69 years ago today one of rock’s greatest and most influential guitarists was born, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow fame. He is arguably the first “shredder” in rock n’ roll, melding nasty blues licks with classical melodicisms and unparalleled technique, delivered with a devil-may-care attitude. As important as his lead guitar playing was his ability to generate thick, memorable guitar licks that would serve as the framework for a rich catalog of hard rock and heavy metal classics. The riff is at the center of what we think of as hard rock and heavy metal music and Blackmore’s only rival is Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi when it comes to crafting those single noted repeating figures that get lodged in your skull and sound amazing when cranked through a mountain of Marshall stacks. Since these days Blackmore has eschewed Stratocasters and hard rock for mandolins and playing Renaissance fairs with his combo Blackmore’s Night, the time is right to count down his 10 greatest guitar riffs and before you start bitching about us not including “Highway Star” or “Child In Time,” keep in mind we’re talking about riffs, not songs, though most of these would be on the list of his greatest songs as well.
10. “Perfect Strangers” (1984)
The title track to one of hard rock’s greatest comeback albums showed Deep Purple still had plenty to teach the ‘80s metal generation about riff re-generation.
9. “Long Live Rock N’ Roll”
This barnstorming anthem is the leadoff track to Rainbow’s 1978 album of the same name is one of the more straight forward licks in the Blackmore riff cannon.
8. “Kill The King” (1978)
Deep Purple helped speed up the tempos of hard rock and proto-metal and Blackmore kept upping the beats per minute in his band Rainbow as heard on this classic from the Long Live Rock N’ Roll album.
7. “Demon’s Eye” (1971)
This dark, spindly lick is textbook Blackmore and also shows how in Deep Purple he would lock in with keyboardist Jon Lord to drive the riff’s heaviness home.
6. “Space Truckin’”
Another example of the Blackmore-Lord riff tandem, this stomper was the surging climax to Deep Purple’s career making 1972 album Machine Head, one of the greatest and most influential albums in hard rock and early metal history.
5. “Stargazer” (1976)
Rainbow’s answer to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” this epic is centered around another of Blackmore’s circular riffs and gives singer Ronnie James Dio lots of room to wail dramatically to the songs extended outro.
4. “Black Night” (1970)
The only single released from the band’s landmark In Rock album and the band’s highest charting UK single, this wicked, circular riff announced the Mach II lineup to the world and the song’s mind-bending guitar solo put other guitarists on notice.
3. “Burn” (1974)
After losing the core of the Mark II lineup this ’74 rave-up from the album of the same name showed the band was back with a vengeance and still a force to be reckoned with.
2. “Man On The Silver Mountain” (1975)
The mighty first shot fired from Blackmore’s new band after ditching the Purple over creative differences, is perhaps the greatest song and certainly the most rifftastic. The band, initially called Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, would go onto to codify the developing heavy metal sound and introduced the great Ronnie James Dio to the world.
1. “Smoke On The Water” (1972)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, perhaps the too obvious choice but there’s a reason it’s the most famous riff in all of hard rock. Funnily enough, Blackmore’s unique rhythm guitar style, utilizing the 5th and octave notes of the power chord vs. the full barre chord, means that’s the millions of beginner guitarists who’ve learned it are usually playing it wrong.