The guitar riff is perhaps one of the most important factors in any song. It’s crucial in that it makes or breaks a songs theme and structure. With a riff, you want to get to the heart of what the song is about, and convey it to the audience in a short n sweet way, that doesn’t get annoying for an audience to hear. A riff can be played on any instrument, but the one that sticks out the most, and is most commonly discussed is the guitar riff. Guitars have always been central to the ideology of rock music, and sometimes the guitar player is more famous than the frontman ( see Kasabian, Rolling Stones). Anyway, here are the best of the best, where the riff takes centre stage over the song itself.
10. Violent Femmes-Blister in The Sun: This song is so bohemian it makes my brain hurt. The riff in this song instantly conjures the image of some dude walking in flip flops, hair trailing down to his shoulders, talking about all-bran, as some random 80’s band plays on his portable Walkman player, probably Violent Femmes. The great thing about this riff, is that it is rambunctious, happy and random, but still kind of has a sombre tone to it, something unfortunate is teeming at the surface. If Trainspotting could be summarised in a song, it would be the bittersweet ‘Blister in the Sun’.
9. The Who-The Seeker: Chock full of bravado, and faux arrogance, the riff to ‘The Seeker’ capitalises on the spirit of this song, about an insatiable lust for….fame. It’s a very groovy and sonic riff, but still has it’s roots firmly in rock n roll territory. It never bounces, it never tries to be flamboyant, it simply rocks out and straddles around being the biggest and roughest riff in The Who’s category. Small town riff, with an epic twist.
8. Dandy Warhols- Bohemian Like You: A slow, jungle buildup is the only way to introduce The Dandy Warhols wild party riff in ‘Bohemian Like You’. Although the riff is incredibly simple, compromises of only a few chords, and has probably been done by countless other bands, The Dandy’s made it their own. It totally fits with the songs coming of age, self-confident strides. A 20-something song made by 20-something musicians with a 20-something riff.
7. Beck-Loser: Beck is so weird. So a sloppy riff, distinctly made with a sliding chord style, and a sitar playing the same thing is the perfect choice for Beck’s single to introduce him to the world. It gave off just the greatest stoner/slacker vibe and hinted, nay pointed at the nonsense lyrics and absolute nothingness of the songs meaning. The lack of power in the lyrics, and the sheer randomness played off the riff so well, and provided one of the greatest and funnest songs of the 90’s.
6. Franz Ferdinand-Take Me Out: This is perhaps the most stomping riff I have ever heard, straight out of the gate. Every single note makes the earth quake. It announces the arrival of Franz Ferdinand to the scene, perpetuating anger, annoyance, wackiness, and perhaps a tinge of lust. It is just oozing with glamour and flair, and begging for someone to start hating, just so it can bitch slap them in the face, and keep going with it’s enormous stride. I like to call this song ‘The Pimp’s Riff’.
5. Blur-Song 2: Blur have always been a diverse band, liking to stray away from their safe Brit-pop sound in return for a storming single. ‘Song 2’ is a great example of Blur reaping the rewards of deviating from the path. ‘Song 2’ is unique and stand alone in that it creates a furious, buzzing atmosphere, and even during the quiet verses, every listener is just itching in anticipation for the fuzz pedal to get switched on, and be able to belt out a primal “WOOHOO!” over some of the sludgiest playing to be heard from Damon Albarn and Co.
4. Nirvana-Rape Me: A lot of people think this song is reflective of Kurt Cobain’s mental image of himself towards the end of his life. Not true. Rape Me was a staple in Nirvana’s live set for quite some time before they ever got around to recording it. It instead reflects Kurt’s view of the music industry and how fake he saw it, and how brutalised the musicians had become. Produced by Steve Albini (the guy behind Shellac), it has a quiet and snarling anger to it (the riff that is). Simple and drenched in feedback, it is the perfect partner to such a vile and sneering song.
3. Black Sabbath-Paranoid: There is not a single person alive that can resist playing air guitar along to ‘Paranoid’. This is a song made for being blasted out of speakers at full volume. It’s completely ruthless and unforgiving. If the apocalypse ever became a thing, ‘Paranoid’ would be the backing vocals. It is simply thunderous. Side note: it was really, really really hard trying to pick my favourite Black Sabbath riff. Like, chocolate ice cream or cookies and cream ice cream hard.
2. The Bronx-Heart Attack American: Starts off loud; gets even louder. At first, it seems like the rage is just barely being contained, and that if the song got any wilder, someone in the proximity would explode. Then it does. Head explosions due to ‘Heart Attack American’ are the 34th biggest killer known to man today. This song embodies the spirit of hardcore punk: melodic enough to not be trashy noise, punk enough to piss of any government officials, and tough enough to punch a tiger in the throat (tigers are awesome, don’t ever punch them). There is just too much muscle to contain this song.
1. Refused-Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine: One of the greatest bands of all time, put off before they could reach they’re peak. Or not, as evidenced by ‘Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine. Straight into the first bar, and the riff has already broken down the gates, killed everyone in sight and has the enemy leader lying in a pool of their own blood. ‘Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine’ is not just a song; it’s a cry to arms. Are you soft? Do you want to lay down and die in this regime? Or do you want to be a punk? The riff questions everyone’s core morals and cuts the bone of human nature. Besides being a moral compass, it’s just pretty cool with it’s call-answer style, chord progression and shifting time signature.