When starting to learn the guitar, it is normal to want to imitate some of your musical heroes. Some guitar solos and riffs are unforgettable and ingrained in every potential, future axe legend’s brain. Stairway to Heaven is one such example that has been learned, often poorly, by many a beginner guitarist.
That particular guitar solo has almost become a parody now. Wayne’s World has a scene in a music store where the sign states simply ‘No Stairway to Heaven’ to deter any shoppers from attempting it.
Led Zeppelin aren’t the only rock band to have created memorable riffs though. Other musical genres have seen some great moments that have become iconic. Punk and metal have provided some truly great riffs, intros, and solos.
Here are some of them, and if you have an interest in the guitar, then maybe give them a crack.
Are guitars still popular?
The guitar seems to be almost timeless as an instrument. It works with so many genres that it slots in nicely no matter what the current trends are.
Hip Hop giants Beastie Boys and Eminem use guitars on some of their tracks. Guitars can be used in genres as varied as flamenco to soul. Even EDM tracks sometimes feature guitar. Eden for example, moved from EDM to more indie-based music while keeping touches of electronic music.
And of course, punk, rock, and metal, all feature guitars heavily. Now though, there is something of a surge in the interest in guitars. This seems largely to be down to the pandemic, and a large portion of people needing something to do.
During 2020, guitar sales in the UK rose 80% during some periods of lockdown. And, although this is easy to put down to the simple fact that many people were bored, the trend appears to be continuing.
Why is the guitar still so popular today?
By and large, the guitar is probably seen as being the instrument that is always in fashion. It is something that is linked to many legendary musicians, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon.
Some musicians barely play the guitar but still use it as a prop, or because it looks cool. Courtney Love, for one, acknowledges that she can hardly play, and a quick look at her on stage or video shows the guitar is more for appearance than anything.
Guitars are accessible. You can buy a second-hand guitar for £100 and teach yourself. Learning guitar chords these days is easier than ever with the internet and apps. Some apps can display chords from any song, making learning new music much simpler than before.
They are also portable. An acoustic guitar can be taken to the park for some al-fresco practise, and they can be taken on trips abroad, as many backpackers can attest.
Can you learn to play famous riffs on a guitar?
What you will be able to play will depend on your level and ability, but also how much you practise.
Getting to be good at anything takes a lot of hard work, and while some will be blessed with more natural ability than others, it is practise that counts.
Your choice of riff will also determine how easy it is for you to learn. Take, for example, Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols. It is a very effective intro to one of the best punk songs ever. No matter how good that riff is, it isn’t a difficult one to learn.
However, if you choose something like Dyers Eve from Metallica, you would have more of a challenge on your hands. Using a tool to display Metallica chords would be very advisable when learning Dyers Eve. A fantastic riff but very tricky to master.
Some of the best punk guitar moments
When you look at the UK’s most famous punk bands, some names come straight off the top of the head. The Buzzcocks, The Pistols, The Clash, and of course, The Damned.
For anyone who is a fan of the band, it probably won’t surprise you that The Damned is still touring. They in fact have a tour at the start of 2020 that has just been rescheduled. It feels like The Damned has had more farewell tours than promotional ones sometimes.
One interesting thing about The Damned is that they managed to provide a great intro for not just one of their songs, but for two others too. Take a moment and listen to the start of Life Goes On, and see if it doesn’t sound a bit like Killing Joke’s Eighties, and Come as You Are by Nirvana.
Penetration by Iggy and the Stooges is another track with a great riff in it. Any number of solos by Mick Jones are worth noting. The intro to Alternative Ulster from Stiff Little Fingers is worth a mention too.
Famous punk and metal guitarists
Mick Jones of the Clash, and later Big Audio Dynamite was a far more accomplished guitarist than many other members of punk bands at that time. His guitar playing elevated many a Clash song and also got sampled by MIA for Paper Planes.
The late, great Eddie Van Halen who passed away in October 2020 delivered some of the best guitar riffs ever. He had numerous memorable solos on Van Halen’s tracks. Runnin’ with the Devil, and Jump, are just two that are well worth a listen. And don’t dismiss his work on Beat It with Michael Jackson.
Billie Joe Armstrong, Steve Jones, Johnny Ramone, and Joan Jett, have either left their mark on the world of punk or are continuing to do so.
When it comes to metal then work by the likes of Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, James Hetfield, and Adrian Smith or Maiden should be listened to.
Perhaps it is Eddie Van Halen who should get the award for best guitarist though. His band, Van Halen, couldn’t be nailed down to just one genre and they covered the range from glam metal to pop-rock, to heavy metal.
Ten of the best punk or metal guitar moments
- New Rose – The Damned
- Pretty Vacant – Sex Pistols
- Carousel – Blink 182
- English Civil War – The Clash
- Personality Crisis – New York Dolls
- Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns n’ Roses
- Hot for Teacher – Van Halen
- Powerslave – Iron Maiden
- Ace of Spades – Motorhead
- Sticky Sweet – Mötley Crüe
Some of these tracks have great solos, and some just have some really good riffs in them. For those surprised to see Blink 182 on the list, go and have a relisten to Carousel. It has a fantastic intro lasting nearly a full minute of build-up.
The Damned’s New Rose was the first single to be released by a UK punk band and was followed by the first album too. The intro features Rat Scabies on drums and Brian Jones coming in with an unforgettable riff.
Punk and metal have both left unforgettable moments on vinyl, and in live performances. While many favorites have seen departed or split up, their music carries on.
If you are one of the many people learning the guitar today, you can have a lot of fun from practising a few of these riffs or others not mentioned here.