What is the greatest guitar riff of all-time?

Keith-Richards-1964Image Credit: Peter Francis/Retna Ltd.Spinner has posted an agreeably catholic-minded list of the 50 Greatest Guitar Riffs in Rock ‘n’ Roll. True, most of the usual suspects are present, from “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos to that scourge of guitar store employees, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” However, the list also finds space for a slew of great but less obviously riff-tastic tracks, including The Smiths’ “This Charming Man,” The Meters’ “Look-ka Py Py,” and Chic’s “Le Freak.”

Do I agree with all of the choices? I do not! Frankly, it will be a cold day in hell before I willingly listen again to Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.” And I’m certainly not convinced that list-topper “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” features the greatest guitar riff of all-time. I’m not even convinced it’s the greatest riff by the Rolling Stones (I’m more of a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” man, myself).

But check out the list for yourself, and tell us what you think. What in your opinion is the greatest guitar riff of all-time?

See also:
What’s your favorite guitar solo?

Comments (121 total) Add your comment
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  • Mr E

    Supernaut by Black Sabbath.

    • LOL

      Mr E is a god of rock!

  • yournightmare

    Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb”.

    • ks

      Anything from the early years of Floyd-they used no synthasizors (sp)

    • Peter

      That’s not a riff, that’s a solo.

  • Steve

    Cat Scratch Fever by Ted Nugent

  • Daniel

    REM’s Begin the Begin

  • Cecilyk

    The fact that he put Plug In Baby at #46 when Guitar Magazine named it as the best riff of the decade last year made me ignore the rest of the list.

    • JW


    • Trixie

      As soon as I read the headline, the riff from “Plug in Baby” jumped into my head. It’s great!

    • muse = god

      Agreed! Plug in baby came to my mind right away. Everyone here should listen to it before they die.

    • u

      “Plug-in Baby” is one of the few memorable riffs of the past decade.

  • Jane

    Hello? Are you kidding? They missed All Along the Watchtower. For me, most recognizable riff for Jimmi and so totally great you forget it’s really a Dylan tune.

  • yocko

    Uh…..Let’s Go Crazy by Prince??

    • Gabby

      Thank YOU!!!!! And the opening riff of “When Doves Cry”

      • johnnykagewins

        I was going to say Purple Rain, but all three are great.

      • Peter

        That’s not a riff.

  • Tony Elia

    Where’s Led Zep, or Pink Floyd?

    • ks

      I want to add yes Steve Howe is AMAZING!

  • Dean

    Pretty solid list. I might put “20th Centruy Boy” right at the top. Definitely needs some Pantera. Also The Pixies. How about “Here Comes Your Man?”

    • V

      That’s what I thought about 20th Century Boy, too! And that might be my favorite Pixies song.

  • Elmo

    Anything by Jad Fair.

    • Sesos

      Elmo, you sir know great guitar riffs!

  • ks

    Richie Blackmore made it-should have been higher :) Not a bad list at all, ok just one more where is Jeff Beck?

  • Brian

    Yeah, some of these are just a little too subjective. I agree with you about Satisfaction–it’s great, but for the Stones I’d have to go for Start Me Up, Beast of Burden, or Paint it Black.

    I would have put Hendrix at #1. You’re dead if that riff doesn’t move you a little

  • MultiPass

    These lists are invariably ridiculous and reek of lazy “journalism”. Easy pageviews! Controversy! bleah. Having said that, maybe it will inspire some people to buy new stuff.

  • Frank from MusicNerdClub.com

    Though I would love to mention a riff from The Rolling Stones, my pick for greatest guitar riff of all-time is the opening riff to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Unbelievable!

    Yet a far more interesting question would be for greatest modern guitar riff, perhaps from the last 25 years – well that would be a toss-up between Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Pearl Jam’s “Alive”, and The White Stripes’ “Ball and Biscuit”.

    • ba’al

      I would agree, I would add world wide-see what we get.
      Avantasia-Wicket Symphony
      Firewind-Heads up
      so many

    • Celimene

      For me, it’s either “Whole Lotta Love” or “When the Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin. Definitely agree with “Killing in the Name” being on the list – would argue it should be a bit higher.

    • u

      It is a pretty hard toss-up. They’re all pretty damn good, but I’m preferential to Led Zeppelin.

  • Marilee

    The opening riff from The Temptations’ “My Girl”.

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