Pop Songs With Surprisingly Awesome Guitar Riffs

We all know those classic songs, for which the guest guitar solo transformed a catchy pop tune into something more. But what happens when pop acts add a crunching riff to one of their hits?

In this blog we uncover a few uncharacteristic chart hits which have featured some truly mind blowing guitar riffs.

1. Free Your Mind - En Vogue

Possibly the best example of a less is more style approach to creating one of the grooviest, yet foot stompingly heavy guitar riffs of the early 90’s. With its loose power blues feel, doubled by the bass, this chromatic riff energises the song and pushes it practically into the world of hard rock! What really makes this riff cook is the space left between phrases during the verse. Not to mention those harmonies in the pre chorus!

So, which trail blazing hard rock guitar god supplied the guitar work here? Both the guitar and bass parts were actually recorded by San Francisco rockabilly session player, and Chuck Berry touring guitarist Jinx Jones. Who’d have guessed?!

2. Black Cat - Janet Jackson

Not known for her heavy tunes, 80’s pop songstress Janet Jackson delivered this show stopping track which contains some truly exceptional guitar work. The main riff is a pentatonic masterpiece, oozing with attitude. From the pinched harmonics and authoritative vibrato to those verse fills, which could have come from the god-like fingers of Eddie Van Halen himself! And don’t get me started on that solo!

What an unlikely track for hiding some of the best riffage to ever hit the charts in the late 80’s!

3. Jamiroquai - Deeper Underground

Kicking things off with an ominous orchestral intro, the last thing you expect to follow is that fuzz driven heavy riff which announces the start of the verse. This is primarily an overdriven bass riff, but doubled on the guitar to produce both syncopated groove and flair in equal measure.

The part which really sets this guitar riff aside; awarding it the place in our awesome riff list, is the very modern bass ‘sting’ (that quick slide in and out of the target notes) played on the guitar in unison with the bass. This technique has only been adopted and popularised by progressive guitar players in recent years - considering its 1998 release, it could be said that this funk rock riff is ahead of its time!

4. Will Smith - Black Suits Comin (Nod Ya Head)

Men In Black II was such a hit movie, it’s easy for its title track to become eclipsed. But the theme song isn’t Will Smith’s usual catchy hip hop offering. Well, for starters, things open with an almost Steve Vai-esque funky, yet modern metal inspired solo riff. Is that a 7 string? Then, instead of fading into the mix and behaving itself, the guitar is very much the lead instrument throughout the track, delivering a heavy bluesy rock riff which alternates between playing question and answer to the horn fills and doubling up the ascending lines. Plus, talk about tone! Nothing apologetic here, things are thoroughly rock!

So there we have it, a selection of tunes which host guitar riffs worthy of some of the finest rock recordings. A reminder for us to keep our musical minds open and that killer guitar riffs can often be found in the most unlikely of places!