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Memorable Classic Rock Guitar Licks - Part 1

Rock riffs remembered

By

It was the invention of the electric guitar that provided the basis for the development of rock music, and it was innovative use of the electric guitar that has provided some of the most memorable songs. To be sure, classic rock gave birth to thousands of hot electric licks. This list is Part 1 of a sampling (in alphabetical order) of some of the best. Stay tuned for more!

"All Right Now" - Free

A&M Records
Guitarist: Paul Kossoff

"All Right Now" is from Free's 1970 album, Fire And Water. The album and the single were the band's most successful. The album version is more than a minute longer than the radio version, which had a shortened guitar solo. The song, particularly its distinctive opening riff, has been (and continues to be) featured in countless movies, TV shows and commercials. Kossoff was a highly sought after session guitarist after Free disbanded in 1973. His drug addiction led to his death in 1976, at the age of 25.

Watch video of a 1969 performance of "All Right Now"

"Aqualung" - Jethro Tull

Chrysalis Records
Guitarist: Martin Barre

The title song from Aqualung was released in 1971 and is still a staple of Jethro Tull's live performances almost 40 years later. One of the best known entries in the hard rock portion of Tull's eclectic catalog, it was written by the band's vocalist/flutist Ian Anderson, who once described it as "a tortured tangle of chords." Both Guitar World and Guitar Player magazines have honored Barre's performance on the song as one of the top rock guitar solos of all time.

Watch video of a performance of "Aqualung"

"Back In Black" - AC/DC

Sony
Guitarist: Angus Young

AC/DC's tribute to their late lead singer, Bon Scott, was recorded just a couple of months after his death in 1980. It recently placed second on VH1's list of Greatest Hard Rock Songs. "Back In Black" is instantly recognizable by Young's opening guitar riff, which personifies his clean, energetic style. The song is used by several sports teams to energize fans during games, and has also been used often in movies, TV shows and commercials.

Watch the "Back In Black" music video

"Born To Be Wild" - Steppenwolf

Geffen Records
Guitarist: Michael Monarch

Few bands have seen a song from their first album take off with the force and speed of "Born To Be Wild" from the 1968 album, Steppenwolf. The song was written by Mars Bonfire, who was not a member of the band, but had been part of band called The Sparrows that later became Steppenwolf. The song was featured in the 1969 film, Easy Rider and has been used in more than half a dozen films since. Lead guitarist Monarch also put his stamp on the band's "Rock Me" and "Magic Carpet Ride."

Watch video of the opening credits of Easy Rider, featuring "Born To Be Wild"

"Call Me The Breeze" - Lynyrd Skynyrd

MCA Records
Guitarists: Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ed King

J.J. Cale wrote "Call Me The Breeze" and recorded it on his debut album in 1971, but it was Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature triple-guitar attack that brought it to prominence on their 1974 album, Second Helping. Collins and Rossington were seriously injured in the 1977 plane crash that killed three band members, including Steve Gaines, who had replaced King the previous year.

Watch a 1975 BBC performance of "Call Me The Breeze"

"Carry On Wayward Son" - Kansas

Epic/Legacy
Guitarists: Kerry Livgren, Rich Williams

It was 1976, and Kansas had recorded three albums in less than two years but had yet to have a hit single. As they were wrapping up recording for Leftoverture, primary songwriter Kerry Livgren, almost as an after thought, brought in his song, "Carry On Wayward Son." The band rehearsed it once, then recorded it. And it became their first hit single. It is on VH1's list of Greatest Hard Rock Songs and is one of Rolling Stone's 500 best rock songs.

Watch video of a 1976 performance of "Carry On Wayward Son"

"China Grove" - Doobie Brothers

Warner Bros
Guitarist: Tom Johnston

The early Doobie Brothers sound was heavily influenced by Johnston's distinctive guitar work. The band co-founder and vocalist also wrote many of the Doobies' most popular songs, including "China Grove." His high energy stage presence provided a showcase for his distinctive strumming technique. The song is from the band's third album, The Captain And Me, released in 1973.

Watch video of a 1974 performance of "China Grove"

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult

Columbia/Legacy
Guitarist: Buck Dharma

Back in 2007, I asked Blue Oyster Cult's lead vocalist, Eric Bloom, to explain why fans still flock to BOC performances after 40+ years. "They get to see Buck play," he said. "A lot of people come just for that." Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser not only supplies one of rock's best known ghostly guitar riffs, he wrote the song and handled lead vocals. From the band's fourth album, Agents Of Fortune, it was Rolling Stone's Best Rock Single in 1976.

This video of a 2008 performance of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" begins with an extended Buck Dharma jam.

"Drivin' Wheel" - Foghat

Rhino Records
Guitarist: Rod Price

The late Rod Price's electric slide guitar work with Foghat earned him titles like Slide King Of Rock And Roll and The Magician Of Slide. "Drivin' Wheel" -- lead track on the 1976 album, Night Shift -- was one of the songs that established the band as a blues rock/hard rock giant in the late '70s.

Video of a 2007 performance of "Drivin' Wheel" features an improvised solo intro by Jimi Fiano.

"Immigrant Song" - Led Zeppelin

Atlantic Records
Guitarist: Jimmy Page

"Immigrant Song" was one of the few Led Zeppelin songs released as a single (by Atlantic Records, over the band's objections.) The opening track on Led Zeppelin III (1970) was also the song that opened the band's live performances between 1970 and 1972. It is one of the band's (and classic rock's) most covered songs, with at least three dozen versions by artists as varied as Ann Wilson, Queen and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Watch video of a 1995 performance of "Immigrant Song" by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

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