Gibson.com’s Top 50 Guitar Riffs of All Time – #20-11 (Vids)

Gibson.com has announced #20 – 11 Top Guitar Riffs of All Time.  There’s a bit of magic in that mystical combination of notes that makes up a good riff. And there’s no perfect formula for success. Sometimes it takes a pile of rapid-fire shots to do the trick. In other cases, it only takes three.

Gibson.com recently called upon its editors, writers and – most importantly – readers, to weigh in on the greatest riffs in music history. After all the votes were tallied, we were left with the Top 50 Guitar Riffs of All Time. We’ve already revealed #50-41, #40-31 and #30-21. Today we’re announcing #20-11. And check back on Friday, when Gibson.com unveils the Top 10 Guitar Riffs of All Time!

20. “Foxy Lady,” Jimi Hendrix (1967)

Jimi Hendrix called this the only happy song he’d ever written. Penned just two months after The Jimi Hendrix Experience was assembled, this number is a testament to the band’s powerful chemistry. To achieve the sexy, searing riff that Hendrix repeats throughout “Foxy Lady” – off 1967’s Are You Experienced – he alternated between the bass F# (played with the thumb on the second fret) and the ringing E-A dyad at the fifth fret. – Ellen Barnes

19. “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry (1958)

Chuck Berry’s world famous two-note sliding riffs that derived in part from Johnnie Johnson’s rolling, boogie-woogie piano style never sounded so good as on his most famous song, “Johnny B. Goode.” There’s not a garage band in the world that doesn’t play Berry’s riff at some point, as a rite of rock and roll passage. And the great man, now in his mid-80s, is still riffing up a storm at his club in St. Louis every month. – Andrew Vaughan

18. “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Roy Orbison (1964)

Roy Orbison and his writing partner Billy Dees were knocking around song ideas when Orbison’s wife Claudette announced she was going to the store. Roy asked if she needed any cash to which Dees chipped in that a pretty woman never needs any money. Roy went into action on his 12-string and so was born one of the best-loved guitar riffs of all time. – Andrew Vaughan

17. “Black Dog,” Led Zeppelin (1971)

Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones gets the kudos for writing the iconic “Black Dog” riff, included on Led Zeppelin IV. His aim was to write a song so wild and winding that people wouldn’t be able to dance to it. “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part,” Jones said in the liner notes for The Complete Studio Recordings. “But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it.” – Ellen Barnes

16. “Heartbreaker,” Led Zeppelin (1969)

The centerpiece of 1969’s Led Zeppelin II, “Heartbreaker” was written by Jimmy Page in New York during the band’s second tour of the U.S. and boasts a defiant riff that cinched the tune as a live favorite. Naming it amongst his favorite all-time songs, producer Rick Rubin told Rolling Stone that “Heartbreaker” is home to “One of the greatest riffs in rock. It starts, and it’s like they don’t really know where the ‘one’ is. Magical in its awkwardness.” – Ellen Barnes

15. “Enter Sandman,” Metallica (1991)

Metallica’s oh-so-sinister riff in “Enter Sandman,” the first single from their self-titled fifth album, is one of their heaviest and most ominous, which is saying a lot from a band who defined heavy and ominous. But what really makes “Enter Sandman” a master-riff is just how catchy it is, which explains how it quickly became one of, if the the, signature song from the kings of thrash metal. The bottom-heavy and propulsive riff grabs you buy the throat at the very beginning and never releases. Sleep with one eye open, indeed. – Sean Patrick Dooley

14. “Purple Haze,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

This wonderful, woozy rock and roll song purportedly originated when Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler, overheard him playing the riff backstage in 1966 and persuaded him to flesh it out with lyrics. “Purple Haze” appeared the following year on Are You Experienced. “I dream a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” Hendrix told New Musical Express in 1969. “[Purple Haze] … was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” – Ellen Barnes

13. “Layla,” Derek and the Dominos (1970)

Perhaps the greatest riff Eric Clapton has ever played, this is a powerful and anthemic line that works in so many ways. Makes a great high lead part, or works well on the lower strings, as I recorded in a solo acoustic version on my Drive it Home CD. Clapton even makes it work as it goes into the awkward transition to the verse, by playing a half-step bend instead of a whole! Pure Rock genius! – Arlen Roth

12. “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses (1987)

The rallying riff that winds through “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (from 1987’s Appetite for Destruction) no doubt helped make it Guns N’ Roses best-charting song ever. But the song began as an accident, a joke. “‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was a joke,” Slash said in Guitar for the Practicing Musician. “It was a fluke. I was sitting around making funny faces and acting like an idiot and played that riff. Izzy [Stradlin] started playing the chords that I was playing, strumming them, and all of a sudden Axl [Rose] really liked it. I hated that song because it was so stupid at first. I hated the guitar part. Now I really like it.” – Ellen Barnes

11. “Crazy Train,” Ozzy Osbourne (1980)

The late Randy Rhoads’ signature riff propelling “Crazy Train” down the tracks was pure metal genius on many levels. Released as a single simultaneously with “Mr. Crowley” – both from Ozzy’s debut solo album Blizzard of Ozz – “Crazy Train’s” riff is wonderfully melodic, and it perfectly conveys dark, almost schizophrenic, imagery through the frenetic rising and lowering of alternating notes. The riff’s structure makes you feel, well, crazy – sort of like you just might be going off the rails. Easily one of the greatest riffs of all time, and the one most copied by aspiring metalheads. – Sean Patrick Dooley

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