How does one define “sexy”? Presumably, one starts by not referring to one’s self as “one,” and yet that boat seems to have sailed. Even so, I’m qualified enough to know that it’s a shifting definition. So I’ve enlisted the help of Paste staff for this list, from editors to bosses to the lowliest of low writers (me). We’ve probably left something especially sexy off, and maybe this will merit future lists, but for now, we’ve winnowed it down to the 10 sexiest riffs. Enjoy them, but please do so responsibly.
10. “Monkey Man” – The Rolling Stones
Just remorseless. Keith Richards is a bad man.
9. “Cocaine” – Eric Clapton
I had a roommate for a semester in college who played this song on guitar and happened to be a total asshole who wouldn’t wash his dishes. So in order to overcome that bias, you know this riff has to be super sexy. And it is. But I still almost went with “Crossroads” by Clapton. (PS, this whole list could have been Clapton, or at least blues, if we weren’t careful. But careful is sexy, so we were.)
8. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
Totally sexy riff, and perfect for men between the ages of 50-60. Which, as I understand it, is Paste’s target audience.
7. “Wicked Game” – Chris Isaak
There’s no doubt that this song is sexy, but it’s kind of an off-kilter sexy, right? It doesn’t go all the way to “weird” or anything, but it’s intense and sort of…enigmatic, if I may? If you’re going to get busy to this song, it feels like you’d have to have candles and satin sheets and everything, and be brooding the entire time. But it takes all kinds. The way the “No, I” part of the vocals doubles the opening guitar is solid sexy-riffin’ technique, though, and no list is complete without “Wicked Game.”
6. “Stop” – Jane’s Addiction
This is the most youthful of all the sexy sounds on the list. The guitar riff makes you think of surfing and pool parties in California, which, as it turns out, is exactly what’s in the music video. It’s more of a frantic, pulsing sexuality, but like I said up top, the word knows many incarnations.
5. “Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
The song is actually super sad (and fantastic), but that sax solo? It shows us why “sax” and “sex” are just one letter apart. (Note: Linguistically, the similarity may be a mere coincidence. But probably not, right?)
4. “Black Dog” – Led Zeppelin
It’s important to distinguish between songs that simply have sexy lyrics (easy enough) and those which have a truly sexy riff (high art). “Black Dog” has both. Unlike some of the other riffs on this list, there’s nothing super subtle or suggestive here; it’s just an in-your-face, fully unironic come-on.
3. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – The Beatles
I’m calling this a “double sexy riff,” because the opening electric riff has that aggressive, dark thing going on, and then Lennon’s vocal riff has an insinuating quality that more than qualifies.
2. “Keep on Lying” – Tame Impala
The great thing about this sexy riff is that the Impalas wait to spring it on you until the 2:15 mark, when you’re barely expecting it. It’s my favorite of all the surprise sexy riffs. It’s like being on a date that’s going fine, and then, INSTANT CHEMISTRY OUT OF NOWHERE.
1. “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
This one was obvious, right? That bass lick is the quintessential sexy riff. It will probably never be topped, unless we’re invaded by a super-sexy race of aliens. And at that point we’d have bigger concerns.
Riff on, sexy readers, and be sure to check out Paste’s 50 Sexiest Songs of All Time while you’re here.