Much of the rock music canon has been built on the foundation of the riff, that magical collection of notes and chords played on a guitar, the progression that anchors the song.
The riff is the thing that captures your attention and drags you into the song. It’s a reoccurring theme that shows up again and again within the track. It’s so identifiable that if you just hear the riff, you automatically know the song.
Think the opening bits of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Kurt Cobain hammering E A G C at the beginning of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or any one of a thousand AC/DC songs.
A “riff” is different than a “lick,” which is a cool guitar bit but isn’t as complete as a riff. (Here’s an attempt to explain the difference.)
But which riff is the best of all time? There’s no right answer to this question, obviously, but I’m looking to gather as many individual opinions as possible.
No rules here except that I’m looking for riffs, not licks. And yes, there is such a thing as a bass riff. And while there are keyboard bits that can be described as riffs, let’s just focus on the six- and four-string variety.
Here are some classics to get you thinking. They are examples only, not suggestions.