What is metal without riffs? Come to think of it, what’s rock and roll without riffs?
Sure, it’s great to hear a virtuosos guitarist like Eddie Van Halen or the late Randy Rhoads play incredible solos, but it’s also so much fun to chunk away on a great riff.
As much as I love metal and guitar playing, I would never want to try and compile a list of greatest riffs because there’s so many to choose from. You could compile lengthy greatest riff lists on just one band alone, like Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. Not to mention the riffs that everybody knows that were probably the first thing you learned on guitar like Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, Enter Sandman, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, etc.
So once again, here’s another one of these lists we see all over the internet, and of course this is all subjective, but this one is from the website of Gibson guitars, and it’s a list of top ten most awesome riffs of the 80s.
#1 on the list is interesting, because it hit the world at the beginning of the decade: AC/DC’s Back in Black. It is indeed a great riff, and hard to play exactly, as simple as it is. (I’ve heard many guitarists play it wrong). After that? Start Me Up from the Rolling Stones, another riff that sounds very simple but also has a distinctive feel that’s not easy to replicate. (Ron Wood’s also playing a good counter riff to Keef on this one that weaves together nicely).
Third is Ozzy’s Crazy Train, written by Randy Rhoads, and in addition to being a phenomenal lead player, Randy also came up with great riffs and rhythm parts.
Then the rest of the list is, in order, Rock You Like a Hurricane from The Scorpions, Photograph from Def Leppard, Breaking the Law from Judas Priest, Beat It from Michael Jackson, Should I Stay or Should I Go from the Clash, Sweet Child O’ Mine from GNR, and Limelight from Rush.
There’s of course lots of arguments and debates you can make with these lists, and tons of more lists you can make if you want to go up into the hundreds and thousands, but you have to admit there’s at least one or two riffs on this list you’ll agree are indeed classic, no matter how opinionated you are.