My son has helped me understand the difference between a guitar riff and a guitar solo.
A riff is a recurring sequence of notes that forms the song's signature.
A solo is longer and more improvisational. It occurs only once in a song.
I think I like riffs better.
So here they are . . . my top five guitar riffs of all time:
5. Layla by Eric Clapton. The opening moments combine power and sensitivity, boldness and pain as well as anything else in rock's history.
4. Free Fallin' by Tom Petty. Can a legitimate riff be played on an acoustic guitar? When it sounds like this it can.
3. More Than A Feeling by Boston. That first Boston album was such a revelation, and this is one track with staying power.
2. Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones. This entire list could have come from Keith Richard riffs -- "Satisfaction," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Monkey Man," and then a true favorite from a song whose title I can't mention on this blog. Given all those, Brown Sugar's combination of electric and acoustic sounds gives it the nod.
1. Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N Roses. Ironically, I am no fan of GNR. Axl Rose was one of the first to add violence to the debauchery that already existed in rock culture. The band's lyrics add little to our cultural discourse. But . . . how cool is it when Slash plugs in his piece, hair covering his face, and launches into that unforgettable intro? It's even better when you listen for all the variations on the riff throughout the song.