The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century

The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century – 2004

American Idiot – Green Day

Billie Joe Armstrong’s powerchord-fuelled punk rocker about the pernicious influence of mass media seems even more relevant in 2020.

Blood And Thunder – Mastodon

For an example of Hinds/Kelliher’s modern take on classic metal, look no further than the harmony licks in the solo to 2004’s Blood And Thunder – which harks back to the NWOBHM sound of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest more than it does to thrash titans Metallica and Megadeth. 

For those only loosely familiar with twin-guitar harmonies, the idea is that two guitars play notes from the same key in time with each other. The ‘twin-guitar 101’ approach would be to harmonise in 3rds; so, for example, in C major (C D E F G A B) you’d harmonise C with E, D with F, E with G, and so on. 

Back in Blood And Thunder however, you’ll find the two guitars harmonised mainly in 5ths (C harmonised with G, D with A, etc) – essentially powerchords, then. It’s this harmony that gives the solo its biting quality where 3rds would have sounded gentler, more rounded and easier on the ear.

I'm Not Okay – My Chemical Romance

Guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero bludgeon their way through this high speed emo/punk anthem with octave melodies, powerchords and a Queen-influenced solo.

Vertigo – U2

U2’s Grammy-winning release was originally used in a track entitled Native Son before producer Steve Lillywhite helped to sculpt the idea into the track that we know today.

Slither – Velvet Revolver

With Chinese Democracy still but a rumour, Slash, Kushner, McKagan and Weiland knocked out two albums of heavy blues-tinged bangers like Slither.

Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand

Most noted for its unforgettable lead riff, but the layered harmonies on the intro are the real guitar brilliance here.

Incubus – Sick Sad Little World

Perennially underrated six-stringer Mike Einziger pulls out every trick in his idiosyncratic book for this six-minute alt-rock epic. Tricksy hammer-on riffs, multiple phase tones and some blinding alternate picking single this out as his finest hour.

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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.