Top 10 Hard Rock Guitar Riffs

Known for using distorted electric guitars and bass guitars, it's not surprising that the genre of hard rock has graced music with some of the best riffs in history. For this list, we’ve chosen one song per artist and stuck to what we felt were their most signature guitar riffs. We’ve also excluded instrumentals. Join WatchMojo.com, as we count down our picks for the top 10 hard rock guitar riffs.
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Hard rock wouldn’t be as energetic or exciting without ‘em. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 hard rock guitar riffs.

For this list, we’ve chosen one song per artist and stuck to what we felt were their most signature guitar riffs. We’ve also excluded instrumentals.

#10 – “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith


Mere seconds after the drums lure you in, the sounds of Joe Perry’s guitar grab you and hold you tight. So, it’s no wonder Aerosmith’s second single from Toys in the Attic took the masses by storm in the ‘70s. After they hit a brief snag, the song brought the “Bad Boys From Boston” back into the spotlight when they collaborated with hip hoppers Run-D.M.C. in 1986.

#9 – “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions


The sound of ‘80s hard rock wouldn’t be the same without this top 40 hit. Thanks to a catchy riff and anthemic chorus, the tune turned these Germans into the “Ambassadors of Rock.” Whether it’s at sporting events, in movies, TV shows or video games, the song’s pervasiveness in pop culture demonstrates the Scorpions really do know how to “rock us like a hurricane.”

#8 – “Photograph” by Def Leppard


This song’s big bad guitar sound fuses Pete Willis’ rhythm playing with the solo and lead guitar work of Phil Collen and Steve Clark. After the riff ensnares you, the track’s lyrics and Joe Elliott’s loud vocals “put a hold on us.” Alongside the songs off Def Leppard’s Pyromania, “Photograph” set the blueprint for ‘80s hard rock and paved the way for the popularity of pop metal.

#7 – “Still of the Night” by Whitesnake


These Brits sure know how to grab your attention: starting off with an epic opening riff, Whitesnake adds intrigue and aura by slowly building up towards the guitar solos. Powered by a distorted blues-influenced sound and David Coverdale’s wails, this became a hard rock classic. The track also earned crossover success when its self-titled parent album reached Billboard’s top two.

#6 – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple


You’d be hard-pressed to find any hard rock enthusiast who doesn’t recognize this iconic Ritchie Blackmore riff. Backed by Jon Lord’s fuzzy Hammond organ, Ian Paice’s smooth drumming and Roger Glover’s electric bass, he helped drive “Smoke on the Water” forward with his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Add Ian Gillan’s vocals to the mix and you’ve got one of the most popular and successful songs in Deep Purple’s repertoire.

#5 – “Back in Black” by AC/DC


This Aussie band wouldn’t be the same without Bon Scott. After his death, AC/DC celebrated their former singer with this hard-hitting, in-your-face track. Opening with an unforgettable riff, the tune is driven by the dual guitar sound of brothers Angus and Malcolm Young. The screeching vocals of the recently hired Brian Johnson completed the package and assisted Back in Black in becoming of one of history’s best-selling albums.

#4 – “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen


Before topping charts with Sammy Hagar in the mid-‘80s, Van Halen changed rock ‘n’ roll with the groundbreaking sound of their 1978 self-titled debut. While the album spawned several classics, it’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” that stands out. After being hooked by the opening riff, you’re immediately transfixed by Eddie Van Halen’s raw guitar and entranced by David Lee Roth’s hard rockin’ vocals.

#3 – “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns N’ Roses


With mercurial frontman Axl Rose and Slash on guitar, Guns N’ Roses exploded onto the scene with 1987’s fierce and dirty Appetite for Destruction. While “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Nightrain” can’t be ignored, it’s “Sweet Child O’Mine” that makes this list. Though its original and brilliant riff was conceived as a joke, the song’s chart-topping success was anything but. Appetite for Destruction also became the best-selling debut in American history.

#2 – “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin


Mix Jimmy Page’s incomparable guitar, Robert Plant’s emotional vocals, John Bonham’s thunderous drums and John Paul Jones’ timeless bass and you get an innovative and unmatched sound that blends blues, folk and hard rock. Though “Whole Lotta Love” is filled with guitar goodness, it’s Page’s blues-influenced power riffing during the intro that remains implanted in our brains. The song also became Led Zeppelin’s first American top 5 hit.

#1 – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix Experience


“Purple Haze” gave us the Hendrix chord, but it’s the last song on Electric Ladyland that captured Jimi at his finest. With a killer opening riff, his signature wah-wah pedal and one of the greatest solos ever, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” showcases Jimi’s electric guitar talents to a tee. In concert, the original Seattle rocker could even be found jamming to an 18-minute version! Musical innovator indeed.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite hard rock riff? If you didn’t find the one you’re looking for, make sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com for our Top 10 Heavy Metal Guitar Riffs.
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