Is this the most baffling "greatest guitar riffs" list ever assembled?

Freaky young man in comical mask playing the guitar on the purple background.
(Image credit: Getty)

In the guitar world, few topics of conversation generate as much debate as a greatest guitar riffs poll. Owing to the wide-ranging music tastes around the world, individual answers are bound to vary pretty significantly.

A number of electric guitar riffs have to be there, sure – Whole Lotta Love and Enter Sandman immediately spring to mind. Basslines, horn melodies and one-and-a-half-hour albums… not so much.

Yet these all appeared in Ultimate Guitar owner Muse Group’s recent fan-voted top 30 list of the greatest guitar riffs of all time – the results of which, as you can probably guess already, are pretty darn surprising.

Guns N’ Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine was awarded top spot, but from then on things get… interesting. Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger weighed in as a bold second choice, while Queen's Another One Bites The Dust inexplicably completed the top three.

The bassline even beat Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, which just snuck into the top five behind the fourth-placed Sex on Fire.

Where are The Rolling Stones and Cream, or The Clash and Black Sabbath, you ask? Well, the Stones’ highest placed track, Satisfaction (Can't Get No) – actual name: (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, FYI – came in at a measly 24th, while the others mentioned didn’t even make it into the top 30.

Even Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain – again, another bassline – made it onto the list of guitar riffs at the 12th spot, ahead of anything by Cream or Sabbath.

There were some redeeming choices with the presence of AC/DC’s Back in Black and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, though both placed low at 13th and 16th spots, respectively. Other big guns to achieve unimpressive results include White Stripes’ 23rd-placed Seven Nation Army and Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love, which resided at 26th.

Alas, these redeeming picks are somewhat negated by the fact that the horn melody from Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and Pink Floyd’s The Wall – yes, the one-and-a-half-hour studio album – both made it into the top 20. 

In a statement, Jonathan Kehl of Muse Group, said, “We wanted to find out with this research what the nation’s favorite guitar riffs of all time are, and it’s great to see the variety and timelessness of many of the pieces selected.”

Well, we can't argue on the variety front. You can see the full list below – although, for a more guitar-centric offering, might we suggest our own guide to the 50 greatest guitar riffs of all time?

  1. Sweet Child O’ Mine - Guns N' Roses 
  2. Eye Of The Tiger - Survivor 
  3. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen 
  4. Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon 
  5. Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin 
  6. Beat It - Michael Jackson 
  7. Smells like Teen Spirit - Nirvana 
  8. Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
  9. Layla - Eric Clapton
  10. Money for Nothing - Dire Straits 
  11. Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix 
  12. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac 
  13. Back in Black - AC/DC 
  14. The Ace of Spades - Motorhead 
  15. Walk This Way - Aerosmith 
  16. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple 
  17. You Really Got Me - The Kinks 
  18. The Wall - Pink Floyd 
  19. Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash 
  20. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll - Joan Jett 
  21. Voodoo Child - Jimi Hendrix 
  22. Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf 
  23. Seven Nation Army - the White Stripes 
  24. Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) - the Rolling Stones 
  25. Come as You Are - Nirvana 
  26. Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin 17%
  27. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor  - Arctic Monkeys 
  28. Message in a Bottle - The Police 
  29. All Right Now - Free 
  30. Brown Sugar - the Rolling Stones

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.