Do you remember what drew you to the guitar? Maybe it was your favourite band from childhood, or a fleeting moment watching a busker performing on the street. Or perhaps it was a riff – short, powerful, memorable.
There are countless guitar riffs out there, but only a small number have become well and truly ingrained in popular culture. If you’re a guitarist, these are the riffs that you just cannot wait to learn how to play.
Here are seven of the greatest guitar riffs of all time.
1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Rolling Stones (1965)
Legend has it that the instantly recognisable riff that kick-starts the Rolling Stone’s biggest hit came to Keith Richards in a dream. He awoke suddenly in the night, grabbed his guitar and tape recorder, played the riff just once, and went straight back to sleep.
Incredibly, the studio recording of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was one of the first times – if not the very first – that this iconic heavy-fuzz effect was used.
2. Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix (1967)
The riff that launches the Jimi Hendrix classic Purple Haze was built around what’s commonly referred to as the ‘Hendrix Chord.’ The staccato-style psychedelic blast has inspired generations of musicians.
Funnily enough, this riff came to the artist in a dream, too. Just another reason to get your eight hours.
3. Whole Lotta Love, Led Zepplin (1969)
Jimmy Page is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest guitarists to walk the planet – and a master composer, too. Fast, heavy, and bluesy, the opening riff in Whole Lotta Love acts as a brilliant main phrase. Paired with Page’s face-melting solo work, and you’ve got a winning combination.
4. Smoke on the Water, Deep Purple (1972)
Smoke on the Water contains what is arguably the world’s most famous guitar lick. In fact, we bet you already know how to play this one – basic yet effective, it’s one of the first things budding rock’n’rollers learn to pay.
5. Back in Black, AC/DC (1980)
The track opens with a full, powerful strum of an open E chord, and then rockets into fellow Aussie Angus Young’s airtight riff. Back in Black is a classic of epic proportions.
And here’s my rendition of this AC/DC hit. Why not grab your guitar now and play along?
6. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana (1991)
Ranked number nine on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, Smells Like Teen Spirit inspires a sense of anarchy and fury, all with a touch of teenage nostalgia. Played on a Fender Mustang by band front-man Kurt Cobain, this simply structured combination of power chords is so much more than the sum of its parts.
7. Seven Nation Army, The White Stripes (2003)
The Seven Nation Army riff composed by Jack White has become nothing short of a phenomenon. At sporting matches around the globe, eager audiences encourage their teams by shouting the riff note by note. One journalist even called this iconic White Stripes tune, “an organic part of sports culture.”
Inspired? Grab your guitar and see what you can do
Feeling inspired? I know I am. These are riffs that I play a lot. So why not pick up your guitar and start strumming!
We’ve got an exciting collection of arrangements available, so you too can add a few of the world’s greatest songs to your repertoire.
Or, if you’re just getting started with the guitar, or would like to learn how to read and play any style of guitar music properly, check out my online guitar lessons.