Browsing Tag


Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, Opinion

The Ten Greatest Guitar Riffs of All Time, Revealed!

December 11, 2014

There is a delicious squabble going on in the webbernet:  Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies is appropriately livid that his brother Ray has recently taken credit for the earth-changing guitar sound Dave devised for “Your Really Got Me.” Now, Dave doesn’t contend that Ray more-or-less wrote the riff; he just is alarmed that Ray is taking credit for the sound, which was as significant an element of this stunning scene-change as the riff itself.

Dave Davies

Any follower of the Kinks (especially one cognizant of the mercurial and frequently downright-unpleasant behavior of Ray Davies) is barely surprised by this most recent kerfuffle.  Without a doubt, Dave’s story is the one to be believed.  In July 1964, when Dave stuttered and distorted the bar-chord that Bo Diddley had fiddled with a decade or so earlier, he literally invented an entirely new avenue for rock music; it is one of the fundamental moments in the history of the guitar.

In any event, the whole thing got me to thinking about riffs. I have been a serious fucking acolyte and proselytizer for the Church of the Riff pretty much since the day I first heard “You Really Got Me.”  Riffs are the crosses the rock’n’roll Christ was nailed to, the stone upon which the rock’n’roll church was built.  Riffs are the raised print on the calling card of rock. Me likee riffs long time.

Jesus (artist’s interpretation). Somehow, he has worked his way into this discussion.

And no, I don’t consider “Louie Louie” the Baby Jesus of all riffs; in its’ first incarnations, the “Louie Louie” riff is a fiddle-thin piano plink transcribed to guitar; admirable in composition, but pale in execution, especially when held up to the Kinks sonic farts to come.  For all intents and purposes, the riff era begins in June of 1964, when Dave slugs out those hefty F-G’s.

And by “riffs,” I am talking about something fairly specific:  a sequence of bar chords played on the guitar in a repetitive fashion, with a significant element of the song introduced or sung over the chord sequence.  For instance, “Can’t Explain” by the Who is (what I call) a riff; the (nearly as arresting) “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain is not (great part, but too much single-note diddling and not enough bar chords). Likewise, the extraordinary, branding arpeggios that inaugurate “Don’t Fear The Reaper” isn’t (for the purposes of this discussion) a riff, but the slug-like bolts of armor that open BÖC’s “Godzilla” most certainly is.  And anything keyboard-driven is not up for consideration, which eliminates worthy riffs like “Tin Soldier” by the Small Faces or “Open Your Eyes” by the Nazz.

Got it?

So I thought I would take the time to list my favorite riffs.  Yeah.  These are more or less in order.  Yeah.

Jailbreak Thin Lizzy

There is so much to say about Thin Lizzy — they almost literally invented the modern day rock ballad, their influence on U2 (and all modern posture rock) is incalculable, along with Springsteen they showed their was a middle ground between proletariat crowd-rabble rousing and sensitive and credible songwriting, and Phil Lynott is one of the great rock stars of all time – but I often just prefer to think of them as the writers of the greatest riff in rock history.   It’s “Can’t Explain” re-written by Free, it’s “Gloria” running for a subway, it’s a big chunk of rubbery tuna gulping for breath between slabs of mayonnaise, it is almost dream-like in it’s weird mixture of gigantic and intimate, it is the riff’s riff.

I Need You The Kinks

After the success of You Really Got Me, the Kinks tried a lot of variations on the slurring bar-chord thing, each a little better than the one before.  This is the apotheosis; it’s as if the Kinks saw into the future they had created, and just let the beast loose, predicting the feedback howl of The Creation or Hendrix, the punk aggression of the Stooges or Pistols, and the junkyard repetition of Suicide or krautrock.

Cities on Flame With Rock’n’Roll  Blue Öyster Cült

Yes, I know it’s a re-write of Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” but it’s a superior re-write, dammit, reducing the somewhat frantic jumble of the Sabbath original into a menacing slur that sounds like an eight-story Golem trashing the car-part yards that one used to find near Shea Stadium.  True, it almost disqualifies itself due to its’ single note-to-bar chord ratio, but those first three chords just announce the Fall of Man as well as anything ever recorded, so this has to get on the list. 

Grim Reaper Detective

Let’s say someone gave Led Zeppelin an IV-drip full of pure Costa Rican coffee beans, then told them to spit out a riff based on the “Odessa stairs” sequence in the movie Battleship Potemkin, with the further instruction to make it sound like “You Really Got Me” played sideways by someone describing the Running of the Bulls, and you have this strange, aggressive, gorgeous riff.  I also believe this is the only riff here that’s from an out-of-print and non-streamed record, and that’s a goddamn shame.  I will further note that if you grew up on Long Island in the 1970s, you knew this as the song in the Speaks commercial. 

I Want You The Troggs

Clearly, just a re-write of the “Wild Thing” riff that had made the Troggs famous, but because they’re, well, the Troggs, they couldn’t help but make it dumber, fiercer, and more threatening (and did I mention dumber?); this is the sound of a bully stealing the meds from a school for children with downs’ syndrome and then burning the place down, and then going to fuck his girlfriend, who looks a lot like Juliette Lewis after she drank a lot of cough syrup. 

AC/DC, who are not on this list, for reasons explained immediately to the left of this picture.

Now is probably a good time to answer a question you are most surely asking:  Why is there no Sabbath or AC/DC on the list?  AC/DC aren’t here for the same reason you don’t put John Entwistle on a best bassists’ list or Pet Sounds on a best albums list: their presence is so obvious that to include them would just humble, obfuscate, clog, and complicate the completion of the entire project.  For instance, you could inarguably include at least three AC/DC riffs in the top ten – “Highway to Hell,” “Sin City,” and “TNT” — and could make a good case for including four, five, six, or seven; so if one is going to functionally complete a list like this, you have to do it without AC/DC.  Let’s just call them Lords of the Riff, and be done with it.  As for Black Sabbath, I’ll be frank:  What Sabbath did (and to a degree, invented, though the Move, also from Birmingham, seems to have dabbled with it first) was pretty freaking amazing, but their brethren and offspring actually improved on it; the stoner and doom metal movement that emerged in the late ‘80s and beyond took the Coyote Crawl of Sabbath’s slabber and turned it into Cerebus Slobbering through the sludge of Hades; basically, you can pick up any CD by Fu Manchu, Weedeater, Wo Fat, Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, and many, many more, and you’ll see that they’ve basically bettered Sabbath at their own game.

Now, back to the list.

Roadrunner Jonathan Richman

A lot of great riffs are re-interpretations of earlier classic riffs; “Roadrunner” was a taming of the Velvets’ world-ending and feral “Sister Ray,” but they replaced the drug beast howl of “Sister Ray” with a clarity and krautrock motorik discipline, and even an overlay of Fabs/Big Star sensitivity.   It’s one of the great stompy-fisty riffs of all time, “Autobahn” transcribed by the Dave Clark 5. 

Farmer John The Premieres

It’s curious that this riff appears nowhere in Don and Dewey’s original version of “Farmer John” (a wonderful, but riff-less, dose of amphetamine r’n’b via the Everlys); I would love to know how the Premieres came up with this, and why they attached it to this song (anyone who wants to contribute some thoughts/theories, please do so).  It’s a slightly more elaborate, more syncopated, and less drunken variation of “Louie Louie,” and Neil Young did a kickass version, too, in which he underlined the proto-Sabbath slur of the riff by filling it with volume and morphine. 

Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult

BÖC have the honor of being the only band represented on this list twice.  A profoundly influential riff – along with a pile of Sabbath riffs, this piece alone virtually sired Stoner metal — BÖC have strapped a standard Sabbath slur to the back of a twelve-ton slug and created a perfect personification, via guitar, of the Lizard God honored in the lyrics.

Sweet Jane The Velvet Underground

Stately, patient, majestic, instantly embracing, not so much a swagger as a confident, straight-backed march to the table that’s been waiting for you at the hippest club in the city.   Would love to know where this came from; an earlier memorable VU riff, “There She Goes Again,” was appropriated lock, stock, and barrel from Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” but I can find no source for this. 

Making Time The Creation

An angry, arty, chunky interpretation of what the Who, the Small Faces, and the Move were doing, only the Creation do it perfectly.  There’s something decidedly odd about the chord selection, making me think that perhaps it was composed backwards.  It’s a shame Hendrix never covered this; there’s a deeply beautiful drunk on a tightrope snarl here that he would have nailed.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

The Doomed Sex Geckos Make Me Celebrate Life and Here’s Why

September 4, 2014

For the rest of our lives, we will all remember where we were on September 2, 2014, when we heard that the Russian Sex Geckos had died in space. These randy reptiles, who sacrificed their lives to make the vast emptiness of the cosmos safe for Astral Coitus, will forever be in our hearts, alongside other non-human pioneers who climbed the ladder to heaven for the sake of ethereal exploration: Laika the Canine Cosmonaut, Bek and Lek the Lunar Orbiting Tortoises, and ill-fated Gordo the Squirrel Monkey, launched by our very own country into the skies in December, 1958, only to drown without mercy when the capsule parachute failed to open.

This is Gordo. He is about to die for science.

(Sans pitié, I tell you, sans pitié! Wishing only for a warm nut and a cool patch of Florida grass to scamper upon, poor Gordo was sacrificed to the cruel, cold waters of the Atlantic.)

The brevity of the brave lives of the Sex Geckos and all the other dogs, rodents, chimps, and turtles who died for science has made me consider what a luminous, brief, and rare gift life is. Inspired by the lives these skybound creatures led, scraping the heavens to gaze with hopeful and tiny animal eyes at the face of God, I have decided to honor their sacrifice and the brief moments of joy, heroism, and lizard horniness they must have felt before the Space Reaper collected his pennies. To honor the extraordinary gift of sentient birth, full of the dust of destitution and the silver of desire, the glitter of cities and the sun-rich, loamy earth of the country, the prize of solitude and the sweet grasp of company, here is my list of things I am thankful for:

Fribbles. During the unsightly, bullying, hirsute, bloated, screeching, neon decade of the 1970s, I lived in the weak-Tudor suburbs of Long Island, that land of car dealerships, mod synagogues, and over-designed duck ponds; I screamed majorly, minorly, and hourly for the scratch and sass of Manhattan, dreaming every day of escape from the eternal wet November of the well-meaning Freeway Land. In the midst of this doomscape of blousy hair and teenage Porsches, the succulent succor of the Fribble, that delectable Delorean of ice cream treats, was like Mothers’ milk to the teen soul abused by the encroachment of conformity and mediocrity. Likewise, I am thankful for…

The Kinks. Before Punk saved our souls and turned all us Sauls into Pauls spreading the gospel of Bowery and Kings Road to a world dulled by Kansas and ELP, us wet-lipped outsiders who wandered in the cruel American desert bowed low before the golden calf of The Kinks, those delicious, British, bashing, effeminate, tender, terrorizing masters of songs most subtle and riffs most outrageous. They had a legend full of gorgeous back-story and self-destructive misery, making music for every mood and a song for every season, and they provided an immediate way to identify allies before the armies of the outsiders all cut their hair. Oh my Kinks, you were my first love. I am thankful for…

The Mighty Boosh. A century and a quarter after Weber & Fields discovered it was wildly funny (and equally lucrative) to go on stage portraying two men abusing each other with props and wordplay, you would have thought that the whole concept of the two-man comedy team could not appear vital, fresh, and ferociously funny. But the Mighty Boosh took all the clichés, pumped them full of hipster air and sealed it with dada staples, and produced one of the five funniest TV shows of all time. Like The Honeymooners, Fawlty Towers, and (most of) Blackadder, you can watch the Mighty Boosh’s three series of television shows again and again and be awed, over and over, by the creativity, the stunning scripted and visual invention, the startling and unexpected wit, and the ability of two amazing actors – Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding – to make the most absurd characters and situations appear utterly real, compelling, and draw-dropping funny. I am thankful for…

Two devastatingly perfect pure pop songs that you may not be familiar with, but which you will listen to right now: “Strolling on Air” by Kimberly Rew and the Waves and “Monsters and Angels” by Voice of the Beehive. The most exceptional pop music is like mirror-filled sugar icicle castles with butterscotch-granite foundations: exotic and unachievable, firm and monumental, but reflecting some undeniable truth about ourselves.

There are some great achievements in the last forty years of post-Ramones power pop, but I honestly think nothing, not even the mod thrill-rides of the Barracudas, nor the balsa-light studious frippery of XTC or even the sibilant Mersey-heaven of the La’s, can compare to the these two songs. When asked to preserve the best pure pop of this generation, I hope these two songs go up in the Viking spaceship. I am thankful for…

The only known photograph of Buddy Bolden. He stands behind the guitarist, sneering forward at the Pop Century he is about to invent

Buddy Bolden, because what could be more beautiful than the fact that the man who is the lodestone for 20th Century music, and who is the blueprint for every tragic and self-destructive star of the American pop era, was never recorded and only photographed once? How exquisite, how truly and purely magical it is that the Pop Century begins with sparks exploding in the hands and mind of someone so mysterious that he might as well have never existed? I am thankful for…

The fact that as I write this Kate Bush has EIGHT albums in the UK top 40 album charts; only Elvis and the Beatles have had more albums in the British top 40. Even those who don’t love Bush’s almost hyper-real gifts and skills have to honor this: this almost unprecedented success proves that if you do something different from everyone else AND DO IT WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND ALL YOUR MUSCLE, the world will open it’s doors. I have always, always, always said that the surest path to success is to a) make a record that someone doesn’t already own and b) make a record that you can’t find in your record collection but really, really want to hear, and clearly, Kate Bush has done both these things, with brilliant execution and studious commitment, over and over again, and anyone and everyone who ever desires to create music can learn something – everything – from her.

This short list is only the beginning. It omits The Undertones, Benny Tudino’s Pizza, Bruno Ganz, Oskar Matzerath, Henry Pulling, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Farina, Huey Long, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jennifer, Emily, Bo, and Maddy Brout, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the incredible Prettiots, the Aurora Borealis, and a billion other things. Life is full of small and large miracles and brilliant and staggering and gorgeous things to see and hear, from the mesmerizing tic-tic of a signal indicator on an automobile to the transcendentally evocative howl of train whistle in the distance, to the shadows of Caligari to the monumental dreamscapes of Brazil, to the golden bridges over the Danube in Budapest to the warm, old, unmoving stones of Avebury Henge.

And it took the death of a Sex Gecko to remind me what a miracle this strange incarnation is.

Oh, and Neu!

From the Web