The concept of dual/twin guitar probably reached its peak during the guitar rock excess of the '70s, but the performance-based combination of complementary musicianship certainly had its moments as well in the wealth of hard rock, arena rock and classic rock produced during the '80s. The aggressive attack found in heavy metal perhaps helps to explain the prevalence of multiple guitars in that genre, as more instruments have a tendency to translate into more volume, complexity and raw power. Here's a short list - in no particular order - of memorable '80s songs from bands featuring multiple guitarists.
On the topic of heavy metal guitar interplay, it would be a crime punishable by horrific torture device to leave this song out of the conversation. On this Iron Maiden classic, one of hard rock's most rousing anthems, the guitar work from Dave Murray and Adrian Smith perfectly straddles the lines between raw power and technical virtuosity. This tune's galloping rhythm, so perfectly tied with the vibrant lyrical theme of chaotic warfare on horseback, has always served as one of rock's shining moments. Still, the mark of a truly great song is not only a bundle of prime ingredients (Bruce Dickinson's vocals chief among them) but a keen, careful marriage of those parts into something transcendent. Twin leads don't get much better than this.
Few songs of the '80s hold up as well after years of overplaying than does this popular 1982 track from Southern rock/arena rock outfit .38 Special. Though sometimes maligned for a sound more pop-oriented than most white male rock fans were comfortable with in those days, this band always rocked harder than it seemed, mainly for one collective (and three singular) reasons. Unlike most rock bands that enjoyed '80s mainstream popularity, .38 Special employed three full-time guitarists in Donnie Van Zant, Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi, a unique fact that lent the group a sprawling guitar sound that had no equal in arena rock. This track exhibits some lively give-and-take between straight rhythm guitar, creative riffing, and clean, slick leads.
Under-the-radar Canadian rockers with one of pop's most succulent names, this group reached a commercial and artistic peak on 1981's Nature of the Beast, an album that also boasted an early primo power ballad in "Just Between You and Me." This track, however, works from start to finish as a guitar delight, as Gary Moffet and frontman Myles Goodwyn unleash some tasty twin leads and imaginative riffing as evocative as the song's exotic title. I don't know if it's a coincidence that many of the '80s bands that contributed the best multiple-guitar performances suffer from a respect deficit, but for some reason this particular vintage doesn't get enough credit for its ability to complement a variety of palates with subtlety and grace.
Even without an abundance of twin guitar harmonies to prove the duo's precision, Scorpions guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs clearly display a top-notch chemistry that helped make the German band one of the most distinctive of the '80s. This track from 1982's Blackout never got major airplay, but it was always one of the highlights when I listened - over and over again - to my worn cassette copy circa 1988. I've never been a huge fan of Klaus Meine's vocals or lyrics, but I still enjoy the brimming musical energy of Schenker and Jabs so apparent at that key point of the Scorpions' career. Many bands do just fine with one guitarist, but this one would have been missing something essential without its key partnership in rock.
Although progressive metal never seemed to be a term fully capable of describing this Seattle band's sound, there was definitely something unique and difficult to pin down about Queensryche. This is particularly true of the melodic powerhouse duo of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton on guitars, as this superior track from the group's truly impressive 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime clearly argues. Equal masters of both arpeggiated, quiet work and forceful, active leads, the pair consistently creates a rich tapestry of haunting sonic textures without ever getting overly busy. The twin-guitar harmonies feature precision, to be sure, but also benefit from careful, sophisticated composition that complements the general air of mystery.
One of rock guitar's finest tandems, Izzy Stradlin and Slash of Guns 'N Roses may not spend a lot of time synchronizing lead parts, but their spirited and unpredictable trading of ragged riffs and squalling licks belongs in a class of its own. Some bands with single guitarists manage to create an overpowering, unfettered sound (at least in the studio), but the furious pace of this tune reveals just how nice it is to have the luxury of two independently styled musicians on the same instrument. The status of this track and much of the brilliant Appetite for Destruction as studio recordings may be factually correct, but the intensity of the guitar work here feels far more raw and immediate by far than most contemporary late-'80s offerings.