If you had to distill the concept of rock and roll to its bare essentials, it all comes back around to the riff. While most people like to focus on the lyrical content of their favorite song, having the perfect musical foundation is what really propels the groove forward in any great rock song. But how do you go about quantifying a riff like this?
Outside of the usual bluesy phrases that you get out of people like Eric Clapton, some of the best riffs are ones that go a bit off the wall and play with the musical construct of what you think rock should be. Instead of just tying the song together, this is the building block of the entire track, without which nothing else was going to work. To achieve perfection though, it all comes down to how well the riff serves the song.
Compared to the usual riff that plays on and on without stopping, these riffs are put just at the right spot and are able to announce their presence whenever they come out. After this, rock was no longer just a bunch of guys strumming chords. This was something a lot more gritty and announced the new regime of what music was going to be.
10. Walk This Way - Aerosmith
Some of the best riffs usually come from intentionally trying to outdo yourself. Even though it's fun to just go back to your usual bag of tricks, it's always nice to find something interesting that you haven't heard before. Or in this case, go away from rock altogether and into the world of funk.
Compared to the usual bluesy grooves that you'd find on Aerosmith albums, Walk This Way is it's own beast, with Joe Perry's in-the-pocket riff leading the entire charge. While the actual song started out with the classic drum foundation from Joey Kramer, nothing happens until that sprawling lick comes in, almost sounding like something off of a record by the Meters than one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
It looks like time hasn't forgotten about the riff either, considering that it introduced rap to the world on a grand stage. Once Jam Master Jay recontextualized the song for the hip hop crowd on Run DMC's version of the song, fans started to see the subtle intricacies of what made rock and rap so popular in the first place. These aren't just some dopey songs that you throw on for the hell of it. The whole concept behind a riff like this is that it makes you move every time you hear it.