Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: First Tracks on Debut Albums

Here I was, sitting at work this morning, practicing my kazoo, as I do every Tuesday morning, when I got an email from the House of Payne with a link to an article from Grantland entitled "'Straight Outta Compton' and the Best First Songs Ever" by Steven Hyden.  It discusses "Straight Outta Compton" and how it was a fantastic first song off of N.W.A.'s album of the same name.  Hyden then began to think of all of the great first songs on albums.  Sensing that the task of choosing the best first tracks off of any album might be a daunting one, Hyden rightly narrows his discussion to the best first tracks off of debut albums.  This is something I, myself, have been considering doing for a Tuesday Top Ten for a while, but frankly, it's a hard list to make because there are so many great options.  But, in light of Hyden's list, I suppose now is the time to waste a Tuesday night coming up with my own list.

Here are Hyden's criteria for "an excellent album opener":
1. A dramatic entrance
2. A palatable sense of rising action
3. Simple yet direct lyrics that act as a mission statement
4. A climax powerful enough to compel the listener to play the rest of the album

He also has the following limitations:
1.  "No skits, spoken-word interludes, or stand-alone instrumental passages." I take this to mean that he does not consider a song that comes after a skit, spoken-word interlude, or stand-along instrumental passage to be the first song off of the album.  
2.  "Songs from debut albums preceded by EPs don't count, either."  This excludes "Straight Outta Compton," among others.

Hyden's list is in alphabetical order by artist.  Here it is:

1.  "Crazy in Love" by Beyonce
2.  "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath
3.  "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses
4.  "Can't Knock the Hustle" by Jay Z
5.  "Lucky Star" by Madonna
6.  "Personality Crisis" by New York Dolls
7.  "Rock 'N' Roll Star" by Oasis
8.  "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones
9.  "I Wanna Be Adored" by The Stone Roses
10.  "Bring da Ruckus" by Wu-Tang Clan

I'll admit that this is a pretty solid list, and several of those songs will be on my list as well.  For sake of ease, I will abide by Hyden's criteria and limitations for my list.  I am also going to add the limitation that I must actually own the album.  As I went through my collection, I found myself adding more and more songs to my "rough" list, so forgive me for having a ton of songs in my Honorable Mention category.  There are just so many first tracks that grab my attention.  Expect it to be rock-heavy (although that is more of a function of the "no skits, etc." limitation, which excludes a lot of rap and hip hop albums).  Again, this is limited to the albums I own and the conditions listed above, so calm your shit down if your favorite first track off a debut album isn't on here.  If nothing else, this is a great bar conversation to have with your friends.

Honorable mention:
"Can't Get Enough" by Bad Company
"Surfin' Safari" by The Beach Boys
"Twice As Hard" by The Black Crowes
"Busted" by The Black Keys
"In One Ear" by Cage The Elephant
"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills & Nash
"Pigs" by Cypress Hill
"Jacqueline" by Franz Ferdinand
"I'd Have You Anytime" by George Harrison
"Purple Haze" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
"Positive Jam" by The Hold Steady
"Prowler" by Iron Maiden
"Everyday I Love You Less and Less" by Kaiser Chiefs
"Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" by The Killers
"Strutter" by Kiss
"Hit the Lights" by Metallica
"Faith" by George Michael
"Live Wire" by Mötley Crüe
"Once" by Pearl Jam
"Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis Presley
"Keep Yourself Alive" by Queen
"Steady As She Goes" by The Raconteurs
"Bombtrack" by Rage Against the Machine
"Pain In My Heart" by Otis Redding
"Takin' A Ride" by The Replacements
"Out Of The Black" by Royal Blood
"Holidays in the Sun" by Sex Pistols
"Big Guns" by Skid Row
"Suspect Device" by Stiff Little Fingers
"Dead & Bloated" by Stone Temple Pilots
"1969" by The Stooges
"I Will Follow" by U2
"Sucker Train Blues" by Velvet Revolver
"My Name Is Jonas" by Weezer
"Jimmy The Exploder" by The White Stripes

10 (tie).  "This Is a Call" by Foo Fighters (Foo Fighters, 1995)
With this song, Dave Grohl announced the arrival of what would become the best hard rock band of the next 20 years.

10 (tie).  "I Feel Free" by Cream (Fresh Cream, 1966 in the UK, 1967 in the US)
This is kind of cheating, since "N.S.U." was the first track off of the UK version of Fresh Cream, but "I Feel Free" was the first song on the American release of the album, and that's good enough for me.  This song is pure energy, and it captures what it great about Cream:  taking blues and R&B influences, and turning them into frenetic rock and roll.

9.  "I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles (Please Please Me, 1963)
This is a very underrated Beatles song, but I think it really sets the tone for the Please Please Me album and the musical direction in which the Beatles led the world.  It's catchy and edgy at the same time.  The opening line -- "Well she was just seventeen / And you know what I mean" -- should not be overlooked. Basically, it's a song about dancing with an underage chick, but you forget about it because of the "myiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine" and the holding each other tight and such.

8.  "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath, 1970)
The rare self-titled song off of a self-titled album, this song invented heavy metal, plain and simple.  Using the devil's triad, the band creates a creepy and heavy sound, complemented by lyrics inspired by a haunting experience bassist Geezer Butler had, where he saw a figure in black at the end of his bed in the middle of the night, and when he reached for a book about witchcraft (naturally) that had been on his nightstand, it was gone.  How metal is that?

7.  "Good Times Bad Times" by Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
The opening riff coronates rock and roll's new kings.  It's a bombastic song, with a 21-year-old singing about "the days of [his] youth" and a blistering guitar solo.  If you think about what was popular in 1969, this is even more striking.

6.  "Magic Man" by Heart (Dreamboat Annie, 1975)
I'm not sure if you knew this, but females can rock too.  If there was any question, Ann and Nancy Wilson answered emphatically with Heart's 1975 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, and the first track off of that album, the inimitable "Magic Man."

5.  "Runnin' With the Devil" by Van Halen (Van Halen, 1978)
Hyden left this off of his list because it didn't have enough of a guitar solo.  I can't exclude it from my list.  Van Halen redefined hard rock and ushered in the carefree, good-times attitude of Sunset Strip rock and roll that followed VH in the early '80s.  "Runnin' With the Devil" is a great song that shows its listeners what Van Halen was all about:  heavy yet catchy songs, a bit of a naughty attitude, wailing vocals, killer backing vocals, and great guitars.

4.  "More Than a Feeling" by Boston (Boston, 1976)
Boston gets a bad rap because they get thrown in with the "corporate rock" of the mid to late '70s, but I'm not sure that's fair.  I've always liked them, and their debut album was the best-selling debut album for many years.  "More Than a Feeling" is a classic rock radio staple, and it's a song I just don't get tired of hearing.  Brad Delp's voice hits notes that most singers (male or female) could only dream of hitting.

3.  "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" by The Doors (The Doors, 1967)
I think this song (and probably The Doors in general) get taken for granted nowadays, but The Doors were pretty fucking amazing, and they were doing some things that no one else was really doing at the time, mixing influences and genres to produce some fantastic music.  After a brief Brazilian-inspired drums and organ bassline intro, we are introduced to Jim Morrison's mad man wail.  The song is two and a half minutes of energy, and its lyrics were controversial enough that, for 30 years after it's release, both on the album and on the radio, they edited out the word "high" after the repeated "she gets" in the bridge. Even when I hear the unedited version now, it seems weird.

2.  "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones (Ramones, 1976)
This song not only announced the arrival of The Ramones, but it also announced the arrival of punk rock.  If there is a greater punk anthem, I haven't heard it.  This is far from my favorite Ramones song, but in the grand scheme of punk rock and alternative rock, it's hard to oversell this one.

1.  "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)
The best first song off of a debut album comes off of arguably the best debut album of all-time.  From the opening riff and howl to the last "it's gonna bring you down, huh!," this song set the tone for the album and announced that the world's baddest rock and rollers had arrived.

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