Note that I'm not saying The Best Opening Riffs-- too many songs, too little time; I couldn't even limit it to 10 as I originally planned (thanks to all you Facebookworms for your avalanche of suggestions). So 25 Favorite Opening Riffs it has to be, in installments of 5 each.
And to keep things fair, a few arbitrary rules: 1. One riff per band. 2. Doesn't have to be a guitar riff, but vocals don't count. 3. Has to be an opener, right off the bat -- sorry, but no slow fade-in's or drum fills. (So long, "Cry Like a Baby", "Purple Haze," and "Whip It").
After years of listening to Casey Kasem-style countdowns, I feel it's almost sacriligeous to start off with the songs you knew had to be on this list. But c'mon -- let's get 5 obvious winners out of the way. I hesitate to call them One-Hit Wonders; for all I know, these groups' fans passionately believe in their deep cuts. But for me, these 5 songs are the only tracks I know from these bands -- and it's all due to the opening riffs.
#25. Don't Fear the Reaper / Blue Oyster Cult
Yes, a classic, and it has endured endless parodies to remain The Great Metal Song of All Time -- and it's all due to that obsessive guitar riff. It starts from bar one and never stops. Okay, yes, the song is dark -- death-loving in the creepiest sort of way, with husky threatening vocals -- but that shrewdly syncopated riff drills into your brain and will not let go. I hear this iconic song from a durable Long Island band and I am immediately back in 1976, unmoored and vulnerable and WTF? ready to be spooked by the dark side.
#24. Dirty Water / The Standells
How did a 1960s garage band out of Los Angeles (fronted by the brother of West Side Story's leading man, no less) write the quintessential Boston sports theme song? Search me. But here it is, propelled by that brisk elemental guitar line -- a spanking riff if there ever was one. If you're in a Beantown sports bah close to game time, there's nothing that will clear the stools quicker than this down-and-dirty celebration of urban grit.
#23. Smoke on the Water / Deep Purple
That riff is crunchy, nasty, and it doesn't even replicate the melodic line of the song. (What IS the melodic line of this song? It doesn't matter.) If we're really honest, this 1972 track from a should-be-taken-seriously British band simply takes the riff of "Dirty Water" and steeps it in the sort of minor-key metal moodiness that would eventually make "Don't Fear the Reaper" a classic. But for its moment -- no, let's be honest, for all rock-and-roll time -- it is a great riff that announces itself with supreme confidence. You hear those first chords and you KNOW what song is dialing up. The definition of a great opening riff.
#22. Aqualung / Jethro Tull
Hah. You knew this song had to be on here. While I should be a fan of this band -- it's British! it's cerebral! It's circa 1971! The front man plays a flute, just like I did in my grade school orchestra! -- in the long run I just can't be a Jethro Tull fan. (Raise your hand if this surprises you.) But that aggressive opening riff -- who could argue with that? This song was never released as a single, in those early 70s album-oriented times; and yet I am somehow hard-wired to recognize it from beat one. Do I know where the rest of this socially conscious song about a tramp goes? Weeell....
#21. I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night / The Electric Prunes
In 1966 in LA, with psychedelia just starting to ooze its way onto the nation's airwaves, this mind-blowing track from a local Valley band made it onto the local radio just enough for me to fall forever in love with it. Written by a female songwriting duo (Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz), it vaulted forever into rock immortality by virtue of its opening riff, played on a fuzzed-up Les Paul. A love hangover par excellence...