The Six Sweetest Riffs of All Time


This is what happens when you search "lightning guitar" on the internet.
  • This is what happens when you search "lightning guitar" on the internet.

I, Ryan James Wasoba, hereby announce that, after over a year and a half of weekly contributions, the end of my Nitpick Six column is upon us. As such, it's bucket list time. This space is usually reserved for microscopic aspects of music, but now let's go big.

These are the six sweetest riffs of all time.

See Also: - The Nitpick Six Archives

6. Metallica, "Master of Puppets"

I never had a Metallica phase growing up, so the first time I heard "Master of Puppets" was when I taught a kid how to play the song on guitar. I remember being unimpressed because the opening riff just moseys down the neck one fret at a time. Later, I realized that Metallica wasn't being lazy. The band just knew that additional complexity would not make this riff any sweeter. "Master of Puppets" gets bonus points because, while other sweet riffs are showy, this one is actually harder to play than it sounds.

5. Ozzy Osbourne, "Crazy Train" Spoiler alert: There is no Black Sabbath on this list. Heresy, I know, but the reason is simple. Sabbath was a riff factory, making it difficult to decide if "Sweet Leaf" is better than "Iron Man" or "Children of the Grave." Meanwhile, Ozzy put most of his eggs in "Crazy Train." Randy Rhoads' intro riff is legendary. It barely matches the bass hits that introduce the song, because its sweetness transcends function. And don't say that "Mr. Crowley" is better, because even though opinions are impervious to definitive judgement, you would be totally wrong.

4. Sonic Youth, "Teenage Riot"

"Teenage Riot" is one of only a few moments in which Sonic Youth let its artsy guard down enough to be a big, dumb rock band. This riff -- the one after the "Spirit Design" intro, the one that kicks off the main tempo -- proves that heady and visceral can coexist.

3. Kansas, "Carry On Wayward Son"

Fun fact: It is incorrect to call this song "Carry On My Wayward Son." This track makes the cut for quality and quantity. There could be a list inside of this list of the sweetest riffs just on this song. Let's run it down chronologically. There's the first intro riff (duh duh duh DAH [organ], duh duh duh DAAH [organ], do dah da-da-da dah DUH [organ], dah DUH [organ]), which trades off with a second phrase in the intro (duh duh... WAH WAH, da do da duh DAH di duh). And who can forget that bridge (doo, meedy meedy meedy me-dee, duh duh DAH DAAAAAH)? They alternate just enough to make "Carry On" a bit of an obstacle course and to remind us all that Kansas is kind of a prog band.

2. Led Zeppelin, "Black Dog"

There is much to love in "Black Dog," like its mischievously complexity, or the fact that whenever the riff is playing, that means Robert Plant is not singing. Burn. The start-stop structure almost sounds like the band is incapable of maintaining the sweetness any longer. When a deconstructed version of the riff in another key caps off each verse, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones push the last phrase forward as if the sweetness is getting away from them. You can hear the stares from John Bonham while he holds the band back. Additionally, "Black Dog" has become a standard in interruption. Take "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Trapped in the Drive-Thru," when this riff blares through the R. Kelly parody when its characters turn on the radio. Even better, and more obscure, is a song titled "Black Bird Dog" by Adam Hucke of Funky Butt Brass Band, which juxtaposes the Beatles' tender "Blackbird" with Zeppelin's sweetest riff. The Internet doesn't even know about it, which makes me smarter than the Internet. And that's just math.

1. Thin Lizzy, "The Boys Are Back in Town"

"Guitarmony" is easier said than typed. It is a compound word describing harmonized guitars. But not every guitar harmony is a guitarmony -- only those which can be described as sweet. This is where a distinction must be made. This is not a list of the best guitar performances or even the "best" riffs. These are the sweetest riffs, ones that encapsulate triumph. Sweetness is a feeling, the distilled version of the vague awesomeness that distinguishes rock & roll from other types of music. If there were a Wikipedia entry for "sweet riff" (I checked, and no, I did not mean "sweet rice"), there would be a little media player in the side bar with a clip of "The Boys Are Back in Town." The guitarmony alone does not make this riff, not like the way the Avenged Sevenfolds of the world harmonize mediocre melodies to mask them in the Designer Imposter scent of sweet. The guitarmony propels an already sweet riff, a non-blues shuffle with an interior, self-elevating motion. Just before the end, that third (maybe fourth?) guitar breaks through the attic and starts heading upward. If the song didn't fade out, it may have made it all the way up to heaven.

See also: -Crotching Whiskey at the Justin Bieber Concert and Getting Thrown Out: A Review -The 15 Most Ridiculous Band Promo Photos Ever -The Ten Worst Music Tattoos Ever

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