10 Best Rock Guitar Riffs Of The 1980s

From the Prince of Darkness to the King of Pop.

beat it michael jackson eddie Van Halen

The 1980s rock scene conjures up images of leopard print, teased hair, guy liner and giant drum kits. Although hair metal dominated the better part of the decade it wasn't the only sub genre to give us some truly innovative and memorable guitar licks.

The '70s had been a time for rock guitarists to expand on the psychedelic soundscape of the '60s, but with the '80s came an even more drastic shift. Synthesis became prominent in the post-punk scene, with musicians attempting to move away from clichéd tropes, with the guitar taking on a lesser role.

In the realm of hard rock, guitarist were getting harder and faster, with dropped down tunings and finger tapping becoming more prominent. But, things shifted again towards the end of the decade.

While the Mötley Crüe's and Guns N' Roses of the world were taking up residence on the Sunset Strip, you had British rockers carving out new territory across the pond.

Working class Northerners were riding the still prominent new-wave into the indie dance scene of Manchester - where acid house was combined with a vortex of ecstasy inspired rock, to bring about the Second Summer of Love.

10. Money For Nothing - Dire Straits (1985)

Mark Knopfler was already well established by the time he debuted this number. Sultans of Swing had been released at the end of the '70s and the world was well aware of this guys ability to pluck out deliciously satisfying guitar riffs, while simultaneously playing the rhythm section.

Finger style playing has rarely been a popular method for rock musicians. It requires a certain amount of dexterity on the plucking hand and can result in a softer sound, but what you trade off in speed and aggression you gain in intricacy. Mark Knopfler was the undisputed king of this technique and it resulted in some damn fine riffs.

Drawing you in with a mystical synth melody, the track has a quintessentially '80s introduction, until Knopfler's guitar part punctuates the song with one of the most defined tones you're likely to hear. The riff serves as the driving rhythm, but in classic Knopfler style, there's enough clever finger trickery going on to make you think there must be a second guitar knocking about in the background.


Before engrossing myself in the written word, I spent several years in the TV and film industry. During this time I became proficient at picking things up, moving things and putting things down again.