Guitar Wars: what is the greatest riff of all time?
1st Apr 2008 | 10:51
We've seen people nearly come to blows over this question in pubs (we are those people) so what's the answer: what is the greatest guitar riff of all time?
A recent internal poll at Guitar-X – the guitar students at London’s prestigious Tech Music Schools – has attmpted to answer it.
The results surfaced in a list of the top 25 – to concide with Guitar-X's 25th anniversary – so what do you think?
In order of popularity, the top 25 guitar riffs of all time…
1. Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple (1973)
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (1991)
3. Walk This Way – Aerosmith (1975)
4. Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix (1967)
5. Sweet Child O Mine – Guns N Roses (1987)
6. Paradise City – Guns N Roses (1987)
7. Ace Of Spades – Motorhead (1980)
8. Enter Sandman – Metallica (1991)
9. Under The Bridge – Red Hot Chilli Peppers (1992)
10. Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N Roses (1987)
11. Run To The Hills – Iron Maiden (1982)
12. Walk – Pantera (1992)
13. Johnny Be Goode – Chuck Berry (1958)
14. Back In Black – AC/DC (1980)
15. Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin (1970)
16. Wake Up – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
17. Highway to Hell – AC/DC (1979)
18. My Generation – The Who (1965)
19. 7 Nation Army – The White Stripes (2003)
20. Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf (1968)
21. Give It Away – Red Hot Chilli Peppers (1991)
22. Paranoid – Black Sabbath (1970)
23. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix (1967)
24. Eye Of The Tiger – Survivor (1982)
25. Money For Nothing – Dire Straits (1984)
As Guitar-X points out, the big surprise it the fact that with only a few exceptions the riffs were all written more than 20 years ago. Even more interesting considering many of the students who took part in the survey were not even born when the riffs were recorded!
Great riffs never get old it seems.
So what else does this chart tell us? Head Of Instruments at Guitar-X, John Wheastcroft – who has also been a contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques – John Wheatcroft has offered his anaysis of the results…
"Creating a classic riff isn't as easy as it seems. Your riff needs to be memorable, vaguely familiar, reasonably accessible (i.e. fairly simple to remember and easy to play!), able to withstand countless repetition without becoming tedious and most importantly, somehow original. Not an easy task. The one thing that ties all of our the classic riffs together is that once you've figured out how to play one on your instrument, you'll wonder why you thought it'd be so difficult to write one yourself!
"Most of our 'classic' riffs are more than 20 years old, with many of them distinctly middle-aged, dating back to the late 60s or early 70s. Whilst it could be argued that we are no longer living in the iconic 'Age Of The Electric Guitar', a quick look around any record shop proves that musical quality lasts, with artists such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin shifting just as many albums today, if not more than they did in their heyday.
"It's possible that you have to wait until the dust settles before we can truly consider a riff's eligibility for classic status. If we were to consider a similar question within either jazz or classical music, would we be truly surprised if most, if not all of the artists were not currently active, musically or otherwise?
"Today, there are undoubtedly loads of fantastic artists that continue to feature the electric guitar as the prominent feature of their sound. Perhaps in these days of equality it's down to the absence of any real new 'guitar heroes'. Remember those heady days of Rock 'N' Roll, where the audience was treated to the gladiatorial spectacle of the singer and the lead guitarist battling it out for centre-stage dominance and audience adulation night after night?"
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