*This list is in no particular order.*
1. Aerosmith, “Walk This Way”
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry also played his famous riff for the Run-D.M.C. cover of the song, to which Steven Tyler also contributed vocals.
2. Deep Purple, “Smoke On The Water”
“Smoke On The Water” ranked fourth on Total Guitar’s list of greatest guitar riffs.
3. The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army”
Contrary to popular belief, the song’s distinctive melody is not played on a bass. Instead, guitarist Jack White achieved the bass-like effect by running his guitar through a Whammy pedal that was set at a lower octave.
4. The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Keith Richard originally intended for his three-note riff to be replaced by a horn section, but he was outvoted by his bandmates.
5. Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”
“Crazy Train’s” riff encompasses the full minor scale.
6. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Many fans, as well as Kurt Cobain himself, pointed out that the riff was significantly similar to the main riff in Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.”
7. Black Sabbath, “Iron Man”
“Iron Man” gets its title from its famous melody: when he heard the riff for the first time, Ozzy Osbourne said that it sounded like “a big iron bloke walking about.”
8. Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love”
This year, BBC Radio 2 listeners voted “Whole Lotta Love” as having the greatest guitar riff ever.
9. Guns ‘n Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Slash’s legendary riff started out as a warm-up during a jam session.
10. Michael Jackson, “Beat It”
Though legendary rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen famously contributed the track’s guitar solo, Paul Jackson Jr. (who is of no relation to MJ) played the rest of the guitar, including the riff.
11. Heart, “Barracuda”
“Barracuda” has become Heart’s signature song and is known as one of the best hard rock songs.
12. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Snow (Hey Oh)”
Another RHCP song, “Under the Bridge,” is also known for its distinctive riff.
13. The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”
The distorted sound of the guitar was achieved by slicing up part of the speaker of Dave Davies’ guitar amp.
14. The Beatles, “Day Tripper”
The main riff was written by John Lennon, who drew inspiration from Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step.”
15. AC/DC, “Back in Black”
“Back in Black” has been sampled many times since its release, and several notable times without permission, such as when The Beastie Boys sampled it for their 1984 song “Rock Hard.”