Copycats: Most Ripped Off Riff in Metal

If you haven't used this one in you music, you're not a metalhead apparently.

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As some of you metal fans might have noticed before, there's a certain riff stretching throughout the guitar-heavy domain that basically got ripped off by every single heavy metal band in the world.

It's pumpin', it's chuggin' and it's all over the place. Whether it's Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon or dozens of other bands, both iconic and obscure, the riff has easily earned itself the title of the most used piece of metal music. We'll try to dig as deep as possible and find the riff's potential originator. We won't be doing much chit-chat, since the music speaks for itself perfectly fine on this one. Anyhow, check out what we got below.

Iron Maiden - "2 Minutes to Midnight" (1984)

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Anthrax - "Metal Thrashing Mad" (1984)

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Mercyful Fate - "Curse of the Pharaohs" (1983)

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Saxon - "Power and the Glory" (1983)

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Gary Moore - "Rockin' Every Night" (1982)

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Accept - "Flash Rockin' Man" (1982)

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Tygers of Pan Tang - "Hellbound" (1981)

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Riot - "Swords & Tequila" (1981)

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Budgie - "Wildfire" (1980)

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Judas Priest - "Hell Bent for Leather" (1978)

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Rory Gallagher - "Moonchild" (1976)

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So could it be that one of staple metal marks is tracing back to none-other than Rory Gallagher, one of the guitar gods we shouldn't let fall into oblivion? Could be, but if you can come up with an earlier example of the riff's use or another notable example (and there's quite a few more), give us a shout-out in the comments.

63 comments sorted by best / new / date

    guitar/bass95
    This reminds me of "four chords", but for metal. And it' a badass riff, no wonder people want to use it.
    thomaseast1
    Oh really? And who influenced Gallagher?
    MrZEDO
    Dang. Does this mean the Moody Blues are the fathers of metal? ^.^ Seriously though, good job finding/knowing about this.
    K33nbl4d3
    Don't get me wrong, anything that puts Moonchild in an article is great and all, but all these riffs "ripoffs" of each other? I'm not really convinced. It wouldn't surprise me if the Priest signature riff was influenced by Gallagher, since I know Glenn was a fan (for the record, Priest have a couple of riffs based on E drones on the Sad Wings of Destiny album from 1976 so it could just as easily have been a completely separate invention), but I don't think many, if any, of these can rightly be called ripoffs.
    MaggaraMarine
    I don't think they were consciously ripped off. That's like the first "badass" riff to come to your mind. It just works. Even if you had never heard of it, you could come up with it because it's so simple.
    crazysam23_Atax
    The "ripoffs" all use the same basic interval structure as the Iron Maiden riff.
    K33nbl4d3
    To varying degrees. Gallagher's original is 3rds ascending the scale from A (which most of them focus on since it's the octave of the drone), Priest's alternates between 4ths and single notes on A and G, the Budgie one I don't know but that one does sound pretty similar, the Riot one I again don't know but it sounds like 4ths on E, G and D, the Tygers of Pan Tang one is indeed very similar, differing only by a couple of notes as far as I can tell, the Accept one is alternating 4ths on G and A with one of F# every two bars, Gary Moore's one sounds like 4ths going A, G, F#, G with some fills thrown in, though I can't be sure. There's not much point going through all of them, but I'm sure it's pretty obvious by now that they don't "all" use the same basic interval structure except inasmuch as they all focus at least somewhat on the octave. What unites these riffs is that they use double stops and a drone and are in the key of A. Some of them are rhythmically similar and one or two of them are very close to each other to the point that they could be ripoffs, but to say that they're all ripoffs of the same riff simply isn't true. For the record, since you mention Maiden, their riff does pretty closely resemble Accept's by my reckoning. But I digress, as much as I love Rory's music I don't think these can all be said to stem directly from him. I suppose an "inspired by X, who was inspired by Y, who was inspired by Rory" situation is possible but I remain unconvinced.
    crazysam23_Atax
    And, as you admit, they're all very similar. How does that not make them "copycapts"?
    K33nbl4d3
    The word "ripoff", used repeatedly in the article, implies that each artist wilfully nicked a given riff from another one. I don't think, say, Accept heard the Priest riff or the Rory Gallagher riff and said "Ach! Wir sollen dieses Riff stehlen!" or whatever. One or two of the bands may have done, I guess, but the article implies that all of these are nicked through some kind of chain/set of chains emanating from Rory Gallagher's riff. What I conceded was that a couple of them very closely resemble other ones, but that's relatively few of them. There were maybe two or three pairs close enough to each other for one to be a direct ripoff. Realistically, if you want to use an open-string drone in a heavy riff you've got two strings to choose from without having your chords/double stops on the plain strings, three if you put your chords on the same string as the drone. If you're doing a drone you're probably going to focus at least somewhat on the octave because why wouldn't you, and from there there's only so much you can do without getting too experimental. If you're desperate to prove that Iron Maiden ripped off that riff then sure, Accept and Priest focus a fair bit on 4ths on A and G, Accept more so, so there're your main candidates; using an open-string drone and sharing one of the three keys that could reasonably be used with an open-string drone doesn't constitute ripping off a riff if you ask me.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Actually, it's fairly likely that Accept would have heard the Gallagher riff. That riff was published in "Moonchild" in '76. Now, I doubt they stole it consciously. But, it's very easy to accidentally "copy" a riff.
    Izzy-Sweet
    Crazy Train uses this too, as does Bark at the Moon. In fact, A7X credited the verse riff in Beast and the Harlot to Crazy Train. All in all, I see nothing wrong with it, as guitar/bass95 said, it's no different to the "4 chords" sequences used by hard rock bands like Kiss and AC/DC and... well, everyone who's ever played guitar. Surely the defining point of music genres in the first place is that they have things in common with each other, whether they be structures or certain sounds. On top of that, I really like the riff, it's energetic no matter who uses it and that's all that matters to me.
    E=MCawesome
    I wouldn't be surprised if UG users saw A7X in the comment and just downvoted to keep up the seeming general unwarranted hatred for that band. Ah well, I agree with what you're saying. Any music that is written is influenced by every piece of music the writer has heard so there is bound to be some similarities. Maybe they're not ripoffs just variations.
    Izzy-Sweet
    A bit of actual constructive feedback would be nice when I write what I'd consider a reasonable comment, guys.
    Nitnatsnok
    First of all AC/DC is clearly a 3 chord band. Second of all the Crazy Train riff is I V IV I and its major. All of these riffs revolve around I and III and are minor. How are they at all similar? The only similarity is that they all chug the A string.
    Izzy-Sweet
    Firstly, thanks for actually wanting to discuss, I appreciate that. I wish it would happen more often rather than being downvoted and left wondering what I'd said wrong. The ACDC thing? Fair enough, but I'd say the main point's been made. As for the riffs, I'm absolutely terrible with keys and technical musical terms; I was definitely just thinking of the chugging/chords rhythm part, which to be fair, is very prevalent in a lot of heavy metal regardless of key.
    MaggaraMarine
    Actually AC/DC usually uses more than 3 chords in their songs. But I know what you mean. AC/DC does use the "infamous" 4 chord progression in at least one of their songs that is in the end of "For Those About to Rock" (Bm-G-D-A). I can see what Izzy was talking about. Crazy Train does kind of sound similar. The rhythm is pretty similar (the rhythm pattern uses groups of three 8th notes a lot - the rhythm pattern is 2+3+3+3+3+2). If you forget about the notes, you can hear the similarities. Music is not all about notes and chords (and that's what a lot of people seem to forget). But I would hardly call it a rip off from any of these riffs. It's a different riff.
    eatfresh1736
    I don't think people are saying it's wrong, just that it's interesting to note the similarities. It's a little more specific of a riff than just "four chords". And Crazy Train really isn't similar at all (I understand you're referring to the verse).
    eternalrecluse
    .... You do realise these are all different riffs?
    eatfresh1736
    I think you missed the point of the article.
    Kris-G
    The article has no point. They are different. Go list a shitload of Rock'n'Roll or blues tracks and say they all ripped each other off 'cos they use a the Root,4,5 progression with a dum-de-dum-de-dum rhythm.
    DarthTyrannus83
    Its the most natural-feeling thing you can play on distortion guitar as soon as you learn palm muting that easily fall on a 4/4 beat. Basically a chord shuffle after 2 8th note pedal notes in repeat. Granted, no band with actually good and complex riffing utilizes that riff.
    MaggaraMarine
    So you are saying none of these bands have any good riffs? I completely disagree. Iron Maiden doesn't have good riffs? Anthrax doesn't have good riffs? Judas Priest doesn't have good riffs? IMO a good riff is not too complex. A good riff is something that kicks ass and sounds awesome. If it gets too complex, it doesn't sound ass kicking any more. A good riff is also memorable. Well, that's just my opinion.
    Zaqq
    It's hardly a rip off, that's just a simple musical figure which sounds cool, no wonder everyone uses it, even a guy who started playing guitar 3 months ago.
    haifisch234
    Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is a rip off as far as I remember. A big one indeed... don't remember which song has been ripped off though.
    qrEE
    My band has a riff like this almost as a tribute to riffs like this. That's how Metal's supposed to be done!
    jimmycourage
    I think a big part of the art of music is taking something old and making it sound completely different. I'm not a metal guy but I don't consider any of these songs rip-offs, More like different ways to bring the same energy out with music. My favorite band in a while is The Gaslight Anthem, and their bread, butter, water and oxygen is the ol' 4 chords progression, but they can keep making it sound like something different, and there is artistic skill and talent in that.
    kettle6
    Riff from 0:25 onwards, I cannot place it but I just know that I've heard something similar, maybe some pseudo-medieval music. Please, help with this, it's getting frustrating! Thanks in advance!