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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 May, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Guns N' Roses top rock riff poll
Axl Rose
Top of the poll: Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose
Guns N' Roses' anthem Sweet Child O' Mine has the greatest guitar riff ever, according to a poll in a music monthly.

Total Guitar magazine's readers put it in top place, ahead of Nirvana's grunge anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love came third, followed by Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water.

Total Guitar editor Scott Rowley said: "To a new generation of guitarists, Guns N' Roses are more thrilling than the Sex Pistols."

He added: "This poll shows the so-called canon of classic rock - the Led Zeppelins, Eric Claptons, Jimi Hendrix - is as popular as ever, but being added to all the time.

"Riffs are an interesting measure of people's tastes because they're usually easy to play and very catchy - they're the hook of the song."

The magazine's last poll, conducted five years ago, saw Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love top the list, followed by Smoke On The Water and Layla, recorded by Eric Clapton as Derek and the Dominoes.

More than 2,000 readers took part in the poll.

The top 20 riffs:

1. Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N' Roses
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
3. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin
4. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple
5. Enter Sandman - Metallica
6. Layla - Derek & The Dominoes/Eric Clapton
7. Master Of Puppets - Metallica
8. Back In Black - AC/DC
9. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) - Jimi Hendrix
10. Paranoid - Black Sabbath
11. Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
12. All Right Now - Free
13. Plug In Baby - Muse
14. Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
15. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love - Van Halen
16. Walk This Way - Aerosmith w Run DMC
17. Sunshine Of Your Love - Cream
18. No-One Knows - Queens Of The Stone Age
19. Paradise City - Guns N' Roses
20. Killing In The Name - Rage Against The Machine

What is your favourite rock riff? What makes a great riff? BBC News Online users sent us their views.

My favourites are Plug In Baby by Muse and Requisition by Clandestine....both fast moving, energy raising, sweat inducing, heart thumping guitar riffs!
Woody, Bracknell

My favourite riff as got to be by Pearl Jam. Namely, Rearviewmirror, a classic piece of guitar playing by one of the best bands of all time. Although not released, this album track stands out for its brilliant melody and searing lyrics. If you haven't heard it and want to lose yourself in a hard rock classic, then look no further.
Mike Traylen, Guildford, UK

Whole Lotta Love does it for me - extrememly simple, catchy and impossible to ever forget. It's a shame that it's used as the theme tune for a programme that often showcases the worst in manufactured pop!
Jon, UK

Keith Richards' guitar in Satisfaction
Franco Nero, Middelburg Holland

Frank Zappa - Watermelon in Easterhay. How can any serious commpendium of classic guitar work not included one of the greatest virtuoso's of all time.
Damien Byrne, Ireland

Whilst I appreciate that Dire Straits are regarded as naff by most rock fans, I would still argue that the main riff from Money For Nothing (from the 1985 Brothers In Arms album) deserves an entry.
Max Wurr, Stanmore, UK

The Byrds: 8 miles High. The start of real rock and psychodelica, McGuinn's 12 string guitar inspred by George Harrison, The Byrds were the band that never quite made it although their music still lives on.
howard , Seoul S. Korea

Plug in Baby by Muse. its the way it comes out of the intro. excellent stuff.
Dan Phillips, Sheffield, England

Bombtrack-Rage Against The Machine!! There are three parts to this song and all of them are excellent powerful riffs. Its the reason why I picked a guitar in the first place!!
Simon, Birmingham

Lionel Ritchie's 'Running With the Night' - the guitar solo at the end of this track is absolutely stunning
Findlay Houliston, Glasgow, UK

Paradise City - Guns N' Roses
Juan, Southsea

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones without a doubt! Apart from being supreme to the others mentioned, it must surely be one of the most recognizable riffs ever. When Richards decided to run his guitar through a Gibson Fuzz Box to create the distortion effect the result was a masterpiece!
Kevin, Essex

I would vote for the Human League's "Lebanon" track. It was a great riff and a departure from their usual electronic sound.
Vincent De Mello, London

"Frame by Frame" by King Crimson because of the insane difficulty.
Greg Smith, Lawrenceville, USA

A great riff is - simple and straightforward to play - instantly appealing - one that gets people off their seat in the concert hall. All Right Now is my favourite of those in the list, ticks all the boxes!
Arthur, Colchester, UK

A good riff should be made from a short segment of notes or chords, repeated enough to create a great hook but not overplayed so as to be repetative and annoying.
RJ, Exeter England

Down here, we have a different standard for great guitar riffs, set by the legendary garage band "Last Tango" and their incendiary tribute to Captain Oates, "Country Life", or the more thoughtful but unforgettable "Before I read Rorty". A great riff must have a philosophy of self.
Peter Weekes, Auckland New Zealand

Down here, we have a different standard for great guitar riffs, set by the legendary garage band "Last Tango" and their incendiary tribute to Captain Oates, "Country Life", or the more thoughtful but unforgettable "Before I read Rorty". A great riff must have a philosophy of self.
Peter Weekes, Auckland, New Zealand

Status Quo "Whatever you want." Is great because it gives a feeling of freedom and the open road and it just keeps on going.
Ian, Wroclaw, Poland Ex UK

How can Smells Like Teen Spirit - which doesn't even have a riff! - make number 2 and nothing by the Rolling Stones get into the list? Has nobody heard Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar? Criminal.
Frank, Cambridge, UK

I think Voodoo Chili by Jimi Hendrix is the best riff of all time. Not only the music, but the presentation, especially at Woodstock, was incredible. How can you beat a song where the artist plays it with his teeth?
Ben, Fairfield, CT, USA

I think R.E.M.'s "Chronic Town (Box Cars)" has the best guitar riffs ever!
Clifford Speck, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

One riff stands above all others: "Satisfaction" by the Stones. After 40 years it still has the power to move one.
Mike Williams, Corpus Christi, Texas

Smells like teen spirit at number 2? It's a joke to pretend they can compare to what the 70s gave us. And have none of these idiots heard of Comfortably Numb? Jeez...
Joshua, Kenilworth, England

More people ask me to teach them the riff to Sweet Child O' Mine than any other song, which is impressive when you consider Slash (GNR guitarist) was only joking around when he first composed it. Although I think riffs can be overplayed in terms of importance, and run the risk of creating novelty music with something to latch onto, it follows on from thematic use in historical music throughout the ages so it's good to see its survival in modern, popular music.
Andy, Nottm., UK

There is no doubt that the top 20 here is really special. I was surprised, however, not to find Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd in the list.. the longer version is just awesome. And its popular too. Cheers.
Manish Mohan, Madras, India

Superb list, and this is one Top 20 that should indeed be based on popularity, not on critics' sentiments. Hon'ble mention goes to Teenage Kicks by The Undertones.
Miranda, Toronto, Canada

When it comes to great riffs that grab you by the short and curlies then there is no better than Toccatta by the legendary Sky. This obviously influenced many apprentice 'axemen' as Plug in Baby by Muse is a note for note copy.
Paul Armatage, London, UK

What about the searing guitar work of Joe Walsh in Hotel California or that of Mark Knopfler in Sultans of Swing - would these not qualify as good riffs? A few more that come to mind are those that happened in The Doors' Light My Fire, Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven and Badge by Cream. I guess I am old fashoned!
S. Lahiri, Gaithersburg, MD

Good range in the list,and nice to see Plug in Baby as a modern classic, but where was 20th Century Boy by T Rex? Surely that deserves a mention?
Kate, London

Well, as good as Sweet Child o Mine is, i think the most memorable riff that has lasted the test of time has got to be Paranoid by Black Sabbath. As soon as those two notes are hit, you instantly know what song it is,incredible. As a huge Muse fan I'm pleased to see Plug in Baby in the top 20, however, Muse have done better, namely New Born. But good choices all round in my opinion.

Keith Richards on Satisfaction, Honky Tonk Women, Shattered, Dancing with Mr D, Beast of Burden, When the whip Comes Down, Gimme Shelter, Jumpin Jack Flash, Street Fighting Man, You can't always get...., Sympathy for the Devil,...aw heck, Keith on just about anything and everything. Kudos to Pete Townsend for the best two note riff of all time on My Generation.
Bill, Gulf Breeze, FL USA

Top 20 riffs without Iron Maiden?? Where were they?
Robert G Eggleston, Dronfield, Derbyshire, England

I'd have like to have seen 'My Mamma Said' by Lenny Kravitz and aggree entirly with Damien Byrne that 'Watermellon in easter hay' and 'I am the slime' by God Zappa and are sadly missing.
Jim Gardner, Stockton on Tees UK

Plug In Baby is the best. It's amazing..
Hayley, England

What no Boston? Anything from 'Third Stage' make me want to get the air guitar out in the street!
Simon, UK

Is it too recent for 'Hysteria' by Muse...Or for that matter all of 'Absolution'?...That album is something not often achieved - well done Muse, maybe next time. But hey, for now Kurt would be turning in his grave if he saw SLTS at no. 2 - #1 surely!
Row Bell, Sheffield, UK

I agree with most of the list, but to choose Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name instead of Satisfaction by the Stones, Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers or Even Flow by Pearl Jam is in my opinion a big mistake.
Carlos Kuriyama, New York, USA

While I am utterly sick of it, Sweet Child O' Mine is worthy of topping that list. Layla should've been a bit higher up I think, and Tom Morello's Rage Against the Machine riffery could do with a bit more coverage in the overall chart. Pity that G n' R lost their touch, eh...
Gareth, Nottingham, UK

Not many people outside of Ireland, but Dearg Doom by Horselips. Stompin' good riff!
Aisling Tracy, Bristol UK

Deep Purple's classic Smoke on the Water is memorable for many reasons but the riff of all riffs I think is Burn for the pure adrenalin rush that kicks in when it starts. Magic!!
Kevin, Cardiff, Wales

I can't believe Iron Maiden haven't been mentioned yet, of whom I vote for '2 Minutes To Midnight' - it has such an unbelievable, unforgettable charge up.
Ben Brown, Chester-le-street, UK

Eric Clapton's 'Layla', beyond a shadow of a doubt - & I'll see/hear him play it next Saturday at the Albert Hall!!
Carolyn Middleton, Aberdeen, Scotland

The entirety of the album Cypher from ...And Oceans is my favourite guitar riff. :)
Alex S, Edison, NJ, USA

Detroit Rock City by KISS is memorable, as is their Rock n Roll All Night, but the best riff ever...? Like asking to choose which child you would like to save from a fire... IMPOSSIBLE!!!
BigDek, Birmingham, Englands

I guess "Satisfaction" is the most famous riff ever, but I prefer "Honky Tonk Women". It couldn't be simpler; just tune your Telecaster to open G and play with one hand!
Michael Idoyaga, New Orleans, LA, USA

Why isn't Can't Stop there or even Under The Bridge by the Red Hot Chilis? They both have amazing riffs, John Fruscianti (RHCP guitarist)is a genius, especially in Under The Bridge.
mike dean, London, UK

There are so many good ones but "The Last Time" by Jagger / Richards is outstanding. Neat, easy, powerful lick. An inspired piece of riff writing!
Chris Hunter, Bedford, UK

Sweet Child of mine deserves to be number 1. My personal favorite would be Metallica's Master of Puppets, it made to number 7 . Another good one would be Iron Man by Black Sabbath, awesome riff!
Rami El-Akabawi, Cairo, Egypt

Where's "Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie? An absolute classic riff.
Ben Cottam, Coventry, England

I cant believe no-one mentioned Cream - Sunshine of your Love! An amazing riff that many people would recognise, but far fewer would be able to name the song.
Mike Parker, Sheffield, UK

British metal legends, Iron Maiden, with "Fear of the Dark", or The Sweet's "Alexander Graham Bell" both really do it for me. But, from the list, how can anyone go past "Satisfaction" by the Stones? Truly awe-inspiring.
Timothy Clifford, Ex-pat

A great riff lets the rest of the song fade into memory while leaving the hook dangling in mind forever. As the list is missing both Dire Straits' "Money for Nothin'" AND the Cult's "Love Removal Machine" I personally can't take it too seriously. To omit one is folly, but to leave out both is blasphemy!
Robert Bickers, Arlington, Texas, USA

How total guitar could list the top 20 riffs of all time and not include any Andrew Ridgley has to be a crime. I mean, Club Tropicana, need I say more...!
daz, texas usa

The fact that Metallica is the only band that has two songs in the top 10 really says something about this incredibly influential band.
Vasco Burgos, Chile - lives in US

Joshua, the "Idiots" who voted for 'Smells like Teen Spirit' above 'Comfortably Numb' are probably the kind of idiots who know the difference between a guitar riff and a guitar solo. Both are great songs. But only one of them contains a riff.
Iggy, Glasgow

Agree about the Rolling Stones, adding 'The Last Time' 'Jumping Jack Flash' to the others mentioned
Peter , London UK

'Are you gonna go my way' by Lenny Kravitz and 'London Calling' by The Clash - two songs perfectly matched with their simple riffs. In my opinion simplicity is the key. Also - why no Pink Floyd?! Is it only me that thinks 'Money' has there the world's greatest riff? It's not even in the top 20!
Jim Doyle, Bristol, UK

Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits has the best riff I can think of.
Tom, London, UK

Nothing by Queen, Stones or Stairway to Heaven. Go back to school!
RH, Hong Kong

Nothing by the Who in the list? How about Substitute for starters - fantastic use of variants of one chord. Simple, catchy and instantly recognisable.
Steve Haywood, Wooburn Green, UK

AC/DC - Back in Black or Bad Boy Boogie. Angus is just a guitar God. His on-stage antics are a riot. How he can keep his playing so great while jumping all over the shop beggers belief.
Hugh, Tipton, UK

Just thinking about "Bad" by U2. The entire song is a riff. Constant, Timeless. Yet not mentioned. Killerwatt output seems to rule (sadly).

"Rifles" by Black Rebel Motorcycle club, it sounds really puny on the recording, but when played live it turns into something amazing. Some of the choices in this list are pretty weird, but its nice to see QOTSA in there.
Dan, Leeds

Is it just me or do people not appreciate the difference between a riff and a solo. Definition Riff - A melodic phrase repeated throughout a song. Freebird is a brilliant piece of guitar playing, however it does not have a riff. For what it's worth my vote would be for Paranoid by Black Sabbath.
Dave Edwards, Yorkshire

I think 'Hot for Teacher' by Van Halen should be on the list somewhere, just because the style is groundbreaking..and it sounds awesome.
James Hingston, Springfield America

Hey! "You really got me" started the whole thing! Dave Davies is such a neglected talent in the axe-business... (Even though the classic riff originally were written on - piano...)
Jan Baeckman, Orsa, Sweden

The greatest guitar riffs of all time are missing of that list. They are the riff by Joe Walsh in Life in the Fast Lane by the eagles, and the riff in Kashmir by Led Zepplin. but maybe it is Hotel California by the Eagles and the greatest end to a song ever. what a riff at the end.
Alex Skander, Leeds, UK

Hard to argue with Guns'n'Roses at number one for their riff, but for me Gary Moore in Still Got The Blues has to up there too.
Steve Wroblewski, Brit. Expat - Malaysia

Some fair points made here about 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. But as any fule kno - and Cobain admitted - it's actually a rip-off of the riff from Boston's 'More Than a Feeling'
Pete, London

Wow! So many great riffs to choose from. Two faves that weren't on the list would be Queen's "We Are The Champions" and The Eagles' "Hotel California". To me, a great riff sends a chill through you when you hear it (and you want to hear it again and again!).
Lisa, Timmins, Canada

Which song has the best riff?
Sweet Child O' Mine
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Whole Lotta Love
Smoke On The Water
Enter Sandman
15918 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed

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