The B List: Top Ten Badass Guitar Riff Intros

10. Money for Nothing – Dire Straits: “I want my MTV!” cried Europe, and when they finally got it, Money for Nothing was the first video played. Mark Knopfler created one hell of a song, and after the soft sounds of Sting grow into a cacophony of synthesizers and drums, everything stops so Knopfler can rip out one of the baddest licks the world has ever heard. Like the Stone’s Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’, the riff used in the intro also acts as the song’s thematic motif throughout. The song’s subject matter pretty much reflects where it was written: Knopfler was at an appliance store and the delivery guy was watching MTV wishing he was a rock star getting “money for nothing and chicks for free.” I don’t know if said delivery man received royalties for inspiring the song, but we can all reap the benefits every time we hear its badass intro, an intro so good we seem to forget about its controversial lyrics.

9. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who: Okay, so I know this is supposed to be about guitar riff intros, but I think you’ll agree that the badassity level is so high in this intro that it just had to be included. Pete Townshend strikes a power chord that is followed by 30 seconds of fluctuating synthesizer that builds up energy and anticipation, finally exploding into a frenzy of guitar and drums that could only be coming from Townshend’s windmill strumming and bandmate Keith Moon’s reckless style of percussion. One of England’s loudest and most distinguishable bands, this song screams revolution, which just happens to be the song’s subject matter. Very few songs can rev up an audience the way this one can.

8. Panama – Van Halen: Van Halen is another one of those bands that has an endless supply of badassity. Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love and Unchained are just two more VH songs that were in the running, but in the end it was Panama’s multi-sectioned intro that beat out the others. Eddie Van Halen has a very distinguishable sound, and the intro exemplifies it perfectly. With the bass drum accentuating the riff’s stabbing opening chords, the band then falls in sync for a few measures before pausing briefly so Eddie can walk that thin line between screeching high notes and feedback that just makes you want to scream. And contrary to popular belief, the song was not written about a car, but rather a stripper named Panama residing somewhere in the Southwest.

7. Layla – Derek & the Dominos: What happens when you get two of the best guitarists of all time to perform one of the best songs ever written? You get one of the most badass intros of all time, and I think we can all agree that a list like this would be incomplete without this classic Derek & the Dominos tune. Written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, the song professes Clapton’s love for the wife of his best friend, who just happened to be George Harrison. It takes big balls to steal a Beatles’ wife, but it takes TWO sets of them to pull off this intro (enter Duane Allman). They say that love has spawned some of the best songs ever written. And while the love portrayed in this song was pretty short-lived, it spawned one badass intro that will last forever.

6. Back in Black – AC/DC: AC/DC has got to be the best thing to come out of Australia. I know, but koalas are so fucking cute, right? Well, if you can find me a koala that can rock this hard whilst donning a school boy uniform, I’ll take it back. Otherwise, Angus Young and crew take the cake. Back in Black is one badass album. Written and recorded with then-new singer Brian Johnson, the band almost broke up before making it due to the death of original singer Bon Scott. But press on they did, and thankfully so. After a few time-setting scratches, the unmistakable trio of power chords crashes onto the scene, complemented by a descending guitar lick that brings it all back home. It’s rare for a band to suffer the loss of a lead singer only to continue rocking harder than ever, but AC/DC bounced Back in Black with an intro that proved that these badasses were here for good.

5. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry: This tune could quite possibly be the original badass intro song, and, as such, also deserves extra points. Written by Chuck Berry in 1955 (released in ’58) and covered by more bands than I can count, this autobiographical song has become a staple in rock ‘n roll history. The intro to this rockabilly-blues hybrid is instantly recognizable, and it seems like the faster it’s played, the better it is, and all the more true the lyrics become. Berry has long been described as one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n roll, experimenting with the sound before it even had a name. John Lennon once said “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’” Considering Berry’s deacon-father described rock ‘n roll as “devil’s music,” we all owe Chuck and his rebellious ways a debt of gratitude. For without Johnny B. Goode, Marty McFly might have been stuck singing Earth Angel all night.

4. Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N Roses: In one word: Slash. If there is a bigger badass in rock ‘n roll than Slash, I want to meet him. The man drips it from his grim reaperesque top hat to his ripped jeans and motorcycle boots, and anyone who says smoking isn’t cool obviously never saw the cigarette hanging from Slash’s lip. The intro from Jungle has been pumping up music fans and sports teams since its inception, and from the moment you hear Slash tap out those first reverberating notes that spiral into the hellacious screams of sirens and Axl Rose, you know exactly where you are (You’re in the Jungle, baby!). In fact, this intro is so badass that Slash himself had to pause after the first few notes —probably to be sure what he was about to do was legal. Most people blame Axl Rose for the fall of GnR, but in all fairness, look what he had to compete with. If Bush really wants the insurgents in Iraq to disband, he should just send in Slash with his Les Paul and tell him to play the intro from Jungle. Slash: 1 Terrorists: 0.

3. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones have a countless supply of hits, and at least half of them have a badass intro. Jumping Jack Flash and Satisfaction are another pair that immediately come to mind when I think about Stones-written badass and renowned intros. But this one really exemplifies what makes the badass riff so… well… badass. The perfect level of distortion and bended notes create an intro that you can just listen to over and over and never get sick of. What’s great about this song is that the motif created by that badass intro was enough to create an awesome tune by itself. But instead of leaving it at that, the Stones decided to add a second section to the song containing its own badass motif extending into a long jam with guitar and saxophone solos that are as distinguishable as the opening riff itself. In fact, this second movement’s jam is so good that jamband purveyors Phish often pay homage to it by ending Weekapaug Groove with Knockin’s final climax. I don’t know if Keith Richards remembers writing this song, but even Keith will agree that this badass intro is unforgettable.

2. Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin: Let’s face it: This list could probably consist of nothing but Zeppelin tunes. Something about Jimmy Page’s guitar exudes badass with every lick, and distinguishable intros abound in the catalog of Led Zeppelin. Rock & Roll, Misty Mountain Hop, Custard Pie and The Song Remains the Same are just a few others that could easily have made the cut. But, rather than fill this list up with Zeppelin, I figured I’d just pick one to represent the band, and Heartbreaker is as badass as any of them. Arguably the hardest rocking band of all time, Led Zeppelin owned the rock ‘n roll genre and were the Godfathers of what would later become Heavy Metal. It’s not necessarily that Jimmy Page was doing anything more complex than everyone else — though this was the case with much of Zep’s material — it’s just that combination of being a pioneer and creating those simple opening riffs that were so good and so distinguishable they become implanted in your brain for hours after hearing them. I think Jimmy Page summed up his style the best when he said “My riffs are just as simple as everyone else’s, it’s just that for some reason, mine fucking rock.” Well said.

1. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix: Probably the most recognizable and most covered Badass Intro song of all time, it’s hard not to rate this song number one. Jimi gets extra points for obvious reasons: He pretty much reinvented the sound a guitar is supposed to make and has influenced everyone who has come after him. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) is so much more than just a badass intro. From the opening scratches accentuated by the wah-wah pedal, everyone can immediately tell what song is being played — and THEN the badass riff chimes in, not to mention how powerful the rest of the song is. While many have attempted to recreate this rock anthem, only a handful of people were actually able to pull it off, perhaps most notably Stevie Ray Vaughan. A professor of mine once said that this song shouldn’t even be allowed to be covered by other bands — rather it should be retired and hung up on the proverbial rafters of rock & roll never to be contaminated by mediocre bands attempting but failing to recreate the song in all its greatness. He might be right, but you have to hand it to Jimi — even when someone butchers this masterpiece, the badassity will always shine through. Others might not be able to play the rest of the song right, but at least you can tell what song they’re attempting by that badass intro.

Honorable Mentions:
Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
Master of Puppets – Metallica
Southbound – Allman Brothers
Helter Skelter – The Beatles
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
Walk This Way – Aerosmith/Run DMC
Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
Thunderstruck – AC/DC
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns ‘n Roses
The Seeker – The Who
Tonight We’re Gonna Rock You Tonight — Spinal Tap
Tweezer Reprise – Phish

Agree? Disagree? Like Stu better than us? Let us know in the comments…

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25 Responses

  1. Nice list SH, For additional fist pumping action I’d add “Got to Get Better in a Little While” from LIVE at The Fillmore to the honorable mention section

  2. The Black Crowes encored the JOnes Beach show last summer with “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin.” It was easily the night’s highlight. The long island WTs were all fist pumping their feathered hair

  3. Ace, I absolutely agree with you 100% and I definitely meant to include Funk #49 in (at least) the honorable mentions list.

    Let it be known across the land: Funk #49 has one BADASS intro, and I urge you all to check out those youtubes and bask in Joe Walsh’s Funk!

  4. Tough to go wrong with any of those. While a list of this sort could go on forever, I’d have to add Stay with Me by The Faces and Hands by the Raconteurs.
    I’ve always found Stay with Me reminiscent of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.
    Hands is just pure, simple power.

  5. This is a pretty solid list, but I really strongly must argue that “Master of Puppets” is a top-10 riff, EASILY. That riff is just the most “fucking metal” thing I’ve ever heard. That song has about 5 riffs in it that could all compete for “best riff ever.” I feel very strongly about this.

    However, your #1 choice was slightly unexpected but makes perfect sense. I agree that song absolutely should be retired.

  6. excellent list 😉
    of course, you should have included Hocus Pocus by Focus at LEAST in the honorable mention, but you already knew that.
    nice writing Stu!!

  7. Gentlemen, once again I must refuse to accept the validity of this list until you acknowledge a glaring omission. Here I was, happilly nodding along to the prose while loudly sipping the last drops of my afternoon soda through a straw, only to choke when your list ended so abruptly. I figured you had put it on a back page in giagantic, bold, flashing letters, but try as I might, I could not find it. So I ask you, dear poet: “Where’s the Skynyrd?” For in the land of blazing guitar riffs and overzealous fistpumps is there anyone else who comes close? The medical costs associated with people ramming their fists through car ceilings when a Skynyrd lick drips out of a radio must rival the GDP of many large to semi large nations.

  8. Good call Sisto. Ed King made himself a handsome fortune off of writing the lick that starts Sweet Home Alabama.

    Thanks again to Stu for a kickass job, and expect more from him and other guest B List contributors.

  9. I had to check Stu’s list right away to ensure that my #1, Welcome to the Jungle, was on there. OK, Stu and I can still be friends. But I think that 2-3 others come immediately to mind as deserving AT LEAST honorable mention. 1: Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop.” Spoken word semi-Spanish, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have more influence with your children than you have…but we love them,” followed by all jams being kicked out. F**k yeah.
    Second, while I’m pleased to see his AC/DC
    leanings, I have to make a pitch for Hell’s Bells. I still cannot hear a clocktower chime without picking up my air-guitar for the forthcoming ramp-up to rock.
    OK, maybe one more. They Might Be Giants’ two-word song, Minimum Wage, has some drum beats, the brief lyric, a whip-crack, and a “hy-ah!” Nice. And nice job, Stu!

  10. After reviewing your list, I decided that “Owner of a Lonely Heart”-Yes has a badass guitar riff if your into progressive rock. But overall, very well done 🙂

  11. Id have to say “20th Century Boy” by T-Rex….its a pretty badass intro and also “Cat scratch fever” by Ted Nugent


  12. The Cult and my boy Billy Duffy have quite a few entries here that would fit: She Sells Sanctuary, Wild Flower, Love Removal Machine, Fire Woman to name a few.

    And I see no grunge bands, so maybe you have a thing against them, but Soundgarden – My Wave definitely deserves to be on this list.

  13. what the fuck man… none of these make it for the best intro riff…
    there are PLENTY of other songs that have MUCH MUCH better intro riffs
    such as metallica – the unforgiven
    slayer – south of heaven
    i wont list any more cause i dont feel its worth my time

  14. Of course there are others that come to mind. Usually when I think badass riff, Steve Vai’s “Bad Horsie” comes to mind. That riff is simple to play, but what really brings out the sound is the way Vai uses the slide and whammy bar. I always feel badass when I listen to it!

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