Welcome aboard to The 70 Most Underrated Guitar Riffs Of All Time Part 1.//-->
Recently I did a list of Most Underrated Guitarists. But what about underrated riffs? That hook that goes beyond basic chords and is as memorable as the vocal melody? Not all songs need a great riff, but the best ones usually do.
Classic riffs are easy to name (“Smoke On The Water”, anyone?). But let’s go beyond the obvious and showcase some under the radar riffage.
I made some ground rules for inclusion. The song containing the riff falls in one of these 5 categories:
(1)the song is by a band that either never made it big, or was just a one-hit-wonder.
(2)the song is by a famous artist, but wasn’t a single (it’s either a deep album cut or a B-side, or never officially released).
(3) (for older songs); it was a successful single on its release, but hasn’t remained in nostalgia stations playlists.
(4) the song was a hit, but critically reviled. (I’m embarrassed by a few I’ve picked! But great riffs defy hipness. Sometimes a crap band has one great riff in them).
For diversity, I’ll only do one song per artist (I’ll allow for 2 or a tie if a guitarist is in multiple bands).
And given most songs are composed of several riffs, I’ll be sure to mention the prominent one(s) of note.
If you want to preview or buy a tune, I’ll have an iTunes playlist at the bottom of the list. Or just click on the album/single image if you prefer to get it from Amazon . If it’s only available through one outlet I’ll mention it.
Alright, let’s get to it:
70. “Everyday I’m Crucified”-The Chameleons U.K. (1988)
[amazon_image id=”B000FN7BMM” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Fan and the Bellows[/amazon_image]
Dark, chugging, garage goth from their frosty album “The Fan And The Bellows”. Tasty simplicity.
69. “Someone Like You”-Bang Tango (1989)
[amazon_image id=”B000W0932E” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Someone Like You[/amazon_image]
This is one of those bands I’m embarrassed to mention. They have not aged well, and the singer is terrible. But they lucked out with a cool riff for the intro/chorus that is very catchy.
68. “Three Girl Rhumba”-Wire (1977)
[amazon_image id=”B0074PP2E8″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Pink Flag (Original Edition)[/amazon_image]
Make a note; this is the only list you’ll ever see Bang Tango and Wire side by side! Okay, this super catchy verse riff was stolen by Brit-poppers Elastica for their 90’s single “Connection”. Just preview it and you’ll hear what I mean.
67. “Feel My Pulse”-Electrafixion (1995)
[amazon_image id=”B000002HIO” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Burned[/amazon_image]
This little known side project featured Will Sargent and Ian McCullough of Echo and The Bunnymen. It gave their new wave sound a heavy 90’s makeover. This song has a nice sledgehammer verse riff that’s miles away from “Lips Like Sugar”. (Amazon only)
66. “Dream Is Collapsing”-“Inception” Soundtrack-Johnny Marr (2010)
[amazon_image id=”B003U9TDII” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Inception (Music From The Motion Picture)[/amazon_image]
Few may know Smith’s guitar god Johnny Marr played on Hans Zimmer’s epic score of the Christopher Nolan smash hit. This track features a clever discordant riff. While it’s lower in the mix under the orchestral strings, it’s the infrastructure of the song. You can hear it isolated in this YouTube clip.
65.”The Pink”-Medicine (1994)
[amazon_image id=”B007NUP8E8″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Buried Life[/amazon_image]
A dream pop band that never fully caught on, this song off their album “The Buried Life” opens with a hypnotic guitar figure.
64. “Josephina”-Gene Loves Jezebel (1993)
[amazon_image id=”B00000E7Q5″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Heavenly Bodies[/amazon_image]
Recorded during their commercial decline, guitarist James Stevenson perfectly blends goth with arena rock with the killer chorus riff, augmented by nice diminished runs at the tail end.
62. “Under The God”-Tin Machine (1988)
[amazon_image id=”B00001OH82″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Tin Machine[/amazon_image]
David Bowie’s Sonic Youth style rock band never caught on, which is a shame. Noise rock guitar wiz Reeves Gabrels clanging chorus riff is garage rock nirvana.
61. “A Girl Like You”-The Smithereens
[amazon_image id=”B000002TUJ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Blown To Smithereens: The Best Of The Smithereens[/amazon_image]
Power-pop perfection exudes in this tune’s driving lick.
60. “Scared Of Girls”-Placebo (1998)
[amazon_image id=”B00000FY48″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Without You I’m Nothing[/amazon_image]
Their most aggressive tune off their album “Without You I’m Nothing”, it features great verse/chorus riffs from singer/guitarist Brian Molko.
59. “Dead End Streets”-Revolting Cocks (2006)
[amazon_image id=”B000QP6CGA” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Dead End Streets[/amazon_image]
I think I’m the only one who bought their 2006 album “Cocked And Loaded”. This song deserves to be heard. I mean how can it not be awesome when you have Ministry’s Al Jourgenson, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons all on guitar? From intro to outro, the riffage in this song is badass.
58. “Divine”-Korn (1994)
[amazon_image id=”B000002AUU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Korn[/amazon_image]
Why is it so embarrassing to like Korn? Well they helped Limp Bizkit have a career. That’s unforgivable. And they never could top their début album.. But a lot of people still have it hidden somewhere. Don’t front. For a short time, Munky and Head could pull some great riffs out of their ass. This was one of them.
57.”Do You Believe”-Deftones (2010)
[amazon_image id=”B003IP09UA” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Diamond Eyes (Deluxe) [Explicit][/amazon_image]
The artiest of all the Nu-Metal dudes, this bonus track of their latest album “Diamond Eyes” has a great bottom heavy opening riff and outro riff courtesy of axe-man Steven Carpenter.
56.”Rock Music”-The Pixies (1990)
[amazon_image id=”B00008YJHC” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Bossanova[/amazon_image]
Just under 2 minutes, this short but sweet rocker off Bossanova has plenty of spit and bile, anchored by Joey Santiago’s rhythmic riff and bended notes.
55. “Get It On”-Turbonegro (1998)
[amazon_image id=”B000W04GW6″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Apocalypse Dudes[/amazon_image]
A perfect punk/metal hybrid, it’s one of the best riffs from a patently offensive band. Dirty bliss.
54. “Power And Freedom”-Iggy Pop (1988)
[amazon_image id=”B000008JIO” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Instinct[/amazon_image]
Iggy And The Stooges and The Sex Pistols have gained long deserved acclaim, so why does the album “Instinct” featuring Pop and Pistols guitarist Steve Jones reside in the bargain bin? Jones’s bar chord charger is indicative of a criminally ignored album.
53. “Three Strange Days”-School Of Fish (1991)
[amazon_image id=”B000UFRQSO” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]School Of Fish[/amazon_image]
A one-hit wonder unfortunately. Both the verse and hooky chorus riffs in this song are most excellent. They had lots of other good songs too, but no one noticed.
52. “This Hollywood Life”-Suede (1994)
[amazon_image id=”B004KNM3HQ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Dog Man Star: Deluxe Edition[/amazon_image]
A great heavy glam rock riff, this is one of Suede’s best, showing off the guitar prowess of Bernard Butler.
51. “Fuckingsong”-Jarvis Cocker (2009)
Steve Albini’s lo-fi production gave Cocker’s songs a harder edge on his album “Further Complications”. This song has a killer verse riff courtesy of duel guitarists Tim McCall and Martin Craft.
50. “Under”-Filter (1995)
[amazon_image id=”B000002MX6″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Short Bus[/amazon_image]
A blissfully simple open D string chugger, it’s just as cool as their big hit “Hey Man Nice Shot”.
49. “You’re In Love”-Ratt (1984)
[amazon_image id=”B000002IRE” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ratt & Roll 8191[/amazon_image]
Ratt were cheese balls, but they had great guitar hooks thanks to guitarists Warren DeMartini and the late Robbin Crosby. This tune is just is catchy as their bigger hits “Round and Round” and “Back For More”.
48. “Don’t Change”-INXS (1982)
[amazon_image id=”B000002JJY” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Shabooh Shoobah[/amazon_image]
This gossamer ethereal e-bow driven riff that opens this tune is cathartic, life affirming and chill inducing. It was a minor hit, but just as good, if not better than their huge hits ala “Need You Tonight”.
47. “Slightly Under”-Wool (1992)
Although they were friends with Dave Grohl, they didn’t share his exposure. A shame. This grungeworthy riff is catchy as hell and should have been an alt-rock anthem. Killer chorus too.
46. “Pigs In Zen”-Jane’s Addiction (1988)
[amazon_image id=”B000002LEF” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Nothing’s Shocking[/amazon_image]
One of the bands lesser known album tracks, it’s also one of Navarro’s heaviest riffs, akin to “Mountain Song”.
Alright, well this concludes The 70 Most Underrated Guitar Riffs Of All Time Part 1. After you take some time to let these tunes soak in and work their magic on you, click here to read Part 2.