There are a number of factors that might make a song immediately recognizable—a whisper, a cough, a G note… But nothing gets our little black hearts racing quite as rapidly as a guitar riff we know like the backs of our hands.
You don’t even have to be a guitarist to get the sentiment. As listeners, we have a remarkable capability to relate and latch onto instrumentals, whether we understand their technical aspects or not. Case in point: There are plenty of riffs that we’ll just never forget—even years after their release.
Here are 10 iconic alternative guitar riffs that you’ll always recognize immediately.
“Ignorance” – Paramore
Nobody will be surprised to learn that the main riff from Paramore‘s “Ignorance” is actually the foundational backbone of the song. It’s such a unique display of quintessential, guitar-driven pop-punk energy that perfectly accentuates Hayley Williams‘ angsty vocals. In fact, we’d argue that it’s just as recognizable as the lyrics, if not more so—and that’s saying something.
“American Idiot” – Green Day
Yeah, this one immediately started playing in your head as soon as you read the title, didn’t it? The guitar riff from Green Day‘s “American Idiot” is undoubtedly one that will get randomly stuck in your head. The good news? You’re never going to have to scour the internet as you try to figure out what it’s from because there’s no mistaking that anthemic progression.
“In Too Deep” – Sum 41
The guitar riff in Sum 41‘s “In Too Deep” chorus may be overlain by Deryck Whibley‘s spirited vocals, but that doesn’t make it any less recognizable. As early as 2001, Dave Baksh played a riff that encapsulated total 2000s Warped Tour energy, and damn if he didn’t deliver. No doubt, you’ll be hard-pressed not to pick this one out of any riff lineup.
“All The Small Things” – blink-182
Have you ever gone to a show and experienced a moment of dread when the band start playing a song that sounds totally foreign to you? Fortunately, you’ll never encounter that feeling with blink-182‘s “All The Small Things.” After all, the track kicks off with one of the most iconic intro riffs of all time. We challenge you to think back to the first time you heard it because we’re pretty sure everybody’s born familiar with the progression.
“1985” – Bowling For Soup
Bowling For Soup might just take the prize for the catchiest riff sequence of all time with “1985.” Not only is the intro/choral riff standout in its own right, but it also pairs perfectly with the song’s vocal melody, making it instantly recognizable. We apologize for hitting you with this earworm that’s nearly impossible to shake, but we’d argue that the nagging compulsion to hum is well worth it.
“Girl’s Not Grey” – AFI
We’ve already established that the introduction of guitarist Jade Puget to AFI‘s permanent lineup transformed the band into what they are today. However, we have to wonder if they knew at the time how iconic his riffs would come to be. The obvious example is “Girl’s Not Grey,” which comes from Sing The Sorrow. From the intro to the chorus, there’s just no mistaking these particular guitar shreds.
“Sk8er Boi” – Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne made her debut into pop punk in 2002 and almost immediately found mainstream success. So, it comes as little surprise that her ever-popular song “Sk8er Boi” contains some of the most inherently recognizable riffs to come out of alternative music. Not only are we all primed to sing along to the track, but we’re obligated to shred on the air guitar as well.
“A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’” – Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy have no shortage of recognizable instrumentals, vocal dynamics, music videos and more. That’s to say, they’ve made a bit of a reputation for themselves as standing out from the crowd. Just try thinking about Sixteen Candles without immediately getting this song’s riffs stuck in your head, though. Thanks a lot, Joe Trohman (and we mean that sincerely).
“Stacy’s Mom” – Fountains Of Wayne
The riffs present in “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains Of Wayne strike a delicate balance. While they’re distinctly recognizable, their relative simplicity lends them to a sense of timelessness in the context of alternative rock. Seriously, we can’t believe there was ever a time that we wouldn’t have been able to place these guitar parts.
“Chop Suey!” – System Of A Down
There are two types of people in this world: those who think of “Chop Suey!” and launch their mind into the aggressive vocals and those who revisit Daron Malakian‘s iconic guitar riffs. Admittedly, the song is easily recognizable from both perspectives. But let’s just say there’s a good reason that this System Of A Down tune was so hard to play through on Rock Band 2.
What are some of your favorite recognizable guitar riffs in alternative music? Sound off in the comments!