The 500 greatest guitar riffs of all time

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Lenny Kravitz 'Are you gonna go my way' has to be in the top 10, Smoke is an obvious one.

I couldn't possibly read, never mind compile, 500. Marks to the guy for the total effort; makes me think I ought to rejuvenate the "Bass riff" thread in the Bass Cat here.

Although everybody knows it, I never did find out why "Smoke" is such a great riff. It isn't really, c'mon, is it?

The greatest ones are often the most memorable, and you have to give Smoke that title, i live the Stones and Satisfaction is a great riff, but as a guitarist it's a little too simple, i would feel a little bit underused as a guitarist playing that riff, if you want a Stones riff then choose Jumpin' Jack Flash, that one has all boxes ticked.
But then any Stones tune has a great riff, thats why they are 'The Greatest Rock'n'Roll band in the World'.

I have now done "favourite bass riffs" with links so anyone can click and see what fuss the four-stringers are making (over in the "Bass" category). Worth doing; even for me there were some surprises in listening. "Smoke" has a much more interesting bass line than I imagined, for instance.

Just browsed the top 50 or so.

This raises some very interesting/questionable points - what people class as 'riffs'? I see them being repeated hooks that reiteraate to the listener an ongoing theme, usually continually re-emphasised in its complete and unedited form throughout the song/piece.

I note 'Stairway To Heaven' being in the top 20. Can this honestly be considered to contains any 'riffs'? In fact I just played it and whilst I do not question its impact and obvious place in rock legend, it does not stand out as containing a distinct 'riff'. You could play the intro and recognise it after the first couple of notes, but in my opinion it is not in any way an example of exceptional 'riffing'.

Stairway has many levels and has a 'theme', but perhaps people simply confuse great songs with great riffs?


I took a listen to some amateur non led zep covers on YouTube, and even with the shitty playing, riffs were definitely identifiable. The intro has a lyrical riff which is repeated.

But like you said, different people's definitions come into play.

Don't know about a repeated hook, i would say its a hook that you would identify the song with, sometimes it repeats throughout the song though, sometimes not, for instance Brown Sugar has a great riff at the begining but is never repeated anywhere else in the song, there is a word for this, can't remember what it is, it also occurs in the RHCP's 'Under the bridge' the intro is never repeated anywhere else in the song , also, Keith Richards (the riff master) is the greatest at this, who remembers 'Tumblin' dice' ? intro riff never repeated, 'It's only Rock'n'roll ' great startup riff instantly recognise the song, but again never repeated, but i don't think Stairway intro can be classed as a riff, too long.

I'm not talking the entire intro... what it's coming down to here, is us deciding the length a riff can be.

edit: on a second listen... maybe I am pushing it in regards to length. Still, I standby by claim there are repeated and recognizable riffs in it.

As has been stated, 'riff' will vary in definition, however;

If I say sing or play the riff from Smoke On The Water, every single person will play exactly what I have in my head right now. Same with Since You've Been Gone, Paranoid etc, the hook is so barbed, it stands out instantly.

I do the same for Stairway and what will you play? If my life depended on it, I honestly would not know what to do if someone said play the riff from Stairway . I stand by my claim - Stairway has no riff - it is littered with standalone phrasic embellishments but has no identifiable 'Stairway riff'.

I think 'riff' is being confused with 'melody' here. This is just the way I look at it and of course, is not carved in stone.

I mustard mitt, I wasn't exactly sure what part of Stairway would be referred to as "the riff". Working on the "£1 fine if played in a guitar shop" rule that operated in the '70s, I took it to be the intro. On the bass riff thread, "Starless and Bible Black" has a lot of quite interesting bass but most of it even a Crimson fan might not recognize in isolation. The clunky, fuzzy line that comes in after about 7 minutes is the bit I was talking about. Incidentally, I'm having a heckuva job finding a useful link to that one.

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