Our Top Riffs of the 90's

Published on 22 May 2020

It's time people, get the flannel out, the baggies on or whatever your preference - we're going on a deep dive into the 90's. Easily among our favourite eras of rock music, the 90's were a wrecking ball of sound no matter where your tastes lie. No other decade was quite as explosive, edgy and ever-changing, with epic guitar tones and seemingly groundbreaking albums and tracks piling up by the year. There are no doubt some superstars of the decade but we thought today we'd put all that aside and just run through some of the fattest, most tasty riffs from that electrifying period. Strap yourselves in, you may want to be careful with this lot...

Smashing Pumpkins - Cherub Rock

Arguably the greatest album intro of all time, Cherub Rock set the tone for Smashing Pumpkin's classic Siamese Dream; an album that we could dissect alone for its wall of noise guitar sounds. This alternative bible of guitar tone has gone on to become the stuff of legend with each track sounding bigger, fuller and more powerful than the last. Starting out fairly soft, the drums build up and lull you into a false sense of security... until the Big Muff comes on! As soon as Corgan stomps on that box and dips you into that lush, fuzzy fat sound you can't help but want more. The octaved E riff that followed hooked a generation on the Pumpkin's sound with Corgan at the helm. We've absolutely no doubt that teenagers everywhere shred their fingers trying to learn the slides on this one on their first guitar and rightly so, such is the power of a good riff! Freak out and give in...

Lenny Kravitz - Are You Gonna Go My Way

To miss Lenny out of a list of top riffs would be like missing Vanilla out of a list of top Ice Cream flavours - his riffmanship is just simply essential! Featuring on his third album, this track was a monster that still gets a ton of play today in TV and radio alike. In fact, the tune actually saw Kravitz nab his first number 1 single in the States, proving once and for all that a good riff will indeed get you places. Blending funk, rock and blues with a killer Hendrix-Esque tone that has just the right amount of grit, the riff is a treat to play, although a little punishing on the old fingers at first. The octaved part over the top cuts through the mix beautifully and the result is just an electric ball of energy - exactly what Lenny does best.

Stone Roses - Love Spreads

After the jangly 60's influence of the Stone Roses iconic first album, it's safe to say fans expected more of the same from the follow up (cue Simon Pegg saying 'I liked it...'). However, the band decided instead to plunge them into the deep with a far larger, expansive rock sound fueled by the playing of guitarist John Squier. The track reached number 2 in the UK singles chart, almost unbelievably the highest of any of the band's releases and is a bit like Squier's love letter to classic rock, or more specifically Hendrix! With more than a little nod to Voodoo Child in here, this guitar track is absolutely blistering and announced to the world that the Roses were back. A killer slide intro sets the groove for the track before diving into some killer guitar licks that are just furious. A change of pace for the Roses and a huge change in Squier's playing but they pulled it off, this riff is a certified classic. 

Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose

It's the nineties guys, Soundgarden are NOT getting missed out of our list of top riffs. With a ton of killer guitar parts to choose from, we've opted for the undeniably groovy Jesus Christ Pose. The track opens with a ton of guitar feedback before launching into a frantic riff that just gets you rocking. Drummer Matt Cameron stated that 'the approach we took on this one was a pure assault of the senses' and we reckon they've hit the nail on the head. As soon as you hear the guitar, bass and drums come together you just want to turn it up as loud as it'll go. The track actually came about in a jam between Cameron and the band's bass player Ben Shepard where guitarist Kim Thayil played beneath-the-bridge guitar squeals over the top simply because he wasn't sure how to keep up at first! The big drop D riff that leads the track afterwards is nothing short of mighty and has all of the fatness and madness that a 90's track should. MTV may have banned the video, but that was never going to stop a track this epic sounding... Do your worst MTV! 

Alice In Chains - Them Bones

Again, a shoe-in for big 90's riffs, Alice in Chains always deliver the heat when it comes to killer guitar parts. As the second single from their now iconic Dirt album, the start of Them Bones is like being punched in the face by Jerry Cantrell's guitar, it just sounds so fat, heavy and thick. The band love a slightly wacky time signature and the 7/8 groove here is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat without losing the momentum of the track. Them Bones only lasts a mere 2 minutes 30 but every moment of that is just unapologetic hard-rocking rifftastic goodness. If you had to play one track to sum up the rock sound of the nineties this just might be it... They don't come much tastier than this folks!

Aerosmith - Eat the Rich

The Bad Boys of Boston may have been rocking since the '70s but that doesn't mean certified riff master Joe Perry didn't have some vibes left to drop on all of those 90's grunge kids! You can always count on Joe... Ignoring Steven Tyler's bird calls in the intro, this track is carried by Joe Perry's killer Les Paul riff, backed up by the grooving bass that fits in behind it. This is a seriously satisfying piece of playing that's even more of a treat to play yourself. Get this lick down and we absolutely guarantee you'll bust it out every time you pick up the guitar... It just flows so well. Plus the solo is a killer if you feel like a challenge! This is proof that no matter what is going on in music, there's always space for a bit of good old rock music. Oh, and that Joe Perry is one of the smoothest riff writers of all time, just saying...

The Manic Street Preachers - Motorcycle Emptiness

We'll finish the list off with this iconic moment from the Manics and one of the most catchy and simply cool sounding riffs of the decade. Motorcycle Emptiness is an absolute masterpiece of songwriting, drawing inspiration from S.E. Hinton's Rumblefish about biker gangs and the alienation of young people in society but it's the guitar that sticks in your head. The tone is as captivating as the riff itself with an utterly creamy, 'verby sound that just sustains forever. Between the long sustained bends and the sharp build up licks in between, this has to be among the most perfectly written riffs of all time. Supposedly it came to guitarist and frontman James Dean Bradfield in a dream while the band were in the middle of writing the track and trying to bring their ideas together. Well, we reckon the Welsh lads did a number on it, this guitar is as rocking as it is haunting and it truly is a classic of it's kind... Why do I only ever dream about food...?

Final Thoughts

We hope you've enjoyed today's journey into the hard-rockin' 90's! Whether you were into grunge, metal or anything in between one thing is for certain, riffs were king! Now, this list could've gone on and on and on but we thought we'd just highlight a few stand out guitar moments from the decade (yes we know, Smells Like Teen Spirit wasn't there...) but there's loads more gold to be plundered. Why not have another spin at your favourite album and try to learn a few of its finest moments? Or better yet turn your attention to our list and have a go at a couple! We'd love to hear how you got on, or if you've any more suggestions for epic riffs then hit us up with your suggestions below!

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