What was the moment of inspiration behind some of music’s most recognisable guitar parts? From Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ to the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’, here’s the stories of how they were written…
Foals, 'Inhaler': "'Inhaler’ started as a jam when we used to play in Miami on the ‘Total Life Forever’ tour," says guitarist Jimmy Smith. "We used to do this extended jam at the end. Yannis had this massive riff and we decided to make that the chorus.” "We were just jamming it in different forms," adds Yannis. "At one point it was 27 minutes long and it had no structure to it.”
Arctic Monkeys - 'Do I Wanna Know?': Alex Turner was playing a 12-string Vox Starstream when he wrote the instantly recognisable guitar line to 'AM' opener 'Do I Wanna Know?'. He'd bought the guitar on the group's last day in the studio recording ‘Suck It And See’. "I feel like that riff or that song even was like a ghost within the walls of this old guitar that I bought," he explained.
White Stripes, 'Seven Nation Army': It was during soundcheck at Melbourne's Corner Hotel that Jack White wrote his biggest hit to date. "There's a Third Man employee named Ben Swank who was with us on tour. I was playing it for Meg and he was walking by and I said, 'Swank, check this riff out.' And he said, 'It's OK.’” For a while, he thought about using it as a Bond theme.
Michael Jackson, 'Beat It': The King of Pop didn't consider himself much of a guitarist. He did come up with the fierce guitar part driving one of his most iconic hits, though. Producer Quincy Jones had encouraged him to write something similar to The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’ when he stumbled upon the riff to 'Beat It', played by Eddie Van Halen on the record.
The Rolling Stones, '(Can't Get No) Satisfaction': Keith Richards claims he came up with the guitar line to 'Satisfaction' in a dream in a Clearwater hotel room. He woke up and quickly recorded it along with a mumbling of the line "I can’t get no satisfaction" before falling back to sleep. They initially worried the riff was too similar to Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Dancing In The Street’.
Rage Against The Machine, ‘Killing In The Name’: Tom Morello was teaching a guitar lesson to a student, messing around in drop-D tuning, when “I just came up with the ‘Killing In The Name’ riff," he told Rolling Stone. "I stopped the lesson, got my little Radio Shack cassette recorder, laid down that little snippet and then continued with the lesson.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Nirvana, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit': “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song," Kurt Cobain once said of his most recognised riff. "I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit, we used their dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
Pixies, 'Where Is My Mind': Want inspiration? A bit of noodle dish Pho might help. It certainly did the trick for Pixies: “[Black Francis] calls me up and says 'I got this thing and we have Vietnamese food'... So I went over there and he showed me the chord progression,” Joey Santiago tells NME. “I picked up an extra guitar and that riff that I play on the electric, it just came like that."
Led Zeppelin, 'Whole Lotta Love': Jimmy Page came up with the guitar line driving Zep's only US top 10 hit on his houseboat on the Thames in summer 1968. "I wanted a riff that really moved, that people would really get, and would bring a smile to their faces, but when I played it with the band, it really went into overdrive... it was menacing as well as sort of caressing.”
Black Sabbath, 'Paranoid': Sabbath's biggest tune was written on the fly, live in the studio, according to bassist Geezer Butler. "The song ‘Paranoid’ was written as an afterthought. We basically needed a three-minute filler for our album and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.”
The Killers, 'Mr Brightside': According to frontman Brandon Flowers, the Vegas indie-poppers' breakout single "came from this cassette of ideas that Dave gave me, and one of them was the 'Mr. Brightside' riff. I was able to slap a chorus and some lyrics onto it... I knew I liked it."
Foo Fighters, 'Everlong': “I had this one riff that I originally thought was a Sonic Youth rip off, but I decided it might be good to turn it into a song," said Dave Grohl in 2006. "When I brought it to our producer Gil Norton, he said, 'That’s great, let’s put it on the album!' I knew it was a cool song, but I didn’t think it would be the one song by which most people recognise the band.”
The Smiths, 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Know': Johnny Marr wrote this Smiths classic after Sire Records boss Seymour Stein bought him a new guitar in NYC. "I went straight back to the hotel and took it out of its case and the first thing I played on it was this... I was like, ‘where the hell did this come from? I better turn this into a song’."
Radiohead, 'Paranoid Android': Speaking to Guitar World, Johnny Greenwood once said the gnarly riff that sends 'Paranoid Android' into overdrive around the 3-minute mark was "something I had floating around for a while and the song needed a certain burn. I don’t usually have stockpiles of riffs lying around, but this happened to be the right key and the right speed and it fit right in.”
The Kinks, 'You Really Got Me': Ray Davies recalls wanting a "buggered, fuzzy" sound for the riff that became 'You Really Got Me'. “We stuck knitting needles in the speakers, or in Dave's case, he slit the speakers with a razor blade. Everyone else was using really clean guitar sounds [but] we hooked a little speaker up to a clean amp and came up with thunderous, unaffected, pure power.”
The Beatles, 'Here Comes The Sun': George Harrison wrote this in Eric Clapton’s garden after a string of boring business meetings. “It was sunny and it was the release of tension that had been building up on me. I picked up the guitar, which was the first time I’d played for a couple of weeks because I’d been so busy, and the first thing that came out was that song."