Top 10 Classic Rock Guitar Riffs

Rock and roll music would never be what it is today without the guitar. Time and time again, this stringed instrument has created some of the best musical memories ever. This is obviously also true for classic rock. 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 classic rock guitar riffs.
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They really got us with these. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down the top 10 classic 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 – “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream


You can’t help thinking of the ‘60s when you hear the opening riff of this Cream hit: the Jack Bruce-penned riff seamlessly sets the atmosphere for the blues and psychedelic rock track. “Sunshine of Your Love”’ is also significant for exemplifying Eric Clapton’s distorted and muted guitar sound dubbed the “woman tone.” Add Ginger Baker’s flamboyant, jazz-inspired drums and you’ve got a gold-certified single by the world’s first successful supergroup.

#9 – “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie


This simple, but spirited glam anthem features Ziggy Stardust on guitar instead of his usual lead axe man, Mick Ronson. The end result is a dirty rockin’ good time built around an inescapable riff. With an almost earworm-like quality, the song’s guitar parts drive the melody along. As his goodbye to the glam rock movement, it’s also known for its lyrics, which are as sexually ambiguous as Bowie himself.

#8 – “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits


Whether you’re listening to the studio version with its extended intro or the shortened single version, “Money for Nothing”’s main guitar riff is sure to keep you hooked the whole way through. By successfully fusing blues, rock and new wave, the Grammy-winning hit, and its parent album, Brothers in Arms, topped the charts. Despite controversial lyrics, the song also made waves for its innovative music video.

#7 – “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy


While “The Boys Are Back in Town” was also popular, it’s with “Jailbreak” that Thin Lizzy really shows us “there’s gonna be trouble.” Thanks to the double lead guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, “the boys and me” now have the perfect soundtrack for “bustin’ out.” Also notable for its wah-wah pedal sound, the song continues to air in regular rotation on classic rock radio.

#6 – “La Grange” by ZZ Top


Based on a classic blues rhythm, this groovy ZZ Top tune makes you want to get up and boogie! “La Grange” is filled with the hard heavy blues-rock that allowed Billy Gibbons to flaunt his guitar prowess and now serves as a model for aspiring guitarists everywhere. As one of the American outfit’s most played radio singles, it also often appears in pop culture.

#5 – “Day Tripper” by The Beatles


Though it’s George who played the famous riff on the recording, credit for this hit’s trippy feel should go to John. After composing the main guitar parts, Lennon performed the guitar solo in studio while songwriting partner Paul handled the verses and bass and Ringo added drums and tambourine. With a funky yet smooth riff and their soulful vocal harmonizing, it’s no wonder “Day Tripper” was a worldwide smash.

#4 – “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos


Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs may have been Derek and the Dominos' only album, but this blues-rock classic is often considered Eric Clapton’s magnum opus. Here, you’ll find Slowhand revealing his unrequited love for George Harrison’s then-wife Pattie Boyd on the standout track “Layla. Proving the song had staying power, Clapton’s Unplugged solo version won a Grammy over two decades later.

#3 – “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd


After these Free Birds of Southern Rock turned it up on this Second Helping single, they quickly climbed the charts. These redneck rockers also earned a multiple-platinum record thanks to their fusion of blues, hard rock and country and Ed King’s unmistakable guitar riff. With their remarkable solos, defiant rock ‘n’ roll swagger and amped up live jams, Lynyrd Skynyrd became fixtures of the southern rock scene.

#2 – “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks


As of the opening notes, this blues-based recording bombards you with its dynamic power chords. After topping the UK charts, the single launched The Kinks’ American success and positioned them as a member of the British Invasion. Thanks to its distortion-heavy guitar sound, it also helped the band lay the foundation for hard rock, punk rock and heavy metal.

#1 – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones


“England’s Newest Hit Makers” became an international sensation when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards teamed up to pen this rock and roller. Though Richards allegedly conceived the song’s now-famous riff in a dream and imagined it for horns, the fuzz tone of his guitar ultimately won out. And it’s a good thing too, because it gave the Rolling Stones their first American chart-topper and gave us one of the most recognizable and satisfactory riffs in rock history.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite classic 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 and Hard Rock Guitar Riffs.
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