No Riff Raft

Sam Carter lost consciousness after contracting severe anaemia but was brought back to life when “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was blared into his ears.

This is weird, because this morning I woke up hearing the riff to the very same song. And then I lay awake and started thinking about guitar riffs and how -sigh- you never hear new songs with decent ones. Like Satisfaction, or -the next one that came to mind- Rebel Rebel.

Take the new Hold Steady album, which apparently has anoraks everywhere empurpled with enthusiasm (I personally think it sounds like Rocket From The Crypt after a big feed of spuds): lots of hard and angry rocking, but not a single riff on it that captures the imagination or the memory.

Any decent riffs, anyone?

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13 Responses to “No Riff Raft”


  1. 1 copernicus August 8, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Er, Strokes Reptilia for starters, QotSA No One Knows, or even better Go with the Flow. El Scorchio by Weezer &c.

  2. 2 Hugh Green August 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Reptilia – I like it, has that insistent and satisfying quality about it.

    Funny enough, I couldn’t remember the riff to No One Knows: a bad sign. Good song, and good riff, but lacks that cumulative effect that comes through repetition. Go With the Flow, which I also like, is more of a sequence of chords than a riff (you can see I lack the necessary technical vocab here). I mean, I think the riff -and these are my own criteria here- should be the central element of the song: what makes it immediately identifiable, and it should have an identifiable melody of its own. Like the aforementioned Rebel Rebel, or Smoke On The Water.

    Had never heard El Scorcho until about 5 minutes ago, and I think it fulfils my criteria all right. Funny stuff.

  3. 3 copernicus August 8, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    According to the wikipedia, what you describe might more accurately be described as a “hook” or guitar “lick” that amounts to a riff (or central musical idea).

    So I was going to suggest various Phoenix songs which have super-melodious guitar lines through them, but if I catch your meaning right, you wish your readers to unleash the ultimate in awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLqdFnbHAlw

  4. 4 Hugh Green August 11, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Yes, I see what you mean. I too am a fan of the mighty Hangar 18, having spent a fair period of my teenage years hanging about with metalheads who played Rust in Peace non-stop. Not that I was one myself, but it was a small town and longhairs tended to stick together.

  5. 5 Kevin August 12, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Not that I was one myself, but it was a small town and longhairs tended to stick together.

    Ah, probably best not to let Longman Oz hear that. Camps “Us” and “Them”, was it?

  6. 6 Hugh Green August 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Ultimately, it was his “ultimately” I took issue with. Small town and long hair are both conditions. And I was able to transcend my identitarian-essentialist crisis by getting a haircut. In the absence of recent pictures, I have no idea if you could ever understand…?

  7. 7 Hugh Green August 12, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    This isn’t really a riff-based song at all, but it does aspire to the ultimate in awesome dumbness (and the video Ice Hockey scenes help it along somewhat)

    Regrettably, I had a bad incident involving my Last.fm profile and a operatic metalhead.

  8. 8 Kevin August 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I can sort of understand, a shortfall which piques an even greater crisis every two months or so.

  9. 9 Kevin August 12, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    This isn’t really a riff-based song at all, but

    There are a lot of Them, aren’t there?

  10. 10 Kevin August 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    As far as riffs go, those Vampire Weekend lads are quite good in a very non-threatening way.

  11. 11 Hugh Green August 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Unfortunately, yes. Or do I mean unfortunately, Yes?

    At some point I should stop posting crap on my own website.

  12. 12 lolarusa August 13, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Don’t you think it likely that the reason “riffs” from older songs seem to have achieved some sort of perfection is not because of their inherent superiority, but just because you’ve heard them a million times?

    There’s a fascinating discussion of why this happens on Radio Lab:

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2006/04/21

  13. 13 Hugh Green August 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Good point. Need to think about this…


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