10 Essential Allan Holdsworth Songs

Alan Holdsworth Songs

Photo: By Lesheifner (Own workOwn work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Top 10 Allan Holdsworth songs list takes a look at the career of a musician who many feel may have been the most innovative guitarist of the past fifty years. Out of the hundreds of thousands of musicians who have graced the concert stage and studio floors. only a select few can be called innovators. Musicians like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix were pioneers and innovators as musicians, arrangers, and composers. Allan Holdsworth was a technician with a deep understanding of musical theory.

Alan Holdsworth utilized an understanding of modal scales and complex chords to create a sound of depth and interest. Most Jazz musicians understand theory in-depth, but Allan Holdsworth utilized a brilliant academic understanding of music theory juxtaposed against passionate, emotional, and expressive phrasing that resulted in some of the most original guitar recordings ever recorded.

Allan Holdsworth celebrated a musical career as a solo artist and as a member of various musical groups. Allan Holdsworth also recorded with multiple artists as a collaborator and guest musician on various projects.

Allan Holdsworth spent time as a member of the bands Soft Machine, U.K., The New Tony Williams Lifetime Band, and Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. Allan Holdsworth has also worked on albums with John Stevens, Bill Bruford, Jean-Luc Ponty, Chad Wackerman, Stuart Hamm, Steve Tavaglione, Stanley Clarke, Jack Bruce and many others too numerous to mention.

Allan Holdsworth’s first solo album was released in 1976. The album was entitled Velvet Darkness. However, the album simply represented a rehearsal session that Alan Holdsworth had played on and had never been targeted by Alan Holdsworth to be released as his first solo album.

Allan Holdsworth’s first official solo album was issued in 1981 entitled  I.O.U. It was actually the name of the band that was under his direction as a bandleader at the time,. An EP entitled Road Games was released in 1983. The spectacular Metal Fatigue was issued in 1985. The following year in 1986, Allan Holdsworth released the Atavachron album. His fifth studio album entitled Sand was released in 1987.  Allan Holdsworth continued his heavy 1980s output of material with the release of the Secrets album in 1989 at the close of the decade.

Allan Holdsworth released three albums in the 1990s entitled Wardenclyffe Tower in 1992, Hard Hat Area in 1993, and None Too Soon in 1996. In the 2000s Allan Holdsworth issued the albums The Sixteen Men of Tain in 2000 and Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie in 2001. 

For the rest of the 21st Century, Allan Holdsworth spent most of his time working in various projects. His final studio album was a collection of unreleased material issued in 2016 entitled Tales from the Vault. Sadly, Allan Holdsworth passed away in April of 2017.

Creating a top 10 Allan Holdsworth songs list is really just an exercise in futility because there is no way we could cover the amount of groundbreaking material Allan Holdsworth has recorded throughout his lifetime. Nonetheless, we write these list to turn people on to artists they may not be aware of. Everyone needs a starting point, we have just given you 10. Since we have covered the band’s U.K. and Soft Machine, and Allan Holdsworth has recorded with so many people on various albums, this Allan Holdsworth songs list will stick to material only released on Allan Holdsworth’s solo albums.

# 10 – Letters of Marque

We start out our top 10 Essential Allan Holdsworth songs list with a track from his first official solo album I.O.U. The I.O.U. album was released in 1982. The album was actually recorded in 1979 in England.  Besides Allan Holdsworth, the album featured musicians, Paul Williams on vocals, Gary Husband on drums and piano, and Paul Carmichael on bass.

Like most Allan Holdsworth compositions and recordings, The track “Letters of Marque,” featured a great Allan Holdsworth guitar solos starting around 2.24. The solo continues until the 4.45 mark at Gary Husband lets loose on the drums. A killer track that defined what was yet to come from the incredible guitar work and musicianship of Mr. Allan Holdsworth.

# 9 – Proto-Cosmos

We don’t want to ruin the joy of listening to these great Allan Holdsworth songs by giving away the guitar solo times like we did on pick number 10. So for the rest of the way we will just give you the album and release date info so you can go check out the entire albums. The great jam song “Proto-Cosmos,” was released on the live album Then. The album was released in 2003. The actual recordings on the live album Then had taken place in 1990.

# 8 – Tokyo Dream

The Allan Holdsworth song “Tokyo Dreams,” was released on the EP Road Games. The Road Games EP was released in 1983. The album featured Chad Wackerman (who had performed with Frank Zappa for seven years) on drums, Jeff Berlin on Bass and Jack Bruce (Cream) on vocals.

# 7 – 5 to 10

The great Allan Holdsworth album Wardenclyffe Tower was released in 1992. The smoking song 5 to 10 opened up the record. Other musicians on the album include Gary Husband on drums and keyboards, Jimmy Johnson on bass, and Steve Hunt on keyboards.

# 6 – City Nights

Continuing with our Allan Holdsworth songs list is a great piece of music from the 1989 Secrets LP. The song “City Nights,” appeared as the opening track on the album. The album featured the phenomenal drummer Vincent Colaiuta. The legendary drummer is easily one of the hardest working drummers in the music business playing with artists like Frank Zappa, Sting, Gino VannelliAl Stewart, Billy Joel, and hundreds of other famous musical artists.   

# 5 – Pud Wud

One of the most colorful Allan Holdsworth album covers was the cover of the album Sand. Representing the Sand album on our Essential Allan Holdsworth songs list is the interestingly titled track “Pud Wud.” It is safe to assume that there are no other songs in musical history also titled “Pud Wud.”

# 4 – Norwegian Wood

We understand that this is an Essential Allan Holdsworth SONGS list, but his cover of The Beatles “Norwegian Wood,” is not to be missed. The great cover version of The Beatles classic was released on the None Too Soon album. The great record was released in 1996. The majority of the songs on the None Too Soon album were cover versions of jazz standards.

# 3 – Countdown

Allan Holdsworth of John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” defined the similarities between Allan Holdsworth’s guitar playing and the work of John Coltrane. Allan Holdsworth’s phrasing was very much reminiscent and seemingly inspired by John Coltrane’s solos. You cannot listen to the works of Allan Holdsworth without making the connections between Holdsworth and Coltrane.

# 2 – Metal Fatigue

Metal Fatigue was Allan Holdsworth’s defining rock and roll moment. The song “Metal Fatigue,” presented progressive rock and jazz fusion fans with one of the greatest fusion guitar riffs ever laid down on record. This is an album not to be missed. Stop whatever you’re doing and buy this album now, if you can find it. The Metal Fatigue album was released in 1985. Produced by Allan Holdsworth himself, the album was recorded at Music Grinder, Mad Hatter, and Front Page Recorders in Los Angeles. Besides Holdsworth on guitar and SynthAxe, the album features a talented roster of musicians, including Jimmy Johnson on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums.

# 1 – Ruhkukah

If you want to inspire a young musician to practice, just play Allan Holdsworth’s “Ruhkukah.” There are no words to describe what you are about to hear. Just press play, and you will understand why we listed this track as number one on our top 10 Essential Allan Holdsworth songs list. The amazing piece of music entitled “Ruhkukah,” was released on the Hard Hat Area album. The record was issued in 1993.

Special thanks to Thomas Neokleous for help in compiling this list.

Updated November 1, 2023

10 Essential Allan Holdsworth Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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