Are you a fan of classic rock? Do you want to learn the iconic guitar riffs that defined the music of the 1980s? Well, you’re in for a treat!
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the top 30 classic guitar riffs from the 1980s that will surely take you on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
From the infectious power chords of Van Halen’s “Jump” to the soul-stirring melody of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” these timeless riffs will transport you back to the golden age of rock.
So grab your guitar and get ready to rock out to the unforgettable sounds of the 80s!
Hey there! Are you ready for a trip down memory lane? Get ready to rock out as we count down the top 30 classic guitar riffs from the 1980s. This iconic era brought us some of the most unforgettable and electrifying guitar riffs of all time. From hard rock anthems to heavy metal masterpieces, these riffs defined a generation and continue to inspire musicians even to this day. So grab your air guitar and let’s dive into the world of 80s guitar greatness!
1. ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC
Kicking off our list is the explosive riff from AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” This riff, crafted by the legendary Angus Young, is pure rock ‘n’ roll at its finest. The unmistakable opening notes will no doubt transport you back to the 80s, where “Back in Black” ruled the airwaves and became an instant classic. Perfectly combining simplicity and power, this riff is a true testament to the enduring legacy of AC/DC.
2. ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ by Guns N’ Roses
Next up is the unforgettable opening riff of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Slash’s melodic and soulful guitar work captivated audiences around the world, making this song an enduring favorite. From its infectious rhythm to its soaring guitar solos, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” embodies the essence of 80s rock and solidified Guns N’ Roses as one of the greatest bands of the decade.
3. ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica
Prepare to headbang with the heavy-hitting riff of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” This iconic guitar riff, courtesy of James Hetfield, is a masterclass in thrash metal brilliance. With its crushing power chords and hypnotic melody, “Enter Sandman” remains a pinnacle of Metallica’s discography and an anthem for headbangers everywhere.
4. ‘Crazy Train’ by Ozzy Osbourne
Get ready to go off the rails with the legendary Randy Rhoads’ riff in Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” This classic guitar riff, combined with Rhoads’ incredible guitar solo, created a timeless masterpiece that showcases the true essence of 80s heavy metal. “Crazy Train” continues to be a staple in Ozzy’s live performances, reminding us of the incredible talent we lost far too soon.
5. ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ by Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” brings us a riff that is both catchy and energetic. Richie Sambora’s guitar work in this song perfectly captures the spirit of 80s arena rock. The electrifying riff sets the stage for Jon Bon Jovi’s powerful vocals and sets the tone for an anthemic chorus that will have you singing along at the top of your lungs.
6. ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple
No list of iconic guitar riffs would be complete without mentioning Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” This riff, composed by Ritchie Blackmore, is one of the most recognizable in rock history. From its simple yet effective structure to the nostalgic feeling it evokes, “Smoke on the Water” has become a rite of passage for aspiring guitarists and a symbol of the 80s rock revolution.
7. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ by Def Leppard
Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” gave us a riff that perfectly encapsulated the essence of 80s glam metal. This infectious and danceable riff, courtesy of Phil Collen and Steve Clark, oozes with attitude and hooks you from the first few notes. Whether you’re at a party or cranking up the volume in your car, this riff is guaranteed to get you moving.
8. ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix
Travel back in time to the 60s with Jimi Hendrix’s timeless masterpiece, “Purple Haze.” Though released in 1967, its impact and influence carried on into the 80s and beyond. Hendrix’s innovative approach to guitar playing revolutionized the instrument, and the iconic riff in “Purple Haze” showcases his unparalleled talent and creativity.
9. ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi returns to the list with their classic anthem, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Richie Sambora once again delivers an unforgettable riff that perfectly complements Jon Bon Jovi’s powerful vocals. This uplifting and energetic riff has become a symbol of resilience and holds a special place in the hearts of fans worldwide.
10. ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith
Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” features a riff that epitomizes the fusion of rock and hip hop. Joe Perry’s infectious guitar work, combined with Steven Tyler’s iconic vocals, created a groundbreaking sound that took the world by storm. This timeless riff paved the way for collaboration and experimentation within the rock genre.
11. ‘Back in Time’ by Huey Lewis and the News
Huey Lewis and the News take us on a journey through time with their hit song “Back in Time.” This lively and upbeat riff instantly transports you to the 80s, where the band’s catchy tunes dominated the charts. The guitar work in “Back in Time” perfectly complements Lewis’s charismatic vocals, creating a feel-good anthem that never gets old.
12. ‘Jump’ by Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen’s innovative and energetic riff in “Jump” solidified the band’s place in music history. This synth-driven riff, played on guitar, became an instant classic and showcased Van Halen’s ability to push boundaries and experiment with new sounds. “Jump” remains a staple in Van Halen’s discography and a testament to Eddie Van Halen’s genius.
13. ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ by Scorpions
Prepare to be blown away by Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” This riff, created by Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker, perfectly captures the raw energy and power of 80s heavy metal. With its hard-hitting chords and infectious melody, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is an anthem that will have you headbanging in no time.
14. ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi returns to the list with “Wanted Dead or Alive,” showcasing their versatility as a band. Richie Sambora’s acoustic guitar riff gives this country-tinged rock song a unique flavor and adds depth to Bon Jovi’s discography. The riff perfectly complements Jon Bon Jovi’s gritty vocals, making “Wanted Dead or Alive” a timeless classic that continues to resonate with fans.
15. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” introduced us to one of the most iconic riffs in rock history. This Southern rock anthem, composed by Ed King and Gary Rossington, is filled with energy and nostalgia. From its opening slide guitar notes to its catchy rhythm, “Sweet Home Alabama” remains a beloved classic that never fails to make toes tap and heads bob.
16. ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police
Sting’s hauntingly beautiful riff in The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” takes us into a different realm of guitar greatness. This melodic and atmospheric riff perfectly captures the emotional depth of the song and showcases The Police’s ability to create music that resonates with listeners on a profound level. “Every Breath You Take” is a timeless example of the power of simplicity in guitar playing.
17. ‘Run to the Hills’ by Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” delivers a galloping riff that embodies the band’s signature heavy metal sound. Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s harmonized guitar work creates a sonic experience that is both powerful and exhilarating. This iconic riff has become a staple of Iron Maiden’s live performances, solidifying the band as one of the pioneers of British heavy metal.
18. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” opens with a ferocious riff that immediately grabs your attention. As one of the most iconic opening riffs in rock history, Slash’s guitar work in this song is a driving force that sets the tone for the entire track. The raw energy and attitude of “Welcome to the Jungle” encapsulate the rebellious spirit of the 80s and catapulted Guns N’ Roses to superstardom.
19. ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ by Cream
Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” offers a riff that is as timeless as it is unforgettable. Eric Clapton’s bluesy guitar work defines this psychedelic rock classic, showcasing his unparalleled skill and intricate playing style. From its hypnotic rhythm to its soulful solos, “Sunshine of Your Love” continues to captivate listeners and remains a staple of classic rock radio stations.
20. ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen
Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” features a bass-driven riff that became an instant hit. John Deacon’s simple but incredibly catchy bassline solidified the song’s place in music history. This unforgettable riff, coupled with Freddie Mercury’s powerful vocals, creates a groove that is impossible to resist. “Another One Bites the Dust” is a true testament to Queen’s ability to create music that stands the test of time.
21. ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” gave us an iconic riff that perfectly captures the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The gritty and rebellious guitar work sets the stage for Jett’s powerful vocals and transforms this classic song into a timeless anthem. This riff is a reminder of the everlasting power of rock music and its ability to unite generations.
22. ‘Livin’ After Midnight’ by Judas Priest
Judas Priest’s “Livin’ After Midnight” delivers a riff that is as infectious as it is electrifying. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing’s dual guitar attack creates a wall of sound that is quintessentially 80s heavy metal. This high-energy riff, combined with Rob Halford’s soaring vocals, makes “Livin’ After Midnight” a true classic that continues to ignite mosh pits and sing-alongs around the world.
23. ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” introduced us to Tony Iommi’s dark and menacing riff that defined heavy metal for generations to come. This iconic riff paved the way for the genre and showcased Iommi’s ability to create music that is heavy, powerful, and full of raw emotion. “Paranoid” is a timeless masterpiece that solidifies Black Sabbath’s place in rock history.
24. ‘The Trooper’ by Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden returns to the list with their galloping riff in “The Trooper.” Adrian Smith and Dave Murray once again deliver a guitar masterpiece that showcases their ability to create music that is both intricate and exhilarating. “The Trooper” has become one of Iron Maiden’s most beloved songs, energizing crowds with its powerful riff and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals.
25. ‘Born to Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf
Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” opens with a guitar riff that screams rebellion and freedom. This iconic riff, composed by Mars Bonfire, has become synonymous with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. From its distinctive opening notes to its gritty and bluesy melody, “Born to Be Wild” continues to inspire countless rockers and is considered one of the greatest driving songs of all time.
26. ‘Money for Nothing’ by Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler’s mesmerizing riff in Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” is a masterclass in guitar technique. This unique riff, played on a Stratocaster with a signature fingerpicking style, creates a hypnotic groove that is impossible to resist. “Money for Nothing” became a huge hit in the 80s and solidified Dire Straits’ status as one of the most innovative bands of the decade.
27. ‘Nothin’ But a Good Time’ by Poison
Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time” delivers a riff that perfectly captures the carefree attitude of the 80s. C.C. DeVille’s high-octane guitar work sets the stage for Bret Michaels’ raucous vocals, creating an anthem for a generation that just wanted to let loose and have a good time. This riff is a reminder of the infectious energy and unapologetic fun that defined the music of the 1980s.
28. ‘I Wanna Rock’ by Twisted Sister
Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” features a riff that perfectly encapsulates the rebellious spirit of the 80s. Eddie Ojeda’s guitar work is fierce and energetic, complementing Dee Snider’s powerful vocals. This anthemic riff became a rallying cry for misfits and outcasts, reminding them to embrace their true selves and never apologize for who they are.
29. ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ by Kiss
Kiss’s “Rock and Roll All Nite” gave us a riff that defined the glam rock era of the 80s. Ace Frehley’s catchy and instantly recognizable guitar work made this song an instant classic and a staple of Kiss’s live performances. “Rock and Roll All Nite” embodies the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and remains a fan favorite to this day.
30. ‘Faith’ by George Michael
Closing our list is George Michael’s “Faith.” This iconic riff, played on a distorted electric guitar, propelled Michael’s solo career to new heights. The infectious groove and funky rhythm make “Faith” a unique entry on this list, showcasing the versatility of the guitar in the 80s music landscape. This riff became an emblem of George Michael’s artistry and solidified him as one of the decade’s most iconic musicians.
And there you have it, the top 30 classic guitar riffs from the 1980s! These unforgettable riffs have stood the test of time and continue to inspire generations of musicians.
From the raw energy of heavy metal to the infectious melodies of pop rock, the 80s brought us an incredible variety of guitar greatness.
So whether you’re a fan of headbanging or prefer to sing along to catchy choruses, these riffs are sure to get you rocking and transport you back to one of the most exciting eras in music history. Keep those air guitars handy and keep the rock ‘n’ roll spirit alive!