A new poll for the oft-debated topic of Greatest Guitar Riffs has some stupefying results. The U.K. study done in March 2022 by music content and software provider Muse (also owner of Ultimate Guitar) polled 1,500 people and provided some seriously head-scratching picks… even in the top five.
Let’s define terms first, shall we? I don’t think we have to tell anyone what a guitar solo is. That is NOT the guitar riff. A guitar riff is the foundation of a song that repeats throughout. Per RockGuitarUniverse, “a riff, through its melodic and rhythmic construction, is designed to be a hook that represents the vibe of a song.” (Going further, a riff is also not a “lick.” A guitar lick is a cool or memorable offshoot of a solo or riff that’s used once in a song.)
The top 30 songs that made it in the poll are all listed below, but let’s go one through five first and pick out some of the stunners.
1. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
“Sweet Child” by G n’ R is totally normal choice that often tops these kinds of lists. We have no problem here.
2. Survivor “Eye Of The Tiger”
No disrespect to the official theme song from Rocky III, however, No. 2 guitar riff of all-time? Sure, it’s a powerful riff, but better than say, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (which didn’t even make the list) or Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water?” Let’s move on, because No. 3 is a potentially even worse punt.
3. Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust”
The iconic, funky part that makes “Another One Bites the Dust” is great, but it’s not a guitar riff. It’s a BASSLINE. And it’s not the only bass guitar-driven “riff” that made the list. Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is at no. 12. This makes us wonder if the metrics used/choices given in this survey make any sense. Leading us to 4…
4. Kings Of Leon, “Sex on Fire”
We’re not even sure that this is a Top 10,000 song of all time. (The lead singer of the band doesn’t even really like it!) How is this riff better than “Back In Black” (No. 13) “or “Satisfaction” (No. 24????) Is this a result of a great undersexing in the British public? Get some, lads, and take this test over. Please.
5. Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”
Ok. We guess. Obviously one of the greatest rock songs ever crafted. We’ll take it based on the other decisions that have been made here. We just don’t know if it’s a Top 5 sticky RIFF. That’s what this was supposed to be all about, right????!?!?!?
The whole of the top 30 follow. There are a few picks you might expect in there but also some more that don’t even follow the rules, again. Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is a horn melody! Pink Floyd’s The Wall is an ALBUM. (The song “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” is a valid choice, but, c’mon, let’s get it together.) This is why we defined the terms at the beginning! Jeez. Frustrating.
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
- Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
- Another One Bites the Dust – Queen
- Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon
- Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
- Beat It – Michael Jackson
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Layla – Eric Clapton
- Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
- Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
- The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
- Back in Black – AC/DC
- The Ace of Spades – Motorhead
- Walk This Way – Aerosmith
- Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
- You Really Got Me – The Kinks
- The Wall – Pink Floyd
- Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
- I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – Joan Jett
- Voodoo Child – Jimi Hendrix
- Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
- Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) – The Rolling Stones
- Come as You Are – Nirvana
- Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
- I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys
- Message in a Bottle – The Police
- All Right Now – Free
- Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
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