Top 10 Rock Trombone Solos

tromboneThe trombone is a beautiful instrument, one they say sounds most like the human voice. But it’s not known as a rock instrument. The problem is it’s really hard to play fast, and it doesn’t sound sexy like the sax.

Some of these aren’t really solos, just memorable trombone bits, but there’s more than you might have guessed. And we didn’t include ska bands because we could fill the whole list with them and that would ruin the fun.

1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 — Bob Dylan

50 years later and everybody still hopes this song is about drugs and booze. Dylan wanted a Salvation Army Band sound but it’s Nashville session guy Wayne “Doc” Butler’s woozy trombone some people hear standing out, leading the procession down that long strange road.

2. A Message to You Rudy — The Specials

This was an important song because it helped take the edge off 1979. All that angry guitar thrashing, and then over here you got yer sweet trombone solo. It was the birth of Chill. It passes the no-ska rule because it’s not really ska, it’s rocksteady. And I hate to say it but I think I may like the 1967 original by Dandy Livingstone even better.

3. Hello It’s Me — Todd Rundgren

This one’s a little sneaky. It’s just a short little burst after the second verse, and it’s buried in the mix a little bit, but it’s a hook you hang your hat on every time you listen to this song whether you’re aware of it or not. It’s amazing what just a few notes can do. The player was salsa and fusion jazzman Barry Rogers.

4. The National Anthem — Radiohead

You can’t really call this a trombone solo because all the other horns are wailing at the same time. If you listen carefully it’s a long and meaty trombone bit, and if you listen even more carefully you’ll hear both a trombone and a bass trombone, which has got to be worth bonus points.

5. Beginnings — Chicago

A true trombone solo for only about 15 seconds, but because the solo represents the beginning of the epic 3-minute outro, every squonky note James Pankow slides out really sticks in the memory. Lots of Chicago tracks to choose from, I like this one the best.

6. Dead End Street — Kinks

Another long-forgotten pop masterpiece by the Kinks, with some incredible chord changes and a theme that’s as relevant today as it was in 1966. The trombone solo comes in right at the end, in true Ray Davies outlook, like a guy whistling and dancing his way to the unemployment line.

7. Who’s Gonna Help A Brother Get Further — Allen Toussaint

Like Dead End Street, this 2006 collaboration with Elvis Costello is about hard times. The trombone is obviously one of the better instruments with which to tell that old familiar story. Sammie “Big Sam” Williams of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band delivers the best trombone solo out of this whole lot, and maybe one of the best I’ve ever heard.

8. Blue Turk — Alice Cooper

Rock musicians in general were pretty ambitious musically in 1972, and they weren’t afraid to take some chances stylistically. You wonder how all the pimply adolescents who bought the album for “Schools Out” reacted to this jazzy little number. Nowadays I’m guessing they’re all successful financial planning advisors.

9. Hyperactive — Thomas Dolby

The trombone comes in hot and prominent off the top, which can’t be said for most of these tracks. But it’s not soloing, it’s delivering a melody line that gets repeated over and over and over again. Today, Thomas Dolby is a Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University, I kid you not.

10. Tower of Strength — Gene McDaniels

This track also features a trombone coming in right at the start, but to a completely different effect. Today, this vibrato style on the trombone sounds like a comedy soundtrack for public drunkenness, but back in 1963, it was supposed to sound pretty damn sexy.

Honorable Mentions

Song Against Sex — Neutral Milk Hotel

A sleepy, sloppy spree through love won and lost, but a good sloppy. The beginner-level trombone playing throughout suits the rest of this 1996 track perfectly. Maybe someone in the band should have just made trombone sounds by blowing their cheeks out and humming at the same time, which sounds pretty real once you get the hang of it.

Biding My Time — Pink Floyd

More of an artifact than anything else, thanks to its obscure origins. This song was recorded in 1969 but not released until 1971 along with other odds and ends on the Relics album. It’s a fun little blues number, and Floyd gets extra points for having a band member, Richard Wright, who could play the trombone himself.

Other Candidates

Brian Ferry – Fingerpoppin’; Blood, Sweat and Tears – And When I Die; The Fleetwoods – Mr. Blue; Sublime (arguably a ska band) – Wrong Way; Jamiroquai – Drifting Along; Groove Armada – At The River; Paul McCartney – Let ‘Em In, plus all those great Ska Bands.

So? Which ones did I miss?

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33 comments to “Top 10 Rock Trombone Solos”
  1. Really nicely done! What a great concept for a list and well thought through and peculiarly interesting. You could really slide into this one and do it justice…

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  3. Great List.. but please listen to the bone solo from “Like Young Lovers Do” by Van Morrison off the Astral Weeks album. If you are not familiar with Astral Weeks album it was rated #2 by Great Britain Rolling Stone Readers. I always thought I was the only one that thought it was Great

    • Hey Mike, thanks for the comment. Astral Weeks is one of the great albums of all time in my book, and I missed this one completely. I can’t find any album credits, I may have actually heard this as a trumpet solo all these years.

      • Yes, I just heard it (again) and though, “Damn, great trombone solo” but couldn’t find anybody saying there was even a trombonist on the album. Flute and soprano sax by John Payne (and some rumour that the actual flute played was an anonymous artist) and Van is credited with saxophone.

        • These are great and many thanks to those who compiled it. My initial interest was trying to remember a song in the 60s or 70s by a female artist which featured a lovely trombone piece in the bridge. Can anyone help?

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  5. Chaeck out Java Jive on Andy Shepherds 1st LP , jazz it maybe but the lengthy Trombone solo is IMMENSE , played by Nick Evans who played his horn on a multitude of LP’s throughout the 60’s to 80’s….. with bands like King Crimson on the title track of their “Lizard” album….. seriously , check this guy out , He made me into a trombone addict !

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  7. As per my opnion one greatest trombone solos by Frank Zappa / Mothers – Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing ? on Roxy and Elshwere

  8. “Sarah Morrow is the first original voice I’ve heard in a long time. She has a personal and identifiable sound—Sarah Morrow IS the new voice of this Era.”

    – Legendary Trombonist CURTIS FULLER
    (John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Benny Golson)

    Check her songs:

  9. Thanks for the reminders on ones I had forgotten about….here’s a few more…..

    Blur–“Fade Away”

    Kool & the Gang–“Joanna”

    Diana Ross–“I’m Coming Out” (excellent improvised solo)

    Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons–“The Night” (trombone section with tuba, more of a riff than a tbn solo)

    Dexys Midnight Runners–“There There My Dear” (the most excellent sound of trombone and tenor sax playing together on the same pitches, with a few splits here and there for chords) same idea on “Geno”

  10. of course its all about opinion and taste but from Thomas Dolby I rather prefer “I scare myself” @ 2’50” a really smooth trombone solo can be heard. Unfortunately too short but great.
    And check out Ghost town (extended version) by the specials @ 3’40” excellent.

  11. I invite you all to listen to “Redemption” by Blood Sweat & Tears. The trombone solo by Dick Halligan is a bad-ass jazz-rock throw down that leaves everyone else, even James Pankow, in the shade.

  12. Someone above mentioned the Blues Brothers, but specifically the bone solo in Sweet Home Chicago is my all time favorite, perhaps because the entire song is a wonderful jam. Thanks for making the list.

  13. You’re forgetting a great trombone solo by James Pankow on the Chicago hit from 1976, jazz rocker “You are on my mind”. Great solo ending the piece.

  14. There’s some great trombone playing by Bruce Fowler on Captain Beefheart’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). The track Ice Rose, for example, though I don’t think any of it is improvised/soloing.

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