All this month we are celebrating the art of the opening track here on TMSDOTORG. Some of our favorite people will be sharing some of their favorite opening tracks and we hope they become some of your favorite too. You can listen along on Spotify! Have any suggestions - hit up our Facebook page (please?!?!)
1. Next Exit by Interpol
As a generally lazy person, I don’t participate in a lot of activities that require psyching up, but when I need a little boost for whatever reason this is the song I listen to. It’s kind of an odd choice, I know. Next Exit is a ballad with sparse instrumentation which moves like a snail dragging a glacier, but for some reason it really gets me going. When I listen to this track I feel invincible. I feel like anything is possible. The lyrics, while being completely inscrutable (this is Paul Banks after all), are certainly triumphant, and the minor swell of the music enhances them beautifully. That bridge always amazes me. In fact, it contains one of my favorite moments in any song ever: “We’ve been building up steam, ignited by this fight/So do this thing with me instead of tying on a tight one tonight.” For some reason that I can’t quite explain, once I hear that line I unfailingly feel the need to box an alligator, and I know for certain I’ll win.
2. I Was a Lover by TV on the Radio
Has there ever been a braver start a major album? I know that the first time I heard I Was a Lover I was so turned off that I took Return to Cookie Mountain out of my CD player immediately and didn’t put it back in for months. I, like so many others, had bought the album after hearing the remarkably catchy Wolf Like Me on the radio, so when I was confronted with the bizarreness that awaited me on much of the rest of the album I had no idea how to react. Months later, when I got up the courage to give the record another chance I spent a great deal of my time marveling at the beauty of tracks like Wash the Day, Blues From Down Here, A Method and, yes, the opening track. What amazes me about I Was a Lover and its placement on the album is its uncompromising nature. Bravely and potentially divisively, it forces you to accept the record entirely on its own terms. If they’d buried the track on the second side they could have made it the overall experience of the album far more palatable to the average listener. Instead, they put it right up front, a challenge, a hurdle and, ultimately, an object of beauty.
3. Changing of the Guards by Bob Dylan
Street Legal, the last album Dylan released before his period of born-again sermonizing, is a very unusual entry even when considered the context of one of the oddest careers in the history of popular music, and in my opinion his voice has never sounded better. Still, while the whole record sounds good, very good in my mind, there aren’t a lot of tracks that really stand out from the pack as extraordinary. That is except for the first track, Changing of the Guards, which is a flat-out masterpiece. In my opinion, it’s one of Dylan’s greatest songs ever. I’ve never heard the man more energized. The words just keep coming and coming relentlessly, and the effect is one of undeniable power. Most artists would probably use a masterpiece of this magnitude a bit more cautiously, saving it for further in the record to enhance its overall effect, but Dylan gives it away right off the bat, recalling his decision to place Like a Rolling Stone as the first track on Highway 61 Revisited. However, while Rolling Stone was just one masterpiece on a record containing several, the rest of Street Legal (with the possible exception of Señor) just can’t compete with Changing of the Guards and as such it suffers a bit in comparison, making a perfectly decent album seem a bit less special that it truly is. Still, what an opening…
4. Dance Yrself Clean by LCD Soundsystem
Nobody begins an album with a nine-minute song. That’s just common sense. The first track is meant to draw in the listener, to pique their interest. Then, once they’ve gotten comfortable, you can safely hit them with the epic tracks. However, James Murphy, the songwriter responsible for this remarkable and short-lived band, never seemed to have much interest in making the expected moves. As such, he begins Dance Yrself Clean with the quietest three minutes on the entire record only to morph it into what is probably the single loudest track the band ever recorded. The effect is remarkable. Some will be annoyed immediately, probably around the moment when their speakers cease to function due to the sudden shift in volume, but those who are still on board will likely be completely engrossed. Over an hour long and containing only nine tracks, This is Happening, LCD’s final album, has six songs which are over seven minutes in length. It’s not boring for a second. By the time it’s over, I’m not at all tired of Dance Yrself Clean. In fact, I always want to listen to it again. It’s such a rush that time simply ceases to matter, an effect that it shares with the seven-and-a-half minute All My Friends. That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment in my book.
5. Since I Left You by Avalanches
A amazing exercise in minimalism, Since I Left You uses one line, sampled and chopped from a straightforward (and beautiful) Motown love song, to say so much. It feels like an ending and a beginning all at once, and is tremendously effective in both regards. Generally, the conclusion of a story is the most emotionally potent section, and by beginning with an end Avalanches are able to elicit a heightened emotional reaction almost instantly. What’s remarkable is how they are able to sustain it. The entirety of Since I Left You, the album which houses the eponymous opening track mentioned here, is essentially a plateau, but it’s much less boring than such a term would commonly signify. In fact, it’s perhaps the most viscerally exciting and involving album I’ve ever listened to. It doesn’t speak to you on a cerebral level as much as it communicates directly with your gut. As far as the eponymous opening track is concerned, no song I’ve heard better approximates the mixed emotions that come with any significant discovery. It occurs to me that I selected this song, like most of the others on this list, because of how excited it makes me and how deeply it effects my mood. I guess I just really like to feel happy.
[Max Castleman is a thing from Ohio which is trying to make movies. It writes far too many lists and not enough poems and keeps attempting to write a novel. It likes the average dog more than the average person. Some people think it’s a bit strange, but it thinks they’re strange too. It thinks that’s a good thing. It is currently writing about itself in the third-person.]