Whether it’s an amazing solo, an unforgettable riff or simply a power chord that hangs suspended in mid-air, a great guitar intro can set the tone for everything that comes in its wake. Rock history is loaded with terrific examples, but below we’ve compiled ten intros that set an especially high standard.

“Sunshine of Your Love” – Cream

The distinctive intro—and defining riff—for this heavy rock classis was developed by Jack Bruce on a double bass, soon after he and Eric Clapton saw a Jimi Hendrix performance. Reports vary as to which guitar Clapton used to play the riff, but it was either his famous ’64 psychedelic Gibson SG, a Les Paul “Black Beauty” or a Les Paul Special. Ironically, Hendrix later made the song a staple of his live shows.

“Heartbreaker” – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

Some Zeppelin fans might cite the intro to “Whole Lotta Love” as their fave, but “Heartbreaker” is noteworthy for being the first instance in which Jimmy Page used his classic Les Paul/Marshall setup. Producer Rick Rubin once told Rolling Stone, “[It’s] one of the greatest riffs in rock. It starts, and it's like they don't really know where the ‘one’ is. The song is magical in its awkwardness.”

“I Feel Fine” – The Beatles

The Beatles crafted better intros than this one (“Day Tripper,” “Ticket to Ride”), but “I Feel Fine” earns the top spot for being the first instance of studio-recorded guitar feedback. Interestingly, the feedback was an accident that resulted from John Lennon leaning his Gibson J-160E semi-acoustic against an amp. Lennon played his guitar part on the J-160E as well.

“School’s Out” – Alice Cooper

Late great Cooper guitarist Glen Buxton came up with this scorching intro, rightly regarded as one of the most ferocious opening riffs in rock and roll. Played on his famous white SG, the riff had been kicking around in the band’s repertoire for some time. “’Eighteen’ was like that, too,” bassist Dennis Dunaway told Gibson.com. “It was a jam song for quite a while before it got condensed into its ‘single’ format.”

“Reelin’ in the Years” – Steely Dan

Session guitarist Elliott Randall came up with this magnificent intro, which Jimmy Page once cited as his all-time favorite. “Most of the song was already complete, so I had the good fortune of having a very clear picture of what the solo was laying on top of,” Randall later told Guitar World. “We did it in one take and nothing was written. The whole solo just came to me….”

“Layla” – Derek & the Dominos

London’s The Guardian proclaimed this magnificent intro rock’s greatest-ever opening riff. “There had to be some sort of telepathy going on [between Eric Clapton and Duane Allman],” producer Tom Dowd told Guitar World. “I've never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. It was like two hands in a glove.”

“Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne

The galloping intro for this classic—the first post-Black Sabbath single from Ozzy Osbourne--helped cement Randy Rhoads’ status as one of metal’s most gifted riff-makers. As was the case with most of his work with Ozzy, Rhoads doubled and sometimes tripled his parts, layering note-for-note overdubs that contributed to his distinctive sound.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses

Slash came up with this iconic intro while messing around on his Les Paul, essentially playing the riff as a "string skipping" exercise. He at first brushed off the riff as silly and inconsequential, but his bandmates heard something special in its circus-like melody. A full year after Appetite for Destruction was released, the single became Guns N’ Roses' first major hit.

“Johnny B. Goode” – Check Berry

Chuck Berry lifted the idea for this classic intro from a 1946 Louis Jordan recording titled “Ain’t that Just like a Woman.” In Berry’s hands, however, the riff—played on the guitar legend’s indispensable ES-335 (or a close Gibson variant)--set an enduring standard for every aspiring rock guitarist who came in Berry’s wake.

“Start Me Up” – Rolling Stones

The Stone’s catalog is rife with great intros, and none is more memorable than this one. Amazingly, “Start Me Up” languished a few years before it became the lead track on the band’s 1981 album, Tattoo You. “It was one of those things we cut a lot of times,” Keith Richards told Guitar Player, in 1983. “It was a reggae track to begin with, totally different.”

Alice Cooper