Sometimes the best kind of opening song not only sets the tone for an album, but also encapsulates it. For example:
The Smiths – ‘Reel Around The Fountain’ from The Smiths (1984)
Mike Joyce’s classic opening beat heralds a six minute long sigh, for me as good as anything the band ever recorded; lovelorn, clever, funny and unique, it not only encapsulates The Smiths; it encapsulates The Smiths. Many (including the band) have criticised John Porter’s flat, bleak production, but they are wrong; it’s perfect. Bizarre though, that the lovely keyboard parts are played by bland rock antichrist, Paul “Mike & The Mechanics” Carrack!
Pixies – ‘Caribou’ from Come on Pilgrim (1987)
Beastie Boys – ‘Shake Your Rump’ from Paul’s Boutique (1989)
The Beatles – ‘No Reply’ from Beatles For Sale (1964)
Belle & Sebastian – ‘The State I Am In’ from Tigermilk (1996)
Stuart Murdoch set out Belle & Sebastian’s wistful (some might say twee) indie pop manifesto on this collection of songs written while Murdoch was at college. Much of the album is good, but ‘The State That I Am In’ is easily the best of the bunch; catchy, wistful, funny and clever, a classic of its kind.
Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ from Black Sabbath (1969)
Sabbath not only set the tone for their sound, but for the heavy metal genre as a whole with this monstrous dirge; the doleful tolling of church bells heralds one of the most effectively basic and elemental riffs in rock history, and Ozzy’s despairing yowl is the icing on the cake.
The Breeders – ‘Glorious’ from Pod (1990)
N.W.A. – ‘Straight Outta Compton’ from Straight Outta Compton (1988)
The Cure – ‘Plainsong’ from Disintegration (1989)
Depeche Mode – ‘Leave In Silence’ from A Broken Frame (1982)
Burzum – ‘Burzum’ from Filosofem (1996)
Filosofem marked a radical change in sound from Burzum’s earlier works and the raw, but almost placid and ‘depressive’ tone of ‘Burzum’ (or ‘Dunkelheit’ ) is less metal, more idiosyncratic and far more atmospheric than almost anything that the black metal genre had produced up until that point.
The Milkees – ‘Lovelever’ from Lovelever (2010)
The Milkees’ punky celebration of kitschy 60s guitar pop is at its height in the opening track of their second album, Lovelever. It seems simple’ a gritty guitar riff, a sweetly romantic lyric and Berry’s beautifully squeaky voice; but somehow a special kind of magic is produced.
Cranes – ‘Watersong’ from Wings Of Joy (1991)
Underworld – ‘Dark & Long’ from Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994)
Killing Joke – ‘Requiem’ from Killing Joke (1980)
Killing Joke injected aggressive rock riffs into the dark post-punk tones of Joy Division, making for a cold, grim and yet thrillingly bleak anthemic sound. ‘Requiem’ sets the tone.