Best guitar riffs of the 21st century?
April 20, 2010 10:58 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best guitar riffs of the 21st century?

I'm a guitar teacher always looking for stuff I can turn into exercises that are more interesting than what you find in most lesson books. I've put together several workbooks based on the typical "Greatest Guitar Riffs of All Time" lists, but most of those songs are 30 to 50 years old. It's amazing to me that kids are still wanting to learn those old songs (I blame Guitar Hero), but I'd like to give them some more modern stuff as well. I've got some personal favorites, of course, but it's a pretty big world out there and I'm sure I've missed a lot.

So what are some of the great guitar riffs of the last 10 years or so?
posted by straight to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Sonic Youth - Teen Age Riot (around 1:20)
posted by ripley_ at 11:18 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

....sorry. It's late. I read 21st century as 20th somehow.

More recent: Les Savy Fav - The Sweat Descends

White Denim - Let's Talk About It
posted by ripley_ at 11:20 PM on April 20, 2010

due to a 5 yr detour into country i'm kinda outta the loop but these stand out:

1) white stripes "7 nation army" via octave shift. and "black jack davey". and a fuckin ton of other white stripes tunes. best guitar in a while.
2) queens of the stone age "no one knows"
3) clap your hands say yeah "skin of my yellow country teeth"
4) hearless bastards "runnin"
5) john frusciante "murders"
6) le tigre "deceptacon"
7) loretta lynn / jack white "portland oregon"
8) the microphones "i want the wind to blow" (wait for it)
9) nine inch nails "the mark has been made"
10) the rapture "out of the races and onto the tracks" (rapture is mostly badass bass though)
11) the sea and cake "four corners" (not sure if this is 10 yrs, prolly not)
12) any fucking song from the smashing pumpkins record "siamese dream". for reals. i don't care about dates.
13) (smog) "hit the ground running"
14) the walkmen "little house of savages" (maybe more of a killer rhythm guitar section)
15) any dinosaur jr. song ever. sorry, i give up.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:22 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

ripley, agreed, teen age riot is a boss lick
posted by nathancaswell at 11:27 PM on April 20, 2010

Are you looking for a particular difficulty level? For big dumb power chords, look at Franz Ferdinand or the Queens of the Stone Age. For intricate metallic stuff, Mastodon and Opeth are doing ridiculous and wonderful things. If you want a nice scale riff, Muse's "Plug-In Baby" is apparently the new "Stairway to Heaven" in UK guitar shops (i.e. so ubiquitous you get yelled at for playing it).
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 11:38 PM on April 20, 2010

I like these ones

Black Mountain - Stormy High, Wucan
Them Crooked Vultures - Gunman
Dethklok - Go Into The Water (seriously)
Secret Machines - Have I Run Out (#18 on that little playlist thing)
Rob Zombie - American Witch
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 12:23 AM on April 21, 2010

Moke, Last Change.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:03 AM on April 21, 2010

"Lazy Eye" is basically a Smashing Pumpkins cover that the Smashing Pumpkins didn't actually write, but there's a lot of fun stuff going on there with octave drones and

In similar fashion, the xx's "Crystalised" is a cover of a 1980s song that wasn't written until 2009, and I like its guitar line.

For something slightly less drone-y, there's always "I Might Be Wrong".
posted by holgate at 1:06 AM on April 21, 2010

The guitar playing on the new Polvo disc is pretty great and intricate:

"Right the Relation"
"Beggar's Bowl"

I'd argue that Radiohead's "Bodysnatchers" might stand the test of time as a pretty classic verse riff. Not that difficult either.
posted by bardic at 1:30 AM on April 21, 2010

My Morning Jacket - One Big Holiday
The Hold Steady - How a resurrection really feels / Slapped Actress
The Killers - All These Things I've Done
Vampire Weekend - A-Punk

...but mainly "One Big Holiday"
posted by clearly at 1:36 AM on April 21, 2010

The Black Keys use tons of great riffs. Check out "Attack and Release" – it's chock full of 'em.
posted by quadog at 1:39 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pathe Metheny Group — The Way Up Part1 Part2 Part3 Part4 Part5
posted by netbros at 1:49 AM on April 21, 2010

96 Quite Bitter Beings by CKY.
posted by fire&wings at 4:28 AM on April 21, 2010

In that case... probably best to stick with Radiohead.

There, There (In particular the final guitar riff at the end)
Paranoid Android

As far as power chords, I've always loved the progression in Neutral Milk Hotel's Holland, 1945.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:03 AM on April 21, 2010

Looking at songs that are available on Rock Band:

Wolfmother - The Joker & The Thief
Queens of the Stone Age - Go With the Flow
White Stripes - Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
Jet - Are You Gonna Be My Girl?
Beck - E-Pro

But then again, like you say, pretty much anything from Rock Band or Guitar Hero will be known by kids these days. So it might be worth looking into what's popular and what's not on each, then build a list from there.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:24 AM on April 21, 2010

All of The Strokes' material came out this decade - the solo from The Modern Age is quite a good one...
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:57 AM on April 21, 2010

I love to play guitar... is there any of your "book" online? Or could I purchase a hard copy from you. I'd to have all the great riffs in one book.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 6:54 AM on April 21, 2010

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Rich" (and pretty much all of "Fever to Tell". Too bad about their other albums.)
posted by atbash at 7:03 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) That Was Just Your Life -- Metallica (not too difficult)
2) Holy Diver -- Dio (I know it's an old song, but Killswitch Engage did a cover within the last few years which kicks ass)
3) Kryptonite -- 3 Doors Down
posted by C17H19NO3 at 7:30 AM on April 21, 2010

The end of Daft Punk's Digital Love. Something to aspire to.

2+2=5 and There There from Radiohead's Hail to the Thief. Knives Out from Amnesiac. Arpeggi from In Rainbows.

The first few songs on Ted Leo's Shake the Sheets had some good riffs.

Tenacious D's Kielbasa.

Modest Mouse's Dashboard.
posted by jalexc at 7:44 AM on April 21, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. They swoop! They dive! They saur!
posted by vrakatar at 8:07 AM on April 21, 2010

The Cribs - Men's Needs has an amazingly great lick. (Warning: Vid somewhat NSFW)
posted by General Malaise at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2010

Cat Power - "He War"

The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema"

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - "Timorous Me"

St. Vincent - "Now Now"

The Dodos - "Red and Purple"

Ratatat - "Seventeen Years," etc.

The Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"

Andrew Bird - "Plasticities"

The Darkness - "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"

Death Cab for Cutie - "Title and Registration," "Tiny Vessels," "We Looked Like Giants," etc.

Hot Hot Heat - "Naked in the City Again," "Talk to Me, Dance with Me"

Dirty Projectors - "Cannibal Resource"

Jenny Lewis - "The Next Messiah"

My Brightest Diamond - "Inside a Boy"

Sonic Youth - "Incinerate"

Of Montreal - "Forecast Fascist Future," "So Begins Our Alabee"

John Mayer - "Bigger than My Body," etc.

Youth Group - "Someone Else's Dream"

And I'd generally recommend checking out the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Radiohead, Spoon, Modest Mouse, Kaki King...
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:58 AM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You should definitely listen to the Queens Of The Stone Age, they're sound like being stoned at night in the desert, possibly with a sexy chick and some beer. For particular riffs, try:
3's & 7's from Era Vulgaris (also try the title track of this album)
You Got A Killer Scene There Man from Lullabies to Paralyze
Better Living Through Chemistry from Rated R

but really, just get Era Vulgaris, Songs For the Deaf, Lullabies To Paralyze, Rated R and the self titled QOTSA album, and you will find dozens of amazing guitar riffs and rhythms.

You should also check out the works of Omar Rodriguez Lopez. He is the main composer and guitarist from The Mars Volta, and he also pumps out solo work at a pronominal rate. He plays a sort of latin infused progressive experimental rock, and plays with a very dissonant tone, think Fripp meets Santana. For ORL, try:
Viscera Eyes from Amputechture (TMV)
Goliath from Bedlam in Goliath (TMV)
Drunkship of Lanterns from Deloused in the Comatorium (TMV)
Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt from Deloused in the Comatorium (TMV), especially the segment from 3:42 here
Boiling Death Request A Body To Rest Its Head On from Se Dice Bisonte No Bufalo (ORL solo)

Also, my guitar playing friend recommends 'Mastodon, all of them'
posted by tumples at 9:01 AM on April 21, 2010

Chickenfoot - Oh Yeah
Audioslave - Revelations
Metallica - Cyanide
Megadeth - Something I'm Not
posted by epimorph at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2010

The Rapture have some great riffs, House of Jealous Lovers perhaps being the prototypical Rapture riff, they're generally not that hard to pull off, either. I'm somewhat surprised no one's named Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. And Sleater-Kinney were riff machines, e.g. Jumpers, Entertain and The Fox.
posted by Kattullus at 9:44 AM on April 21, 2010

Jane's Addiction - Wrong Girl (youtube) from their seriously underrated "Strays" record. Plus i'm pretty sure it's odd meter.
posted by bitterkitten at 10:08 AM on April 21, 2010

I'm somewhat surprised no one's named Sabotage by The Beastie Boys.

Great riff, but not from the last 10 yrs.
posted by Beardman at 11:21 AM on April 21, 2010

Nthing Black Mountain:

Don't Run Our Hearts Around

posted by Beardman at 11:29 AM on April 21, 2010

Fugazi - Epic Problem (the best riffs start at 2:22, but the whole thing is amazing)
Modest Mouse - Dashboard (Johnny Marr's main riff)
Foo Fighters - The Pretender
Fu Manchu - Squash That Fly
Mastodon - Colony of Birchmen
John Mayer - Slow Dancing In A Burning Room (after about 50 secs of noodling) and Vultures
Sade - King of Sorrow
Tool - The Pot (40 seconds in)
Pearl Jam - You Are (I normally can't stand Pearl Jam, but that song - particularly the guitar parts - is just so good. Probably because Matt Cameron wrote it.)
Eagles of Death Metal - I Want You So Hard and Speaking In Tongues
PJ Harvey - Big Exit
The Hives - Tick Tick Boom
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives - Sister Surround

And yeah, the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age stuff cited above.
posted by The World Famous at 11:56 AM on April 21, 2010

I can't believe that nobody has yet mentioned the riff from Black Dog, by Led Zeppelin.
posted by number9dream at 2:44 PM on April 21, 2010

Nevermind, you said 21st century, not 20th. Duh.
posted by number9dream at 2:45 PM on April 21, 2010

I've got two chickens to paralyseTwo Tickets to Paradise. Homer rates it an "excellent guitar riff."
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:30 PM on April 21, 2010

[Reads the post again] D'OH!
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: What an amazingly great list of new music to check out (and not-so-old favorites to be reminded of). I'll definitely be using some of these.

Many, many thanks to everyone who posted suggestions. Thank you, all!
posted by straight at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2010

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