One of the most remarkable moments on the classic Soungarden album Superunknown is the solo on “Spoonman.” Sure, we all were familiar with guitarist Kim Thayil’s shredding, but it was the song’s namesake that really wowed. Artis the Spoonman brought a full metal assault to his silverware.
And now, on the 20th anniversary of Superunknown, we’re inspired to list some of our other favorite non-guitar solos and instrumental flourishes. In chronological order…
The Troggs – “Wild Thing”
Hey, ocarina! That’s the shell-like flute Reg Presley busts out during the solo to this immortal garage rocker. Earthy and puckish, the 1966 groover was a bridge to the hippier psych sounds that evolved later in the decade.
The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”
What’s that ghostly racket haunting the outro of this benchmark pop song from 1966? It’s an Electro-Theremin, developed and played by Glenn Miller’s good buddy, trombonist Paul Tanner. It’s a complicated contraption that involves manipulating antennae with one’s hands. It’s a bit of techie wizardry that set the Beach Boys and the Beatles on a friendly competition to push the boundaries of popular music in the late ’60s.
Depeche Mode – “Everything Counts”
The 1980s ran amok when it came to synthetic sounds. There were keytars, samplers and devices that looked like they should have been on a space shuttle. Depeche Mode weren’t afraid to dabble in outlandish instruments, so they employed a melodica, or wind piano, for this 1983 single. Cooler than an accordion but just as resonant, the melodica dropped in a memorable moment in the brooding dance number.
Blues Traveler – “Run-Around”
The harmonica is a pretty standard instrument in the scheme of things, but in the hands of John Popper, it’s an explosive device. In this huge radio hit from 1994, the big guy turns the tiny rectangle into a caterwauling force. He’s like Eddie Van Halen on that thing— you can almost see the smoke emitting from his mouthpiece.
Neutral Milk Hotel – “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
Jeff Mangum was already penning anachronistic ditties about Anne Frank on his cherished 1998 indie opus. So the singing saw in the title track was par for the course. To get the high moan of the saw, one bends the tool and runs a bow – similar to a violin – over the arch. Nifty and spooky.
Featured photo of Neutral Milk Hotel's Julian Koster by Sarah Mulligan via Creative Commons