Top 10 Most Recognizable Opening Guitar Riffs of All-time

Jamie Reidy reveals his list of Rock-n-Roll’s Top 10 Most Recognizable Opening Guitar Riffs.

This is the first in a series; bass lines, drum beats, piano… will follow.

Before you start yelling at me for this list, I invite you to take a deep breath and re-read the headline.

It says “Most Recognizable.”  It does not say “Best” or “Most Epic” or “Most Influential.”  It says “Most Recognizable,” as in “The majority of the people in your car, bar or party instantly know what song it is by the first note of the song.”

That first note part is key; “Back in Black” wouldn’t work in the guitar category because it starts with drums.

Important to understand that I took women into account, here.  For instance, my AC/DC vote would’ve gone to “Highway to Hell,” but I realize infinitely more Sheilas know “Shook Me All Night Long.”

First, here are the runners up:

Livewire – Motley Crue

American Girl – Tom Petty

Blister in The Sun – Violent Femmes

Lonely Is The Night – Billy Squier

Suite Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Under The Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Message in a Bottle – The Police

Take It Easy – Eagles

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

Photograph – Def Leppard

Now, for the Top 10 Most Recognizable Opening Guitar Chords of All-Time.

I will go in descending order:

10. Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughn

9. Unchained – Van Halen

8. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

7. Layla – Derek and the Dominoes (a.k.a Eric Clapton)

6. Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin

5. Smoke on The Water – Deep Purple

4. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns-n-Roses

3. Hard Days Night – Beatles

2. Satisfaction – Rolling Stone

1. Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC

Agree? Disagree?  What song did I miss?


Editor’s note: The original title of this article was “Top 10 Most Recognizable Opening Guitar Chords of All-time” – Thankfully, a helpful commenter pointed out that what I am actually referring to are “riffs” – not chords. Thanks for the correction!

Photo by:  Don Wrigh

About Jamie Reidy

Jamie Reidy is a former U.S. Army officer turned little blue pill pusher turned author. His first book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of A Viagra Salesman"
served as the basis for the movie "Love and Other Drugs" starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Jamie is currently writing his new book, "Game On: One Fanatic's Fantastic, Foolish and Futile Attempt to Attend 365 Sporting Events in 365 Days." He discovered his latest story featured on Good Men Project - "Hope Shoots and Scores" - on Day 39 of his crazy journey.


  1. Great list. One of my favorite openings to a song is Detroit Rock City from the Kiss Alive 2 album. The second that guitar riff starts, you automatically react in some way, shape, or form. I also did not see any Rush anywhere?

  2. Vin Infanti says:

    Nothing else matters -Metallica

  3. Dan Johnson says:

    Hotel California HAS to be on the list of most recognizable OPENING guitar riffs. It would probably be at the top of mine.


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