The Best Opening Riffs in Rock

Written Sep. 19, 2007 by Tom Webster in Content with 6 Comments

The Internets love the lists, and here is another cool one that your station might "riff" off of yourself. From CTV's site yesterday, here are the 15 greatest opening riffs in modern rock (note the 'Modern" qualifier, you "Back in Black" fans). Hard to argue with unforgettable openers like "Are You Gonna Go My Way," "Enter Sandman" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This would also be a cool phoner for a Classic Rock station--and it would be pretty hard, in my book, to argue with "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell" or any of, oh, two hundred other AC/DC tracks from back in the day. My personal guilty pleasure--the opening to "Stone in Love" by Journey. But I grew up in North Podunk, Maine, so I can be forgiven. What are yours?

Reader Comments

Your 2¢, in chronological order — add your comment below.
1  Jim Kerr on September 19, 2007 12:34 PM

"Ah Leah" by Donnie Iris and "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix.

I remember calling a DJ to talk about radio when I was 18, and said something I'll never forget: "Every DJ sounds good into 'All Along The Watchtower.'"

2  Tom Webster on September 19, 2007 1:37 PM

I'll see your "Ah Leah" and raise you its spiritual twin (riff), "Fantasy" by Aldo Nova. Mulletastic!

3  Bill Weston on September 21, 2007 3:56 PM

Tom- you ignorant slut....any 80s rock jock worth his salt knows that the Aldo Nova trak had a 30+ second low level intro... a pain in the ass to cue into, thus allowing your friendly-neighborhood Mainer DJ to grab that juicy, opening riff.

4  Don Hallett on September 21, 2007 5:02 PM

Mickey by Toni Basil... it's the best. If you don't agree, you can argue this one out with Sean Ross!

Hey Seany you're so fine........

5  Sean Ross on September 21, 2007 10:45 PM

Hey, Donny: "Mickey" actually doesn't begin with a guitar riff--just "trash drums" and handclaps. But you're right that it is one of my favorite singles of all time and an in-no-way-guilty-pleasure. (Also among my favorite singles, for that matter, are "Fantasy," "Ah! Leah," and another Donnie Iris with a great opening riff, "Love Is Like A Rock.")

Interesting though, I went back through my iPod as a result of this thread and realized that a lot of my favorite singles of all time don't open with a guitar riff--they open with drums (think "Fortunate Son," "Hang On Sloopy," "I Know There's Something Going On," "Mony Mony," or ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down").

A lot of the R&B classics I love start off with keyboard. At least two start out with grunting. ("Slow Motion" by Johnny Williams and "Different Strokes" by Syl Johnson, if you're curious.)

But here are a few favorite guitar openers that don't usually make lists like this, coming as they often do from less hip circles. Some are truly guitar riffs--other favorites (e.g., "Do Ya" by ELO, are really more powerchords than riffs).

* The jackhammer opening riff of Ike & Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine."

* The reverberating first powerchord of "Little Willy" by the Sweet--a showcase throughout for the gutsiest acoustic guitar ever.

* The intros to almost any of Dave Edmunds' '70s singles, but particularly "Crawling From the Wreckage," "Girls Talk," and "Deborah."

* The intros to almost any Paul Revere & the Raiders' singles from the mid-to-late '60s, particularly "Kicks," but also "Good Thing," "Hungry," and "Birds of a Feather." (And the guitar on the Joe South original of "Birds" is even better.)

* The ripoff of "Kicks"' opening riff on Roxette's 1994 mid-charter "Sleeping In My Car."

* The quirky country funk riff of "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed--a record I thought was pretty dumb when it was new in 1971, but which seems like demented genius now (and apparently the "My Name Is Earl" folks seem to agree). There's another similarly indeliable riff that kicks off Waylon Jennings' '60s signature, "Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line."

* The four-notes-and-a-drum blast that opens "Little Bit O' Soul" by Music Explosion and the twisted fuzztone of its flipside, "I See The Light." The "Little Bit O' Soul" riff has been ripped off everywhere from disco to country. "I See The Light" is probably the greatest non-hit b-side ever.

* The opening explosions of "I Fought The Law" by the Bobby Fuller Four and the soundalike follow-up, "Love's Made A Fool Of You."

6  Barry McDonald on May 29, 2008 10:20 PM

Gotta be I Know a Little by Lynard Skynard, the guitar riff leads exquisitely into the whole 40-sec intro ending in another riff, setting up the listener perfectly for the vocals. And I'm not even a DJ!

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