Randy Rhoads was quite simply one of the most groundbreaking guitarists the rock idiom has ever known. His mother was a music teacher, and young Randy received a proper musical education before turning that knowledge to his own purposes within the framework of heavy rock.
Rhoads formed Quiet Riot when he was 16 years old, releasing two albums with the band in Japan years before a different lineup brought metal to the mainstream. But his musical legacy derives primarily from the two landmark albums he made with Ozzy Osbourne, launching the former Black Sabbath singer into a meteoric solo career. The down-and-out vocalist heard Rhoads warming up to audition for his solo band and promptly gave him the job before reportedly passing out. Freed from the musical constraints of Quiet Riot, Rhoads helped Ozzy create a new style of heavy metal that drew much of its inspiration from his interest in classical guitar, fusing classical modes with an aggressive rock sensibility and very advanced technical ability. The result sounded at times like Eddie Van Halen and Niccolo Paganini rolled into one.
Rhoads' groundbreaking fusion of classical and rock music began with 'Blizzard of Ozz' and advanced even further on 'Diary of a Madman.' In that period of two short years, he created a legacy that revolutionized heavy rock forever to such an extent that there is scarcely a guitarist who arrived in his wake that does not owe a debt to his playing. Tragically, Rhoads died far too young in a plane crash on March 19, 1982 while on tour with Osbourne. We celebrate his amazing musical legacy with our list of the Top 10 Randy Rhoads Guitar Solos.
'Believer'From: 'Diary of a Madman' (1981)
'Believer' is a cross section of the elements that made Rhoads' playing so special. He used harmonics as sound effects over the rhythm track, where he also employed some very unusual chord voicings and flatted notes for a dark, mysterious feel. His solo is like a Randy Rhoads master class, utilizing very rapid repeating phrases, trills, and astonishingly fast scale runs to achieve an effect that sounds almost out of control, but then drops back seamlessly into the main riff.
'I Don't Know'From: 'Blizzard of Ozz' (1980)
Rhoads announced there was a new guitar-slinging sheriff in town from the very first track on side one of 'Blizzard of Ozz.' The song is literally unlike anything else that went before it in metal history, juxtaposing super-charged heavy chords in the verses and choruses and an almost jazz-like dreamscape in the bridge. The guitar solo is pure Rhoads, utilizing deep bends, rapid hammer-pull combinations, de-tuned phrases and staccato runs for a compact, but memorable musical thrill ride.
'Laughing Gas'From: 'The Randy Rhoads Years' (1993)
A decade after Rhoads' death, Quiet Riot singer Kevin DuBrow paid tribute to his fallen friend with a collection of his best tracks from their first two albums, which had never seen stateside release. While most of his early playing with the band was far less adventurous than his later work with Osbourne, the previously unreleased 'Laughing Gas' featured a live solo from Rhoads that earns a spot in the Top 10 Randy Rhoads Guitar Solos with its use of sound effects, two-handed finger tapping runs, tapped harmonics, whammy bar swoops and rapid pick articulation.
'Over the Mountain'From: 'Diary of a Madman' (1981)
'Diary of a Madman' kicked off with 'Over the Mountain,' a musical amalgam of heavy rock with a pop-worthy melody. Rhoads contributed a typically interesting rhythm track with plenty of unusual voicings. His solo draws from both classical music and Van Halen, marrying a harmonized phrase that could have been a violin with a series of partially slurred whammy bar phrases for a bizarrely unsettled feel that's almost like two solos in one.
'Dee'From: 'Blizzard of Ozz' (1980)
Though Rhoads was best known to the public for the heavier side of his guitar playing, he was a lifelong student of classical guitar -- in fact, he was planning to leave Osbourne's band to devote his life to its study prior to his death. He paid homage to his mother Delores with 'Dee,' a beautiful classical guitar that gives us a brief glimpse of what might have been. Rhoads seamlessly layered a second guitar part for a shimmering harmony effect, making it one of the Top 10 Randy Rhoads Guitar Solos.
'Diary of a Madman' From: 'Diary of a Madman' (1981)
The title song of Osbourne's second solo album was a giant leap forward for both Ozzy and Rhoads. The guitarist dominated the track with his dark classical chord voicings and an unusual time signature, which provided a perfect bed for Osbourne's dark rumination. Rhoads' solo is a bizarrely dissonant, atonal exercise in musical tension that he refuses to release, pushing the ear into territory usually reserved for marginalized experimental acts -- not albums that sell millions of copies.
'Mr. Crowley'From: 'Blizzard of Ozz' (1980)
Osbourne's musical tribute to Aleister Crowley served as a perfect showcase for Rhoads' incendiary guitar technique. The solo mid-song features a jaw-dropping series of lightning-fast runs that combine precise pick articulation with hammer-pull combinations for a fluid, yet measured feel that sounds like a classical violinist playing rock music. The outro solo employs trills and more crazy rapid picking, culminating with a series of impressive runs that demonstrate Rhoads' effortlessly flawless command of tone, phrasing and technique.
'Revelation (Mother Earth)'From: 'Blizzard of Ozz' (1980)
Though Rhoads' interest in classical composition would peak with 'Diary of a Madman,' his work on 'Revelation (Mother Earth)' was undoubtedly its main precursor. The epic song centers around Rhoads' genuine compositional sense for a track that could have come from a '70s progressive rock band -- if any of them had wanted to tear your head off, that is. His solo is like a madcap Spanish etude gone haywire, fusing classical modes with Rhoads' ridiculous pick technique for a series of call-and-response licks that sound like a deranged metal orchestra.
'Flying High Again'From: 'Diary of a Madman' (1981)
Rhoads graced Osbourne's celebration of intoxication with one of the most challenging guitar solos ever to sound so effortless. Employing his impeccable sense of phrasing and a compressed tone, the guitarist threw in several dizzying classical scale runs, trills aplenty, and a series of impressive left-hand-only licks that demonstrate his advanced chops -- but dropped it into the rhythmic pocket so cleanly and melodically that you barely notice the technical workout. Listen closely and you'll hear that he triple-tracked the solo for good measure -- 'cause, y'know, any old fool could've just played it once.
'Crazy Train'From: 'Blizzard of Ozz' (1981)
'Crazy Train' may well be one of the unlikeliest signature songs of any performer. Basically a song about losing your marbles, it's become a cultural touchstone well beyond the metal community. Rhoads' solo only amps up the intensity, threatening to derail the crazy train with its blend of furious fast runs, de-tuned whammy bar licks and staccato phrases. But his overriding sense of melody brings it back to meet up perfectly with the main guitar figure, earning it the top spot on our list of the Top 10 Randy Rhoads Guitar Solos.