Saturday, May 01, 2010

Now is this a riff, or a pulse?

That's from the Avant Hard album.

One or two of Add N To (X)'s latterday tunes (on the last two LPs) remind me of synth/keyb-laced rockers The Stranglers. Who had some wicked riffs, if we count the gnarly-fuzzed melody-carrying bass guitar of JJ Burnel as the riff instrument (Hugh Cornwell's guitar tending either to splintered faintly Beefheartian licks or rhythm gtr, with Dave Greenfield's mighty organ providing both propulsion and solo in the Manzarekian mode)

New Wave riffers supreme, though, are surely Devo. For the duration of that debut album and here and there on the second, it's a dramatically original reinvention of hard rock as stark and diagrammatic as that staged by Wire or Go4

yet Devo were in a way as rooted (albeit via inversion) in the blues as the Groundhogs or as these other cusp of Sixties-into-Seventies Brits

slipping back further into the hairy hoary late Sixties--yet there's nothing self-indulgent, bloated, rambling, punk-neccessitating about this tune… and what a lyric

two songs where the guitar bit is somewhere between a riff and a mini-solo

the opposite: the infra-riff, the sub-riff, just too simple, too primalist

an odd thing is that Lemmy here has quite a clear, pleasant, non-gnarly vocal -- is it speed and booze and cigs that done in his vocal chords, or just the nature of Motorhead's music, roaring through the blare

i couldn't think of a Motorhead song that had a killer riff, strangely. Their music's power works through other means.

Does the same apply to the Sex Pistols? When it came to great riffs the first thing by them that sprang to mind was this, which is somebody else's riff.

I heard this before I heard the Stooges version, with the result that the Stooges one sounds… feebler. Crazy I know.

Lydon never completely shed his inner rocker

Well he had a good go on Flowers of Romance, but it came back with the Laswell produced Album. Which doesn't really have a good riff on it as I recall. Supposed to be his Zep influenced LP but "Rise", the really good tune, is more like U2.

Riffs Mailbag

Couple of helpful efforts to define and differentiate riffs/licks/vamps/chord progressions/gtr figures etc

Craig Allen says "i took guitar lessons so i'll take a crack at it

A riff is a lower register motif on guitar, played during the verses.
I think of them as being made up of single notes (not chords), but I
suppose 'You Really Got Me' could be considered a riff, even I though
i think it's always played as two power chords (maybe the original was
single notes?). Classic single note riffs are 'Smoke On The Water' and
'Daytripper'. Ventures songs ('Walk, Don't Run" and "Pipeline") seem
to be too long to be considered riffs. Maybe those are guitar parts.

I think licks are played during solos and are in the upper register.
Solos are supposedly improvised but guitarists always go for their
licks. I'm thinking of one that Pat Martino and George Benson use
that's made up of three notes. Maybe Ace Frehley doing a pull off in
the blues scale.

A vamp is from jazz, a simple repeating chord progression, usually
just two, like the intros of Wave or Girl From Ipanema, but not the
complicated chord changes as in rest of the song. On some jazz
standards people solo over just the vamp, which is easier. If you're
just vamping and not playing changes, it's not really jazz.

I guess a chord progression needs to have more than the two chords. I
think the first one I learned on guitar was 'Stepping Stone': E/G/A/C.
I think of most punk and hardcore songs as just being chord
progressions, since they are made up of simple power chords (the root
and the fifth)

AJ Ramirez say "The simplest of these to distinguish is a lick. It's just a tasty little thing that guitarists may or may not repeat throughout their discographies as stylistic signatures, but they aren't used to serve a repetitive, rhtyhmic function act as a particular song's primary driving force as riffs are, so they ain't riffs.

Chord progressions can be riffs if played a certain way, ie. not just hitting every eight note or sticking to a chord through each bar. The intro to "Let there be rock" is a chord progression, but the verses to "You Really Got Me" are riffs, through and through. I know it's tempting for a lot of people to classify "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as Kurt Cobain simply strumming out his progression, but it's a riff because he plays his part in a very methodical fashion. He's not just strumming those four chords: the first few beats to every bar are always syncopated in the same way, and he alternates hitting muted and open string in a VERY deliberate fashion. Contrast with "Lithium", which is a very memorable chord progression, but Cobain doesn't play the chords the exact same way every run through. A good test I think of whether something is riff or chord progression is to try playing it yourself on guitar. With "Lithium" it doesn't matter if you don't play along exactly with the record as long as you get the feel right, but with "Teen Spirit" you have to play it exactly how Cobain played it, or it won't sound right. Other great riffs straddling that riff/chord progression divide: "I Can't Explain", "Highway to Hell", "Plush", "When I Come Around".

Vamps are defined by short, repeated chord figures that act as support to improvisation, so most classic rock riffs woudn't fit that category. Jazz guys love vamps, but rock typically relegates improv to the solo if at all, so you don't really get vamps in the genre. I know Phish has a thing for vamps, but I have no desire to investigate jam bands further.

My concise example: I'd personally say the intro to Hendrix's "Purple Haze" is a series of riffs, the verse figure is a chord progression, and the bit after he says "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" is a lick. At least that's how I see it. James Brown was the king of vamps in pop music.

Another great riff no one really talks about but should: "Heart Full of Soul" by the Yardbirds.

Also: "I Wanna Be Your Lover" by Prince.

For the life of me I can't think of a riff figure that extends beyond four bars. I suppose that's a good threshold for defining a riff against a long melodic phrase or a chord progression; anything longer than that is a guitarist basically waxing poetic

A.J. Ramirez continues the conversation about Riffs with this piece at Popmatters

Finally a couple of riffs nominated by Marcin Kruszewski of Pontone

These guys-and-gal are the Polish Cream I guess - what a video and just wait for the flute solo!

Lightning bolt, 'dracula mountain'