Great guitar riffs usually sponsor succesful songs. An excellent guitar riff has the ability to latch on to a listener and make said listener hum it for days. Then, after enough listens (maybe even one), it becomes forever engrained in their minds. So when someone mentions “Smoke on the Water” or “Satisfaction” the mind immediately goes to that hard-hitting electric guitar and that incredible riff. Understandably, some of the most well-known guitarists are responsible for the greatest riffs. Among them are Ritchie Blackmore, who smoked on the water with Deep Purple, and Keith Richards, who could not get any satisfaction with the Rolling Stones. There are many more known guitarists who created timeless riffs. But then there is a certain riff that wasn’t created by a world-famous guitarist, but rather a singer-songwriter whose riff was covered by a British band called The Troggs. The song promptly exploded. It, of course, is “Wild Thing.”
Yes, Chip Taylor is Mr “Wild Thing.” He is also Jon Voight’s brother and, therefore, Angelina Jolie’s uncle. The riff is actually a chord progression and it follows a simple A Major pattern of I, IV, V, IV – or in lettered chord names, A, D, E, D. Most great guitar riffs tend to be easy to play. Remember, it is important to get something recorded that others will want to listen to over and over again. Simplicity is key.
“Wild Thing” was first recorded by Jordan Christopher & The Wild Ones in 1965, but The Troggs absolutely knocked it out of the park with their version. Then, Jimi Hendrix burned the stage, literally, after performing “Wild Thing” and famously setting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. “Wild Thing” was also used in the movie “Major League” as the theme song for Charlie Sheen’s character Rick Vaughn.
The riff is unmistakable and mostly no one can tell you who originated it. Now you know. It is Chip Taylor. So the next time you see someone rocking out to the chord progression you can let them know that Angelina Jolie’s uncle is the man behind the song!
How can we have a Best Guitar Riffs section without the riff that fronted the essential rock “love” song? Derek and the Dominoes conquered the typical love ballad, and transformed the normal adoration tune into a spell-binding passion roller-coaster that portrays Eric Clapton‘s obsession with George Harrison’s wife-at-the-time Pattie Boyd. Everyone knows the basic story.
Clapton and Harrison were good friends. Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd became Clapton’s obsession. After playing “Layla,” the love-rocker inspired by Boyd, at a party, Clapton confessed his undying love for Harrison’s wife in front of the sitar-wielding Beatle. And then Harrison kicked Clapton’s ass, right? Well, actually, no. Harrison was fine and remained married to Boyd for several more years before she gave in to Clapton’s charm and divorced Harrison for him. And then Harrison kicked Clapton’s ass in a Bruce Springsteen “Jungleland” dystopia where guitars are flashed just like switchblades. Actually, Harrison attended Clapton’s wedding party with Ringo and Paul and wished good fortune to the new couple. Women mattered and didn’t matter at all to these musicians I guess. “Layla” was made because of Boyd, but, did you know that its classic riff and rocking beat was not Clapton’s original intention.
Duane Allman, of the Allman Brothers, was the man you can credit for transforming Clapton’s vision of a ballad to his love into the classic riff we all know and play air guitar to. Let’s talk about the riff composition.
By the way, part two of the eight-minute epic was founded on a separate piano piece that was originally created by Dominoes drummer (yes, drummer) Jim Gordon. Clapton loved it and with Gordon’s blessing they recorded part two with Clapton playing acoustic and slide guitar and Allman playing electric and bottleneck slide.
Okay, on to the riff, or, rather, this:
“Layla” is composed of two riffs. The song can really be on our list twice. Hence why it is such a tremendous guitar piece. The first riff is Clapton’s famous hammer-on, pull-off, power chord epicness which sends crowds into frenzy on first play. He is then joined by an Allman original forming a guitar duet that juxtaposes sweet high notes with the lower-pitch main riff. The riff is commonly listed when top guitar riffs are compiled. On my list it reaches the top five easily. How can it not? It features the work of two guitar gods in their prime and there is nothing better than that.
Sometimes you just need a song that kicks you in the ass. A song that makes you want to run around or lift heavy objects. A work-out song. So what fulfills the qualifications of an exercise song? The song must be upbeat and loud. Those are two musts. The song needs to move constantly. If there is a stop, it must be very short and it must lead directly into what has made you want to put the treadmill at 8.0.
Now, imagine a world where your favorite exercise song also finds its way onto the list of best guitar riffs of all time. Motorhead, the English heavy metal band, accomplished both tasks. They not only lead my extensive list of workout music, but also they perfect metal guitar with “Ace of Spades.” Eddie Clarke‘s hard guitar sound is masterful. It is quick and efficient. The repetitive riff is proof of why the band gave Eddie the nickname of “Fast.”
I must say that Lemmy’s voice is the raspiest kind of 20 packs a day good. He strains himself to crush songs. He sings in a controlled grunt. Clearly, though, the infectious riff carries the song and provides its strength, and for that it holds a spot on our best guitar riffs list.
There is actually an acoustic version of this song. I know, really? Well, Lemmy’s voice is defined more through this version.
“Spirit in the Sky” is an odd song. It’s not so much that its progenitor, Norman Greenbaum, grew up in a semi-Orthodox Jewish home and, as most know, the lyrics of the song mention how the singer has a “friend in Jesus.” The song is odd because of its fuzzy guitar riff that is about as infectious as the common cold. The riff is spectacular. It is classic rock ‘n roll (as John Lennon said) and it’s inventive.
The song came into thought when Norman Greenbaum, after the break-up of his psychedelic jug band Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band (perhaps best known for their song “The Eggplant that Ate Chicago), was watching Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on TV. He thought that he could do it and wrote the piece in 15 minutes. The eminent guitar riff came later.
Tell me you don’t naturally play air guitar and make guttural guitar noises when you heard this opening riff. The fuzz comes from Greenbaum’s Fender Telecaster with a fuzz box built into its body. The song’s arrangement came together in a San Francisco studio. Lead guitarist Russell DaShiell, who plays the riff in the song, describes how he created “beeps” in the fills:
“I actually played the lead guitar parts on Spirit, using a 61-62 SG Les Paul, a 68 Marshall Plexi 100w half stack and a home-made overdrive box in front of the Marshall. Regarding the ‘beep beeps’ as I call them, when the producer asked me to play some fills in between the verses, as a joke I said how about something spacey like this and I did the pickup switch/string bending thing. I saw him stand up in the control booth and he said “that’s it! let’s record that!” so we did.”
The song is an excellent example of how to make an original guitar riff that will make you money for the rest of your lives. Yes, Greenbaum has made his living on this one song, cashing checks of up to $10,000 when his song is used in a movie or commercial (it’s used a lot). Pretty awesome!