Friday Free For All

Our friend and regular irregular contributor to the site (usually with his Scotch on the Rock column) JD Short sent us this cool little piece on appreciating one’s enemy.

The 12 Best Guitar Riffs as Compiled By a Guitar Loathing Bassist


Shock horror. I was hit with a sudden urge to buy a guitar recently; mostly, because I wanted to use it for a part that wasn’t working as an upper register bass part or with any of my soft synths. After a trip to the local music store, a perusal of eBay and ultimately a fun encounter with a craigslister I find myself the proud owner of an electric guitar for the first time in more than a decade.

Clearly, this is a totally scientific study based entirely on the fact that I, as a bassist, still know these guitar parts.

a) 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong, Mogwai

…an easy motif that I could play for hours. Mogwai has a special way of writing guitar parts that just feel right. This is one of those parts that when I play it, I sort of get swallowed up and transported.

b) Christmas Steps, Mogwai

Christmas Steps is one of the pillars of the soft/loud movement. The intro riff is minimal and soft without being delicate. I’ve always liked playing this as it immediately makes the world seem right. The build-up and eventual wall of distortion is what I always imagined Sunny Day Real Estate to be like if Jeremy Enigk listened to more Neurosis and less U2. This is one of those parts where how you play it matters most.

c) Cowboys From Hell, Pantera

What can I really say about Cowboys From Hell… If this riff doesn’t slay you, I will. This is one of the few riffs I remember practicing when I first started playing. I remember working at Rickenbacker and one of the office guys came down to where I was, white-faced, and told me Dime had been killed. It was one of those things that hit me more than I anticipated and now this riff is in homage.

d) The Dead Flag Blues, Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Dead Flag was the first GY!BE song I sat down and tried to figure out what was actually going on. More so than anything else on this list, the struggle is to play slow and with the perfect looseness. It is more about waiting until the perfect place for the note reveals itself and then paying close attention to note’s length.

e) Dead Sun Rising, Zeni Geva

I first loved this song for the groove and overall timbre on the album version. Ground Zero is the ultimate Zeni Geva track for me, but I never bothered learning to play it. Dead Sun Rising is immediate.

f) Fade To Black, Metallica

I bought Ride The Lightning because of the bass intro to For Whom The Bell Tolls (I also bought a distortion/wah pedal for the same reason) but ended up liking Fade To Black the best (probably because I also had sheet music for it at some point). Especially around this time, Metallica songs were really just riffs that sort of went together but considering that Headbanger’s Ball was playing Siagon Kick, Fade To Black is a damn near perfect power ballad of sorts (meaning it starts slow and un-distorted and then gets loud and distorted) with Metallica’s best riff being the bridge (“No one but me…”).

g) Fallen Angel, King Crimson

1974 was a good year apparently. Stanley Clarke released his self-titled album and King Crimson released Red. Fripp’s bridge/chorus part on Fallen Angel is, quite possibly, my favourite riff of all time. Nothing in this song is hard to play, which was sort of a revelation for me. Hmmm… one of my favourite Crimson songs is simple…

h) Frame By Frame, King Crimson

To be fair, I only know Adrian’s part but I’ve always thought the intro to this song is exactly what a perfect, smart, pop song should be. I love mixed meters, and things which happen to fall outside of 4/4 or 6/8. I have a huge soft spot for the early 80’s Crimson (AKA lineup 4 –though, 1974’s Red is my favourite album of theirs) and this song is consistently top of mind when I think of them.

i) Locust Star, Neurosis

Ah, the mighty Neurosis. Locust Star was when I first fell in love with them. The intro/ build-up part of the song faded away for a quiet beat and I was hooked before this riff finished the first phrase, such power and emotion.

j) Red House, Shudder To Think

Red House is a perfect garage rocker… it is by no means complicated but is such fun to play. Plus it’s Shudder To Think which instantly makes things better and it makes me want to sing like Craig Wedren and reminds me how much I love him and how much I really hate Hodgkin’s disease. Plus, it turns out Craig is an amazingly nice guy.

k) Unsung, Helmet

Simple, catchy, drop-D riff that makes you sound like you know what you’re doing… and was in Guitar World. Besides that, this was a gateway to AmRep which meant Cows, Melvins and Today Is The Day. I tried to find a decent live video for this… but it was really painful in all honesty, in that “don’t watch ThunderCats as an adult because it actually kind of sucks and will taint all of those memories” way.

l) Washer, Slint

I’m from the mid-west. Slint is important. As with a lot of these riffs, it isn’t about what you play, but how you play. Unlike Fade To Black, which hints at emotion, Washer is purely about emotion and if you fake it, it shows… you have to give something to the notes.

Mr. Short has spent time in the rock and roll outfits Root and The Cardinal Number, as well as being a jack of all trades for Rickenbacker.  He currently records under the name BassDbler, and reports on rock and roll and fine scotch for Postcard Elba.

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