Almanac Music: The greatest guitar solo never in a movie

In I, Tonya, Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding wins over the crowd after just one minute of ice skating to ZZ Top’s 1985 hit ‘Sleeping Bag’. 





The song fades just before the first guitar solo, which leaves you hanging if you’re a rock fan but is perhaps appropriate given this is the first time we see her skate. This solo oozes supremacy, and Tonya’s not there just yet.


As they were on ‘La Grange’ 12 years earlier, the pinched harmonics are guitarist/frontman Billy Gibbons’ superpower on this cut – or his ‘obscenity’, to use his words to Guitar World.


So much of 80s electric guitar was about playing fast and ostentatiously, but the Reverend Willy G has always been about quality over quantity. Averaging just five notes per bar, he gives listeners the time to savour the six string’s sound, and appreciate how no other instrument can quite reproduce its intensity. 


But unlike ‘La Grange’, where the constant shrieks become musical innuendo for the house of carnal debauchery the song discusses, the squeals give the solo a searing, pervasive majesty. 


Connected with the ‘harshest tone’ the bearded guitar god ever played with and an atmospheric synth pad, the harmonics seem to occupy the entire pitch range all at once. 


Like the afterburner that gives the song’s album its name, they are the extra thrust that makes the guitar supersonic, that fascinates the ears the way the glow of burning rocket fuel fascinates the eyes.


“Harmonics are unpredictable, and that makes them fun to use,” Gibbons said in that Guitar World interview. “They’re always in the right key, but when you really catch one sideways, man, it’s way out there!”


Across modern cinema – and in particular the nineties – guitar solo soundtracks have made film scenes iconic. 


Witness Twister, when the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman blasts Deep Purple’s ‘Child in Time’ to the tornado convoy, making Ritchie Blackmore’s slow Blues a calm before the storm in both the song and the film.


Or in Scorsese’s Casino, where the mastery of Robert De Niro’s gambling executive Ace Rothstein is paralleled by Jeff Beck’s wah wah – an often misused effect – on ‘I ain’t superstitious’. Or the sublime Coda of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on ‘Layla’ to reflect the relative calm in part of Goodfellas.


Or another Margot Robbie film, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in which Blackmore’s faded in guitar work pairs with Jon Lord’s jittery organ on ‘Hush’ to build anticipation for Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s big night with friends. And then there’s Pulp Fiction and Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’.


I can only hope Craig Gillespie filmed some extra footage at the end of that first routine, and that he bears in mind a good solo’s role as a filmmaker’s aid when he goes to make the I, Tonya director’s cut!


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Alex Darling

Melbourne-born, Horsham-based footy fan. Lover of the Saints, classic rock guitar and good writing on each of these topics.


  1. Great essay Alex and superb examples. Let’s not forget also Steve Vai’s solo in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey! Cheers

  2. G’day Alex. It’s not in a movie, though it’s there on footage of Sunbury 1973, nor is it an actual solo, but Lobby Loyde’s guitar work on Johnny B Goode really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand out.

    Maybe Google the footage of Sunbury ’73 for some footage of one of Australia’s greatest guitarists.


  3. Thanks for the recommendation Glen, that is a great tone! And the footage is pretty decent for 1973.

  4. Tim Westcott says

    Blow had Black Betty and Can’t You Hear Me Knocking .. high octane.

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