The Greatest Guitar Riffs of All Time Poll Leaves Us Baffled

A new poll on the oft-debated topic of the greatest guitar riffs has some staggering results. The March 2022 UK study by music content and software provider Muse (also owner of Ultimate Guitar) surveyed 1,500 people and came up with some very confusing choices… even in the top five.

Let’s define the terms first, shall we? I don’t think we have to tell anyone what a guitar solo is. This is NOT the guitar riff. A guitar riff is the basis of a song that repeats throughout. According to RockGuitarUniverse, “a riff, through its melodic and rhythmic construction, is designed to be a hook that represents the mood of a song.” (Going further, a riff isn’t a “lick” either. A guitar lick is a cool or memorable offshoot of a solo or riff that’s used once in a song. .)

The top 30 songs that made it into the poll are all listed below, but first let’s go from one to five and pick out some of the stunners.

1. Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

G n’ R’s “Sweet Child” is a perfectly normal choice that often tops these kinds of lists. We have no problem here.

2. “Eye of the Tiger” Survivor

With no disrespect to the official theme song of Rocky III, however, the #2 guitar riff of all time? Sure, it’s a powerful riff, but better than saying, “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin (which wasn’t even on the list) or “Smoke on the Water?” from Deep Purple? Moving on, because the No. 3 is a potentially even worse punt.

3. Queen, “Another Bites the Dust”

The iconic, funky part that makes “Another One Bites the Dust” is great, but it’s not a guitar riff. It’s a BASSLINE. And that’s not the only bass guitar “riff” that makes the list. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is at no. 12. This leads us to wonder if the measures used/choices given in this survey make sense. Leading us to 4…

4. Kings Of Leon, “Sex On Fire”

We’re not even sure it’s an all-time Top 10,000 song. (The band’s vocalist doesn’t even really like it!) How is this riff better than “Back In Black” (#13)” or “Satisfaction” (#24????) Is it a result of great undersexing in the UK public? Get some, guys, and pass this test. Please.

5. Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”

Agreed. We guess. Obviously one of the greatest rock songs ever created. We will take it based on the other decisions that have been made here. We just don’t know if this is a sticky Top 5 RIFF. That’s what it was all about, right????!?!?!?

The entire top 30 follows. There are a few choices you might expect, but also some that don’t even follow the rules, again. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash is a horn melody! Pink Floyd’s The wall is an ALBUM. (The song “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” is a valid choice, but, let’s go.) That’s why we defined the terms at the start! Shit. Frustrating.

  1. Sweet Child O Mine – Guns N’ Roses
  2. The eye of the tiger – Survivor
  3. Another one biting the dust – Queen
  4. sex on fire – Kings of Leon
  5. stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  6. beat it -Michael Jackson
  7. Smells like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  8. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  9. Layla – Eric Clapton
  10. money for nothing – Detroit Dire
  11. purple mist – Jimi Hendrix
  12. Chain -Fleetwood Mac
  13. Back in black – AC DC
  14. The ace of spades – Powerhead
  15. Take this way – Aerosmith
  16. Smoke on the water – Dark purple
  17. you really got me – The Kinks
  18. The wall -Floyd rose
  19. ring of fire -Johnny Cash
  20. I love rock n roll -Joan Jett
  21. voodoo baby – Jimi Hendrix
  22. born to be wild – Steppe Wolf
  23. army of seven countries – The White Stripes
  24. Satisfaction (I can’t get no) – The Rolling Stones
  25. Come as you are – Nirvana
  26. full of love – Led Zeppelin
  27. I bet you look good on the dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys
  28. message in a bottle – The police
  29. Everything is fine now – Free
  30. brown sugar – The Rolling Stones

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About Darnell Yu

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