Twenty years ago, The Strokes’ dramatic arrival brought about the re-emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and Albert Hammond Jr. was the band’s not so secret weapon. The New Yorkers brought the fraying edges of garage rock kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with their seminal debut album Is This It, with Hammond Jr.’s mouth-watering licks driving the world back into another era where guitar music reigned supreme.
His playing style is delicate, and while Hammond Jr. can play like the greats, he chooses to tend to the instrument in a more subtle, nuanced manner. When the world of guitar music was in dire straits, featuring pretty black and white chords that were pale in comparison to the nu-metal fuzz of DJ decks, The Strokes arrived with a kaleidoscopic soundscape that had more life in it than anything we’d been accustomed to in years.
Their full-length debut arrived on RCA, earning The Stokes both international commercial success and even more critical acclaim. They then followed up their faultless debut in 2003 in wondrous style with Room on Fire. Their conquering of the 2000s continued with the impressive, First Impressions of Earth in January 2006, which marked yet another success.
Outside of The Strokes, Hammond Jr. has embarked on an impressive solo career that allows him to express a different side to himself than the one we see with his day job. Below, we’ve picked out our favourite guitar riffs from Albert Hammond Jr..
Albert Hammond Jr.’s 10 best riffs:
10. ‘Born Slippy’
Taken from Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo record Momentary Masters from 2015, the LP opener ‘Born Slippy’ contains some of AHJ’s crystalline lead lines. Using his guitar more as a surgical instrument than any kind of weapon, he delivers short sharp bursts of noodling before the more robust chorus allows the caramel sound to unfurl.
The album is full of great guitar moments, something you may have expected considering the album was created by a guitarist. But there’s something purer and unadulterated about his performance on this track that stands out among the rest.
9. ‘Hard To Explain’
The Strokes’ debut album is about as close to faultless as you can get, and a large chunk of its defiant brilliance derives from the fingertips of Hammond Jr., who has his beautiful paws all over ‘Hard To Explain’.
There’s a fuzziness to his playing on the track, which just combines with Casablancas’ vocal like they destined to be a partnership. When the song explodes into disarray during the second half of the song, Hammond Jr. is in complete control while ‘Hard To Explain’ ascends into chaos around him as he keeps everything knitted together.
8. ‘Undercover of Darkness’
After five years without a record, Angles was highly anticipated by fans who couldn’t wait to hear another full-length effort from one of the finest bands on the planet. However, despite a disappointing LP, Hammond Jr. brought the goods on ‘Undercover of Darkness’, a rare highlight on the album.
The track relies on his delicately tantalising work and has everything you’d want from a gut-punching Strokes effort. It’s full of that energy that only these five New Yorkers could create, and Albert Hammond Jr.’s flavoursome riffs proved that magic ensued whenever he stepped foot in a studio.
7. ‘Last Nite’
‘Last Nite’ is a moment of pure unadulterated genius by The Strokes, and Hammond’s earliest defining moment. The iconic track changed the trajectory of the upstarts’ career, and ‘Last Nite’ was the first time that anybody heard a slice of what The Strokes had to offer but found themselves hooked ever since.
Although the killer riff in ‘Last Nite’ is the most important in Hammond Jr.’s career and single-handedly an unstoppable hype machine up around the band, it’s not quite his best. ‘Last Nite’ instantly made the world a better place, and if any song summed up the early noughties, it’s this one.
6. ‘Bad Decisions’
When The Strokes made their comeback in 2020, for the first time in their career, it felt like expectations were low for an album, and their 2016 EP Future Present Past didn’t help quell fears of a possible dud being on the cards from the band, but, The New Abnormal was a revelation.
However, things soon changed after the pounding comeback single, ‘Bad Decisions’, which sounded like a band truly reinvigorated and chomping at the bit to prove they still had plenty of life left in them. Hammond Jr. put on another clinic on the track on the truly delectable ‘Bad Decisions’, which set the tone for The New Abnormal.
5. ‘Far Away Truths’
In fifty years time, when the world looks back at The Strokes and their archetypal effortless cool, the bouncing bonce of Albert Hammond Jr. will be one of the first people that will be championed as an icon. Ahead of his day in regards to looking back, perhaps the guitarist’s defining moment comes on his 2018 solo album Francis Trouble.
When we say “defining moment” we mean the most honest distillation of his style. The guitar work on ‘Far Away Truths’ is the purest form of AHJ one can expect to hear on the fretboard.
Though there are some searing lead lines, it resides on a chugging rhythm that feels akin to a subway train.
Taken from 2003’s Room On Fire, ’12:51′ is Hammond Jr. caressing the guitar and showing that you don’t need to be the loudest in the room to make an impact.
The riff that he produces on this track is nothing short of sublime and shows that there’s more than one way to skin a cat with his delicate guitar playing.
’12:51′ is a break away from the garage rock that they perfected on their debut album and saw The Strokes move into new sonic territory. The riff sounds so unique and original even almost twenty years later, which says a lot about Hammond Jr.’s sheer talent.
In stark contrast to ’12:51′, ‘Juicebox’ sees The Strokes go as loud as they ever have done, and this adjustment allows Hammond Jr. to thrive. It has angst to it that nobody knew was burning inside of The Strokes before they shared it, and by breaking off the shackles, Hammond Jr. shines.
The track is from First Impressions Of Earth, which is undoubtedly the darkest and most dour record that The Strokes have made, but that switch to the dark side worked devilishly well on their 2006 effort.
Instead of attempting to replicate the success of their first two records, the New Yorkers switched up and showcased an entirely new side to themselves.
2. ‘You Only Live Once’
‘You Only Live Once’ is another cut from First Impressions Of Earth and a slice of delectable wizardry that showcases the sound of a band loving every minute of being unleashed. Hammond Jr. is the saving grace on this album and allows The Strokes to flourish as they leave their roots behind.
Casablancas later commented on the track’s grittier sound in contrast with their earlier work: “There’s delay on it. I never liked it, but now it’s sort of everywhere on the record. Not crazy ’80s reverb, just enough to give a lot of the instruments space so it sounds fuller, bigger and louder. What I used to call ‘more professional.’
“That ‘more professional’ sound is what we tried when we worked with Nigel Godrich on the first sessions for Room On Fire, but it wasn’t right, y’know. Which is why we went back to Gordon Raphael. Here we did it but we still felt it still sounded gritty and like us.”
Picking a number one was easy. Nothing else comes close to topping the riff that Hammond Jr. masterfully pulled out the bag on ‘Reptilia’. How can anything else possibly compete with the expert display that the guitarist shows on the classic Room On Fire track?
The song rests on his majestic playing throughout it, which creates an unstoppable exhilarating journey. ‘Reptilia’ is an undisputed moment of genius from The Strokes that attacks the listener from all angles, and there’s an intoxicating charm to the claustrophobic nature of the track.
It was louder and more action-packed than anything that featured on their debut album, with Hammond Jr. free to express himself more than ever before, with the result being worth the gamble.