This is one of my favourite guitar solos in rock and roll. It's short but it's one of the tastiest ever composed. It surely wasn't improvised, and I say that because it's so clever I doubt that's possible. The complete tab is below, but I've also written out a short guitar lesson and analysis so we can learn how he crafted the solo.
There are a few other tabs of this solo online but not one of them is correct as far as I can tell. If you watch footage of The Cars playing at Live Aid in 1985, you'll see that Easton plays the solo down around the fifth and seventh frets. But a lot of the tabs online put him up around the 11th -- same notes, different position.
Analysis of the Solo
The chord changes in the song give Elliot Easton some great opportunities for notes outside of the scale. The song is in the key of E major but there is one chord that is cleverly altered. Normally the III chord would be a G#m chord, but they've turned it into a major chord which means there is one note different--the D# is now a C natural. Easton clearly knows that and uses it to his advantage.
| E B | C#m G# |
| E B | C#m A | (repeat)
This is why he uses such interesting notes which you see in bars 3 and 7 of my tab below. In bar 3 he plays a hammer-and-pull from C natural to C# and back to C natural again. Resolving to C natural is the very note that makes the G# major chord unique for this song. That's the major third of G#, when normally we should have a minor third for a G#m chord in this key.
If that sounds confusing to you, you can learn more about soloing over chord changes in my book Guitar Soloing Like a Pro which is available on Amazon.
Easton uses the same note again when the G# chord comes around the second time in bar seven of my tab below. This time, he bends to that C natural note. It's tricky to grab because our fingers aren't used to jumping to that note that's not in the scale. But it sure sounds awesome.
The final lick is brilliant. Normally we play these "Sixes" licks from the root of the key. But Easton starts on the C#m (frets 9 and 9) and ascends from there up the chords of the key, C#m, D#m, E, F#m, passing through the blue note Gm, and finally resolving at frets 16 and 16, G#m, which arguably is just an inversion of E major.
Tab for the Solo
Download the tab for the solo in PDF format using the link below.
Or here's the solo tabbed out below.