One of the earmarks of 70s rock was the guitar intro. Some have called it a trend, but in reality, they were perfected in the 70s. Lets face it, the first one in rock & roll was Chuck Berry's open to "Johnny B. Good," followed by Buddy Holly's noodling at the beginning of "That Will Be the Day" and we should mention Dave Appell's riff at the beginning of John Zacherely"s"Dinner With Drac."
The 60s brought the British Invasion, garage bands and psychedelic rock, all of which paved the way for heavy metal and prog rock of the 70s. I could do a whole post on 60s guitar intros too. Everything from "Day Tripper," "Satisfaction," "You Really Got Me," "I Can See For Miles," "Eight Miles High," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass"...like I said enough for another post.
The 80s & 90s had some great ones too, by Guns N Roses, R.E.M, Van Halen, Loverboy, Nirvana, just to name a few. That also could be another post.
In researching this subject, I realize that not every song began with a rocking guitar intro. Some of the biggest hard rock songs of the 70s began with a slow acoustic guitar build up before the hard rocking guitars began. The obvious example is Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." Also in this group would be Boston's "More Than a Feeling," Kiss's "Black Diamond," Heart's "Crazy On You" and Chilliwack's "Fly By Night."
Also some of the great guitar riffs are preceded by keyboard parts. I ruled those songs out, because I wanted to list those that kick off the song in a big way or at least start song of within a short time.
I'm going to rank these. I usually don't do that but with this list it would be impossible not to do so. I'm sure some will want to argue, I guess I will accept it.
1. "Layla" - Derek & the Dominoes: If I hadn't listed this as the number one guitar riff of the 70s, there would have been an outcry all over the Internet. This is one of the songs, if not the song, that set the standard for 70s guitar intros.
2. "All Right Now" - Free: Like "Layla," it is one of the Class of 1970. This one is simple, but punches you right between the eyes. Steve Miller wrote "Rock N Me" as a tribute to Free guitarist Paul Kossoff.
3. "China Grove" - Doobie Brothers: This one was the guitar intro for mainstream pop-rock. This 1973 hit was the great guitar intro for AM radio. Granted, the top two were big AM radio hits too, but this one cemented the idea that a big hit needed a big guitar into, no matter what style of music you did.
4. "Smoke On the Water" - Deep Purple: Anyone who doesn't try to play this the first time they pick up a guitar, has no business even holding a guitar. The great thing about it is that even if you are lousy and never held a guitar, people can tell that you are attempting to play this song. Like "China Grove" this was 1973.
5. "Whole Lotta Love" - Led Zeppelin: I had to put Led Zep in the Top 5. Another one from 1970.
6. "Life In the Fast Lane" - The Eagles: If you were cruising the main drag of your town on a Friday night, there wasn't a better song to have on the radio than this one. Hard to believe there are some people who don't like this song. In a good country, they would be executed for not liking that song.
7. "Sweet Jane" - Lou Reed: This is an anomaly. Many people consider it one of the greatest guitar intros of the 70s, but it wasn't until the fourth version of the song that it people probably noticed it. The Velvet Underground's 1970 version actually opens with a psychedelic flourish before Lou Reed starts singing. The original version, not released until 1974 on the Live 1969 LP, was a slow ballad, but still using that familiar riff. The version on the 1972 Live at Max's Kansas City LP actually has a longer intro with the riff. However, the version that more than likely made this one of the great 70s guitar intros was the version from the 1973 Lou Reed live LP Rock & Roll Animal. Guitarist Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner gave this a metal crunch that hits you like a sledge hammer to the head.
8. "Iron Man" - Black Sabbath: Speaking of metal crunch that hits you like a sledge hammer to the head. Ozzy Osbourne said it best, when you hear this you actually imagine "a big metal bloke walking about." Beavis & Butthead would probably agree.
9. "Jet Airliner" - Steve Miller Band: This is one of those that sounded better on AM radio than FM. I also think the single edit is better because it goes from the intro into the lyrics, whereas the LP cut goes into a rather redundant guitar bridge before the lyrics. Either way, it is a 70s classic.
10. "Takin Care of Business" - Bachman-Turner Overdrive: This one builds up on a scale into a upbeat, fun, heavy metal, boogie woogie jam.
11. "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" - The Hollies: This one can send chills up my spine when I hear it. Not sure why. The fact that the light and innocent Hollies gave us this may have something to do with it. It's as sexy as...well, a long cool woman in a black dress.
12. "Treat Her Like a Lady" - Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose: Usually, soul & funk doesn't get mentioned in the pantheon of great guitar songs of the 70s, but they had some great guitar riffs and intros too. This is one of them. Much like "Takin Care of Business" builds up the scale into a great driving riff. It's so cool, it was used to introduce Ron Burgundy in Anchorman.
13. "Don't Fear The Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult: Forget the cowbell, the guitar is what makes this song a classic. It is like a Byrds guitar riff on steroids. Not sure if it was on a 12 string guitar or it just sounded like one, but it certainly has a beauty to it that the others guitar intros don't.
14. "Aqualung" - Jethro Tull: What better way to introduce a song about a homeless, drunken, pedophile with a runny nose than with a sinister guitar riff like this. One of the brilliant moves, on the part of the band, to make this guitar intro so memorable was to not just play it twice, but to isolate it with pauses between each of the two times it is played before the third time when the drums and Ian Anderson's vocal starts. They do almost the same thing at the end of the song, to further get it stuck in your head.
15. "Funk 49#" - The James Gang: The previous years "Funk 48#" was good, but "Funk 49#" was better. It has went on to become a favorite. One of Joe Walsh's early masterpiece guitar riffs.
16. "Stay With Me" - The Faces: During the early 70s, Ron Wood created some great guitar intros for The Faces, but this is the one that has stood the test of time. A bluesy riff that the kicks into high gear, then slows into a rollicking bluesy stroll. No wonder the Rolling Stones ask him to join.
17. "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" - The Rolling Stones: Speaking of the Rolling Stones, you have to include them on a list of great guitar intros, however, they didn't seem to create elaborate, signature guitar intros in the 70s. They had already set the standard in the 60s with "Satisfaction," "Jumping Jack Flash," and the "The Last Time." They gave us one of the great guitar intros of the 80s with "Start Me Up." This one is not just a great guitar intro but a great guitar finish. Keith Richards starts it off with nasty blues riff in an odd key that turns into a jam when joined by Charlie Watts drums. It ends with a psychedelic smooth jazz jam with guitarist Mick Taylor and saxophonist Bobbie Keys.
18. "Do Yo Feel Like We Do" - Peter Frampton: This intro is perfect for a song about waking up confused. It has a slow, groggy, fuzztone scale, that is then matched note for note by a electric piano. I know it is considered blasphemous to some people, but I prefer the original version from the Framptom's Camel LP to the version on Framptom Comes Alive, because the sound is crisper, it is shorter and he doesn't do that annoying talk box thing in it.
19. "Beautiful Girls" - Van Halen: Eddie Van Halen packed a wild party filled with bikini clad girls into this guitar intro.
20. "Panic In Detroit" - David Bowie: There are several of great guitar intros from Mick Ronson on David Bowie's hits. This one is not only is it underrated, but it is so tight and and so forceful, it punctuates Bowie's William Burroughs inspired, dystopian lyrics.
21. "Reelin In the Years" - Steely Dan: They were more of a keyboard band, but this guitar intro is a classic.
22. "Woodstock" - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Stephen Stills guitar intro made this one the most successful version of this rock anthem.
23. "Do Ya" - The Move/Electric Light Orchestra: This is kind of a tie, but then again The Move morphed into ELO.
24. "Jane" - Jefferson Starship: This one was one of two great guitar intros to close out the 70s. Craig Chaquico starts off with a light, spacey sound before turning out a chainsaw like riff that builds up to a sudden stop in the middle of the song, followed by one of the great guitar solos of the 70s.
25. "Driver's Seat" - Sniff N The Tears: This is the other great guitar intro that closed out the 70s. It begins with a rather intense sounding acoustic guitar part that is then joined by a fuzz guitar riff. Together it works into a great underrated open for a British New Wave one-hit wonder.
Honorable Mentions: "20th Century Boy" -T. Rex, "Stone Cold Fever" - Humble Pie, "Thunderbuck Ram" - Mott The Hoople, "Calling Dr. Love" - Kiss, "Man on the Silver Mountain" - Rainbow, "That Smell" - Lynard Skynard, "The Seeker" - The Who, "That Lady" - The Isley Brothers and "Don't Look Back" - Boston.