How An Album Opening Track Is Like Match.com
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, they say. Maybe that’s why first dates are so terrifying sometimes. But if that saying is true of people, it’s also true of albums. That’s why the opening track is of such importance. It’s a make or break moment. If the first song stinks you don’t necessarily want to continue. Time is valuable, and who has time for bad music? Musicians have to put their best foot forward. This leads us to the question: what are some of the most incredible opening tracks ever? The ones that changed the game – that sucked us in and didn’t let us go? I came up with a list of 7 opening tracks that really do it. And interestingly they all come from great albums. What’s the good of an incredibly strong opener if you peter out by track 2, after all? So here’s the list; let’s see if you agree.
1. Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone
This one was a layup. You’ll notice I don’t have any Beatles tracks on here. I don’t think there’s any particular Beatles opening track that really stands out among the crowd. But Bob Dylan is different. “Like a Rolling Stone” is a revolutionary piece; a musical bombshell. It truly changed the game. It’s one of the most influential rock songs ever recorded. And also one of the most enjoyable. Who doesn’t love that infamous Bob Dylan sneer? An outstanding way for Dylan to have opened Highway 61 Revisited.
2. The Who – Baba O’Riley
Baba O’Riley is an epic track. From the synthesizer opening, to that legendary fiddling conclusion, Baba O’Riley is a Who classic. It’s a bit of a tough act to follow, though, but The Who handled it swimmingly on Who’s Next. Fun fact: the name “Riley” comes from a classical musical influence on guitarist Pete Townshend, Terry Riley. Riley was a seminal figure in musical minimalism. The repetitive structures contained in musical minimalist pieces sound kind of like the synthesizer beginning of “Baba O’Riley”. See how it’s all connected?
3. The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
In the world of blogging, one of the most important aspects is having a great headline. And a great headline is one that calls attention to itself. That makes people stop and take notice. The same is true of an opening track. And what could make a person stop in their tracks more than The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”. This is a dirty, dirty song folks. But that’s part of its gritty, grimy appeal. In fact, it’s so raunchy that Mick Jagger has admitted that he couldn’t have written it today – I guess he’d be too embarrassed. A wonderfully rock and roll opening to a phenomenal album (one of my very favorites) in Sticky Fingers.
4. Pink Floyd – Speak to Me / Breathe
Speaking of my favorite albums, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon needs to be mentioned. “Speak To Me / Breathe” is a little bit unconventional. The first part is a tape loop of interesting sound effects heard throughout the rest of the album. And the second part is quite short and returns as a reprise later. But the quirkiness doesn’t undermine it’s effectiveness; it increases it. This opening track is the perfect introduction to an album full of existential themes: anxiety, madness, stress, pain, and the fear of dying.
5. Led Zeppelin – Black Dog
Led Zeppelin is a pretty big deal around here. Especially because Joe Bonamassa has just finished playing a tribute tour that celebrated, in part, the music of the legendary Jimmy Page. Honestly, this was the entry on the list that gave me the most trouble, because Led Zeppelin has a number of damn fine opening songs. But IV is a special album and “Black Dog” is a special song. Aggressive, muscular, dripping with sex, it’s a heavy beast. And one that couldn’t have been done by anyone else besides Plant and Page, Paul Jones and Bonzo.
6. AC / DC – Hells Bells
AC/DC is probably a little less serious thematically than most of the other bands on this list. Of course, we take our partying, rock and roll, and sex pretty seriously too. But Back in Black is undeniably a classic album and probably AC/DC’s best. Part of that is the strength of its opening tune, “Hells Bells”. For me personally, it’s impossible not to think of baseball closer Trevor Hoffman when I hear this song – he always ran out to the pitcher’s mound with this song playing. Always an incredible moment!
7. Joe Bonamassa – This Train
The opening track on Joe Bonamassa’s latest studio LP, Blues of Desperation, is simply put phenomenal. A big beefy bulldozer of a blues-rocker, it’s a clear cut sign from Joe that this is going to be one of his tightest, most edgy and richest records ever. Musically, it sounds like a runaway train barreling down the tracks. Much of this is due to Joe’s heroic guitar playing as well as the twin-drum attack from Anton Fig and Greg Morrow. What a stellar way for Joe to lead off an album, and definitely worthy of being included on this list.
If you love this opening track as much as I do, you may very well want to check out Blues of Desperation if you haven’t yet. It’s one of Joe’s best albums and that’s definitely saying something.
– Brian M. Reiser,
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