20 Best Classic Rock Guitar Riffs Of All Time

The Licks That Shaped Rock's Heyday.

 Jimmy Page Robert Plant Led Zeppelin
Jim Summaria / Wikimedia Commons

What gives a rock song its distinct flair is the amount of passion each member brings to the performance. There has to be a certain swagger that makes people want to stand up and pay attention to what they just heard. While there's no one element that gives a rock song it's thunder, the common language tends to be centered around the riff.

From the 60's heyday all the way up to the 80's, there have been great riffs that have gone on to not just blow away the competition, but also set the standard for what the rock genre would look like going forward. These little musical ideas have such a presence that people more often than not recognize the riff before they can hum you any of the main vocal melody.

However, there's one caveat I'm putting on this list: only 1 per artist. Why? Simple: if I put more than one per artist, bands like Led Zeppelin would take up over half of the list. For a sense of variety, only one from any artist will be used at a time to show the different stripes of classic rock throughout its storied history. Let's not mess around any more: crank it up and let's go.

20. School's Out - Alice Cooper

When Alice Cooper first gained traction in the late 60's, his grand vision of shock rock was an absolute jolt to the hard rock world. However, if Cooper wanted to really explode, he needed to find something that could cross genre boundaries and relate to people on multiple levels. In other words, it was time to go back to school.

"School's Out" is an all-time classic song from the rock genre, but what really makes it go is the guitar riff from Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton. The way that the song grooves along conjures up that feeling of the last day of school, with everyone itching for summer vacation just around the corner. While the rhythm is a little tough for some players to get down at first, the actual notes are almost naive in their construction, as if it was written by musicians trying to amuse themselves in between classes.

More than just a rock song, "School's Out" has gone from being Alice Cooper's biggest hit to one of the most defining musical moments of the early 70's. The legendary status that has been heaped on this song over the years has led to Cooper calling himself the composer of the No School National Anthem.


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