Who’s ready for the ultimate list of the 37 best electric guitar songs of all time?
Only 37 songs rank as the top in history? We all know there’s room for personal opinion here. However, we think you’ll at least agree that none of these songs should get left behind.
Let’s get started.
1) “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
What better way to start off a list of the best electric guitar songs than with the godfather of heavy metal and the Prince of Darkness himself? Who doesn’t immediately get excited when Ozzy says, “All Aboard,” the bass and drums do their dance, and then Randy Rhoads plays one of the best guitar riffs of all time?
Some people consider Crazy Train one of the greatest rock songs ever written. Although it wasn’t an immediate success when first released, the song has become one of Ozzy’s signature songs.
This is a classic that seems to age well with time.
2) “My Generation” by The Who
Released in 1965, “My Generation” opens with that distinctive 5-second guitar riff before Roger Daltrey utters, “People try to put us down.”
The song’s lyrics focus on youth, angst, and rebellion. The song talks about the older generation misunderstanding the younger generation and being out of touch with what kids enjoy in life.
Anyone alive when this song came out likely remembers their youth and what it felt like as a teenager during the ‘60s.
3) “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult was released in 1976 on an album called Agents of Fortune. It’s one of the most iconic songs in the band’s history.
It’s a tune reflecting on death and its inevitability. It talks through a topic that all humans deal with: our mortality and the finality of being here one moment and then gone the next.
Definitely worth learning this one as a musician.
4) “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck
Here’s a Beck instrumental that thrills all the way through.
Learning its melodic riffing and masterful soloing pieces can help aspiring guitarists gain the proper foundation for improvement.
5) “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Recorded in 1973, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington wrote Free Bird together.
It’s a song about a man avoiding the chances of getting chained down by anyone or anything. You might also interpret the lyrics as an ode to freedom from social oppression.
In 1974, when Skynyrd was touring for their third album, manager Phil Walden told them that they needed a single for radio play. They were already playing “Free Bird” at concerts, so they re-recorded it for their album.
As a guitar player, you’ll find the main riff fun to learn and play.
6) “Back in Black” by AC/DC
What guitar player can resist learning this iconic riff and jamming to it? It’s enjoyable and stretches the fingers just a bit.
Released on the 1980 album of the same name, the song reached number one in the US, UK, and Australian charts. It sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it the second highest-selling album of those released in the 1980s.
It’s also their only album to reach number one on the US Billboard 200 Hot 100 chart.
7) “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos
Today, many people probably forget that Derek and the Dominos released this song. Eric Clapton is synonymous with the song now after playing it on his own for so many years.
The distinctive guitar riff has melody and rhythm wrapped up into a memorable experience.
If you’ve only air-guitared this song all these years, take the time to sit down and get it under your fingers.
8) “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith
Learning this choppy riff should bring a smile to your face. The song comes from Aerosmith’s 1975 album Toys in the Attic.
Years later, the band joined forces with Run DMC and combined it into a 1986 rock/rap classic.
Many stories surround the writing of this track. One story says that Steven Tyler had trouble finding the right lyrics for Joe Perry’s riff and finally wrote them on the studio wall in a fit of frustration.
9) “Hotel California” by the Eagles
This song starts with a haunting guitar intro, and the mood continues as Don Henley breaks into the first verse.
Hotel California is one of the Eagles’ best-known songs that seems to have a lot of meaning behind it. It’s not only about the fame, money, and sex that one can buy with success but also about the sacrifice in your life that comes with it.
Other interpretations of the song lead to a discussion about an oppressive society. Open to interpretation, the lyrics generally tell the story of how one overstays their welcome at a hotel that’s seemingly run by an authoritarian regime.
10) “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Whole Lotta Love” is the opening track on Led Zeppelin’s second album. It set the precedent for their signature blues-rock style and was influenced by American soul music.
The song begins with a Jimmy Page guitar riff that accompanies John Bonham’s driving drums before Plant’s wailing vocals come in. The lyrics tell of a man vying for the affection of a “lady” who wears “strange clothes” and “speaks a different language.” The song ends with Bonham playing one of his most famous drum fills.
Many artists covered the song over the years, such as Jeff Beck, Aerosmith, and AC/DC.
11) “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi
Granted, the song begins with a 12-string guitar riff. However, it slowly mixes in the electric guitar in the second chorus and crescendos into the rockin’ guitar solo section.
Try out the solo as it makes for an enjoyable experience. Many folks believe Richie Sambora’s backing vocals make the song extra special.
The song seems to tell the story of Jon Bon Jovi’s version of being a modern-day cowboy, traveling from city to city and “rocking them all.”
12) “Master of Puppets” by Metallica
As with many Metallica songs, the song’s main guitar riff makes for a challenging experience for any guitar player.
The song tells the story of how drugs (specifically alcohol and cocaine) control someone’s life and cause them to become a puppet for another person to control.
One of Metallica’s most well-known songs, “Master of Puppets” gives us a blend of heavy metal and progressive rock styles. It’s a playable track for the video game Guitar Hero: Metallica and sits on the soundtrack to the film Iron Man.
13) “More Than a Feeling” by Boston
If you were a kid throughout the 70s and 80s, try listening to this one and avoiding memories of summertime fun.
Probably one of the most memorable rock songs of all time, “More Than a Feeling” was released in 1976. It not only offers great guitar playing opportunities but also showcases a few excellent Brad Delp vocal screams.
A melodic guitar solo rounds out a song recognized by almost all rock fans.
14) “Tom Sawyer” by Rush
As a progressive rock trio that wrote many songs considered by fans as “classics, “Tom Sawyer” is considered by some as the masterpiece of the catalog.
A unique bass line, combined with Neil Peart’s drum fills and Alex Lifeson’s big chords and exciting guitar solo created a classic. It’s safe to say that Rush fans the world over won’t argue with that statement.
15) “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by the Scorpions
The Scorpions helped usher in the new age of 80s hard rock and metal when this tune showed up on MTV back in 1984. Other bands like Motley Crue and RATT helped, but the Scorpions embraced the trend after rising to stardom during the 70s.
The song starts with a heavy riff that makes for an enjoyable experience when learning it. Matthias Jabs adds in the open string riff and the song is off and running.
Learn the guitar solo. It offers a challenge to any guitar player.
16) “Eruption” by Van Halen
What can we say here? Eddie Van Halen became a guitar god after Eruption hit the stores on Van Halen’s debut album.
Few players played this way back in 1978. To this day, many famous guitarists still talk about Eruption as the solo that moved them to pick up the instrument.
17) “All Right Now” by Free
Not many songs scream “1970’s summertime” like “All Right Now.” Released in May of 1970, Free’s open chord classic became the soundtrack for teenage fun and exploration into the 1980s and beyond.
It’s a catchy riff with an interesting guitar breakdown that precedes a melodic guitar solo that any beginning guitar player should consider trying.
18) “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio
“Rainbow in the Dark” mixes in guitar and keyboards to produce a Dio classic. What can we say about Ronnie James Dio? He possessed a powerful voice that especially came across live on stage.
The song is an anthem for people feeling down and in need of support. It also offers a challenging guitar solo by Vivian Campbell, who later went on to play with Whitesnake and Def Leppard.
Dio sang for many heavy metal bands including Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Heaven & Hell.
19) “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
A shuffling song released in 1986, “Pride And Joy” brings us Stevie Ray Vaughan talking about inspiration gathered from his girlfriend.
“Pride and Joy” was the first single off of Vaughn’s Texas Flood album. Bluesy and soulful, it offers a positive vibe that’s easy to move to.
A lesson in the blues shuffle, the song includes a solo that reflects what Vaughn always showcased: immense talent and feeling on the guitar.
20) “We Are the Champions” by Queen
Songwriter and lead singer Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics to “We Are The Champions” in 1977. The song was released on their fourth album, “News of the World.” It’s about people coming together to celebrate and being happy about their achievements.
This one resonates as a victory anthem. The song became an anthem for sports teams around the world who would play it following victories or important matches. Musically, it has a rock and roll beat that builds up with all instruments playing at once before it abruptly cuts out in the end.
Mercury and his bandmates composed “We Are The Champions” in just two hours. It appeared to them amidst a feeling of relief after completing sessions for “News of the World.”
Consider next: The best baseball walk up songs ever created
21) “Wasted Years” by Iron Maiden
Released in 1986, the opening riff of “Wasted Years” quickly became iconic among Iron Maiden fans. It’s also featured at the beginning of their 2008 documentary called “Flight 666”.
Progressive elements characterize the song, with its long instrumental section. It features a guitar solo which isn’t particularly fast or difficult to play. The band also sounds like they’re having fun on this song, making for an enjoyable listen to anyone who appreciates classic metal.
The fast open string opening riff returns at the end and the song closes in classic style.
22) “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” hit the streets in 1958. Covered and reworked by many artists over the years, it offers its own distinctive guitar intro. It even appeared in the 1985 Michael J. Fox movie, Back to the Future.
The lyrics of the song are about a country boy who becomes a rock and roll star after learning to play guitar and singing on stage in the “big town”. The lyrics also mention that Johnny “plays his guitar just like ringing a bell”, which is a reference to the song’s distinctive guitar intro.
23) “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
This song was originally released in 1979 on the album “The Wall”.
Often misinterpreted as being about drugs or death, the lyrics talk more about the numbness that comes from a lack of human connection.
David Gilmour offers masterful guitar layering across the entire track. Try mimicking his “feel” across each solo excerpt throughout the main song parts, and of course, his iconic main solo.
24) “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
1991 ushered in the wave of Grunge after Nirvana released “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Interestingly, the main riff that starts off Smells Like Teen Spirit sounds like many of the 80s hard rock and metal riffs that preceded it. However, the verse brought us that haunting sound that reflected more accurately the grunge sound about to erupt on the music scene.
Generation X had their first anthem with this Nirvana song.
25) “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks
Many younger fans remember “You Really Got Me” as the Van Halen song that comes after the above-mentioned Eruption on the first 1978 Van Halen record.
However, The Kinks wrote it and released it back in 1964. Written by Ray Davies, the lyrics talk about a man’s obsession with a woman after he sees her getting on the bus. It’s also about her power over him.
Davies thought the main riff appropriate to represent someone dreaming of their love interest.
26) “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
Cream released their first album in 1967. The album consisted of songs written by Phil Spector, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Pete Brown. It was the only time that they worked with an outside writer.
A Canadian songwriter and poet, Pete Brown, wrote the lyrics for “Sunshine of Your Love”, with Bruce and Clapton collaborating on the music.
The main riff’s descending melody offers an iconic representation of the late 60s sound.
27) “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds
Although they denied it after the song’s 1966 release, the band later confirmed that the lyrics reflected their drug addiction issues. The lyrics describe a person addicted to drugs who’s having trouble with the situation.
The main riff and vocals embark the listener on a sort of psychedelic and sad journey.
The faster sections of the riff allude to some of the more rock and metal offerings about to come throughout the 70s and 80s.
28) “Addicted to That Rush” by Mr. Big
Would you like a musical challenge as either a guitar or bass player? Try this one on for size!
Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan teamed up for a classic guitar/bass interplay that weaves its way throughout the entire song.
Sheehan starts things up with the opening tapping bass riff and then both he and Gilbert tap it all out together. The guitar solo combines more masterful guitar and bass tapping lines that should challenge even the most accomplished players.
29) “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynryd
Here’s a song about a Southern man returning to Alabama for the first time in years. He wants to go back after seeing the world.
It’s a song written in a minor key, which suggests sadness and longing for what’s been lost. Interestingly, however, it evokes fun and positive times for many fans.
It’s one of those songs that you instantly recognize the moment it starts playing over your speakers.
It’s fun to play, too!
30) “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
Speaking of instantly recognizable songs, here’s another one. That guitar riff immediately lets you know the Stones are here.
Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was initially released in 1965 and reached number 1 on the US charts, as well as number 4 on the UK charts.
31) “Wild Thing” by The Troggs
The Troggs released the song in 1965 as a single in the United States only. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #2 on Billboard’s R&B Singles Chart.
It’s since been covered by many artists such as:
- Ace Frehley
- Jimi Hendrix
Who can forget Sam Kinison’s 1988 cover and video? If you haven’t ever seen it, then it’s worth looking up!
32) “Day Tripper” by The Beatles
Released as a single in late 1965 along with “We Can Work It Out”, this song revolves around its iconic guitar riff.
Learning it helps any guitar player understand another Beatles guitar song that helped shape the harder rock groups to come during the 70s, 80s, and even later.
33) “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
Any guitarist who hasn’t jammed to this iconic yet easy guitar riff hasn’t lived! OK, OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s a riff that most beginning rock guitarists figure out and play for hours.
Released in 1972, the song has influenced countless guitarists since.
34) “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
Yup, here’s another riff that almost every guitar player learns when getting started on their playing journey. Nothing screams heavy metal better than the dissonant guitar at the beginning and Ozzy saying, “I am Iron Man,”, before its iconic riff begins to play.
Released in 1970, the song experienced a revival in 2008 for the superhero movie of the same name. Find some great superhero songs in our next list now!
35) “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
We probably could have included other Guns N’ Roses songs here, such as Welcome to the Jungle, but this one became a massive hit over the summer of 1988.
Interestingly, the main riff that’s fun to play started out as a simple exercise by guitarist Slash.
36) “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest
There’s only one thing more fun when it comes to air-guitaring to this one.
Learning how to play it!
This 1982 release helped cement Judas Priest as one of the major heavy metal bands of the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
37) “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix
You didn’t think we’d leave Jimi off the list, did you?
Another 1970 classic song that influenced many other famous musicians like Motorhead’s Lemmy Slash, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, and Lenny Kravitz.
The song possesses a distinctive riff and comes with an enjoyable Jimi solo.
Do you think we got it right with our list of the best electric guitar songs of all time?
As we said at the top, it’s hard to argue that we could eliminate any of these classics when talking about the best ever.
Enjoy listening to them and learn all the easy rock guitar songs, too!
At the very least, learn the main riffs and sections of each. It’s through learning classic songs that you’ll develop your own playing style.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.