Their criteria for judging what solos were bad seemed minimal, something along the lines of "OMG 80S HAIR!!!11ONE!". Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl didn't make the list [see footnote], and I was disheartened by some of the bands that did - The Who, for example, was on there for their song "Eminence Front." While there were some bands that made the list who clearly deserved it - Poison - for example, I threw down the magazine confident that it was just a poorly generated list, and that no harm was meant.
Upon second examination, I saw a sidebar that I did not see before - songs renowned for their guitar solos that they considered bad. "Freebird" was on there, as was "Yellow Ledbetter" by Pearl Jam, and one of my favorites - "Green Grass and High Tides" by the Outlaw. But what really crossed the line is Clapton's Layla recorded when he was with Derek and the Dominos.
Their argument? Putting a beautifully recorded piano track while Allman and Clapton were playing slide guitar out of tune.
There are a number of problems with this inappropriate critism. If you are familiar with the remarkable outro to Layla, you are familiar with the slide guitars building to the one. It starts with one slide guitar playing high on the fret board and progressively continues to two or 3 and then more slide guitars (and then a rhythm guitar). Each guitar plays a single note in the ensemble, and they all play their own parts, but what makes it different is that it sounds good. If you've ever tried recording your own music, you know how difficult it is to make 2 instruments playing different parts sound good, much less a plethora of them.
Their main criticism is that the slide guitars are out of tune. The problem with this statement is that it is impossible to prove. By definition, a slide guitar playing individual notes along the fretboard can never be shown to be in or out of tune, unless you are watching the guitarist play it live. Why? Because with a slide, you could hit, for example, a C, and you can hit a C#, but you can also hit every non-note in between, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Guitarists like to hit these notes, which I'll call "tweeners" for now on, and they do it with or without a slide guitar - every time a guitarist bends a string, they are hitting tweeners.
This counterargument doesn't kill the magazine's argument - you could always make the counterpoint, for example, that Clapton and Allman shouldn't hit those notes. Indeed, hitting only tweener's is simply bad guitar playing. And this would be the end of the story, if this were all there were to it.
Of course, there is more. As it turns out, the piano is "out-of-tune" itself. How does this happen? The original outro was recorded in the key of C, but later, during production, it was sped up. And what happens, ladies and gentleman, when you speed up a recording? The pitch becomes higher. This is actually a very common production trick used all the time to fix recordings that just don't sound right; the most popular example of this trick is The Car's "Best Friend's Girlfriend", originally recorded in E but later sped up to F. If you look at the music video, the guitarist is playing the song in E. If you listen to the live recording, the song is played in E (and it doesn't sound right). If you listen on the radio, the song was played in E but it sounds like it was played in F.
This was exactly what was done with the outro to Layla. It was recorded in C, and later sped up so it sounds like it was recorded in a higher key. If you'd like to see an interesting consequence of this, go into Google groups and try to find what key the outro to the song Layla is written in. You will find a whole bunch of people arguing amongst themselves - most of them claiming to have "perfect pitch." Most people argue C# or D, some people still argue C. The answer, of course, is none of those.
If you are a layman, it probably looks like this doesn't kill the magazines argument against Layla. "Surely now - albeit not Clapton or Allman's fault - it is the fault of the producer. They should have 'fixed' it in the production phase so that the instrumentalists wouldn't hit only tweener notes." At this point, though, it doesn't matter. In the original recording, the guitars and pianos were in tune with each other, so after production they are still in tune with each other, although in a key that somewhere in between C and C#. Because they are relatively in tune, the song works - none of the notes sound "sharp" or "off" and, in fact, it takes someone who is very able at guitar or has near perfect pitch to tell the difference.
The argument of the magazine was specious and insulting to one of the greatest guitar legends of all time. Although their mistake was of poor or complete lack of research into their article, it is somewhat embarassing that a magazine devoted to guitar would not know the story about one of the most famous, beautiful rock love songs of all time.
Footnote: At first glance, I was upset that Cinnamon Girl didn't make the list, but the list seemed to redeem itself by putting a Neil Young song in the 60s that, although didn't get much radio airplay, had TWO one-note guitar solos in it. Still, Cinnamon Girl is the classic shit solo and should have made the list.