Not like we really need another piece of evidence that rock music’s popular relevance has been gradually fading away for some time now—we know, we know—but still, this hurts a little. This viral video (over 300,000 views in less than a month) of one guitarist (Alex Chadwick of Chicago Music Exchange) playing through 100 consecutive classic rock guitar riffs in chronological order does a fine job of paying tribute to some of the greatest riffs in rock history, from Johnny Cash to The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Bon Jovi to Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s all well and good and impressive, and probably should be playing on a continuous loop 24 hours a day through the Sam Ash soundsystem.
Until it gets to the 21st century, anyway. Then things start to get a little sketchy. They’re all right until about 2004—lots of new rock revolution type stuff, a couple iPod-endorsing classics, etc.—but things go to absolute shit when dealing with 2006-2012, a period that is represented by a grand total of three songs: The Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes” (the third Jack White song in the medley), The Black Keys’ “I Got Mine,” and as the grand finale, St. Vincent’s “Cruel.” Nothing wrong with any of these three—all fine riffs, objectively speaking—but none would really be what would generally be considered canonical rock riffs, and for them to be the lone representation of the last six-seven years of popular rock music…that’s a tiny bit depressing.
Then again, what riffs should they have chosen? So many of the biggest and best rock songs of the last few years—Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” fun.’s “We Are Young,” Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied” (it’s getting there, slowly but surely)—barely even have recognizable guitar riffs, let alone iconic, instantly recognizable licks. Chadwick probably could’ve used a Kings of Leon song, maybe some Silversun Pickups, and he could’ve snuck another Foo Fighters or Green Day song in there were he so inclined. But otherwise, it’s pretty slim pickings out there—unless you want to dig for the St. Vincent-level gems, there aren’t a whole lot of “Smoke on the Water”s or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”s to be found these days. Cliff Poncier would be so disappointed.
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