Friday, July 20, 2007

the "needles and pins" guitar riff

I'm still trying to discover the ultimate origins of what I call the "Needles and Pins Riff".

If you've ever heard the song "Needles and Pins", recorded by (among others) the Searchers and the Ramones, you'll recognize the guitar chords at the beginning. In TAB:

"Needles And Pins"
(S. Bono - J. Nitsche)

Intro (play 2x):

v v v v v v v v
first time only

The essential thing is the little melody on the B string: C# B C# B D C# B C# B C#. Just a bit of weedling around the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th notes of the major scale.

This riff, sometimes transposed to D (which makes it even easier to play), occurs in quite a few songs from the 60's.

If you aren't humming it in your mind already, check this out on Youtube:

Needles and Pins - The Searchers

Another place where you hear it is in all the pre-Hendrix versions of Hey Joe. There are basically two kinds of Hey Joe recordings, the fast ones that predate Hendrix and the slow ones that try to imitate Hendrix. We are interested here in the fast ones.

Hey Joe - The Leaves

Another example. "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" by the Byrds. (This song has by far the best vocal harmonies of any these three... it's absolutely spine tingling. I do not say this lightly: BETTER THAN THE BEATLES (for this type simple pop song). The Byrds actually deserve their place in rock history for this kind of stuff, not the launching pad for the careers of David Crosby and Graham Parsons that some people tend to reduce them to. (BTW, has there ever been a supergroup more less than the sum of its parts than CSN&Y (HDANCN?)))

I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better - The Byrds

Btw. Guns N' Roses fans will by this point have recognized this as "that little riff in the chorus of 'Patience'". No youtube for that. Find it yourself. Don't worry GNR will eventually get their own treatment on this blog, but it won't be for radio-friendy chick magnet songs like "Patience".

Now... who was ripping off who? "Needles and Pins" is, I think, the first of these songs to be written (in 1962 by Sonny Bono. THAT Sonny Bono)... but I have a sneaking suspicion that this thing was already a public domain riff by then. Somewhere back in the forgotten mists of the 50's folk boom, probably, it was born.

Who can help me find the wellspring from which emerged such a simple but addictive musical idea?


Does "Here comes the sun" count?
It's close.. but it post-dates the other examples here. But it does make me wonder if the fab four have even better examples of this kind of thing, buried in their album tracks and b-sides.