Most widely copied riffs in popular music

I seek out and listen to a lot of music in different styles. The other day I was introducing myself to Booker T and the M.G.'s and heard something familiar in “Comin’ Home Baby”, one of the songs from their 1962 debut album. This is a song written by Ben Tucker the previous year and covered by many other artists at the time, including Mel Tormé and Herbie Mann. Anyway, I recognized the main descending riff from two other, completely different songs in my collection: the 1967 “I’m A Man” by the Spencer Davis Group (also famously covered by Chicago), and Vik Sharma’s “Wacky Racers” from the soundtrack of the 2010 TV series An Idiot Abroad. Both Spencer Davis and Vik Sharma used the riff in completely different songs (and, from what I can tell, without crediting the source).

I was wondering what other original riffs from popular music have been widely reused, and thought the SDMB would be a good place to collect and discuss examples. Note that I’m not talking about covers of entire songs, nor about medleys, nor about sampling of existing recordings, but rather taking a riff or snippet of a melody from one song and rerecording it in a completely different song. Since I’m sure this isn’t an entirely uncommon occurrence I thought we might restrict the discussion to cases where a riff has been copied at least twice, as in the “Comin’ Home Baby” example above.

The winner - hands down - in the Bo Diddley riff. It’s a sort of shuffle beat with two strong down beats at the end. Most famous as the backbone of George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love” (a Bo Diddley song) and U2’s “Desire”.

There are hundreds of songs that use the basic riff. It’s primitive, driving and raw if done right.

That was the first one that came to mind. I was about to write about how it’s basically an Afro-Carribean beat known as the son clave shifted over from percussion to guitar, but it looks like that’s covered in the Wikipedia article linked to.

The Mannish Boy riff is another popular one. Here it is, wait for the harmonica to come in at about 20 seconds.

If you want to expand it beyond melodic/harmonic riffs into percussive riffs, you’ve got the break beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, which, outside of sampling (which is disallowed in the OP), has been copied and spun off in probably thousands of rock songs. At one point, it seemed like half the music coming out of Manchester in the 80s and early 90s was employing some variant of the “Funky Drummer” beat.

I’m sure there are also a ton of basic blues licks that have been used over and over in and out of the straight blues. The simplest possible one might be Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters). Meanwhile, look at the songs that “borrowed” or took inspiration from the riff in Bobby Parker’s Watch Your Step:

Here’s the original song. I’d say Parker’s riff falls halfway between Moby Dick and the Allman Brothers song Lennon refers to (their cover of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s One Way Out).

The John Lee Hooker “Boogie Chillun” riff seems to turn up quite often; off hand I can think of La Grange" and “Hot for Teacher”.

Elmore James’ signature riff would have to be up there, too.

The I, IV, V progression is the foundation on which blues is built and if that’s the case, then it’s the foundation for rock and pop as well.

If we’re looking at identical strum patterns the Louie Louie riff is the basis for Wild Thing (the Troggs), the Rolling Stones Get Off of My Cloud, Hang on Sloopy (the McCoys) and you can hear it in the background on the chorus of Boston’s More Than a Feeling.

So far almost all the examples cited have originated in jazz, blues, and R&B. Are there any further ones which started in rock and roll?

What about the Dick Dale style surf tremolo picking, particularly the slide, which finds itself worked into a lot of guitar solos?

Pachelbel’s Canon :smiley:

Every time this starts I’m expecting this.

Sure–and that’s a pretty clear nod to that song. Can you think of a third (as per the OP’s restrictions) though?

This video is a little long but it is a thorough description of the Amen Break, possibly one of the most used drum beats in music.

Well, there’s 8, 12, and 16 bar blues forms. And stop beat blues. Oh, and Buddy Holly used that Bo Diddly riff in “Not Fade Away”.


That’s the first riff that I thought of, too.

Fleetwood Mac copied it like four times on one album. That probably wasn’t a good idea.

You mean first generation FM - Jeremy Spencer? Yeah, but that was, like, the only thing he could do!

Yes, on “Mr. Wonderful.” It’s enough to make you think you’ve put one song on repeat by mistake.