2. Guitar Solo
‘Kid’ – The Pretenders
In an important way, we weren’t a particularly musical household when I was growing up. Dad whistled, Mum sang in a choir, me and my little brother took piano lessons, but we didn’t listen to music. There wasn’t a stereo in the house – I’m not sure there was even a radio in the car – and Top of the Pops wasn’t the Thursday night ritual for us that it was for others. And then, when I was twelve, my older brother came to live with us and the lights went up on pop music. Up till then, what I knew amounted to barely more than a few pinpricks, unconstellated, in the darkness: overheard playground conversations, unfamiliar faces on Saturday morning telly. That summer I was hooked. By Christmas I had asked for, and got, my first guitar.
I first heard Kid that year – 1987 – on the Pretenders’ singles collection. These were songs that, naturally, I had missed first time round, and, by the time I caught up, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott was dead and Chrissie Hynde the only original Pretender left in the band. The guitarist slot has been filled by a long roster of eminent supporting players – not least Johnny Marr around the time I discovered them – but there’s no doubt that the early songs tower above the rest, with Honeyman-Scott’s blithe, melodic lines the best accompaniment Hynde’s voice has had.
As guitar solos go, Kid’s is more of a non-solo. “I hate soloing, really,” Honeyman-Scott once told Guitar Player, and there is not an ounce of macho noodling about this. Everything about it is intrinsic to the song’s structure and arrangement, disguising the key change and bringing a shock of clear treble to a song whose opening sections lurk mostly in the mid-range. That tone (Honeyman-Scott borrowed Hynde’s telecaster for the solo), the triplets, the brevity: it’s a guitar solo that belongs resolutely within pop, as opposed to rock – it seems to me like a more baroque take on Harrison’s guitar break from Nowhere Man.
I wish Honeyman-Scott had been around longer, that he might have still been playing after I started paying attention. But this is one of the first songs I really listened to, and I still love it now. Some things you never outgrow.
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