The Riff. It’s the backbone to the entire Stoner Rock genre. Think about every classic Stoner Rock tune. Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Kyuss’s “Demon Cleaner.” Clutch’s “Spacegrass.” The common thread between these tracks is a near-reverent devotion to the Riff.
The Riff is powerful. It can move your head and your hips and, in some cases, even your heart. Stoner Rock exploits the Riff in a beautiful, wonderful way. That dedication even inspired Monster Riff’s name and tagline: The Search for the Ultimate Riff.
We wouldn’t be doing the search justice if we didn’t try to compile a list of the top 10 Stoner Rock Riffs in existence (we’ve already ranked the best Stoner Rock solos, just so you know).
Here’s our best attempt. We’ll admit we may need to revisit it from time to time:
10. Black – Witchrider
Album: Unmountable Stairs
Austrian Queens of the Stone Age-soundalike Witchrider released Unmountable Stairs in 2014, and it’s been radio silence ever since (well, apart from a split EP with compatriots Ultima Radio called Reciprocity). The guitar riff in “Black” is jarring at first, with the pinched notes ripping through your ear drums. But hang in there. After the first minute, the mood permeates your soul, and you understand the pain ripping through the riff. Let the song spin a second time, and you’ll see why it’s one of the greatest riffs in Stoner Rock.
9. Vidage – 1000mods
Album: Super Van Vacation
If you’ve never heard of 1000mods, head over to our article on the Greek Stoner Rock scene. 1000mods are leading the country’s Stoner Rock Renaissance, and there’s a reason they’re beloved worldwide: Although they hail from Greece, they create authentic Desert Rock—with all the driving and hot sun included. “Vidage” takes a break from the heavy, distorted guitar work to give us as a guitar riff that’s whimsical, lithe, hopeful, and even a little fun.
8. Dune – Puta Volcano
Album: Harmony of Spheres
Like 1000mods, Puta Volcano is another Greek Stoner Rock band plotting to take over the world. The beauty of the riff in “Dune” is its simplicity; you feel like you’re actually riding over a desert dune without any unnecessary flair. That same simplicity is also the riff’s Achilles heal, unfortunately, and it makes it lose out to our 2nd place pick with a similar title: “Riding the Dunes” by Valley of the Sun.
7. Supa Scoopa and the Mighty Scoop – Kyuss
Album: Welcome to Sky Valley
As much as Kyuss liked to slow down and live in the groove, they occasionally broke into a ferocious pace with an intricate, hard-rocking riff. “I’m Not” and “N.O” are great examples, but “Supa Scoopa and the Mighty Scoop” is Kyuss exploiting the riff at their best.
6. Willie Nelson – Clutch
Album: Slow Hole to China
At Monster Riff, we’ve had a lot of debates about Clutch’s Stoner Rock status. The best conclusion we’ve come to: Clutch used to be Stoner Rock. Yes, they still focus on catchy, meaty riffs, but the guitars are clean and the sound is more straightforward Hard Rock than the Stoner Rock variety. But for a few glorious years, Clutch was Stoner Rock at some of its best. “Willie Nelson” is a track that captures it perfectly: a spectacular riff, Neil Fallon’s throaty vocals, and a story about getting arrested by the Feds for smoking Willie Nelson’s weed.
5. Desert Cruiser
Album: Gravity X
We can’t seem to stop writing about Swedish rockers Truckfighters. They popped up in our first post about the kings of Stoner Rock, and they’ll likely continue popping into future articles as well. The band’s first album, Gravity X, was an enormous tribute to Desert Rock, and nowhere is that more obvious than the opening track, “Desert Cruiser.” “Desert Cruiser” possesses a mighty riff, and it simultaneously manages to propel the song forward while keeping the listener hypnotized.
4. Mongoose – Fu Manchu
Album: Eatin’ Dust
Though they may never match Kyuss’s influence or status, the Kyuss contemporaries managed to beat them in at least one way: making records over and over again. In the process, Fu Manchu’s work ethic has earned them their own dedicated fan on followers. In 1999, the band released Eatin’ Dust, an EP that featured “Mongoose,” a song that’s a little less cool when you realize it’s actually about bikes and not a flying four-legged creature that will fight snakes. Still, “Mongoose” is Fu Manchu at its best. The band cultivated a terrific riff, and they exploit it over the song’s six minutes.
3. You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire – Queens of the Stone Age
Album: Songs for the Deaf
We couldn’t possibly write a piece about riffs without mentioning Queens of the Stone Age, right? But here’s the problem: Queens of the Stone Age really only has two albums we can qualify as true Stoner Rock, and even then it’s a bit of a stretch. Songs for the Deaf often sounds like it was written to get airplay, and Queens of the Stone Age is equals parts Hard Rock, Punk, Stoner Rock, and Metal (of course, there’s even a twinge of Spanish influence). Thank God for distortion pedals, huh? With our QOTSA selection narrowed down, we leafed through some old favorites and found the best riff is on Songs for the Deaf’s “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire.” One of QOTSA’s heaviest, faster tracks (thanks in part to Nick Oliveri’s ferocious vocals), “You Think…” feels like you’re riding a jackhammer through Times Square—and having a hell of a time in the process.
2. Riding the Dunes – Valley of the Sun
Album: The Sayings of the Seers
You don’t become our pick to take over the Truckfighters throne without having a killer riff. Valley of the Sun has three full-length albums under their belt now, and each one has helped them mature in better musicians, but the riffs are always present. “Riding the Dunes” is so much of what makes Stoner Rock great. If there was ever a song that could actually make you feel like you were riding the dune buggy on the cover of Fu Manchu’s Daredevil album, this is it.
1. Get Out of Here – Sasquatch
Sasquatch made our shortlist of bands that were poised to become the kings of Stoner Rock, but the trio ultimately lost to Valley of the Sun. Pick any album in their discography at random, and you’ll immediately see why they were our runner-up. Sasquatch’s riffs are thick, fuzzy, groovy, and they add in a slight twinge of backwoods Tennessee influence to keep the whole thing interesting. Listen to the pickslide introduce “Get Out of Here,” then wait for the monster riff—the same riff that carries you through the entire song. Valley of the Sun may have won the Stoner Rock throne, but Sasquatch definitely wins the War of the Riff.