Top 10 Weirdest Riffs of All Time

Rockers just get off their rockers sometimes.

Ultimate Guitar

For this week's Wednesday Question, we asked you guys to name the single weirdest guitar riff in the history of rock and metal. Summing up your votes was quite an experience, check out the final list below.

10. Tool - Schism

Did you know that "Schism" changes time signature 47 times? It kicks off with two 5/4 bars, goes on with one 4/4 bar, followed by bars alternating 5/8 and 7/8, until the first interlude, which further consists of alternating 6/8 and 7/8 bars.

Then there's the verse, the middle section and the outro, featuring more 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 6/8, 9/8, 10/8, 2/8, 4/4 and 5/4 bars.

Making matters even weirder, the band is referring to the "Schism" time signature as 6.5/8. Many composers would use 13/16 instead, but 6.5/8 is still a valid fractional time signature nevertheless. Granted, this is the explanation of the full song, but it's still weirdness galore here.

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9. Rage Against the Machine - Ashes in the Fall

This one might remind you of an old dial-up modem, but it's a riff and of course, it's played on a guitar. Just goes to show that Tom Morello always has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

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8. Mr. Bungle - My Ass Is on Fire

One of those blatantly weird, yet awesome tunes - Mr. Bungle and "My Ass Is on Fire." A bit of King Crimson, a bit of Zappa and a teaspoon of magic weirdness. And shouting, never forget shouting.

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7. The Fall of Troy - Dirty Pillow Talk

Up next are the Fall of Troy and their 2009 track "Dirty Pillow Talk." Squeaky sound, weird vibe, 'tis all there.

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6. Alice in Chains - Sickman

This one came about when late singer Layne Staley asked guitarist Jerry Cantrell to "write him the sickest tune, the sickest, darkest, most f--ked-up and heaviest thing he could write." The resulting track is right below.

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5. Buckethead - Jordan

It's hard to believe that "Jordan" riff was recorded on a guitar, but that's the mastery of Mr. Buckethead right there. You guys also made sure to point out the "chicken-picking riff" at 3:02.

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4. Mastodon - Divinations

Mastodon's "Divinations" kicks off with that nice banjo-sounding riff right before jumping into the Black Sabbath-like monster riff right afterwards. A fine tune, and quite a peculiar one as well.

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3. Primus - Jerry Was a Race Car Driver

Primus sucks. And that's a bass riff.

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2. Nirvana - Hairspray Queen

Driven by Krist Novoselic's weird bass line, Nirvana's "Hairspray Queen" is further fueled by Kurt Cobain's weird guitar riff, serving as a perfect introduction to some weird vocals. It's a weirdness frenzy here!

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1. Queens of the Stone Age - I'm Designer

Taking the weirdness crown, Queens of the Stone Age claim the throne with "I'm Designer." Josh Homme and co. have the power of turning what seems as doodling guitar wankery into a genuine catchy tune and they demonstrate it perfectly here.

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145 comments sorted by best / new / date

    There should be a "Weirdest Bands" list next to go with this
    Thats a good idea actually. I think out of these ten on here, the chickin pickin riff from jordan was probably the weirdest. Also I think Schism has closer to 100 time changes.
    Do the alternating 5/8 + 7/8 and then 6/8 + 7/8 really count as changes? I would have considered the 5/8 + 7/8 to be a 12/8 riff, and then the change to the 13/8 riff instead, so that's a single change not 1 per bar? I don't think having 18 (or however many that makes it) time signature changes makes it any less awesome of a song though!
    To be fair the 100 or so time changes makes it appear much more complex than it actually is. This is one example where the theory behind is may be harder than the actual song. (let the downvoting begin)
    technically, they do count as time changes. thats why the band uses 6.5/8 time because it reduces the number of time changes
    don't worry, Queens of the Stone Age will still win. They always do for some reason.
    Seems to me that the general guitar sound from all of Era Vulgaris is what was voted in, and "I'm Designer" is the representative because it is arguably oddest song on it... but the riff is just too simple to be the 'weirdest,' if you ask me.
    If there is, I'm casting my vote for Primus and Babymetal.
    Mr. Bungle, System of a Down, Strapping Young Lad/ Devin Townsend, Buckethead, anything Frank Zappa was in, Gentle Giant, and Gong should all get consideration as well. Primus should definitely win though. The only band that reaches their level of "weirdness" is Mr. Bungle. Being weirder than Frank Zappa or Devin Townsend is an accomplishment!
    Just from seeing Devin Townsend Project live with Ziltoids 20 minute long video intro prior to Devin blasting out on stage more than gains my vote for weirdest band, braw gig, even if I was incredibly drunk and dragged away from it early
    Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Buckethead and Les Claypool, I needn't say more.
    Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Buckethead and Les Claypool, I needn't say more.
    I don't find I'm Designer #1 worthy.
    Rule #1: anything QotSA put out deserves to be #1, any day of the week.
    I think Turning on the Screw is a much weirder riff if you're talking Era Vulgaris. Otherwise, I Think I Lost My Headache takes the cake for me. It sounds like a headache... 'nuff to drive a Jazz guy insane
    I think that QOTSA deserves No.1 in general. Just think about Fun machine took shit and died, Keep your eyes peeled, Battery acid etc. They know how to do weird riffs
    Kinda related, I would be more accepting if Fun Machine was #1 rather than I'm Designer. The former I do consider a bit of a strange riff.
    It seems Incesticide had a lot of weird riffs, like Beeswax, Mexican Seafood, and Aero Zeppelin. But Hairspray Queen takes the cake from the album, definitely.
    Pretty good list.. My own two cents is that Korns' A.D.I.D.A.S deserved a spot. That riff is just some ill noise, but obviously it didn't get enough votes.
    It's a shame Korn was never mentioned. Munky & Head always have strange little guitar riffs. Perhaps next time.
    Kind of confused by the primus description, is that a joke I don't get?
    primus sucks is their slogan, saying it is actually showing praise
    Sammy Mantis
    Primus sucks was their slogan in the early days, but I think they've tired of it. They even changed the name of their website from primussucks to primusville some years back.
    Anything by Psyopus EASILY tops this. The bad thing about this lists is that very often good suggestions are buried underneath the early comments.
    Jerry Was a Race Car driver. Damn that takes me back to the PS1 days with Tony Hawk Pro Skater
    Shit pissed me off that they didn't have the whole song. They just play the instrumental section two times and call it done.
    "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers" would have been a good add...
    Of all the Buckethead songs to choose from, it had to be Jordan? Come on, that song isn't even in the same realm as Buckethead's weird music.
    Always good to see some Fall of Troy, especially now that they're back together! I also agree there should have been some Mars Volta, cool list as always
    The article actually specifically said "guitar riffs". I would have nominated Pyramid Song myself otherwise.
    Good suggestion because it's in 8/8 (3+3+2) from what I've read but it's not just a riff, all of the parts are in that time. Myxomatosis would be a better candidate, even though it's just oddly syncopated over 4/4.
    Pablo Mortis
    By your description, Pyramid Song is also just syncopated over 4/4? Or am I missing the point entirely?
    I wrote a lengthy comment once in another kind of forum explaining how Pyramid song works - I'm currently too tired to rewrite/edit the entire thing into this specific context, so copy/paste we go! "The drums play technically in 4/4 - 1 bar in 7/4 and 1 bar in 9/4, which together line up, and techinically give 4 bars in 4/4. If you counted it in 21/16 as some people occasionally do, then you have to begin at the first beat in the progression - but that is not how it works, the progression actually begins "technically" on the 3. time Thom hits a chord, so it gives an illusion that there has been the first beat in a normal 3:2 polyrythm - but the polyrythm is not constant, since every 6. beat in the 5 dotted half-notes progression is delayed with a 16th note. It lines up again "on the one" when the 3rd beat in Thoms progression hits simultaneously with the 1st on the drums - I'll admit, I haven't counted how many bars it takes to line up again, but I hope you get the idea... So yeah, it actually goes in 4/4 since it is the drums that lay the pulse. The drums were 1 bar in 7/4 and 1 bar in 9/4, that being 16/4 aka 4 bars of 4/4. When this then has to line up again with the piano, then I could imagine that it would end being after 20 4/4, or just 5 bars of 4/4. But since the drums have that strange figure, then in this case (Still don't know if the progression and drums line up again on 1 right there, it is just something my "polyrythm-experience" gut feeling tells me) it would line up after 1 bar in 7/4, 1 bar in 9/4 and then RIGHT on the 5th beat in the next bar of 7/4, since this would had then been the 1st beat if we counted it in 5 bars 4/4. So it's pretty complex. Also, got to remember it is in triplets (is that what you call it? I'm not sure what "trioler" from danish becomes in english), that meaning it's in a swing rythm. The reason it sounds so normal in the beginning without the drums is exactly because there aren't any drums to lay the pulse which is 1 and a half times faster than you would think. You are basically tricked into believing the piano lays the pulse. I would recommend that you play it IRL, since you probably would get the idea better..."
    When I think of weird riffs the first think that pops into my mind is Obscura by Gorguts. Genuinely surprised it's not on here.
    Divinations changed the way I look at metal music. Sludgy stoner rock fused with metal and some obvious weirdness.
    I thought Ron Jarzombek should be on here (really anything he's done it's all unique and has his signature feel to it)
    I know this list was written two years ago, but I wanted to let you know I bookmarked it and have referred back to it several times in those two years. I love this list and wanted to thank you for it, long after thanks might be expected. TJ / Phoenix
    you mean to tell me that not a single Dream Theater, BTBAM, or Haken song made it on here?
    Sleaze Disease
    I don't have any problem with weird stuff like Zappa or Beefheart, but I'll never understand how anybody can listen to Mr. Bungle; that shit is awful.
    This song from Buckethead's Inbred Mountain is a WHOLE collection of weird riffs
    Pretty sure "Buffalo" by Stump could have easily made this list. Everything about that song is weird.