Prince’s Greatest Guitar Performance… 15 Years Gone

January 10, 2020 3 min read

Prince’s Greatest Guitar Performance… 15 Years Gone

A little while back, George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” topped the Thalia poll of greatest Beatles solo albums.

It’ll come as no surprise that the record has been spinning on the Thalia office turntable since then, and we’ve been reliving the classic album in all it’s glory. But, while listening to the LP’s lead single – “My Sweet Lord” – for the umpteenth time, it struck me that the Harrison original, while near perfectly executed, isn’t my favorite version of the song.

Alright, alright, you can put your pitchforks down! I’m aware that what I’m saying might sound like heresy, especially to the “quiet one’s” most fervent devotees, but hear me out.

Or rather, hear Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dani Harrison and Prince out. Especially Prince.

Back in 2004, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this one-off supergroup teamed up for a tribute to George Harrison. 

And what a tribute! Normally, I find these supergroup combinations a bit staid. But, these guys get it. To be fair, you’d expect that from some of them. Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne had a close working relationship with Harrison in Travelling Willburys. Dani is a blood relative – George’s son – you don’t get much closer than that. 

The MVP of the whole thing, though, is most definitely the Purple One. The moment Prince comes in with the climactic guitar solo – it’s the 3:28 mark if you want to skip straight to it, though with a rendition this good throughout, why would you? – is utterly transcendent. The first time I heard it, aptly enough given the song’s title, I think I cried.

I’ve always loved Prince’s guitar playing, and I think he deserves more recognition for it. Given the man’s undisputed musical polymath status, his six-string prowess was ultimately obscured by his myriad skills in singing, dancing, arranging, producing and writing. But, my god, when he had that axe in his hand and the solo break came, Prince slayed with the best of them.

And it don’t come better than “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

Why is it so good? Well, for that, I defer you to John Cheese of Cracked.com, who included Prince in his “5 Rock Stars You Won't Believe Are Secretly Musical Geniuses” list back in 2012 (unfortunately, the original article seems to be gone from Cracked, but you can read the Prince section in full here https://prince.org/msg/7/386569)

“…as flamboyant as Prince is, he's one of the few musicians in the world who know how to use subtlety instead of cramming the solo right in the listeners' faces and screaming, "Listen to how f--king good I am!" He uses his talent only as a means of enhancing the song as a whole -- not using the song as a mechanism for showing off his guitar skills. But when he does cut loose ... holy f--k:

That's him playing a tribute of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." And for the first half of the video, he plays a basic rhythm piece so subtle that if it wasn't for his blindingly red pimp hat, you'd hardly know he was there. But then the solo comes around, and he just explodes…

So yeah, behind all the sparkling women's clothing and gyrating f--k-dancing lies one of the greatest guitarists to ever walk the planet.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. And, 15 years on, that incendiary guitar performance rings out clearer than ever, for my money at least.

Which underrated guitarists do you think deserve more credit? And, which cover versions do you think surpass the originals? Share your stories in the comments. 



Also in Fingerboard Stories

T.A.M.I Show: The Concert Film You Need to Watch
T.A.M.I Show: The Concert Film You Need to Watch

December 04, 2020 2 min read

You’ve got the young and hungry Stones out to prove their rock n’ roll mettle to the U.S. crowd, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Supremes giving it their all just as Motown was setting the charts ablaze for the first time. And then there’s James Brown. Those dance moves, that explosive, incendiary energy, the Famous Flames absolutely on it, never missing a beat… 

What’s the Origin of Gibson’s TV Yellow finish?
What’s the Origin of Gibson’s TV Yellow finish?

December 03, 2020 3 min read

So, theory numero uno suggests that the “TV” in TV Yellow actually stood for “Telecaster Version.” According to this one, Gibson execs went for a color that was similar to the Butterscotch finish used on Fender’s Telecaster models. Apparently, the hope was that the color - in combination with the Les Paul TV model’s black pickguard - would confuse unschooled guitarists who would buy it over a Tele.

Want a New Guitar for Christmas? Find a Sacrificial Lamb
Want a New Guitar for Christmas? Find a Sacrificial Lamb

December 02, 2020 3 min read

That’s because sacrificing the lamb isn’t just about getting rid of a guitar. It’s about making you look like you’ve turned over a new leaf; like you’re not the sort of person who hoards all things six string, someone who has a financial compass and isn’t prone to impulsive guitar splurging (or asking loved ones to do the splurging for them once the holidays roll around). If you really want to seal the deal, consider using a coaster or getting a haircut.