So I was listening to “Cradle Rock” this morning, which is something I often do, and it inspired me to think about the fact that it was Joe’s choice to be the leadoff track on his debut album. That’s a special spot. It’s a power-spot. You need one of your most enticing songs there to lure in your audience. You can’t just throw an “Octopus’s Garden” in there. You need a damn “Penny Lane.” So I wanted to post about how some of my favorite artists have chosen to go in picking this particular power slot in their careers. Some of these tracks are better than others, but all of them make an impact.
Rolling Stones – (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66
If you want to encapsulate how rock music came down from the heavens and absolutely crushed the traditional tin pan ally sound that preceded it, you should listen to the Nat King Cole and Rolling Stones versions of this tune back to back. The Nat King Cole performance of the song, recorded in 1946, is everything you’ve come to expect from the crooner: it’s super smooth, polished, subdued, and stays within the lines. On the other hand, The Stones’ version is loud,unruly, raw, and refuses to go where you tell it to.This is, in part, accomplished by a shift of emphasis from piano and upright bass to electric guitar and drums, instruments more associated with rebellion, youth, and sex.Written by Bobby Troup in 1946, the tune was transformed into a rocker in the deft hands of rock pioneer Chuck Berry. This would hardly be the only time the early Stones would cross musical paths with Chuck Berry: Their debut single, “Come On” was penned and released by the rock music master in 1961. “Route 66” is certainly a good track, although I think it was a little bit of a “safe” choice for Stones to use it as their leadoff album track. A more dangerous, exciting choice would probably have been the riotous, free-swinging cover of Muddy Waters’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” Still, “Route 66” served as a powerful reminder that the era of the tin pan alley crooner was most definitely at a conclusion.
Fleetwood Mac – My Heart Beat Like a Hammer.
Those who are most familiar with the poppier Fleetwood Mac of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham that rose to incredible commercial success in the mid-1970s and beyond may be a bit shocked to hear the thoroughly blues-rock music of the Peter Green years. But with the first notes of the band’s debut LP, Fleetwood Mac, blues rock is exactly what you get. The band in its formative years, in the wake of Peter Green leaving John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, consisted of Green and Jeremy Spencer, both on guitar and vocals, John McVie on bass guitar (except for one track, which instead featured Bob Brunning) and Mick Fleetwood on drums. The latter would be the only member of the band to remain through the Buckingham-Nicks years. The Spencer-penned leadoff track of the album, “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” is a straight ahead blues tune about love gone bad. Spencer howls Oh, yes, I shoulda loved you more / I know I didn’t treat her right / I know that a woman needs / Rollin’ every day and night, providing just the right mix of lamentation and sexual charge. Green’s amped up slide guitar is reminiscent of the acoustic work of Robert Johnson, and the song’s steady, driving beat takes hold and never lets up. The track and the band both sound so likeable that you can’t help but hope that his baby is going to come back, and soon.
Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
From the opening vibrato and distortion blast, you can already tell that this guitarist is a wonder of the world. Big fans of Hendrix will know that their are two quite different versions of the Hendrix Experience’s first record. Are You Experienced, the British and the American releases. You can’t argue with either album’s lead track: while “Foxey Lady” launches the British edition, the American features the harsh, psychedelic dreamscape “Purple Haze”, which absolutely must be a candidate for a “top 100 best rock songs of all time” list. But the smoldering, passionate “Foxey” is hardly inferior in its composition or performance. Some have claimed that the foxey lady in question is none other than London socialite Heather Taylor who married The Who’s Roger Daltrey. Whether or not this claim is true hardly matters, as the titular character takes on an almost mytho-poetic life of her own. Hendrix seductively serenades her, I wanna take you home yeah / I won’t do you no harm / You’ve got to be all mine, all mine / oooh, foxey lady. Without a doubt, this is one of the straight-up sexiest tracks in the blues-rock canon. After all, if Hendrix’s mind-blowing guitar-playing doesn’t get you going, what in the rock catalog will?
The Doors – Break on Through
This song has been a part of my life for so long that it’s hard me to even believe that it actually debuted anywhere, but debut it did, right at the start of The Doors’eponymous first album. This song is just so thoroughly 1960’s hippie rock sex drug music culture to me, it takes on a musical life for me that almost transcends the genre. What precisely is Morrison referring to here when he refers to the other side? The other side of what? Drug-induced madness? Orgasmic bliss? All of the above? The mystery of it all is part of what’s so captivating about the song. But it’s not just the mystery, damnit – it’s the ensnaring melody, it’s the toe-tapping drum beat, it’s the mind-altering keyboard solo from Ray Manzarek. The song is an adrenaline rush, a siren song, a riddle, an icon. If I were to distill the essence of The Doors in one magic track, it would be this one. Good way to lead off your debut album.
Cradle Rock – Joe Bonamassa
The thing that always stand out to me most when I play this cut are Joe’s scratchy, throaty vocals – he sounds so, so different now. Not necessarily better, definitely not worse, but mostly just different. It is no surprise that Joe selected a cover of one of his UK heroes – in this case, the inestimable Rory Gallagher of Ireland – as the lead track on his debut album. The guitar playing on this track is absolutely stellar, but it’s not really about showy soloing – it’s about feel, tone, color. The guitar tone is so crisp, clean, crunchy, like in so much of Joe’s recordings, I just want to bottle it up and take it home with me and maybe display it on my kitchen counter. It’s just perfect. It’s also just a really fun song to listen to. But seriously, the guitar sound is so darn good. And Joe’s vocals again, too. I love them. Bona-who? This track should make anyone want to find out immediately.
– Brian R.
Which of these tracks is your favorite? Do you have another one in mind that you love? Tell us about it in the comments below!