Some years ago, our local oldies station, KRTH, posed a question to its listeners. Call in and list your favorite guitar riffs. All in honor of the passing of another music legend. Lester William Polsfuss, also known as Les Paul, passed away on August 12, 2009. Without his creation, the solid-body electric guitar, which made that sound possible, I and others don’t think Rock ‘n Roll happens. Not without his instrument. No way.
The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame has him on permanent exhibition, and honors him as one of the architects of Rock on their website. So, what are the greatest guitar riffs in history? If you search on the web, you’ll get a whole bunch of lists, like these. It’s one of the most argued musical questions out there. Completely subjective, for sure. Yet, this call will get me to offer the following as my favorites:
Years back, I got into the most unexpected argument with my bride of 25 years concerning the inventive rendition Michael J. Fox performed in Back to the Future. I thought it was a nice homage, and a clever use of the time travel paradox. She thought it minimized Chuck Berry‘s legitimate originality and extraordinary contribution to music.
As my wife pointed out, “You know I’m right.” See, you can’t win in such music wrangles, no matter how hard you try.
This one by Eric Clapton will make a bunch of lists by fans. Who in their right mind would argue against its inclusion.
[wife: “Again, with this???”]
I taught both of my kids the basics of performing air guitar, by age one, with Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult. Usually, I’d put this on around their bedtime, before tucking each to sleep.
However, when I thought about this in-depth — meaning making a study of my iPod’s library — I couldn’t help but notice a certain group and lead guitarist’s impact upon it. The Beatles in general, and George Harrison, specifically. This one Beatle, thoroughly undervalued in his contributions to the group (specifically) and music (as a whole), was also underrated as wielder of la guitarra.
If I run into someone unaware of The Lads, this is the song I share as initiation. John Lennon’s intro, which followed the distinctive feedback note he wanted to spotlight, was repeated with the bright sounds plucked by George’s Gretsch electric guitar. I love this song, notably for the riff that gets it immediately going.
Harrison executed so consummately that the lot of them fell into the background of the group’s overall greatness. He didn’t get the credit he deserved until much later. Afterward, as a soloist, the recognition would pile on. For those early sets, I itemize these most-liked starting riffs to their own list:
Of course the one I cited some posts back, Roll Over Beethoven, would to make it, too.
I’d also recommend Guitar World’s Reader Results Poll: George Harrison’s Ten Best Beatles Songs. Can’t argue against any of them, especially their #1, While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
For all that, I think he really shined when the legendary group drew to a close. George’s guitar touches are all over Abbey Road:
- Oh! Darling
- Octopus’s Garden
- I Want You
- Polythene Pam
- She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
- Sun King
- Carry That Weight
“Heck, name the whole album, why don’t you!”, I can hear my better half say. Okay, what she said. But if I had to give him a stage for a riff that I absolutely love, which stands up for his skill as an artist of the guitar, this would be it. George Harrison’s lone guitar solo as a member of The Beatles with The End.