Monday 29 July 2013

Ten Of The Best AAA Riffs (News, Views and Music 204)

This week we decided to have a little ‘riff’ about ‘riffs’. Big or small, dominating the song or hardly there at all, these are the ‘hooks’ that the ear remembers long after a song has stopped playing and can help add a little more commercial worth to a song. Most riffs tend to be played on guitars – sometimes solo, sometimes with lots of musicians playing at once – but there’s a few curios in our top ten list, including one played on a banjo, one on an organ, one on piano, one on a synthesiser and one on a mellotron. We’ve spoken already this week at some length about ‘I Want You (She’s So heavy’), perhaps the ultimate riff song in the sense that the riff is almost all that’s there for the full seven minutes of the song – and yet that’s entirely in keeping with the suffocating, desperate atmosphere of the song. Lennon was a natural at writing riffs, but rather than have a top ten of Beatles songs we’ve decided to keep our list to just one entry per AAA artist. Naturally many of you will have your own favourites that didn’t make our list – if so why not send them in to us?

1) “Duh-Dada-Duh-Dah!” (The Kinks, ‘You Really Got Me’ 1964)

Just think what a different song ‘You Really Got Me’ would be without that insistent riff at the very heart of the song. This is isn’t some casual crush the narrator has got, it’s an infectious, hypnotic obsession and the tricky four note riff is central to the (ungrammatical) idea that the girl has really ‘got’ him ‘going’. Ray Davies originally wrote the riff for a piano to play, a bold open chord run that sets up the uncharacteristic confidence of the song; brother Dave went one better by playing the riff through his electric guitar and it’s little green amp which the younger Davies had slashed with a razor blade to get an angrier sound. This was the template for at least another two Kinks singles of the 1960s (‘All Day and All Of The Night’ and ‘Til The End Of The Day’), but thereafter The Kinks didn’t really write ‘riff’ songs again until the 1980s as their songs became more about words and atmosphere. Perhaps they thought they’d already written the perfect riff song and wouldn’t ever be able to top it?!

2) “Duh-Duh-Di-Duh-Duh-Dum-Di-Doo-Dah” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, ‘Ohio’ 1970)
‘Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own...’ – Neil Young’s rare moment of political chest-beating was brave stuff for 1970, CSNY writing, recording and releasing this song within a fortnight of the Ohio Kent State Shootings (where Nixon took umbrage to a tiny peaceful anti-Vietnam protest and sent i n the heavy mobs, killing four students outright, one of whom was just an innocent passerby). In these still pre-Watergate times this was a watershed moment – and ‘Ohio’ perfectly sums up the claustrophobia and the solemnity with which the younger generation realise that ‘finally we’re on our own’. This riff doesn’t soar infectiously (like ‘You Really Got Me’), it’s hemmed in from all sides and hobbles its way through the song, barely standing upright with grief, before finally flourishing in one of the greatest guitar solos of all time too.

3) “Duh-Di-Der-Der-Duh-Dumdrumdrum-Dri-Dri” (The Hollies, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ 1966)
‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ is an unusual song, a catchy enjoyable pop song clearly made musically for the band’s younger audience but with a subject matter of the more adult variety. Inspired by a lapdancer at a soho club, the song’s scattershot riff is played by Tony Hicks on a banjo which gives the song a really distinctive sound that does a really good job of summing up the fascination and embarrassment the narrator experiences. Original copies of the single included a much longer solo on the banjo (heard only on the sadly now obsolete German-only ‘30th anniversary’ set) that has to be heard t5o be believed, the ringing chords sounding both innocent and knowing at the same time.

4) “Woooh-oooh-oooh-ooh-ooh!” (The Beach Boys, ‘Good Vibrations’, 1966)
The Wilson brother’s mother Audree used to tell her children that animals could pick up ‘vibrations’ in humans and could tell if they were ‘kind’ or ‘cruel’. Son Brian went one stage further, figuring that people probably had the same ideas subconsciously and telling the tale of a boy picking up on ‘vibrations’ from a girl that were ‘good’. That translates well into the song’s breezy riff, which is made to sound more paranormal by the use of a theremin (an instrument a bit like Rolf Harris’ ‘Stylophone’ that’s more normally used to create ‘creepy’ sound effects in horror films). This could easily have sounded like some bad Hollywood B movie but by featuring a sunny, catchy, four note phrase completely unlike anything else around in 1966, Brian instead ends up creating perhaps his biggest triumph of all.

5) “Duh-Der-Der-Dah-Dah-Duh!” (The Monkees, ‘I’m A Believer’ 1967)
Micky Dolenz is the perfect singer for tackling well-meaning-but-awkward narrators. Neil Diamond’s breakthrough song is the perfect setting for it, telling the tale of a narrator who always thought love was ‘only found in fairytales’ and that he’d never experience it for himself, accompanied by a six note phrase that sounds both sad and happy at the same time. Unusual, in the sense that the riff is played ‘in between’ the lines in the chorus rather than underlining each one, it’s a very memorable hook that can sounds quite different played ‘before’ and ‘after’ the narrator has found ‘love’, turning from sad folk to rousing gospel in a matter of seconds.

6) “Dum-Duh-Diddiddi-Dum-Duh-Diddiddi-Dum-Duh-Diddliddli...” (10cc ‘Rubber Bullets’ 1972)
This riff is built on anger, Godley and Creme being moved by a newspaper account of the brutal way in which a prison riot over harsh conditions was brought to an end. The prison guards protested that they only used ‘rubber bullets’ – but even rubber bullets hurt and 10cc are inspired to write perhaps their angriest song of all, about a ‘party at the local country jail’ that was only meant to be fun. The song’s noisy, bubbling riff plays for a full 30 seconds before the song kicks in properly, successfully setting the scene for a turbulent angry sound that won’t be quietened, whatever the officials have to say.

7) “Dum-Di-Dum-Di-Der-Dum-Der” (The Who, ‘Substitute’ 1966)
The Who have come up with many great riffs over the years and perhaps I should really have gone with our old favourite ‘I Can’t Explain’ and its turbulent, incoherent riff. But we seem to have talked about this song a lot recently (it’s been in so many of our ‘top tens’ of the past year) so I’ve plumped instead for the singalong riff that’s at the heart of ‘Substitute’. Pete Townshend wrote this song after reading that The Who were ‘just a substitute for the Rolling Stones’ and turns in one of his bitterest but funniest lyrics, about a narrator born the wrong colour, to a family that don’t want him and who ‘substitutes’ his nagging wife for his mum (‘because at least I’ll get my washing done!’) Like the narrator, the riff doesn’t know which way is up and seems on a voyage of discovery throughout the song, heard ‘upside down’ and ‘sideways’ throughout the track.

8) “Duh-Duh-Der-Duh-Doo-Dah-Der” (The Beatles, ‘Hey Bulldog’ 1967)
‘Hey Bulldog’ is quite an obscure song – in the sense that any Beatles song is ever going to be obscure – hidden away on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ film soundtrack and cut from the film, but it’s one of Lennon’s better songs of 1968 and it’s menacing, angry strut was a big announcement that the ‘peacenik’ Lennon of 1967 was – for the time at least – over. Much of the prowling menace in this song – which is undeniably angry over something, despite its nonsense lyrics – comes from the angry insistent riff, unusually played by Lennon on piano (Lennon never really learnt to play properly and most piano parts on Beatles records are by McCartney or George Martin; however this pretty complex part is an exception). Rolling comically from side to side, the riff suddenly reveals the sting in it’s tail via an eerie chord progression that stretches Lennon’s voice to breaking point (‘You can talk to me! If you’re lonely you can talk to me!’)

9) “Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum-Der-Dum-Dum” (Neil Young, ‘Heart Of Gold’ 1972)
Neil’s biggest hit to date, even 40 years later, might not be his greatest ever song but might well feature his best ever riff (though both ‘Old Man’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’ cut it close). Simple by Young’s standards, this open chord strumming sounds much like a lot of other singer-songwriter acoustic ballads around at the time and sounds roughly like Neil would have sounded as a medieval minstrel. Fittingly this is a narrator whose on a journey of discovery, having been all around the world looking for a heart that’s worthy enough to get excited over, and the ever-changing chords in this song fit it’s restless nature.

10) “Dum-Doo-Dee-Duh-Duh-Der-Der-Doo-Be” (Paul McCartney, ‘Coming Up’ 1980)
Finally, it’s our old friend ‘Coming Up’, one of the greatest catchy-but-deep songs from the catchy-but-deep specialist bar none. This song is about the future, both from the lyrics (which try to urge us to believe that the perfect world is in front of us, born from the seeds and dirt of the problems we are facing now) and from the music (which is played on a then-very modern sounding synthesiser). Ignorant critics call this song a ‘doodle that got lucky’, but it’s actually one of Macca’s more cleverly thought out songs, with this insistent riff so bright and cheerful it’s impossible to dislike. This isn’t fake or artifical happiness, though – it’s the sudden realisation that hard times are over and all there is to do now is smile. As a result, this might well be the most Mccartneyesque song of them all!

That’s all for this week, ba-doo-doo-de-dah! We’ll see you next issue for more, too-de-loo-de-loo!
A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
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2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches
162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs
163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)
164) AAA Songs About Islands
165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended
167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

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172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

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188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

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227) Top ten AAA drummers

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229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

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232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

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238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

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