Riff Rap

An ostinato (derived from Italian: “stubborn”, compare English: obstinate) is a motif or phrase which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in itself.

In rock music it’s called a guitar riff.

And there have been some monsters.

The greatest guitar riffs had to be written where the player who discovered it, looks up slowly and realizes, it doesn’t matter WHAT I do from here.  This is gonna be HUGE!

Yeah, it helps a lot to have a great song that goes around it.  And that’s what brings the song up a notch or two.  But a song built around a great riff  has a huge advantage.  It’s all gravy after that.

Check out “Smoke on the Water”.   What’s the song about?  A fire at a mobile recording studio?  What?  Frank Zappa was there?  Really?  Who gives a damn without the riff.

And every young boy at the time (and most today) knew the riff, and actually could at least play part of it if he could play nothing else at all on a guitar.  It’s simple.  It probably sounded like it had been done before when Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore came up with it.

But it was sent from above.

Yeah, it’s overplayed now, but so what.  Can you possibly think of the first time you heard it?  It was life changing.  A four note blues motif… life changing.

Keith Richards dreamed the riff from ‘Satisfaction’ so it DID come down from the heavens.  He woke up one night and mumbled something into a tape recorder beside his bed.  It was almost indecipherable, but he could get enough out of it to remember the riff.

There are so many great ones, and again always up for debate, but here are what I consider the greatest rock and roll riffs:

1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Stones)

2. Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)

3. Layla (Derek and the Dominoes)

4. You Really Got Me (Kinks)

5. Whole lotta Love (Zep)

6. Iron Man (Black Sabbath)

7. Sunshine of your Love (Cream)

8. Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

9. Day Tripper (The Beatles)

10. Back In Black (AC/ DC)

What about you….




Have a greatest riffs list?


9 responses

  1. Butch

    Being a Rush fan Limelight, Freewill, Fly By Night, and Working Man come to mind. AC/DC Highway to Hell has to be up there for sure.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm

  2. Tim

    Def Leppard’s Photograph has to rival most of these.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  3. Mark "Spud" Friedman

    adding three:

    Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles

    “The Doctor” by The Doobie Brothers

    “Him or Me” by Paul Revere and the Raiders

    February 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  4. Dave

    “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” Van Halen
    “Unchained” Van Halen
    “Riff Raff” AC/DC
    “Lips Like Sugar” Echo & the Bunnymen (YES, Echo and the freakin’ Bunnymen)

    all these come to mind

    February 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  5. Vicki Welch

    Too many to mention…if you can identify the song from the first 3 notes of the riff, it’s gotta be pretty good, IMHO.
    And not to be petty, but your comment about “every young boy at the time” is a little sexist…c’mon BJS, girls like to rock too, ya know?!!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm

  6. Shawn Ryan

    Just off the top of my head:
    Aqualung by Jethro Tull
    Wild Thing by the Troggs
    Up Around the Bend by Creedence Clearwater Revival
    Rock Bottom by UFO
    School’s Out by Alice Cooper
    Stormtroopin’ by Ted Nugent
    Time’s Up by Living Colour
    Rocky Mountain High by Joe Walsh
    Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult
    Keep Yourself Alive by Queen
    Suffragette City by David Bowie
    Honeysuckle Blue by Drivin’n’Cryin’
    Riff Raff by AC/DC
    La Grange by ZZ Top
    Tush by ZZ Top
    The Boys Are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy
    Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf
    Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne

    February 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

  7. add to this great list…
    ALRIGHT NOW/ Free.
    Born Under A Bad Sign/Albert King
    SunShine of your Love/ Cream
    Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire/ Hendrix
    Jumpin Jack Flash/Stones
    Reelin’ in the Years/Steely Dan
    Bodhisattva/Steely Dan
    Got No Shame/Brother Cane
    About 10 AeroSmith songs 🙂
    _As has been said…so many great ones!

    February 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  8. FawnB78

    Funk49 by Joe Walsh
    8675309 by Tommy Two Tone

    I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You by Alan Parsons Project

    Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section

    Jealous by Black Crowes

    Alice By Jefferson Airplane

    February 11, 2011 at 12:27 am

  9. gordon

    ok im gonna bring a little more modern feel to this blog jay. you guys are starting to date yourselves a bit too much 😛

    also didnt clapton gank the riff of sunshine of your love from the kinks you really got me?

    anyways not necessarily favorite songs, just riffs that really jump out.

    1. eye of the tiger – survivor – seriously its epic.

    2. seven nation army – white strips – i have no idea what the song is about but the riff is great

    3. sweet child o mine – gnr

    4. pretty woman – roy – ok ya so im going back a bit, but still, does it matter?

    5. 10 cent pistol – the black keys – if any of you havent listened to the black keys, you’re missing something special

    6. sweet home alabama – ls – i’d get shot if i didnt include this, but definitely epic and well deserving

    7. smells like teen spirit – nirvana – i dont like nirvana, they get played way too much out here, but still that song was something invigorating when i first heard it, and honestly has there ever been a song when you have no idea what the singer is saying but still so great?

    8. back in black – enough said

    9. crazy train – ozzy’s guitar player, ozzie just stood in awe

    10. are you gonna go my way – lenny kravitz – hendrix rip off – but most of the ppl have no idea

    February 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm

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