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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 that was literally less than two seconds long. That's an Epic Riff.

See Fanfare for the orchestral equivalent.

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.


Examples:

  • Oasis: "Rock 'n' Roll Star", "Cigarettes & Alcohol", "Supersonic", "Acquiesce", "Lyla", "The Importance of Being Idle", "Fade Away", "Don't Look Back In Anger", "Wonderwall", "Fuckin' in the Bushes"
  • Sugarloaf: "Green-Eyed Lady" (bass)
  • The Killers: "Somebody Told Me", "When You Were Young", and most of all, "Mr. Brightside" – the moment the first few notes are heard at any party, suddenly even the indie kids leap to their feet to dance. Also helped by the fact that everybody knows the words.
  • AC/DC: "You Shook Me All Night Long", "Highway To Hell", "Back In Black", "Thunderstruck", "Hells Bells", "Shoot To Thrill", "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", "Let There Be Rock", "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)", "Whole Lotta Rosie", "Rock 'N' Roll Train", "T.N.T."
  • The Allman Brothers Band: "Whipping Post", "Dreams", "Jessica", "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", "Ramblin' Man", "Mountain Jam", "Statesboro Blues"
  • Bob Dylan: "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "All Along The Watchtower", "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Lay, Lady, Lay"
    • And of course, the drums and organ from the first second of "Like a Rolling Stone" are more than enough to recognize the song.
  • Free!: "All Right Now"
  • Ozzy Osbourne: "Crazy Train", "Mr. Crowley", "Bark at the Moon"
  • Slipknot, "Psychosocial" (bass), "Duality"
  • Alice in Chains, "Man in the Box", "Would?" (bass), "Angry Chair" (bass)
    • Pretty much every song on Black Gives Way to Blue qualifies. None more so than "Check My Brain", however.
  • The James Bond theme, Monty Norman/John Barry. Vic Flick performed the guitar riff.
  • Queen: "Another One Bites the Dust" (bass), "Under Pressure" (bass), "Tie Your Mother Down", "I Want It All", "Hammer To Fall", "Stone Cold Crazy", "I Want To Break Free"
  • Heart: "Barracuda", "Crazy On You"
  • The Doobie Brothers, "Long Train Runnin'", "China Grove", "Listen To The Music", "Black Water"
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers: "Californication", "Scar Tissue", "By The Way", "Under the Bridge", "Snow (Hey Oh)", "Tell Me Baby", "Can't Stop", "Dani California", "Venice Queen", "Get On Top", "Animal Bar"
  • Chic, "Good Times"
  • Tom Petty: "American Girl", "Runnin' Down a Dream", "Mary Jane's Last Dance", "Free Fallin'", "Good Enough", "Refugee"
  • Chicago: "25 or 6 to 4"
  • The Rolling Stones: "Satisfaction", "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Brown Sugar", "Start Me Up", "Paint It, Black", "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", "Gimme Shelter"
  • System of a Down: "Aerials", "Toxicity", "Chop Suey!", "B.Y.O.B."
  • Michael Jackson, "Beat It", "Black or White", "Smooth Criminal" (bass), "Billie Jean" (bass), "Bad" (bass)
  • ZZ Top: "La Grange", "Sharp Dressed Man", "Tush"
  • Muse: "Knights Of Cydonia", "Plug In Baby", "Unnatural Selection", "The Groove", "The Small Print", "Supermassive Black Hole", "Invincible", "Glorious", "Dark Shines", "Showbiz" (when the distortion and wah kicks in), "Bliss" (bass), "Cave", "Hysteria" (bass), "Starlight" (bass)
  • "My Sharona" by The Knack.
  • Bruce Springsteen: "Born to Run", "Born in the USA", "Glory Days"
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Proud Mary", "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?", "Fortunate Son", "Bad Moon Rising", "Run Through The Jungle", "Green River", "Ramble Tamble", "Who'll Stop the Rain", "Up Around the Bend", "Travelin' Band", "Born on the Bayou", "Down on the Corner", "Suzie Q", "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
  • The Hollies - "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"
  • Jethro Tull - "Aqualung", "Locomotive Breath", "Thick as a Brick"
  • Rush - "Limelight", "The Spirit of Radio", "Working Man", "Tom Sawyer", "Red Barchetta", "Temple of Syrinx"
  • Metallica: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)", "Enter Sandman", "Seek and Destroy", "Master of Puppets", "Fuel", "Creeping Death", "All Nightmare Long", "Battery", "Damage Inc.", "Ride The Lightning", "Blackened", "The Shortest Straw", "Whiplash", "One", "The Thing That Should Not Be", "...And Justice For All", "The Day That Never Comes", "The Judas Kiss", "Dyer's Eve", "Sad But True", "Disposable Heroes", "The Day That Never Comes", "The Unforgiven", "Wherever I May Roam" (sitar), "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (distorted bass with added wah-wah)
  • Plain White Ts, "Hey There Delilah".
  • Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", famous for being featured on a thousand movie sound tracks and the most famous fuzz guitar riff ever.
  • Overkill - "Time to Kill"
  • Dio - "Holy Diver", "Stand Up and Shout", "The Last in Line", "Egypt (The Chains Are On), "Wild One", "Rainbow in the Dark".
  • Tool - "Lateralus", "Schism", "Parabola", "Sober"
  • Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "Not Fragile," "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," "Takin' Care of Business"
  • Commodores - "Brick House" (bass AND trumpet)
  • Radiohead: "The National Anthem" (bass), "I Might Be Wrong" (bass), "Talk Show Host" (bass), "Where I End and You Begin" (bass), "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", "Optimistic", "My Iron Lung", "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy", "There There", "Just", "Creep", "Karma Police", "Paranoid Android", "Separator"
  • Iron Butterfly: "In A Gadda Da Vida"
  • Megadeth: "Dread and the Fugitive Mind", "Hangar 18", "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due", "Symphony of Destruction", "Angry Again", "Peace Sells", "Back in the Day", "Sweating Bullets", and "The Mechanix", which was modified by Metallica into "The Four Horsemen".
  • Elton John: "The Bitch Is Back", "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"
  • Yes: "Owner of a Lonely Heart", "Yours is No Disgrace" (bass), "Starship Trooper", "I've Seen All Good People" (bass), "The Fish" (bass), "Heart of the Sunrise" (bass), "Siberian Khatru", "Parallels" (church organ), "Awaken", "Tempus Fugit" (bass), "Roundabout"
    • "The Gates of Delirium", being a 20-minute epic, actually qualifies for more than one. The opening section and closing section both have (differing) lap-steel guitar riffs, while the middle section has its own much-repeated riff (though guitar is only one of the instruments used to play it). Each of the riffs instantly identifies the song and, to many Yes fans, are instantly recognisable.
  • A distorted bass playing stacked sevenths in Beastie Boys' "Sabotage"
  • Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" (bass)
  • Ben E. King: "Stand By Me" (bass)
  • The Kinks: "Tired Of Waiting For You", "Juke Box Music", "Destroyer", "Till The End Of The Day, "I Need You", "Sunny Afternoon", "All Day and All of the Night", "Lola", "You Really Got Me"
  • Bon Jovi: "Livin' On A Prayer" (bass)
  • Bryan Adams: "Summer of '69"
  • Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and its cover by The Who.
  • Pink Floyd: "Money" (bass), "Us and Them", "Brain Damage", "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", "Have A Cigar", "Wish You Were Here", "Dogs", "Pigs (Three Different Ones)", "Sheep", "Another Brick in the Wall" (bass), "Young Lust", "Hey You", "Comfortably Numb" (bass)
  • Garth Brooks: "Friends in Low Places"
  • The Beatles: "Day Tripper", "I Feel Fine", "Come Together" (bass), "Ticket To Ride", "You Never Give Me Your Money", "Something", "Paperback Writer", "Get Back", "A Hard Day's Night", "Hey Bulldog", "Twist And Shout", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", "In My Life", "I've Got A Feeling", "Octopus's Garden", "Helter Skelter", "Revolution"
  • Fratellis' "Flathead"
  • The Doors: "Break On Through (To The Other Side)", "Soul Kitchen", "Light My Fire", "The End", "Love Me Two Times", "Hello, I Love You", "Five To One", "Roadhouse Blues", "Peace Frog", "Love Her Madly", "L.A. Woman", "Riders On The Storm"
  • Howlin' Wolf: "Smokestack Lightning"
  • The Animals: "House of the Rising Sun", "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" (bass), "It's My Life" (bass)
  • Marvin Gaye: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
  • Kansas: "Carry On Wayward Son", "Dust In The Wind"
  • Rick James' "Super Freak"
  • The Romantics' "Talking in Your Sleep"
  • Blondie: "One Way or Another", "Call Me" "Heart Of Glass"
  • Slayer: "Raining Blood"
  • Iron Maiden: "Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Aces High", "Number of the Beast", "The Trooper", "The Wicker Man", "Running Free" (bass), "Run to the Hills", "Fear of the Dark", "The Longest Day" (bass)
  • Mötley Crüe: "Shout at the Devil", "Kickstart My Heart", "Wild Side", "Dr. Feelgood", "Girls Girls Girls"
  • The Clash: "Should I Stay Or Should I Go", "White Riot", "London Calling" (bass)
  • Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog", "Love Hurts"
  • Foghat's "Slow Ride"
  • Magazine's "Shot By Both Sides" is widely considered to have the greatest riff in post-punk music (a genre that doesn't always approve of guitar heroics).
  • The Smashing Pumpkins: "Today", "1979", "Zero".
  • X Japan's songs "Standing Sex" (live version only), "Kurenai", "Art of Life"
  • The Darkness: "I Believe In A Thing Called Love"
  • The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie". Compare it to "More Than a Feeling" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," among many others.
  • George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone"
  • Living Colour: "Cult of Personality", "Which Way to America?" (bass)
  • Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy", "Hoochie Coochie Man"
  • The Police: "Roxanne", "Message in a Bottle", "Every Breath You Take"
  • Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man".
  • The White Stripes: "Icky Thump", "The Hardest Button to Button", "Blue Orchid", "Seven Nation Army"
  • Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger"
  • The Ramones: "Blizkrieg Bop"
  • Play Darkthrone's Trasilvanian Hunger to any fan of black metal, and they will instantly recognize it.
  • Jack White: "Sixteen Saltines", "Freedom at 21", "Weep Themselves to Sleep"
  • Van Halen: "Unchained", "You Really Got Me", "Panama", "Runnin' With the Devil", "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", "Hot for Teacher", "Finish What Ya Started", "Pleasure Dome".
  • Unbowed: "The Shadow of Dark Decay".
  • Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine", "Welcome to the Jungle", "Paradise City", "November Rain"
  • Pennywise: "Bro Hymn" (or "That 'wooah woah oh ohhhh' song").
  • Steely Dan: "Reelin' In The Years", "Hey Nineteen", "Do It Again", "Bodhisattva", "Peg", "Jack of Speed"
  • INXS, "Need You Tonight."
  • Nirvana: "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "All Apologies", "Come As You Are", "Heart-Shaped Box"
  • Twisted Sister - "We're Not Going To Take It", "I Wanna Rock"
  • The Pixies: "Debaser", "Letter To Memphis", "Where Is My Mind?", "Velouria"
  • Violent Femmes, "Blister In The Sun"
  • Jimi Hendrix: "Purple Haze", "Foxy Lady", "Fire", "Hey Joe", "Little Wing", "Voodoo Chile", "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", "All Along The Watchtower"
  • Silverchair: "Israel's Son", "Anthem for the Year 2000".
  • Steppenwolf: "Born To Be Wild", "Magic Carpet Ride"
  • Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music".
  • U2: "Pride", "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (the drum intro also counts for "others" below)
    • "Edge Power", aka The Edge's signature guitar style, in every U2 song pretty much takes the cake. Some excellent examples are the background chords of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", and the outro of "With or Without You".
  • The Hives, "Main Offender", "Hate To Say I Told You So"
  • Boston, "More Than A Feeling", "Peace of Mind"
  • Stevie Wonder: "Higher Ground"
  • Derek and the Dominos: Layla
  • Scorpions: "Rock You Like A Hurricane", "No One Like You"
  • David Bowie: "Rebel Rebel", "Ziggy Stardust", "The Man Who Sold The World"
  • The Troggs - "Wild Thing"
  • Focus - "Hocus Pocus" (can be identified simply by calling it "the classic rock song with the yodeling")
  • Fleetwood Mac: "The Chain" (bass), "Rhiannon", "Dreams" (bass), "Gold Dust Woman"
  • Fans of old-school Doom Metal will instantly recognize the first few opening notes of Pagan Altar's "Cry of the Banshee" and Witchfinder General's, er, "Witchfinder General".
  • The Smiths: "How Soon Is Now?"
  • Running Wild - "Under Jolly Roger"
  • The Who, "Substitute", "I Can't Explain", "My Generation", "Pinball Wizard", "Baba O'Riley", "Behind Blue Eyes", "I'm Free"
  • Venom - "Welcome to Hell", similar riff is also used in Accept's "Flash Rockin' Man" and Grave Digger's "Heavy Metal Breakdown"
  • The Stooges: "I Wanna Be Your Dog", "TV Eye", "1970", "Raw Power", "Shake Appeal", "No Fun", "Search and Destroy", "The Passenger"
  • Nightwish - "Ghost Love Score" (You may know it as Epic Maneuver)
  • Tom Waits. The one chime at the beginning of "Goin' Out West".
  • Them - "Gloria". Actually, a lot of garage rock songs count here.
  • Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer" (bass). The bass-less White Stripes copied it with a low-tuned guitar for "The Hardest Button to Button".
  • Saxon - "Wheels of Steel". If you haven't heard it before, it's going to stick with you.
  • The Cult: "Love Removal Machine", "She Sells Sanctuary"
  • blur - "There's No Other Way," "Parklife," "Beetlebum," and "Song 2" (a.k.a., "that 'Woo Hoo' song")
  • Motörhead: "Ace of Spades", "We Are The Road Crew", "The Game"
  • Golden Earring: "Radar Love", "Twilight Zone"
  • Bob Marley: "Get Up, Stand Up", "Stir It Up", "No Woman, No Cry"
  • Bush - "Machinehead"
  • Avenged Sevenfold: "Bat Country", "Beast and the Harlot", "Afterlife"
  • Switchfoot: "Meant to Live", "This is Your Life" (bass)
  • The bass riff from the Peter Gunn theme. Many will recognize it from the classic arcade game Spy Hunter.
  • The Strokes, "Reptilia" and "Last Nite"
  • The bass riff from the theme to the TV show Barney Miller.
  • Dragonforce - "Through The Fire And Flames", "Fury of the Storm"
  • Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", "Burn", "Highway Star", "Fireball", "Lazy", "Space Truckin'", "Knocking At Your Back Door", "The Battle Rages On", "Speed King", "Child In Time"
  • Rammstein - "Du Hast", "Feuer Frei!"
  • Thin Lizzy: "The Boys are Back in Town", "Whiskey in the Jar", "Jailbreak"
  • "Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo" by Rick Derringer
  • Foo Fighters: "Everlong", "Monkey Wrench", "The Best Of You", "The Pretender", "Learn To Fly", "Walk"
  • The Standells' "Dirty Water". Especially if you're a Red Sox fan.
  • Sonic Youth: "Teen Age Riot", "Kool Thing", "Silver Rocket"
  • 43% Burnt by The Dillinger Escape Plan.
  • Soundgarden: "Spoonman" (guitar and bass), "Pretty Noose", "Jesus Christ Pose", "Hands All Over", "Black Hole Sun"
  • "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver" by Primus has an epic bass riff. Most people would know it from the Tony Hawk games.
  • Marilyn Manson: "The Beautiful People"
  • Joan Jett: "I Love Rock & Roll", "Bad Reputation"
  • The Guess Who: "No Time", "American Woman", "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature"
  • Pearl Jam: "Even Flow", "Jeremy", "Alive", "Yellow Ledbetter"
  • "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp.
  • Green Day: "Longview" (bass), "Basket Case", "Welcome to Paradise", "Holiday", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", "American Idiot", "When I Come Around"
  • Roy Orbison: "Oh, Pretty Woman." Though the drums tend to be much more prominent.
  • Aerosmith: "Walk This Way", "Dream On", "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)", "Sweet Emotion" (bass)
  • Big Country: "In A Big Country" has its Epic Riff right after the chorus and during the outro. And let's not forget "Fields Of Fire".
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: "Sweet Home Alabama", "Free Bird"
  • Richard Marx: "Now and Forever" and his "Can't Help Falling In Love" cover have acoustic guitar riffs. "Right Here Waiting" on the other hand has piano.
  • Led Zeppelin: "Stairway to Heaven", "Whole Lotta Love", "Immigrant Song", "Rock and Roll", "Black Dog", "Heartbreaker", "Kashmir", "Dazed and Confused", "When The Levee Breaks", "Good Times Bad Times", "Communication Breakdown"
  • New Order: "Regret"
  • A Flock Of Seagulls: Their fast hits have prominent guitar riffs, notably "Space Age Love Song" and "The More You Live The More You Love", combined with synths ("Space Age Love Song" also adds space/sci-fi sound effects to them). Whereas "Photograph of You" has a drum riff that then adds a buzzing sound.
  • Horslips: "Dearg Doom". Considered the most epic riff ever by at least one person.
  • Disturbed with "The Night" ("Dun-na-na NA NA, Dun-na-na NA NA na na NA!") and possibly "Stupify" for the sitar-like bridge.
  • Def Leppard: "Rock Of Ages", "Photograph", "Bringin' On The Heartbreak", "Pour Some Sugar On Me", "Armageddon It", "Too Late For Love", "Foolin'", "High 'N' Dry (Saturday Night)"
  • BECK's "Loser" has a very recognizable slide guitar opening.
  • Blue Oyster Cult: "Godzilla", "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", "Burnin' For You"
  • Aya Hirano's "God Knows...". Sure, it's Japanese, but damn near everyone knows the song from the first riff. It is that epic.
  • Horde's "Invert The Inverted Cross". Unblack metal. Hear that riff once and you will know it forever.
  • Cream: "Sunshine Of Your Love", "Crossroads", "White Room"
  • Bad Brains: "Re-Ignition".
  • Boston, "More Than A Feeling", "Peace of Mind"
  • The beginning of The Chills' "Pink Frost," which actually goes through two riffs before settling into the one that continues through the song.
  • The Byrds: "Mr. Tambourine Man", "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)", "Eight Miles High"
  • "Just Got Lucky" by Dokken.
  • Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing", "Sultans of Swing", "Romeo and Juliet", "Lady Writer", "Walk of Life"
  • The iconic "Personal Jesus" intro.
  • Black Sabbath: "Iron Man", "Paranoid", "Sweet Leaf", "The Mob Rules", "War Pigs", "Children Of The Grave", "Symptom Of The Universe", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"
  • Joe Bonamassa's "The Ballad of John Henry." In concert, he likes to joke about how a journalist friend of his told him it was voted one of the top ten riffs of the decade by some magazine... only to later discover that it was #10.
  • "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" by Quiet Riot.
  • Coldplay's "In My Place", "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face", "Politik" (as the below section shows, their piano riffs too)
  • "California Über Alles" by Dead Kennedys.
  • Sex Pistols: "Anarchy In The U.K.", "Pretty Vacant"
  • Kiss: "Rock and Roll All Nite", "Detroit Rock City"
  • Periphery's "Icarus Lives" is possibly the single most recognizable djent riff ever written.
  • Queens of the Stone Age: "3's and 7's", "No One Knows", "Go With the Flow"
  • "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot.
  • Korn: "Here To Stay", "Right Now", "Somebody Someone", "Evolution", "Falling Away From Me", "Freak on a Leash", "Hold On", "Thoughtless"
  • The wah-wah funk guitar and trumpet in the version of 3-2-1 Contact's theme tune.
  • The Beach Boys: "Good Vibrations" (bass)
  • Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit" has an epic 12-string acoustic guitar riff.
  • Wolfmother: "Joker and the Thief", "Woman"
  • "Animal I Have Become" by Three Days Grace
  • Rage Against the Machine: "Bulls On Parade", "Killing in the Name", "Testify", "Bombtrack", "Bullet In The Head"
  • "Dance of the Manatee", "Amarillo Sleeps On My Pillow", "Kyla Cries Cologne" by Fair To Midland. Especially Dance of the Manatee with the sliding.
  • Asia: "Heat of the Moment".
  • Mirror, Mirror by Blind Guardian has the tune of the chorus, which is played on guitar at the beginning. It is wonderful.
  • Eagles' "Hotel California", "Life in the Fast Lane"
  • Pantera's "Walk", "Cowboys From Hell"
  • Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl".
  • This guitar battle on a Japanese game show called Hebimeta-san ("Mr. Heavy Metal") between Marty Friedman and Paul Gilbert (two icons in Japanese guitar rock) has the two of them cycling through several Epic Riffs they know (the host randomly picks out a ball marked with letters on their side, and the two contestants have to think of a band whose name starts with that letter)note 
  • Judas Priest: "Breakin' the Law", "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", "Electric Eye", "The Ripper", "Victim of Changes", "Dissident Aggressor"
  • Everything Else's "What Can't Be Seen" on guitar, and "The Enemies" and "Everything Else" on bass.
  • Miley Cyrus has epic guitar riffs in "Start All Over" (written by Fefe Dobson) and "Fly On The Wall".
  • The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" has a very distinctive guitar riff and a driving backbeat rhythm that are also instantly recognizable. The various covers of the song have always carried it through (and sometimes made it even more awesome).
  • Kyuss: "Demon Cleaner", "Whitewater", "Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop"
  • "Wipe Out" by The Surfaris.
  • America's "Ventura Highway". The riff was later sampled for Janet Jackson's "Someone to Call My Lover".
  • Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer" (bass). The bass-less White Stripes copied it with a low-tuned guitar for "The Hardest Button to Button".
  • Status Quo: "Caroline" (for both rhythm and lead guitars), "Paper Plane", "Don't Waste My Time", "Down Down"
  • The Strokes, "Reptilia", "Last Nite"
  • Neil Diamond: "America" with its combination of synthesizer, guitar, and bass creating an extremely memorable Ear Worm backbeat constantly behind the melody.
  • Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode".

Examples that don't use a guitar or 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" (drums)
    • "Jamie's Cryin'" drum intro too.
  • 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.
    • Also "Rock 'n' Roll"
  • 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"
  • ? 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.
  • Metallica's "Motorbreath", especially live versions, starts with a pretty awesome drum riff.
  • Status Quo's "Just Take Me".

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).
  • Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. "Da da da dum! Doesn't that stir anything in you?", and X Japan's "Silent Jealousy" (piano)
  • 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, both the piano (radio version) and the vocals (in the full version).
  • Vander 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" (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.
  • 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).
  • REM, "Losing My Religion" (mandolin)
  • The Who: "Won't Get Fooled Again" (organ/synthesizer), "Baba O'Riley" (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" (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"; despite the fact that it runs 25 minutes, 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 in history 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).
  • 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.
  • 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" (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 Twenty - "Unwell" (banjo)
  • Phil Collins: synths and strings of his hit "Groovy Kind of Love".
    • "Sussudio"'s and "In The Air Tonight"' have epic synth riffs.
  • Speaking of opening pianos, "Welcome to the Black Parade"
  • Khe Sanh, Cold Chisel. The piano opening is so well known Down Under, the very 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 wth 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"
  • 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.
  • 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 Callof 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" (synth-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"
  • The All-American Rejects' "Dirty Little Secret" and "Real World".
  • 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…").

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