Classic Rock Guitar Riffs

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

The Guitar Riffs that Defined Rock and Roll

The era of Classic Rock, which began during the British Invasion of the 1960s and arguably concluded in the 1990s, was defined largely by guitar-based Rock bands. What set many great songs of this era apart from others was a memorable guitar riff. These typically started the song and snaked their way through most of the tune. Here is a partial list of the greatest Classic Rock song riffs.

Riff 1: YOU REALLY GOT ME by The Kinks

The Kinks needed a hit; their first two singles had flopped. Ray Davies composed this song and had to lobby hard to have his label release the song as he wanted it done. The riff that opens this song became the blueprint for the Garage Rock of the mid-60s and the Hard Rock of the late 60s and beyond. Davies would go on to compose much more complex and critically-acclaimed works, including entire concept albums, but this song is what he will always be remembered for.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7ffgqjcH40

Riff 2: (I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION by The Rolling Stones

Keith Richards came up with this classic riff in his hotel room one night. He envisioned a horn section playing the opening riff, and played it through a fuzzbox to get the blaring effect. He never got the horn section he wanted. He and Mick Jagger were opposed to having the song released as a single, but they were outvoted by their producer and their bandmates. This song established them in the US as a force to be reckoned with.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzYWTIHqutA

Riff 3: WHOLE LOTTA LOVE BY Led Zeppelin

This song, which boasts perhaps Jimmy Page’s most famous riff, opened their classic second album. As a heavily edited single, it reached number 4 on the US charts and sold over a million copies, making WHOLE LOTTA LOVE their first big hit. Although the song was “borrowed” from blues legend Willie Dixon (Check out Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love,” written by Dixon), the riff is strictly “Pagey’s.”
“You Need Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-VCiYLX9ts
“Whole Lotta Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQmmM_qwG4k

Riff 4: IRON MAN by Black Sabbath

It is a misconception that the character in this song has anything to do with the Marvel Comics character of the same name. In the song, Iron Man is a time traveler who, warned of the world’s destruction, comes back to warn humankind. But exposure to a magnetic field leaves him unable to communicate. Mocked and scorned by the people he tried to save, his anger leads him to unleash the destruction he had seen. Either way, Tony Iommi’s riff has made an indelible mark on the world of rock.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHW6qL67R2M

Riff 5: SMOKE ON THE WATER by Deep Purple

This song is based on a true story. Deep Purple had come to Montreux, Switzerland with the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to record a new album at a casino there. On the eve of the recording session, A Frank Zappa concert at the casino ended when a fire was started by an audience member firing a flare gun into the ceiling. The building was destroyed, and the band had to relocate to the nearby Grand Hotel to record their best-known album, MACHINE HEAD. Ritchie Blackmore’s opening riff is quite possibly the one emulated by most beginning guitarists.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mCK05dgwgU

These are but a few of the iconic guitar riffs in rock. Enjoy exploring and reliving these greats!

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