By Hans Ebert
When it comes to guitar riffs, while the Stones almost have a monopoly on The Greatest Rock Riffs Of All Time with Keef being The Human Riff, the Beatles hardly get a mention, which has probably to do with the latter not being considered a “Rock” band by too many.
Sure, “Satisfaction”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Street Fighting Man”, “Gimme Shelter” etc are brilliant and belong in the Congress of Rockarama And Riffola, but, surely, so do the opening riffs by the Beatles- namely George Harrison- to “Paperback Writer”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Taxman”, “Drive My Car”, and even that one chord that woke the world up to “Hard Days Night”?
Favourite guitar riffs are a peculiarly personal thing that can be divided into iconic Rock Riffs and Elitist Riffs, where one refuses to march to the beat of the same old drum belonging to others. It’s a bit like once preferring the Pretty Things to the Rolling Stones, The Cure to The Clash. Soundgarden to Nirvana, and Gorillaz to Blur and Oasis, combined.
Falling into the Iconic category are so many, each of which starts the head banging process wherever we are, and no matter how many times we’ve heard them played by everyone from the original bands to fifth rate covers bands- “Smoke On The Water”, “Black Night”, “Stairway To Heaven”, “Hotel California”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Thunderstruck”, “Radar Love”, Walk This Way”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, almost everything Brian May contributed to Queen and Jimmy Page created for Led Zeppelin…The list is endless.
But what about The Most Underrated And Overlooked Rock Guitar Riffs Of All Time- those incredible contributions to Rock music going back to Lord Chuckles Berry’s opening riff to “Sweet Little Sixteen” that still play on, but silently, and flying under radars and memory banks at a time when riffs are created by pressing a button and traveling on auto glide by those not knowing the Dark Side Of The Moon from Keith Moon?
Musicians with no sense of history are not real musicians, because they are clueless as to what’s already been played, and what else can STILL be played with the handful of notes available. And listening to Mr Berry’s ground-breaking work from almost sixty years ago is a great musical tutorial available out there for free. All that’s needed are a pair of ears, an inquisitive mind, and a willingness to listen. Just ask The Human Riff about Chuck Berry’s influence on the music of the Stones.
My Top Five Most Underrated and Overlooked Guitar Riffs Of All Time? Right up there on the Bayou would be “Green River” by John Fogerty for Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The influence of Fogerty and CCR on Rock music has been pretty much underplayed along with everything Pete Townshend contributed to the hits by The Who- “Pinball Wizard”, “Substitute”, “Pictures Of Lily”, and with that pounding opening, “My Generation” definitely being on my list of Underrated Rock Riffs. Or maybe it’s just been forgotten.
The CSI series might have breathed new life into “Who Are You”, “Baba O’Reilly” “I Can See For Miles”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and helped the bank balances and retirement plans of Townshend and Roger Daltrey, but it’s somewhat weird that a seminal recording like “My Generation” has been lost to so many Rock fans when music is supposed to travel, something else lost on the major music companies and the boffins in charge of back catalogues not understanding their worth. Don’t even get me started on the BBC and the treasure trove of Rock history programming they’re sitting on and not re-packaging and marketing to the new generation of music fans. Get it on, bang a gong, boffins.
For the sheer raw simplicity of it, the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” must make my Top Five- basically a variation on the opening to “Louie Louie” by the Kings Men, but with more axe angst, which Ray Davies parlayed into a number of soundalike follow up hits until “Sunny Afternoon” came along and took the Kinks in another musical direction.
The next choice is an outright cheat, but, hey, there has to be a riff by Led Zeppelin in this list, and “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Immigrant Song”, “Kashmir” etc are way too obvious. So, though it has no riff per se, and is more of a showcase for a brilliant Robert Plant vocal, “Ramble On” goes in purely for Jimmy Page’s subtle and atmospheric guitar break that is a melodic riff of its own, much like everything George Harrison added to complete each and every track by the Beatles.
Though wanting to cheat again, and pretend that the intro to “Like A Rolling Stone” was an “underrated guitar riff”, the last choice could have been Cream’s “White Room”, the opening to Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”- played by Jimmy Page and Eric Ford – Free’s “Alright Now”, “Gloria” by Them- the intro played by Page, again during his session muso days- and Marc Bolan’s chunky rhythm guitar intro to “Get It On.”
In the end though, this honour goes to “Natural Born Boogie” by the underrated Humble Pie.
Whether the riff was the work of Peter Frampton or Steve Marriott, or both, I don’t know or don’t care. It’s bloody brilliant. But when it’s all said and done, and it comes down to creating guitar riffs that, at times. have come close to even over-shadowing the vocals of Mick Jagger, no one comes close to The Human Riff. Play on, Keef, rock on, man.