Thursday, 17 July 2014

Riffing on the riff

What's the greatest riff of all time?
That's what BBC 2 want to know and their top 100 list is flooding news and blog sites everywhere.
Including Here

But reading through the comments, it becomes apparent that many people don't understand the difference between a riff and a solo. It can be complicated but let me take you through it.
Listen to the first 20 seconds of this link:

That's a riff, and a kick ass one at that. It's often the first thing you hear in a rock song and it sets out the stall for the song. That's because it's based on the rhythm and harmony of the song. It will often be the basic chords of the verse and/or chorus, with perhaps some added genius that makes it burn our way into our musical subconscious. It will usually, but not always turn up throughout the song.

So as an example, Lynyrd Skynyrd took 3 open chords on the guitar, D, C and G added a bit of flash and :

A guitar solo is a different beast. Both of the clips above have awesome guitar solos. they come later on in the songs and add a new melody, on top of the riff. 
Both make you want to play air guitar.

Of course there are many exceptions. Riffs that sound like solos:

Songs with awesome riffs but the solos just copy the vocal melody:

Songs where the solo just plays around the riff but in a higher register:

So, in a nutshell, the riff is the bread and butter of the song. It's played by the nice guy in the band, the rhythm guitarist while the solo is the domain of the lead guitarist. The show off.
Well, to be honest, that model maybe works for ACDC and Brightside  and many guitarists from  Jimi Hendrix to Jack White have covered both duties.

And it's not a competition either. A song can have a great riff and no solo:

Or be all about the solo, but you'll have to be patient. Many solos start a good 2 minutes into the song, after the second chorus and then go on and and on and on:

So what's the greatest riff ever written? 
Well I've thought long and hard about it and honourable mentions should go to You Shook me All Night Long and Ace of Spades but I'm going to leave you with this one:

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