You rush home from the music store clutching your shiny new vinyl album, barely time to remember to lock the car door. You tear open the plastic and gently place the wax down on your old school record player. Needle drops and sweet sweet music emanates from the speakers. You live for these moments, the ones where your favorite artist drops that new record – you’ve been waiting for this day all month and finally it’s here. And this first track is rockin’! “I knew the wouldn’t disappoint me,” you say. “This is going to be the best record yet.” Then something funny happens. 1:03 into the first track, the music cuts out. Huh wha? That was it for the first song? What gives?
Such is the phenomenon of the album intro track.
“I don’t get it” you think. “What was the point of that?” Thoughts race through your head. That was really cool. But it was so short! Maybe it shoulda been longer. Maybe it shoulda been a whole song! Wait but I really liked it. Gah! The next song is on, I’ll worry about this later!
The album intro track is a bit of a mystery. Of course, it exists to set the mood, the tone of the record, teasing out what is to follow. Some of the most famous records of all time include one to get the musical ball rolling, even if they aren’t necessarily called an intro track or are in some other way mischievously disguised. For example, The Beatles‘ song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” clocking in at 2:02 and with only one verse, two choruses and one bridge, followed by the immediate segue into “With a Little Help From My Friends” after introducing the fictional troubadour Billy Shears, is just barely a full song. And the legendary Pink Floyd masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon’s “Speak To Me,” a swelling buildup carnival of non-traditional rhythmic sounds such as a chilling laugh, a helicopter, and a cash register, is technically on the same track as “Breathe,” but is separated out on the track listing as “Speak To Me / Breathe” by that ever so important slash mark, indicating that in reality “Speak To Me” is an intro both to the latter song and to the album as a whole.
Any album intro tracks haven’t by any means gone the way of the dodo bird, despite obituaries for it such as this one from Metalsucks.net. Some of my favorite more contemporary examples include Bela Fleck and the Flecktones’ “Intro,” on their Outbound LP, an old-timer bluesy-feeling saxophone harmonic piece, and Dave Matthews Band’s “Pantala Naga Pampa” a funky acoustic joyful dance of an opening that perfectly elicits what is to come on their hit album Before These Crowded Streets. But the main questions remains: do they work, or are they kind of pointless?
Joe Bonamassa’s intro track to Different Shades of Blue is interestingly, a Jimi Hendrix cover, a cut from the posthumous Rainbow Bridge. The Hendrix tune is a full song, a long one, too, clocking in at a significant 6:05. Joe’s version is extremely reduced and covers approximately the instrumental-only first minute of the original. Joe’s version is a little bit more two-fisted, muscular, in your face aggressive, setting the album off to a blazing start immediately. And truthfully, I love it! This is classic-rock-meets-blues with hints of a grungy tone at its finest.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I want more, more, MORE! I want this jam stretched out, just because it’s so smokin’, and yet at the same time, it’s sort of perfect as it is as an opener. *Sigh* I kind of can’t decide whether I’d leave it the way it is or lengthen it up to a crazy 4 minute plus explosion. Maybe it does something that lots of great art does – grips you with its mood and perfection immediately but leaves you desperately wanting more.
Listen to the Hendrix and Bonamassa versions below and see what Joe has to say about the track here!