Could Eddie Van Halen’s guitar riff to “Unchained” be the greatest of all time? Dweezil Zappa and Nuno Bettencourt make the argument that it may very well be.
“‘Unchained’ really is possibly the greatest guitar riff of all time,” said Zappa in a recently released clip of his podcast Runnin’ With The Dweezil, which you can hear above. “It can fire you up like nothing else. You just hear it, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is pure energy.”
Bettencourt added, “It’s pure them jumping on stage, Eddie fuckin’ doin’ that with the fuckin’ feet kicking. [David Lee] Roth jumping out fucking doing a full split and pyro going off. Every time you hear it – in your headphones, in the car – it gives you that feeling of like, ‘This is why I fucking love rock and roll. This is why I play guitar. This is why I do this,’ ya know?”
Bettencourt said the 1989 Extreme song “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today” was a “tip of the cap” to Eddie’s “Unchained” riff.
“I literally, purposely, did the flange, I did everything on [an Extreme] song called ‘Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today)’ – ‘Mutha’ we called it – off of ‘Extreme I’,” he said. “I remember the producer sayin’ to me, ‘Why you doin’ that? Because it sounds like Eddie,’ and I go, ‘I know. That’s why I’m doing it.’ I’m like, ‘I have no problem saying that he’s one of my guys if not my main guy.'”
Extreme – “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today)”:
Bettencourt added, “‘Unchained’, to me, influenced whatever was coming after me in the way – the [Warren] DeMartini’s of the world – the way songs were written,” added Bettencourt. “The way they wrote those songs, the way they composed those songs, with the chordal to the chug…this changed the game.”
Zappa added his thoughts on Eddie’s use of the D string on “Unchained”.
“The drop D tuning did influence a lot of guitarists in different ways but I think it was Ed’s use of the low D string as a chugging, rhythmic pivot point that opened up the door to a lot of people exploring different riff possibilities, different ways of writing,” said Zappa.
Van Halen – “Unchained”:
“Unchained” Isolated Guitar Track:
The 30-episode “Runnin’ With The Dweezil” podcast is available exclusively through dweezilzappa.com. Packages include listening parties, Q&A sessions, “Brown Sound” bonus episodes, custom Axe-FX, Helix, and Kemper presets, a 1-year subscription to Premier Guitar, and much more.