The guitar riff is the brick that built the house of 80s heavy metal.
Metallica’s layered Bay-area thrash. Poison’s simplistic trash. Joe Satriani’s flash and Guns N Roses’ Slash. AC/DC’s unforgettable “You Shook Me” and Babylon AD’s forgotten “Bang Goes The Bells.“ All shaped by the same musical DNA: a rhythmic, repeated guitar phrase.
Listen to the German band Scorpions for examples: “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “No One Like You“ are probably the best known, but there are more: “Big City Nights.” “I’m Leaving You.” “The Zoo.” “Blackout.” No One Like You. “Bad Boys Running Wild”(Not to be confused with “Bad Boy” by Haywire, “Bad Boys” by Great White, “Bad Boys” by Whitesnake, or “Bad Boys” by Wham) and “No One Like You” with the way they have the rhythm guitar start and the lead come bursting in over top. “The Zoo.” “Blackout.” “I’m Leaving You.”
Or consider Ratt, In terms of consistency, Ratt were the best of their generation. Most 80s LA bands were lucky to even release five albums, let alone five good ones. From “Out of the Cellar” to “Detonator, Ratt had the best five album run of any of the Sunset Strip metal bands (with the possible exception of Motley Crue depending on how big a fan you are of “Theatre of Pain“).
And every song beginning with Out of the Cellar‘s “Wanted Man” and ending with “Top Secret” from Detonator is built around one or two guitar riffs.
Grunge killed 80s metal. But it didn’t kill the riff. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots used them. Kurt Cobain might have disdained metal, but the riff was as close to Nirvana as it was to Heaven’s Edge. The opening of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”--grunge’s signature song--is unmistakeable, and that opening--all guitar followed by the drums‘ crashing entrance, is all riff, baby.
Guitar-based music doesn’t have the same prominence today and hasn’t for awhile. That’s why I like Nickelback.
Many people don’t. There was even a time when not only did people hate Nickelback, they also didn‘t like people who liked them. My liking Nickelback is the reason one woman refused to sleep with me.
I get it. I felt the same way about Creed. And before that, Milli Vanilli.
I like Nickelback because they use the riff. You can hear examples in “Animals,” “Something In Your Mouth,” and that Pants-Around-Your-Feet song.
They continue to riff, and for that, I salute them.