I Started Something...20 great opening songs
1. Age of Consent - New Order (Power, Corruption & Lies)
After the seriousness and bleakness of Joy Division, New Order needed to find a different sound. Their debut album was more a deflated Joy Division - Movement had its moments, and its opening song, Dreams Never End is particularly strong. But it was still clearly Joy Division in spirit. Power, Corruption & Lies was a massive leap away (see my previous blog) and its opener Age Of Consent set the tone, with its joyous bassline, its cheery synths, and its nonsensical lyrics. Wonderful.
2. Back In The USSR - The Beatles (The Beatles AKA The White Album)
After the psychedelic Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour albums, The Beatles came back with a back to their roots blast of Chuck Berry meets Beach Boys - the airplane sound that heralds its arrival completely freaked me out the first time I heard it on headphones!
3. Crazy In Love – Beyoncé (Dangerously In Love)
For her debut album, Beyoncé needed a manifesto - a statement that clearly set her on a path away from Destiny’s Child as a solo artist. Crazy In Love achieves that goal and so much more. If you haven’t danced joyously and drunkenly to this, singing along to the “Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, oh, no, no” you’re not living your best life…
4. Where The Streets Have No Name - U2 (The Joshua Tree)
Bono wrote the lyrics in response to the notion that it is possible to identify a person's religion and income based on the street on which they lived, particularly in Belfast. It’s backed by some huge music, with Edge’s trademark delay effects and arpeggios. The Joshua Tree is one of the ten best albums of the 80s and this was its calling card.
My second gig was seeing U2 on The Joshua Tree tour (we bunked out of school and headed up to Wembley stadium, getting there at midday when the doors opened, not realising nothing would happen for hours). I don't think I have ever been thrown forward so far by a crowd in the space of one song, but it felt like the whole crown launched forward as they kicked into this. A brilliant opening song for both album and shows.
5. The Invisible Man - Marillion (Marbles)
I remember listening to this album all the way through on my sofa the day it arrived. The opening track was long and rambling (nothing new for Marillion - they are prog-tastic after all) - but it was weird. I didn’t really take in what I was listening to. The same could be said for the album - Marillion have more inventiveness in one song than most bands have in their whole careers. I needed three listens straight through but then I was hooked.
Marbles is an incredibly varied album and The Invisible Man set the tone for what was to come. It’s huge, weird, trip-hop meets Pink Floyd meets Crowded House. It’s wonderful, but none of my friends believe me…what a shame!
6. Five Years - David Bowie (The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars)
The slow, staggered lowkey drums set the tone for this moving, apocalyptic song. The song builds and builds and builds until it crashes back to the gentle drum outro. In a career full of perfect moments, this is one of his best.
7. What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On)
Marvin Gaye had grown tired of his balladeer career and went into battle with Motown until they released this - the most Avant Garde song Motown ever put out. The album was influenced by Gaye’s brother's 3-year tour of Vietnam, plus the Kent State shootings and the assassination of Martin Luther King.
The album is now ubiquitous and renowned as a classic, but it was a huge, brave step by Gaye and this track beautifully set the tone for a very new, different Marvin, but still accessible and his vocals better than ever.
8. London Calling - The Clash (London Calling)
Apocalyptic, jagged, rousing, iconic, rebellious, attention grabbing, political, rough, funny, expansive - a wonderful song, announcing a new, more mature Clash - wheever I play it with my headphones on, I can't help but yell along as I am walking down the street - “I live by the river”!
9. Let’s Go Crazy - Prince & The Revolution (Purple Rain)
Starting an album with a statement from a preacher (or is it the voice of God?) is a courageous way to make your pitch to the listener. Not sure Prince knew about being cautious - “Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today, To get through this thing called "life”, Electric word, life”.
This was an album that was going to make or break him - it was huge, and this song set its riotous, joyous and simultaneously experimental mood - and the whole thing is just a ride. A crazy one. Has one artist ever been so associated with one colour???
10. Gimme Shelter - The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed)
Dark, brooding and very different for the Stones, following the death of Brian Jones. Magnificent. Merry Clayton, its backing singer, is the real star though...
11. One Of These Day - Pink Floyd (Meddle)
Dr Who-esque instrumental – echoing bass, delayed slide guitar, pounding drums and one heavily warped lyric - "One of these days I'm gonna cut you up into little pieces”. One of their finest moments and opens my favourite Floyd album perfectly.
12. Enter Sandman - Metallica (Metallica AKA The Black Album)
A monster of a song that builds and builds until it lets rip. It is forever associated for me with seeing Bill Hicks play a tiny venue in Exeter. The legendary comedian came on stage to this, and from that moment, you knew you were in for a life-changing night. Really must see Metallica....
13. Rock’n’Roll Star - Oasis (Definitely Maybe)
Wham, and in one song Noel Gallagher sets out his career plan – not necessarily original but rollicking and singalong.
14. Safe From Harm - Massive Attack (Blue Lines)
Rolling bass creating a hypnotic, claustrophobic feeling – the song was inspired by the Taxi Driver Travis Bickle’s paranoid character. Perfect way to introduce one of the best albums of the 90s.
15. Disorder - Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures)
Drums from out of space and out of nowhere. It sounded like nothing else when it came out and it still does.
16. The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths (The Queen Is Dead)
This was truly revolutionary stuff. For their third album proper, The Smiths came out of the traps at full pelt both musically - this Stooges-esque belter was very different to their previous output - and lyrically - this was literally traitorous stuff.
17. Planet Telex - Radiohead (The Bends)
Thom Yorke was at Exeter University at the same time as me and my friends. I didn’t know him, we overlapped by a year, but I remember him. When we heard they were signed we laughed. We were sniffy about them - Creep was overblown nonsense. When we saw them on the Pablo Honey tour (for £3…), we heckled and paid little attention to them. When they came to preview The Bends, I was still living in Exeter and didn’t even go.
Then my friend Loz came to stay and bought me The Bends on CD as a present. I was a little baffled as to why, but we put the CD on out of politeness…. I remember my reaction – “oh shit…. it’s REALLY good…REALLY REALLY good…”. Planet Telex sounded like nothing I had ever heard.
Yet another example of poor musically judgement on my part. Though frankly some of their more recent albums have been indulgent rubbish – Thom could fart into a mic while kicking a keyboard over and some people would declare it genius. So I forgive my younger self for being harsh on them - maybe we saw the pretentious tendencies just a bit too early...
18. The Concept - Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque)
One of the best opening lines ever – “She wears denim whenever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the ~Status Quo, oh yeah…oh yeah”. It’s a brilliant. And they are the nicest band you will ever see!
19. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana (Nevermind)
I was not a big grunge fan. But this is a stone-cold classic – one of the few songs here that can genuinely claim to have entered the global consciousness – everyone knows Smells Like Teen Spirit. The downside, other than poor Kurt’s suicide, is that (to me) the rest of the album just can’t follow it. God, I’ll get flack for that…
They also gave one of the best live performances I have ever seen on TV - I still remember watching it on our student house video player the morning after they were on TV and being flabbergasted - ah, the heady days of The Word...
20. Broken & Mended - The Blue Aeroplanes (Life Model)
You have probably never heard of them or heard one of their albums, but as I have written elsewhere on this blog, they are the greatest live band I have ever seen. Shambolic yet incredibly tight, wild and gentle, and this is a fantastic way to start an album or show - poet/singer Gerard Langley announcing "Hi how are you, how's it going?", like you are meeting an old friend. Please do go give them a listen - here is a little playlist, trust me...oh go on...?