Elliot Easton and Perfect Phrasing

I first got into The Cars back in high school. I adore their first three albums in particular. They had a very distinctive sound - perfect little pop songs with clicky-sounding guitars, quirky vocals, and ironic lyrics. I also liked how they incorporated the synth in those early records - it provided simple, single-line counter melodies with odd timbres, instead of the thick, lush, space-consuming pads that Greg Hawkes evolved to in the late '80s when polyphonic synthesizers became commonplace.

But the sleeper in The Cars' garage in my opinion was Elliott Easton. He gave the simple pop songs musical substance. That guy was just incredible. Even the metalheads respected Easton because he could flat-out wail. But he didn't just wail; he was the quintessential play-for-the-song guy. His solos are like perfecty crafted little songs-within-songs, with an intro, a build-up, a climax, and a landing (sounds sexual!) - all in a few seconds. He had a wide-ranging vocabulary and worked in blues bends and vibrato, country and R&B style double stops, hammer-ons/pull-offs, and a million other tricks, but he never sounded like he was just showing off. Everything he played was melodic and genuinely complimented the song. The structures, melodies, and the note selections suggest that he worked out his solos ahead of time, but the way he played them seemed improvised and off the cuff. His phrasing was just immaculate! A thing of beauty and wonder.

I figured I'd share a couple of my favorites as examples of his wonderful soloing.

Just What I Needed (skip to 1:46 for the solo) - A great example of his playing in my opinion. It's mostly major pentatonic, but he works in a couple of notes here and there to fit better with the underlying chords and sound more hip. He also sticks the landing with a flourish using rockabilly-style major 6th doublestops. Not many New Wave guitarists would have thought to do that, nor had to stylistic vocabulary to pull it off.


Shake It Up (skip to 1:16 for the solo) - I like how he enters the solo with Chuck Berry doublestops, then goes into melodic blues licks. This solo shows why even the metalheads liked him - the dude had formidable chops!

Touch and Go (skip to 1:17 for the solo) - This is probably my favorite Elliot Easton solo because it's so melodic. He stretches out just a little longer than he usually does. I just love the playful phrasing, as well as the way he drags the beat a little toward the beginning. This solo is broadly structured like the solo in Just What I Needed - the build-up and the way he climbs the fretboard to end it. But he gets to navigate more chord changes, which he does really masterfully.