Posted by: Scott | July 20, 2009

The Greatest Opening Tracks of All-Time


You know the feeling.  You pick up a record and play that first song and it totally bowls you over or it leaves you totally underwhelmed.  Regardless, we have pretty lofty expectations for that first track.  Many would argue that the first track is absolutely the most important.  It’s not that the other tracks aren’t great, but there is something special in the opening track of an album.  We also all know how it feels to love the first track on a record, but be totally ambivalent to the other tracks and there is nothing more frustrating.  So, if the first track is the only track that’s good it doesn’t really hold up as a great opening track in my book.

But what makes an opening track great?

I think there are a million different schools of thought on this, but I think the basics are clear: the song must set the tone for the record and be totally engaging.  A lot of bands/groups/etc choose to use throw-away skits or jingles for the opening track which I think is a mistake.  Would Sonic Youth have had such a crushing effect on alternative music if they hadn’t led Daydream Nation off with “Teen Age Riot”?   I don’t think so.  I think that a song is looked at in a totally different light when it is the first track.  I asked a bunch of people from around the web and country what their favorite album openers are.  It’s amazing how diverse everyone’s opinion is and I thought you’d enjoy to hear them and check in with your own. Here they are after the break (with a list from me and other Backseat Sandbar folks at the end).  Enjoy!

  • Natalie Fisher of Bellarmine University Radio (via Twitter @natfisher01): “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by The Postal Service
  • Autopsy IV of the music blog Nine Bullets (via Twitter @autopsyiv): Where the Devil Don’t Stay. Sets the tone immediately. (Drive-By Truckers song off of The Dirty South)
  • Matt Picasso of the music blog You Ain’t No Picasso (via Twitter @MattPicasso): “The Beastie Boys’ “Super Disco Breakin” comes to mind. It really is like 50 cups of coffee at the start of Hello Nasty.”
  • gregor of the music blog Captain’s Dead (via Twitter @captainsdead): “There are none greater than ‘Countdown to Armageddon’ off [Public Enemy’s] It Takes a Nation of Millions…
  • Maura of the music site Idolator (via Twitter @maura): ” Randy Described Eternity” [from Built To Spill’s Perfect From Now On], “Welcome to the Jungle” [from Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction], “Bruise Violet” [from Babes In Toyland’s Fontanelle], “Pat’s Trick” [from Helium’s The Dirt of Luck], 6’1″ [from Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville], “Holy Wars/Punishment Due” [from Megadeath’s Rust In Peace]
  • Robert Duffy of the music blog Done Waiting (via Twitter @donewaiting): “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” off of Wilco’s seminal album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Sean Cannon of super-snarky blog Buzzgrinder showed his true color by choosing this (via Twitter @seanbuzzgrinder): “Folsom Prison Blues” from Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison.
  • Margaret Darling of the incredible Cincinnati band The Seedy Seeds weighed in with the following: “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot (Grandaddy / Software Slump)” and “Glue of the World (Four Tet / Pause)” and “Making Plans for Nigel (XTC / Drums and Wires)”
  • Nathan Reusch, Supreme Burrito of the Kansas City record label The Record Machine said (via Twitter @nartan): Pernice Brothers – “Working Girls” (off of Sunlight Shines): “I am actually pretty happy with the Pernice Brother’s track. Sums up one of my favorite bands and albums well.”
  • Erin Keane, local teacher, thinker, and author of The Gravity Soundtrack chimed in (via Twitter @eekshecried): Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” off of Born to Run and “Stuck Between Stations” – off of The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America.
  • Sarah Herndon of NKU College Radio and assistant to the Cinci band Bad Veins said (via Twiiter @weightless): “‘Concrete Bed’ by Nada Surf on The Weight Is A Gift.. it gets me so excited and is very dangerous if I’m driving.”
  • Jared Cheek, Warehouse Manager for Secretly Canadian Records and Main Dude for Flannelgraph Records said (via Twitter @FlannelgraphUSA): Brian Eno’s “Needles In The Camel’s Eye” off of the epic Here Come The Warm Jets, New Order’s “Age Of Consent” off of Power, Corruption & Lies,Neil Young’s  “Cinnamon Girl” off of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Starflyer 59’s “A Housewife Love Song” off of Gold, and The Beach Boys’ “Let Us Go On This Way” off of Brian Wilson’s critic-dividing Love You.
  • Jamie Barnes, easily one of the best songwriters to ever come out of Louisville said (via Twitter @jamiebarnes): “Have you Forgotten?” – Red House Painters [off of Songs For A Blue Guitar], “Baba O’Riley” – The Who [off of Who’s Next], “Teen Age Riot” – Sonic Youth [off of Daydream Nation], and “Hutterite Mile” – 16 HorsePower [off of Folklore]
  • Zach Hart– Creator of We Listen for You chose The Zombies “Care of Cell 44.”

Other voices from around the way:

  • Keith M. (from Louisville) said: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” off of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and “My Name is Jonas” off of Weezer’s seminal Blue Album
  • Paul D. (from Louisville) said: “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” by Genesis off of Selling England By The Pound or “Cherub Rock” by Smashing Pumpkins off of Siamese Dream
  • Andrew C-K. (from Indianapolis) said: “Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels) off of The Arcade Fire’s Funeral and his personal favorite of all-time which “The King of Carrot Flowers (Part 1)” off of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea
  • Shane SC. (from Louisville) said: “Four Corners” off of The Sea and Cake’s One Bedroom, “Ce Maitin La” from Air’s Moon Safari, “Jimmy James” from Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, and “Little Bear” from The Guillemots’ Through the Windowpane, “All My Friends Who Played Guitar” by Starflyer 59 off of Leave Here a Stranger.
  • Charles W. (from Louisville) said: The Silversun Pickups’ “No Secrets This Year” off their new record Swoon or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s  “Took Out A Loan” off of Baby 81
  • Joshua M. (from Louisville) prefers: “untitled” from Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights and Justice’s “Genesis” off of Cross
  • Stevi W. (from Indianapolis) picked: either The Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” off of Give Up or Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” off of Parachutes
  • Kim L. (from Peoria, IL) also chose: The King of Carrot Flowers (Part 1)” off of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea
  • Miranda H. (from Salyersville, KY) opted for: “Caring Is Creepy” from The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World
  • Kori R. (from Louisville) said: “Debaser” from Doolittle by the Pixies (1989) best by far.
  • Larry K. (from Midland, MI) would have made Paul D. proud and said: anything by Todd Rundgren

and a few entries from your very own Backseat Sandbar dudes:

  • Hank Willenbrink: “A Life of Possibilities” from The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I
    “Speed Trials” from Elliott Smith’s Either/Or
    “Tom Traubert’s Blues” from Tom Waits Small Change
    “Airbag” from Radiohead’s OK Computer
    “I’m Waitin’ for My Man” from The Velvet Underground & Nico
  • Cory Greenwell: Stiff Little Fingers – Gotta Getaway from Nobody’s Heros – Angsty from the word go
    The Modern Lovers – Roadrunner from The Modern Lovers
    Neutral Milk Hotel – King of Carrot Flowers (Part 1) from The Aeroplane over the Sea – Beautifully jarring and endearing vocals over some of the most romantic music ever setting the tone for one of the greatest albums of all time
    Joy Division – Atrocity Exhibition from Closer – a haunting and hard-hitting lecture typical of the visionary Ian Curtis.
    Green Day – 2000 Light Years Away from Kerplunk!
    The Joy Formidable – The Greatest Light is The Greatest Shade from A Balloon called Moaning.  The way this song jumps off is simply incredible with hardhitting synth for such an otherwise fairly twee band.
  • Joey Flispart: The Smiths – The Headmaster Ritual – Meat Is Murder
    My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow – Loveless
    Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place – Kid A
    Stars – Your Ex-Lover Is Dead – Set Yourself On Fire
    The Get Up Kids – Overdue – On A Wire
    Modest Mouse – Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine – The Lonesome Crowded West
    Slowdown Virginia – Supernova ’75 – Dead Space
    The White Stripes – Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground – White Blood Cells

and my own list:

  • Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot” off Daydream Nation
  • Pedro the Lion’s “Options” off of Control
  • Julie Doiron’s “Snow Falls In November” off of Goodnight, Nobody
  • Apples In Stereo’s “Can You Feel It” off of New Magnetic Wonder
  • Bon Iver’s “Flume” off of For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Mount Eerie’s “Lost Wisdom” off of Lost Wisdom
  • Jimmy Eat World’s “Table For Glasses” off of Clarity


  1. some personal favorites: “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and moreso; MGMT – “Time to Pretend” of Oracular Spectacular

  2. Scott, you have 3 of mine.

  3. “This Town Aint Big Enough For Both Of Us” by Sparks (from “Kimono My House”).
    “Up From The Deep” from the Tubes s/t debut album.
    “Don’t Let Us Go On This Way” from “The Beach Boys Love You”.

  4. Hell yes on The Tubes.

  5. @Jamie Barnes: Yes, Yes – Have You Forgotten is one of the most beautiful, romantic songs of all time…I absolutely fell in love with and to that song

    Also @Keith M….great selections in both the Beach Boys and Weezer

  6. The Black Keys – “Thickfreakness”, from the Thickfreakness album. So strong. I’ve seen them a few times in the past year and they’ve opened every show with this song as well.

  7. While there are some excellent choices on here the question posed was the greatest opening tracks of ALL TIME.
    Below are my choices:
    “I saw her standing there” from please please me by the beatles
    “Back in the USSR” from the white album by the beatles.
    “Brown Sugar” from Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones.
    “Speak to me/Breathe” from Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

  8. “Modern Kicks” from the Exploding Hearts ‘Guitar Romantic’

    Hank – Isn’t “Sunday Morning” the first track on the VU & Nico record?

  9. Two people listed them, but just to reiterate: Baba O’Riley and Thunder Road.

  10. Well to take it back to the classics, Led Zeppelin has quite a tally: “Whole Lotta Love” off of II, “The Immigrant Song” from III, and “Black Dog” off of IV.

    Additionally, the Beatles’ title track to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is glorious. “Sweet Dreams” from Roy Buchanan’s eponymous album, way better than the rest of the album.

    In the more modern era, “Smoothie Song” from Nickel Creek’s This Side makes my list, as does “Sexx Laws” from Beck’s Midnite Vultures and “One Headlight” from the Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse.

  11. gotta agree with Brown Sugar as well, nice choice…. Whole Lotta Love and Black Dog too

  12. i have to agree about “a housewife love song” probably my favorite opener ever, of all time. (including the beatles)

  13. “Sittin on the Dock of the Bay”- Otis Redding ‘The Dock of the Bay’

    “Out on the Weekend”- Neil Young “Harvest”

    “Concrete Jungle”- Bob Marley & the Wailers ‘Catch A Fire’

  14. A couple of my faves off the top of my head:

    “Cherub Rock” from Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

    “In the Flesh/the Thin Ice” from the Wall by Pink Floyd

    “Planet Telex” from the Bends by Radiohead

    “Born Under Punches” from Remain in Light by the Talking Heads

    “Taxman” from Revolver by the Beatles

    “My Name is Jonas” from the first Weezer album

    Another good subject, and just as important to the flow of an album: best closing tracks

  15. “Turn the Page” by The Streets.

  16. Hank Willenbrink, Sunday Morning is the opening track of Velvet Underground and Nico.

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