Top 15 guitar riffs of the 2000s


Our guitar(ist)-obsessed editor gives us her top 15 guitar riffs of the 2000s. “Because the ’70s are so predictable.”

15. Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004)
This little number from the Scottish band is catchy, dance-to-able and playable on Guitar Hero. Not particularly profound, the riff is just, well, fun.

14. Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (2005)
If dreams became human, Alex Turner would be one of them. The indie rockers from Sheffield, England are in their early 20s, yet this riff is one that sticks in your head just as easily as Smoke on the Water, though never in the same league.

13. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Can’t Stop (2002)
Legends of funk-alternative-rockishness, the Chili Peppers have made a masterpiece with this one, and former guitarist John Fruschiante does not disappoint with funky slapping guitar work to make you want to shake your hair around.

12. Kasabian – Underdog (2009)
Now, Kasabian have proven they are no less than anthem-worthy, and Underdog is arguably their best single to date. That riff is sheer glorious attitude and swagger. Play. Jam. Repeat.

11. The Black Keys – Grown So Ugly (2004)
Their raw grungy garage sound is brought on by that stunningly stripped down wailing guitar. Old school and ever so slightly tinged with Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, the riff carries the entire song.

10. The White Stripes – The Hardest Button to Button (2003)
Complimented by Meg White’s rudimentary drumming, the simple riff has kids air-guitaring as soon as it starts blaring over the speakers. Striking and simple, this definitely deserves a place in the top 10.

9. Audioslave – Cochise (2002)
Paying homage to an American Indian hero, guitarist Tom Morello came across the riff by accident, rapidly hit the strings with a pencil in his right hand. This produced a noise reminiscent of a helicopter. This riff lies in that strange space between easy-listening and nightclub hair-flinging.

8. Them Crooked Vultures – Mind Eraser, No Chaser (2009)
Singer-guitarist Josh Homme can be very cocky, but here, it’s simple, working beautifully with drums from Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and bass by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. It’s almost buried underneath the other instruments until it comes screeching out in your face.

7. Muse – Knights of Cydonia (2006)
One of my favourite songs of all time, the guitar was inspired by Telstar by The Tornados, in which singer-guitarist-pianist Matt Bellamy’s dad was the guitarist. Rapid tremolo picking complemented by galloping bass makes this a true Wild West epic.

6. Queens of the Stone Age – No-one Knows (2002)
Homme strikes again. This time with QOTSA, characterised by his edgy guitar work. This song is no different, with his riff squealing though the ear drums right into the ‘dance’ lobe.

5. System of a Down – BYOB (2005)
Written to protest the Iraq War and a spin on the old acronym, ‘Bring Your Own Bombs’, it’s definitely aggressive and manic as all hell. The riff hits you in the chest and takes you to a warzone. Wow.

4. The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army (2003)
Of course, no list of the 00s can be complete without this notorious guitar epic, with Jack White wailing into battle. A very deserving Grammy winner, this song is all Jack and his screeching guitar, with that riff being the base. Everyone has tried playing it. Nobody does it as well as Jack.

3. Tool – Schism (2002)
This is technically a bass riff, not guitar. But it’s close enough. And great enough to make it onto this list despite the technicality. Showcasing Tool’s complexity and musical mastery, the key changes within the same riff has kids going ‘wow, how do they do that?’ And old musos going ‘well bloody done’.

2. Muse – Plug in Baby (2001)
Classic Matt Bellamy hurtling at you like a laser. Yes please. That guitar resonates and oozes sexiness with orgasmic wailing. Exhilarating, yet let down by the somewhat flimsy lyrics. Yes, this is the world’s top guitar riff of the 00s. But not mine.

1. The Strokes – Heart in a Cage (2006)
The Strokes best. Not particularly ground-breaking, but the riff grabs you by the throat and pulls you into a black and white world of creepy rotten lyrics and dirty romance. Love, love, love.

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Nikita Ramkissoon

Editor at So Much Music
Nikita is a Journalism and Education lecturer by day and music Jedi master by night. She can be seen in the photography pit or stage left with her Wookie husband. She can also be found trying to source corn dogs. If you see her, buy her a corn dog. She loves corn dogs.