The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century

The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century – 2012

Stoned And Starving – Parquet Courts

One of the most idiosyncratic bands of the decade cemented their ‘no f*cks given’ approach here with an effortless slice of slacker rock.

Octopus – Bloc Party

Russell Lissack’s ingenious riff runs through two delays set to 205ms and 103ms, respectively. Use a line selector like the Boss LS-2 to swap between them.

Elephant – Tame Impala

If a resurrected John Lennon decided to rewrite Spirit In The Sky so it wasn’t so horribly embarrassing, you might get this.

Teenage Icon – The Vaccines 

This spiritual successor of the Beach Boys and the Ramones is the perfect cure for any anti-vaxxers you may know.

I Gotsta Get Paid – ZZ Top

A neat idea from guitarist Billy Gibbons – to “bluesify” 25 Lighters, a 90s hip-hop anthem – resulted in a modern ZZ classic.

She's The Woman – Van Halen

The second track released from their 2012 comeback with Diamond Dave revisited former greatness – EVH guitars burst with charisma and attitude throughout.

Lightning Bolt – Jake Bugg

The Nottingham strummer’s easy three-chord gem is perfect busking material. Only E, A and B are required.

Caravan – Rush

On Rush’s final album, Clockwork Angels, the heavy progressive rock banger Caravan had the virtuoso power trio in perfect balance.

God Is Dead? – Black Sabbath

The standout track from 13 had the elemental power of old Tony Iommi riffing as only he can.

R U Mine? – Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys’ resident songwriter-in-chief he may be, but Alex Turner can’t take credit for R U Mine’s ostinato riff , which was penned by bassist Nick O’Malley. And what a riff it is, delivered initially by Turner and fellow guitarist Jamie Cook before O’Malley makes it a triple attack, playing in octave-down unison on bass.

We’ve played through the opening riff in our video lesson – a fairly simple riff in F# minor based in 2nd position with occasional leaps up to the 7th and 9th frets. 

So far, so simple then, but beware of the variations that follow in the form of F# minor pentatonic runs on the three bass strings. 

Timing is key to that massive ‘wall of sound’ effect. In live shows, Alex plays the song on his Gretsch G6128T-1962 Duo Jet and he likely used a boutique Selmer Zodiac Twin 30 with a Cornell First Fuzz to generate the tone in the studio.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.