There has always been more than a frisson of daring in Dwight Yoakam’s maverick approach to guitar playing and record making – a rapturous, “what-if?” collision between a Bakersfield honky-tonk and Liverpool’s Cavern Club, with a rude little dash of LA garage punk thrown in for good measure.
And so it figures that such an inveterate individualist, when asked by MusicRadar to compile his hist of 10 essential guitar albums, would take a fork in the road and come up with 15 guitar 'recordings' that rock his world. “Sometimes there’s such brilliance on one song that it eclipses everything else," Yoakam says. "There are many essential albums for guitar players, but with the fractured world we live in now – you got Spotify and other sites – it’s all about tracks. I keep going back to those all-important three minutes myself."
Yoakam is quick to point out that he sailed right past what he calls the "guys-who-want-to-be-a-guitar-hero" kind of list, and indeed his picks – nothing past 1974, with a heavy emphasis on UK rockers – could easily be deemed "15 essential guitar riffs." As he explains it, “To me, the hook of the riff is what makes a great guitar recording. It’s the backbone of the whole song. When you have a strong riff, it’s the rocket fuel for the track."
When it comes to both his own work and the records he reveres, Yoakam's criteria for guitar sonic goodness is relatively straightforward. "No compression or as little as possible – that’s how you get a good recording," he says. "But you have to start with an interesting, powerful statement, and that's all in the riff. I've held that view since I was 14 years old, and I still do today."
On the following pages, Yoakam runs down his choices for 15 essential guitar recordings, a fascinating mix of British and American gems that all share a unifying, defining characteristic. "Each one has an immediate, palpable, emotional hook of a riff," he says. "You hear it and you're in."