A guitar riff is defined as a cluster or sequence of notes or chords that are used in a song. It can be repeated over and over again, or it may only be heard once in, say, a lead guitar solo. Riffs can be minor decorative elements or they can be the basis of a song. Many riffs are very memorable — they usually are the most immediately recognizable thing about a song — and that is why they are so important.
In honor of our popular Licks You MUST Know guitar lesson series, which covers guitar licks inspiration the most famous riffs in literally every style and skill level, we decided to put together a list of the 7 greatest guitar riffs of all-time. This is only in our humble opinion (there are thousands and thousands of incredible guitar riffs!), so feel free to share your thoughts and comments.
7. Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
“Sweet Child o’ Mine” is the third single by American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, and the third from their 1987 debut studio album, Appetite for Destruction. Released on August 18, 1988, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the band’s first and only number-one single in the U.S and reached number six on the UK Singles Chart. The guitar riff at the beginning of the song is likely responsible for a lot of its popularity. It starts off our list of the great guitar riffs at #7:
6. Metallica – “Enter Sandman”
“Enter Sandman” is likely the Metallica song with which people are most familiar. It was released as the first single from their eponymous fifth album, Metallica. The single achieved gold certification for more than 500,000 copies shipped in the United States, spurring sales of over 25 million copies for Metallica and propelling Metallica to worldwide popularity. Not too shabby. Acclaimed by critics, the song is featured on all of Metallica’s live albums and DVDs released after 1991 and has been played live at award ceremonies and benefit concerts. It’s 6th on our list of the greatest guitar riffs, which isn’t too shabby either.
5. AC/DC – “Back In Black”
“Back in Black” is a song by AC/DC, appearing as the first track on side two of their 1980 album of the same name. Known for its opening guitar riff, the song was AC/DC’s tribute to their former singer Bon Scott. The song was ranked No. 4 by VH1 on their list of the 40 Greatest Metal Songs, and in 2009 it was named the second greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. It was also ranked No. 187 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The same magazine has also ranked “Back in Black” number 29 on “The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”. It’s #5 on our guitar riff countdown.
4. Eric Clapton – “Layla”
“Layla” is a song by blues-rock band Derek and the Dominos and the thirteenth track from 1970s Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the group’s only studio release. It is considered one of rock music’s definitive love songs, featuring an unmistakable guitar figure played by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and a piano coda that comprises the second half of the song. The song is often hailed as being among the greatest rock songs of all time. Two versions have achieved chart success: first in 1972 and again twenty years later as an acoustic performance on Clapton’s Unplugged album. In 2004, it was ranked #27 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and the acoustic version won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. It sits at #3 on our list:
3. Deep Purple – “Smoke on the Water”
“Smoke on the Water” is a song by the British hard rock band Deep Purple. It was first released on their 1972 album Machine Head. In 2004, the song was ranked number 426 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and in March 2005, Q magazine placed “Smoke on the Water” at number twelve in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. It checks in at #3:
2. Rolling Stones – “Satisfaction”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is a Rolling Stones song released in 1965. It was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham. The number is noted for Richards’s three-note guitar riff which opens and drives the song, and for the lyrics, which include references to sexual intercourse and a theme of anti-commercialism. The song is considered to be one of the all-time great rock songs. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine placed “Satisfaction” in the second spot on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, while in 2006 it was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. We think it’s also worthy of the second spot on our top guitar riffs list:
1. Jimi Hendrix – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is the last track on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The song is known for its wah-wah-heavy guitar work. The song was recorded in 1968 and was re-released as a single after Hendrix’s death in 1970. It was the A-side on a three-track record and reached Number 1 in the UK. It is #101 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs of all time, and, even better, Hendrix’s incredible guitar riff is our favorite of all time. Enjoy:
Want to learn how to play your own guitar riffs or cover the most popular guitar riffs of all-time? Check out our Licks You MUST Know guitar lesson series!
Photo by Alexandre St-Louis on Unsplash