Epic Riff

If you drop a guitar down a flight of stairs, it'll play "Gloria" on its way to the bottom.

An Epic Riff is that piece of instrumental flair that lays the foundation of an entire song, and is immediately recognizable from a small fragment, even by people who don't generally follow the type of music it is from (even if they can't identify which song it's from). For example, even people who are not fans of rock will probably recognize "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. They may not know the name of the band; they may not even know the name of the song; but they'll say "Oh, yeah, it's that song!" when they hear it, and they'll be thinking of the right song.

To provide an example: a person once posted a request for help on a blog. The gist of the post was "I can't figure out what song this is. The tape label says it's called "Portrait of a Gentle Young Girl". Help?" Five people identified it, "it" being two chords on a steel guitar, as the start of the opening riff of Bob Dylan's "Lay, Lady, Lay" – from an audio clip literally less than two seconds long. That's an Epic Riff.

See Fanfare for the orchestral equivalent. Many standard snippets probably also fit here.

Please note: This is not simply "Songs Tropers really like." If the song does not meet the criteria listed (the riff lays the foundation for the song, and that riff is memorable enough to be all it takes to identify the song), it is not an example and should not be added to the page.


Guitar/Bass:

Drums

  • The Amen break is one of the single most sampled and recognizable drum riffs ever.
  • Judas Priest: "Painkiller" (drums)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers: "Dani California". Everyone knows that drum beat.
  • As does Mike and the Mechanics' "Silent Running".
  • X Japan again with "Blue Blood", (drums or piano).
  • Disturbed: "Down with the Sickness" (Drum opening)
  • The Who + drums on "Pinball Wizard" = epic.
  • Rush: "YYZ" (drums - specifically, the tingling chimes at the very beginning)
  • Van Halen: "Hot for Teacher" and "Jamie's Cryin'".
  • Rick Astley: "Never Gonna Give You Up" (synth drums) which is all the Internet's fault!
  • Iron Maiden: "Run to the Hills" (drums) and "Paschendale" (morse code rhythm on a high hat).
  • Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" (drums)
  • The drum intro to "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin – this drum loop is one of the most sampled breaks in music. "Rock 'n' Roll" is also instantly recognizable from the drums.
  • Hall & Oates: "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" (drum machine/synths)
  • The drums from Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight".
  • Industries' "State of the Nation" has a deep orchestral intro with a thundering drum beat, soon followed by the recognizable synth sequences.
  • Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" opens with an iconic and instanly recognizable drum beat.
  • Gary Numan's "Cars"
  • Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions" (organ)
  • ? and the Mysterians "96 Tears"
  • If Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" isn't recognized by the opening drum beat, it will be when the bass kicks in.
    • Similarly with "Beat It"'s drum beat, followed by the rhythm guitar.
  • "Untitled" by Everything Else.
  • U2's "With or Without You" starts off with the steady drum beat, with the piano riff and lead guitar teasers creeping in before the bass really establishes the song.
  • The intro to The Offspring's "Come Out and Play".
  • The cowbell intro to Tears for Fears' "Shout"
  • "Dearg Doom" by Horslips
  • Nine Inch Nails: "Head Like a Hole", just the nice disco beat that is "Head Like a Hole". Especially the intro. "March of the Pigs" also counts, as, probably, does "Closer".
  • Metallica's "Motorbreath", especially live versions, starts with a pretty awesome drum riff.
  • Status Quo's "Just Take Me".
  • Eagles' "Heartache Tonight"
  • The All-American Rejects' "Dirty Little Secret"
  • The Surfaris' "Wipe Out", in addition to the guitar riff mentioned above, has a drum solo that has become iconic and will be instantly recognisable to any listener of a certain age.
  • The drum break of Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart", already mentioned above for its epic guitar riff, is one of the most widely sampled passages of all time.
  • Peter Gabriel's "Biko".
  • If you don't recognize Megadeth's "Rust in Peace... Polaris" from Nick Menza's drum intro, you will as soon as the other instruments enter, at least if you have any familiarity with thrash metal.

Other Instruments

  • The opening piano riff, followed by the opening sax riff of "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. A jazz fan will not only recognize the song, but also be able to tell if it's really Dave Brubeck or a cover from the first 20 seconds.
  • Rush's "Subdivisions" (synthesizer).
  • Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and X Japan's "Silent Jealousy" (piano)
    • The "Ode to Joy" and the second movement of Symphony No. 9 also count. The latter is most famous for its vocal arrangement, but the melody is used repeatedly even before then, and it'll be instantly recognisable even to people who don't listen to classical music.
  • Da-dum da-dum, da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-daaaaaaah da-da-duuuuuum. The Pink Panther theme, of course.
  • Queen's "We Will Rock You" (percussion; two stomps and a clap).
    • The synthesizer vamp from "The Show Must Go On" and "I Want to Break Free".
    • "Bohemian Rhapsody" (piano; also has epic riffs on guitar)
  • Van Der Graaf Generator: 'Killer', 'Lemmings (Including Cog)', 'Scorched Earth' and 'The Sleepwalkers'. All played on saxophone and Hugh Banton's often heavily distorted custom organ, as the band lacked a full-time guitar player.
  • Caesars' "Jerk It Out" keyboard riff is insanely famous and noticeable, known for being used in the iPod ads.
  • Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is" (piano) - or as young generations might know, 2pac's "Changes."
  • The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (violin).
  • Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" (saxophone).
  • Chicago's "Colour My World", "Saturday In the Park" (piano).
  • The Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" (sitar).
  • Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, an organ piece recognizable from dozens of horror films.
    • Pop-Cultural Osmosis has essentially turned it into The Phantom of the Opera's theme song, specifically. The mix of this song heard in Phantom holds a special honor, in that it's one of the few songs (if not the only one) that is recognizable from the first note.
    • Bach has a lot of these, including the Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 846 (piano), and the Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 (cello). If you don't recognise the names of the pieces, you'll almost certainly recognise their main melodies.
  • Also recognisable from its first note is the opening chord of the finale of Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, better known as the Organ Symphony.
  • New Order's "Blue Monday", the bass line and kick drum intro.
  • The Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" (piano).
  • The Who: "Won't Get Fooled Again" (organ/synthesizer), "Baba O'Riley" (synthesizer), "Love, Reign O'er Me" (synthesizer).
  • Van Halen: "Jump" (synthesizer).
  • Spencer Davies Group: "Gimme Some Lovin'" (organ)
  • Procol Harum: "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (organ)
  • The Main Theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • Similar to the Michael Jackson example above, If you don't recognize Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" by the drums, you will when the wah-pedalled clavinet comes in.
  • Ravel's "Bolero" is built upon a two-measure rhythm and a much longer melody, both of which repeat themselves continually in one massive, ten-to-fifteen minute crescendo.
  • Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is another whole-song crescendo, with added accelerando, but this one is much shorter at less than 3 minutes.
  • Billy Joel: "Piano Man" (started by a harmonica)
    • Also, "Prelude/Angry Young Man" (started by a piano)
  • Bruce Springsteen: "Thunder Road" (harmonica)
  • Warren Zevon: "Werewolves of London", "Excitable Boy" (piano)
  • Steve Winwood: "While You See a Chance" (organ)
  • Johnny Cash: "Ring of Fire" (trumpets)
    • Also, the guitar open to "Folsom Prison Blues".
  • Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells Part One"; the opening riff is a near-continual presence throughout.
  • Orbital: "Chime" (Synthesized bell-ish sound)
  • U2: "New Year's Day" (piano)
  • Lady Gaga: "Just Dance" (synthesizer)
  • Kesha: "We R Who We R" and "Blow" (both synthesizers)
  • Charles Mingus' "Moanin'" has the coolest baritone sax riff ever right after the intro solo.
  • La Marseillaise, the French national anthem (trumpet).
  • Def Leppard: "Rock of Ages" (spoken intro and/or drums)
  • Eurythmics: "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" (synthesizer bass line)
  • Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (piano).
  • The theme song to Dragnet (brass).
  • The Band's "Chest Fever" (organ).
  • Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" (piano).
  • George Michael's "Careless Whisper" (saxophone). Especially well known now due to the Sexy Sax Man video on YouTube.
  • Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", though nearly everyone (including Elmer Fudd) gets it wrong by leaving out the sixteenth note.
    • Wagner's Bridal Chorus ("Here Comes the Bride") also counts.
  • Tori Amos' "Professional Widow" (harpsichord), and "Precious Things" (piano).
  • The Trans-Siberian Orchestra managed to pull one with a violin in "Mozart and Memories" from Night Castle.
  • The Beatles occasionally had some organ/piano riffs too. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "A Day in the Life", and "Hey Bulldog" being the most prominent examples. Also, the saxophone solo in "Lady Madonna", even though it was played by jazz musician Ronnie Scott.
  • "Get Ready For This" by 2 Unlimited (electronic keyboard).
  • "Boston" by Augustana has a memorable piano opening, perhaps easier to remember than the song's lyrics.
  • Hall & Oates:
    • "Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)" (vocals).
    • "You Make My Dreams" has an epic clavinet riff.
  • Kasabian's "Club Foot" (synth)
  • Many of The Doors' pieces have well known riffs by keyboardist Ray Manzarek: "Light My Fire", "Soul Kitchen", "When the Music's Over", "Riders on the Storm", "Peace Frog", "The Changeling"
  • Coldplay: "Clocks", "The Scientist" (piano), "Viva La Vida" (strings), "Fix You" (organ and later guitar), and Life in Technicolor II (Yangqin).
  • The brass opening of the Bar Kay's, "Soul Finger"
  • More of an epic vocal, but the first thing most people think of when they think of The Oak Ridge Boys is Richard Sterban's Basso Profundo "giddyup ba oom papa oom papa mow mow" from the chorus of "Elvira".
  • Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" has one of the most recognizable piano openings of all time, which makes the beginning of "Smoke on the Water" sound complex.
  • Underworld's sampling on "Cowgirl". "Everything everything everything everything everything..."
  • Dire Straits has "Walk of Life"'s synthesizer organ riff.
  • "Take On Me" by "a-ha" (sic), and its synthesizer riff.
    • The trumpet-based recreation by ska band Reel Big Fish is just as epic.
  • Peter Bjorn and John's Young Folks (whistling)
  • The Andy Griffith Show's theme song. (whistling)
  • Matchbox 20 - "Unwell" (banjo)
  • Phil Collins: synths and strings of his hit "Groovy Kind of Love".
    • "Sussudio" and "In the Air Tonight" have epic synth riffs.
  • Speaking of opening pianos, "Welcome to the Black Parade"
  • Khe Sanh, Cold Chisel. The piano intro is so well known in Australia, the instant it begins, every Aussie within earshot can ID it (and more often than not join in singing)
  • Pretty much all of the music Daisuke Inoue did for the original Mobile Suit Gundam. The opening piano riff of "Soldiers Of Sorrow", or the piano and guitars from "Encounter" are probably the most recognizable. If you've neverheard his work before, imagine a Japanese Meat Loaf and you're not too far off.
  • Joe Walsh, "Life's Been Good."
  • Tank!.
  • Critical Acclaim by Avenged Sevenfold (organ).
  • Animotion, "Obsession" (synthesizer)
  • Linkin Park's "In the End", "What I've Done" (keyboard)
  • Laura Marling: Ghosts. The duuu-nuuuh thing.
    • "Don't Ask Me Why"'s spanish guitar.
    • All My Rage's guitar- considering it's one of her only songs in C Major.
  • Toto: "Africa". If not for the tribal style of the drums and percussions, the synths that follow.
    • Also counts for "Hold the Line" with that epic piano beginning before the guitar kicks in (the guitar is a pretty epic riff too FWIW)
  • Spandau Ballet: "True" (synths and guitar, later sampled for PM Dawn's "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss")
  • Berlin: "Take My Breath Away" (synth bass(?) and a chorus-like synth)
  • Styx: "Babe" (Rhodes electric piano with stereo tremolo), and "Mr. Roboto" (vocoder synth: "dōmo arigatō misutā Roboto")
    • Dennis de Young's solo hit "Desert Moon" (also synths)
    • "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)", the Epic Instrumental Opener for which is a unique riff that resembles a sailor's hornpipe played on a synthesized calliope.
  • Most of Fra Lippo Lippi's hits are quickly recognized either by synth openings (eg "Light and Shade") or piano openings (eg "Beauty and Madness"), with the exception of the studio album version of "Every Time I See You" (which has a bass guitar opening).
  • When In Rome: "The Promise" 12" version has a very odd robotic sounding riff in the intro.
  • Most of Depeche Mode's hits have synth riffs, but perhaps the most famous of them all is the vibraphone riff of "Everything Counts" (which is also notable for its square-wave synth riffs as well, especially in the extended version).
    • Also notable are the noise riffs (which includes a sound like breaking glass and an explosion) of "People are People".
    • One could also count the main rhythm loop in "Stripped", which is the sound of a motorcycle engine slowed way down.
  • Lou Sern's "Swiss Boy" has sounds from a Cuckoo Clock (in fact the "tick-tock" continues throughout nearly the whole song) and some yodelling.
  • Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy" also has a vocal riff, which is inspired by Tarzan's (from the 1966 TV series) signature "Call of the Wild".
  • The single version of Wham!'s song "Careless Whisper" which begins with an instantly memorable saxophone line.
  • Ronnie James Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark"'s synth intro.
  • "'Till I Collapse" by Eminem has an epic riff, mainly because it was used in the trailer for Modern Warfare 2.
    • And then there's Won't Back Down, also by Eminem, used in the trailer for the latest Call of Duty game, Black Ops.
  • Also, Pushing the Sky from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack also has an epic guitar riff.
  • "Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears, which has the iconic and famous three note keyboard riff at the beginning.
  • Yes has "Heart of the Sunrise".
  • Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (shakuhachi, then horns)
  • Supertramp has epic electric piano riffs, all played on a chorused Wurlitzer EP200. Examples include "Dreamer", "Bloody Well Right", "Goodbye Stranger", "The Logical Song", "Lady"...
  • Europe's "The Final Countdown" has an epic synthesizer riff.
  • "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" by Digable Planets has an epic brass and sax riff.
  • New Order - Perfect Kiss (synth brass, especially in the Epic Instrumental Closer)
  • Between Epic Violin Guy and Epic Sax Guy, SunStroke Project's "Run Away" is unmistakable.
  • Muse have several examples on the piano, most notably "New Born" and "Butterflies and Hurricanes".
  • For Metalcore fans, there's (possibly?) "Composure" by August Burns Red, though that may be a bit obscure.
  • Space have 'Female Of The Species' (vibraphone/keyboards). There's also 'The Ballad Of Tom Jones' and 'Avenging Angels', both keyboards.
  • Cave Story has Last Battle. Bum, dum ba dumbadum, dum badumbadum, badumbum...
  • "Religion Song (Put Away The Gun)" has one on organ, and "Untitled" has one on horns.
  • The synth and brass ensemble of Huey Lewis and the News' "Power of Love"
  • The synth riff from Soft Cell's version of "Tainted Love".
  • The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" should be identifiable from any part of the string arrangement.
  • The opening electronic riff from the theme to Doctor Who, particularly in the original version from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
  • Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen". Destiny's Child sampled it for their "Bootylicious"
  • Simple Minds' famous one-note bass line on "Waterfront" holds the entire song together.
    • The guitar riff of "Ghostdancing".
    • The central riff of "Don't You (Forget About Me)". Especially during live performances.
  • The Mellotron on The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin".
  • The opening strings of INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart"
  • It wasn't a big hit, but the few people who remembered "Love Done Gone" by Billy Currington remembered it first for the trumpet/backing vocal intro ("Ba-ba-da, ba-da-ba…").
  • The distorted electric guitar solo on "Don't Worry" by Marty Robbins, one of the first examples of distortion in country music. It was a production mistake that was left in the final cut, too.
  • The synth intro to "Real World" by The All-American Rejects.
  • For psychedelic soul fans, the piano near the opening is this for "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun" by Rotary Connection.
  • Kraftwerk: "Computer Love". Coldplay later used it in "Talk".
  • Front 242: "Until Death (Do Us Part)", "Agony (Until Death)", and the synth bassline of "Headhunter".
  • Midnight Oil: The horn riff of "Beds Are Burning".
  • Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" has an epic synthesizer riff, while "Head Over Heels" has an epic piano riff.
  • Neil Young's "Southern Man" (piano, though it later adds guitar).
  • Jethro Tull's "Cross-Eyed Mary", "Bungle in the Jungle", and "Living in the Past" have epic flute riffs!
  • Kansas' "Point of Know Return" (violin).
  • Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" (synth bass).
  • Eagles' "Desperado" (piano), "I Can't Tell You Why" (Rhodes piano).
  • The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey" (synthesizer)
  • Elton John has a lot of these on piano or related instruments: "Tiny Dancer", "Levon", "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", "Burn Down the Mission", "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word", "Candle in the Wind", "Your Song", "Rocket Man", "Crocodile Rock" (organ), "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" (also includes synthesizer and guitar), "Bennie and the Jets"...
  • Almost anyone who's played videogames in the past 16 years will recognize the Halo theme from the first 2 to 3 notes of the vocal chorus intro.
  • Blind Faith's "Presence of the Lord" has an immediately recognizable organ backing.
  • Yes' "Parallels" has an epic organ riff courtesy of keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman. Strangely, given his virtuosity, his keyboards aren't usually the foundation of the band's tracks. The piano interlude on "South Side of the Sky" and the organ interludes of "Close to the Edge" and "Awaken" provide other examples (though in some cases the organ just ends up repeating an epic guitar riff), while the above-mentioned "And You and I" also uses Wakeman's Mellotron as the foundation of one of its riffs.
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Hoedown", "Trilogy", "The Endless Enigma", "Fanfare for the Common Man", "Karn Evil 9" (all three impressions), and quite a few other tracks are all based around epic keyboard riffs of some form or other (although "Karn Evil 9" also has an epic guitar riff).
  • King Crimson also liked epic keyboard riffs. Examples include "The Court of the Crimson King", "Cirkus", "In the Wake of Poseidon", "Lizard", "Starless", and several others.

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