I’m constantly asked to make top five or top ten lists of my favorite songs, players, albums, guitars, and so on, and I don’t like it, because the whole narrowing process freaks me out. I would like to believe that all of us have more than five favorite songs or records, and, if you’re anything like me, those lists constantly change. So I felt I would approach GP’s “riff list challenge” by breaking it into five different decades.
Warning: I’m stepping on a soapbox now…
There’s so much music out there. Much of it is virtually unknown, and it needs to be discovered, so search it out. Always look for more inspiration. More creativity. More depth. More soul. Find it, learn it, and use it.
“Black Snake Moan,” Lead Belly, 1927
Lead Belly had a very authoritative style—both vocally and instrumentally—and this riff really drives hard, right out of the gate. Dig the chromatic run. I feel it gives the song an ominous darkness—on a 12-string acoustic no less—and I think the riff would be right at home in 2016.
“Boogie Chillen,” John Lee Hooker, 1948
This is the definitive boogie-blues sound. It’s simple and just oozing feeling. Guitar players get so overly complicated with soloing and riffs that they forget they’re basically holding a drum in their hands. The guitar is an instrument capable of producing extremely percussive, punctuated rhythm, and we should never forget to use it like that.
“Open My Eyes,” The Nazz, 1968
I thought this one would be fun to pick, as Rival Sons has a song of the same name. Of course, the Nazz were great, and this song does have a really hot riff. Unearthing garage-rock rarities on vinyl has been a minor obsession of mine for the past five years, and I got turned on to this track from the 1972 Nuggets compilation, which is one of the best compilations ever.
“Beat It,” Michael Jackson, 1982
A very powerful riff, song, production, and performance. Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen tear this track apart. Any time you crank this up, it sounds so good it makes you want to roundhouse kick somebody. I’ve hurt a lot of people playing this too loud in enclosed spaces.
I dig what both of these bands are doing, so I picked a riff from each. Call it a tie. The Alt-J song is very old school in its production—very out of place from the rest of the album [This Is All Yours], which is much more modern and electronic. The first time I heard “Left Hand Free” on a plane coming home from a tour, I was very taken by it. It’s weird, but very smart and infectious.
Thee Oh Sees are easily one of my favorite acts right now, and their album is really great—lots of riffs, good production, and very distinctive. I love the jumpy, super-garage-y energy of the “Turned Out Light” riff.
Interview by Matt Blackett. Rival Sons’ new release, Hollow Bones [Earache], is scheduled to drop on June 10, 2016.
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