procedure,” he said, “which is to listen back to each solo and make a chart, noting which bits are good. Then I just follow the charts, whipping one fader up, then another fader, jumping from phrase to phrase to make a really nice solo all the way through.”
“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
Sure, Robert Plant gets the last word on “Stairway,” but Jimmy Page’s dazzling solo – the most famous in contemporary music – nonetheless constitutes rock’s most exquisite outro. Melodic, economical, and fitted to the song like a hand-in-glove, Page’s playing still brings chills after thousands of listens. “I thought, ‘Okay, take a deep breath, and play,’” Page once told Rolling Stone. “I did three takes and chose one of them. They were all different. The solo sounds constructed - and it is, sort of, but purely of the moment. For me, a solo is something where you just fly, but within the context of the song."
“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” – The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones have never been known for extended outros, but the Latin-tinged coda that caps off this track shows that perhaps they should have done more. Speaking to Jazzed Magazine in 2007, Mick Taylor said Jagger and Richards loosened up a bit when he came on board, allowing him to stretch out instrumentally. “I think I became really aware of it when we were in the studio recording Sticky Fingers, and we went into the instrumental section at the end of 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking,’” Taylor said. “That was completely spontaneous. What you hear on the album is exactly what happened – we just kept playing.”
“Starship Trooper” – Yes
In “Wurm,” the third and final section of “Starship Trooper,” Steve Howe plays a simple, repetitive riff as the rest of the band gradually joins in. At the height of the crescendo, Howe unleashes a fiery solo that’s both beautiful and dissonant. “The Yes Album was my golden opportunity,” Howe told Innerviews.org, in 2003. “[Keyboardist] Tony Kaye was a great Hammond player and he provided great support. There were many great moments to inject my style.”
“I Heard Her Call My Name” – The Velvet Underground
Lou Reed’s discordant outro on this song, the most abrasive track on The Velvet Underground’s most abrasive album, is essentially a feedback and fuzz extravaganza. Urged on by Moe Tucker’s Olajunti-inspired, metronomic percussion, Reed cuts loose with a brilliant noise-fest that set a standard for the likes of Sonic Youth and even Nirvana. Maelstroms like this one were apparently too much even for the Velvets, as on their next album they dialed back to decibel level to a near-whisper.
“Ballrooms of Mars” – T.Rex
Marc Bolan offered up the most breathtaking solo of his career on the outro for this 1972 ballad. Framed by strummed acoustic guitar, the glam-rock pioneer takes his Les Paul on a soaring, celestial flight that’s evocative of everything the song’s title implies. “We did five takes of the solo, and I could have made a composite from all of them,” producer Tony Visconti once said. “But just for laughs, I threw up all five faders simultaneously, with all five tracks. Marc and I just looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it. That’s the way it’s going to go down.’ The result was glorious.”