Hey ho, let’s go: ten classic opening tracks…
Alone Again Or from Forever Changes (ELEKTRA, 1967)
Sweeping in on its unsettling folk-meets-flamenco wind, this song is a mood-setting overture for the anti-musical to follow. No boy-meets-girl. No comic relief. Just hazy storylines without resolution. And like all great openers, it almost forces us to play the album again. Alone Again Or … what, we wonder?
Black Sabbath from Black Sabbath (VERTIGO, 1970)
The hiss of rain, the scent of darkness. With the first track anyone heard from Sabbath on record, they encapsulated everything about metal. The whole future of a genre that never previously existed was here. What made it even more potent was staring at that gloomy sleeve while wrapped in its foreboding rhythms.
Band On The Run from _Band On The Run_ (APPLE, 1973)
‘Stuck inside these four walls.’ An unconscious comment on a lone listener? Or an LP inside a cardboard cover? Maybe, but this album has passport stamps. And so does this song. Reconnecting with Paul’s Abbey Road suite style, it’s a freewheeling travelogue and an opening salvo promising high adventure.
More Than A Feeling from_ Boston _ (EPIC, 1976)
Who wouldn’t be smitten dropping the needle on this? Mastermind Tom Scholz’s lead-off single condensed nostalgia, romantic longing and bits of Badge, Louie Louie and The Beach Boys with the best guitar solo of ’76 into four thrilling minutes, making Boston instant superstars.
Lust For Life from_ Lust For Life _(RCA, 1977)
Nothing exemplified Iggy’s return to health quite like the ebullient title song that kicked off Lust For Life. Co-written with old mucker David Bowie, this was Pop at his belligerent best, roaring out his survivalist anthem over Hunt Sales’s joyous post-Motown rhythm. Iggy Pop as rock’n’roll’s own Lazarus.
Running On Empty from Running On Empty (ASYLUM, 1977)
Taped live and on the run, Running On Empty joined Rumours and Hotel California as the high points of Californian rock in the 70s. Its widescreen opening track was the perfect set-up, establishing a decadent, downbeat mood of burnt-out beautiful people, coming off a cocaine-high and rolling down a sun-kissed highway to the horizon.
Teen Age Riot from Daydream Nation (ENIGMA, 1988)
The album that brought New York’s pet underground band to the attention of the majors, and one whose colossal opening track proved that they were capable of much more than mere sound collage. Teen Age Riot is a noise-rock landmark, a riff-driven beast that imagines Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis as an alternative dream president.
FAITH NO MORE
From Out Of Nowhere from_ The Real Thing _(SLASH, 1989)
Faith No More chose a full-throttle belter to introduce the world to their new vocalist, Mike Patton. Through Epic and beyond, the album’s absorbing fusion of propulsive tempos, moody synths and steroidal hooks would earn both a Grammy nomination and a place in history.
Smells Like Teen Spirit from_ Nevermind _(DGC, 1991)
With its explosive chorus and Kurt Cobain’s gasoline-soaked roar, Smells Like… single-handedly rendered glam metal’s big-haired posturing and libidinous excesses cartoonishly irrelevant. Though Kurt would later rue its popularity, this platinum-selling albatross would ultimately define the singer’s entire generation. Not since Anarchy In The UK had apathy felt so empowering.
THE BLACK CROWES
Sting Me from The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (DEF AMERICAN, 1992)Staunch traditionalists, the Crowes revived the best traditions of the gold vinyl era on their second album. Recorded on analogue gear, its sound had the depth and warmth of the 60s and 70s records they hedl dear. And like those – see Brown Sugar on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers – it kicked down doors as it stomped and swaggered into being with Sting Me.
And ten final tracks so good, you won’t want to lift the tonearm…
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
Bold As Love from_ Axis: Bold As Love _(TRACK, 1967)
Ideally, closing tracks should sum up the preceding ones and point the way to the next album. Bold As Love considers emotions as different colours and hues, in a soulful Curtis Mayfield way, then modulates up into a savage flanged solo that hints at the sonic experiments to come on Electric Ladyland.
Truckin’ from_ American Beauty _(WARNER BROS, 1970)
The band called this a “catchy shuffle”. Influenced by Robert Crumb’s Keep On Truckin’ drawing, first published in Zap comic, what it did was combine blues with folk. What a brilliant way to end an album steeped in bluegrass and rock’n’roll.
THE BEACH BOYS
Surf’s Up from Surf’s Up (STATESIDE, 1971)
Still perceived as clean-cut diarists of fun, sun and surf, The Beach Boys drew a line in the sand with their 17th album. The closing title track, rescued from 1967’s aborted Smile, was a poetic examination of the passage of time and life’s deeper meaning.
EDGAR WINTER GROUP
Frankenstein from_ They Only Come Out At Night _(EPIC, 1972)
In a time when rockers were either glam or macho, Edgar Winter stood out like a monster at a tea party. What to do? Write a killer funk-rock anthem and title it after the greatest monster of all. Then emphasise the point with a freaky portrait and a sly pigmentation joke LP title. Breakthrough!
Free Bird from (Pronounced ‘Leh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd) (MCA, 1973)*
At a little over nine minutes long, Free Bird was just about the perfect way to have rounded off any album. Lynyrd Skynyrd bookended their debut with a song that combined emotion, power and stunning musicianship to create something truly legendary.
BLUE OYSTER CULT
Astronomy from Secret Treaties (COLUMBIA, 1974)
In one song, Long Island’s heaviest sons not only crystallised the deep, dark and epic sound of their third album, but their whole world view. It seemed Secret Treaties and the band’s career to that point had built up to Astronomy’s black-hearted, other-worldly rush. <M<etallica, among others, were listening.
Desperados Under The Eaves from Warren Zevon (ASYLUM, 1976)
Saving the best for last is an effective vinyl strategy, especially when it provides a takeaway snapshot of a new artist. On this magnificent ballad, our renegade hero acknowledges his dire straits sans self-pity – broke, too many margaritas, alone in a sleazy motel. Oh, what will become of him?
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
American Girl from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (MCA, 1976)
Petty’s debut album ran to just 10 tracks and 30 minutes, but one need only hear its signature song to be hit by a lightning bolt. Here was the sound of classic American rock and pop being jump-started into a new era, and also an object lesson in how to go out with a bang.
Parisienne Walkways from Back On The Streets (MCA, 1978)
Moore’s first solo LP sounds like an artist searching for his sound. Happily, he finds it on the last track. Co-written with Phil Lynott, this minor-key memory of Paris in ’49 gave the guitarist the perfect platform for his searing, lyrical solos, and was a stylistic compass for albums ahead.
Rockin’ In The Free World from _Freedom _(REPRISE, 1989)
Young had endured a duff 80s up to the release of Freedom. The sense that it marked a return to form was founded largely on the strength of its closing track: the juggernaut riff and baying vocal sending Shakey into a new decade with renewed purpose.