Nothing makes a great Rock n' Roll song like a tight guitar riff. You know, that little lick you keep humming throughout the day even though you haven't heard the song in seven hours.
I couldn't find links to all of them, and some of them you have to just go to the linked page and look it up. You'll see a bunch there that I left off the list, but who cares, right?
My dearest regular visitors know that I usually put my lists in no particular order.
This list is in order, mostly because one of these is, by far, the BEST!
Here we go:
10. School's Out - Alice Cooper: In this case I don't mean the opening lick, but the riff under the chorus, ripped by KISS for Love Gun a few years later - daa-da-da-Da, daa-da-da-Da, daa-da-da-daa-da-da-daa-da-da-Da!! You don't even need to know how to play. Just one dang note, overandoverandoveragain. Genius!
9. Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne: This could land anywhere on this list. It's one of the first riffs I ever learned to play. Perfect riff for biting the heads off various birdies.
8. Heartbreaker - Led Zeppelin: Jimmy Page rocks. You can just see Robert Plant strutting his stuff to this riff. The Zep had several candidates for the top ten: this song, Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love, but I still think this one has the perfect combo of balls and simplicity.
7. Satisfaction - Rolling Stones: This is my favorite Stones song anyway, and this riff has that beautiful little irony of doing so much with so little, just three simple notes.
6. Sweet Child o' Mine - Guns n' Roses: I went a little out of my way on this one, but only because I think that the opening sequence, while it's a little more complex than your standard riff, is simply one of the best damn song intros ever.
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana: Ah, dang it, why'd that f***er have to shoot hisself? This song's opening is two simple power chords played on two different frets, simplicity itself, then it just kicks like the Living Dead breaking through the boards on the windows.
4. Iron Man - Black Sabbath: This riff makes me think of a pack of the baddest-ass bikers you've ever seen rolling into town, kicking up the dust, and taking over the party. This is sort of cheating, because it's kinda like having Ozzy on the list twice, but you can't pass it up!
3. You Really Got Me - The Kinks: Possibly the simplest riff on the list, and one of the most timeless. Two simple power chords, one whole-step apart. That's it. Then move it up a whole step. Okay, song done! This is just kick ass rock. Oh, and BTW, Van Halen did okay with this one, but nothing like the raw power of the Kinks' original.
2. Back in Black - AC/DC: After the death of Bon Scott, AC/DC was on the ropes. Instead of rolling over and calling it a day, they pulled Brian Johnson out of relative obscurity and came roaring back to record the (tied for) fourth best selling album of all time. Place this one (in those days) on the turntable and let 'er rip.
1. Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple: Was there any doubt? So simple, yet so raw. Written after their hotel burned down overnight, the boys cannot have known how perfect this riff would be, nor how pervasive it would become.
Really there were a bunch I had to leave out to come to a top ten. There are quite a few from classic rock songs, from the Beatles, the Who, the Doors, Hendrix, Creem, and of course there's Inna-Gada-Da-Vida (baby.) I just had to pull the trigger and pick ten. Argue with me below.