9 guitar heroes pick their favourite riffs
25th Nov 2009 | 10:45
As part of our Riff Week celebrations on MusicRadar, we compiled the definitive list of The Top 50 Guitar Riffs Of All Time, as voted for by thousands of you. In the interests of democracy, we thought it was only fair that legendary guitar stars were allowed to vote too.
Not content with grabbing Slash and Brian May to talk riffs on camera, we also asked pretty much every A-lister we could get a microphone anywhere near to tell us what they thought was the best/greatest/most important guitar riff of all time. Ever. In history. Here's what they said...
We caught up with the ZZ Top legend at the Classic Rock Awards. His answer would make one hell of an iPod playlist:
“God… well you can’t limit it to one. It starts off with Jimmy Reed, then it goes Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, then you got Keith and Satisfaction, then you got Whole Lotta Love, Jimmy Page doin’ that thing, and it just keeps going on and on and on…”
The Aerosmith star has been busy lately, but he found the time to speak to MusicRadar about all things riff-shaped:
"The best riff is The Yardbirds' version of Train Kept A-Rollin' because it sounds great on any guitar, it's instantly recognizable and it sounds good on electric or acoustic guitar, banjo, sitar, whatever! Anything with strings!"
And what makes a killer riff?
"A great riff is a riff you hear once in the morning and it stays with you the whole day."
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo is very selective when it comes to interviews. But he spoke to MusicRadar recently about the band's new LP Raditude and it seemed only right and proper to give him the chance to name his favourite guitar riff of all time too:
"The first one that pops into my mind is… derrn-der-der-unnn, der-der-unnn! What’s that riff? Oh, yeah - Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine. It’s just awesome."
And what makes an awesome riff for Rivers?
"Distortion. It has to have distortion. The right combination of notes and syncopation. Heaviness. It’s gotta be in the low register of the guitar. And then it just has to hit you in the gut. Killing In The Name has all those qualities."
The Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci keeps it classic rock when it comes to his nomination for the greatest guitar riff of all time:
"There’s so many, but the first one that comes to mind is Smoke On The Water. It’s so simple and everybody recognises it. There’s nothing technical about it, nothing like the modern riffs that are coming out nowadays. But that riff says it all. I wish I would’ve thought of it!"
And what makes a great riff?
"Something that is immediately recognisable. A riff where you play the first note or two and people react. That’s a big part of what makes a great guitar riff. You start playing it and people go, Wow!"
We recently caught up with Smiths guitar legend Johnny Marr and his new bandmate, Ryan Jarman from The Cribs. Marr's choice is a cult classic:
"I think the greatest riff of all time is Gimme Danger by James Williamson, off Iggy And The Stooges' Raw Power album. It's dark but beautiful, it's got attitude but is not without subtlety. There’s dark and light in it, it’s druggy and sexy, and sounds like me… apparently!”
Rising blues-rock star Joe Bonamassa was extremely affable when we ran into him at the Classic Rock Awards. This was his response when we enquired about his favourite riffs:
“My favourite guitar riff of all time to me has to be Smoke On The Water. Why? It’s a very obvious choice, because no matter what skill level you are as a guitar player, it’s still cool to play. A beginner, an intermediate or an expert can play that riff and get applause from an audience. That’s what makes it the best guitar riff of all time.”
Satch gets pigeonholed as a shred-head, but when it comes to guitar riffs, his tastes are pure rock 'n' roll:
"(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones. Most bang for the buck. Plus, pure freakin’ voodoo magic."
So what makes a great guitar riff?
"When guitar tone matches the notes and attitude, it makes sense with the song and is totally iconic and memorable. And when it has that ‘What is that?’ factor."
Also hanging out and sharing fashion tips with Billy Gibbons - true story! - at the Classic Rock Awards was Mr Jeff Beck. We managed to interrupt for approximately 10 seconds and this is what he nominated:
“Oh god I don't know... I guess the most popular has got to be Purple Haze.”
Which one of yours is your favourite?
“Oh nah... (laughs) they're all failures.”
When we asked Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi what he thought the best riff of all time was, one of his entourage looked incredulous and said, "What do you mean? He is the riff."
Who were we to argue? For the record, Iommi replied: “Well, apart from ours... Smoke On The Water and some Led Zeppelin stuff.”
The jury's still out then. Check out our rundown of The Top 50 Guitar Riffs Of All Time and let us know if you agree.