Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TOP 5--TRACK ONES, SIDE ONES: NPR presents a discussion of the greatest opening tracks of all time, which naturally begins with Jack Black and John Cusack's argument on the subject. They go pretty eclectic, hitting on Dylan, Sinatra, Dusty Springfield and Prince, among others. Naturally, they're following this up with closing cuts. I'll offer up "Where The Streets Have No Name" as a top opening track (especially if you look at the first 3 tracks as a unified whole), as well as "The Long Way Around," which sets the theme for Taking The Long Way very effective. As for a closing track, someone suggested "Find The River" off Automatic For The People over on the NPR site, and I'm hard pressed to do better from a contemporary album. I'm sure you have things to offer.


  1. The Pathetic Earthling11:25 AM

    I think even of Led Zeppelin, which has a lot of great opening tracks, "Good Times, Bad Times" is the best.  Within my own favorites: "Boomtown" by David & David and "Sunspots>>Wishing Well" off Bob Mould's Workbook.

  2. Indigo Girls:  Closer to Fine.

  3. Marsha11:47 AM

    I'll offer up "Crazy" from BNL's Gordon as my closing track.

    And I'll be pilloried for this, but I think "You May Be Right" from Billy Joel's Glass Houses is a great album opener.

  4. Matt Thompson11:49 AM

    The first album I thought of does pretty good on both counts: AC/DC's Back in Black.  We start out with the tolling of the bell leading into "Hells Bells" and we end up with the great "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"...because rock'n'roll will never die.

  5. Cheating, because it's a soundtrack, but "Ooh La La" by the Faces closes both the movie and the soundtrack for "Rushmore" pretty much perfectly.  The final few minutes of the film are online.

  6. The answers are Purple Rain for "Let's Go Crazy" and Purple Rain for "Purple Rain," even though "I Would Die 4 U"/"Baby I'm A Star" comes last in the film itself.

  7. Okay, and a less predictable one from me: "The Yeah Yeah Song," from the Flaming Lips' At War With The Mystics.

  8. Devin McCullen12:28 PM

    I made this joke somewhere else yesterday, but as far as closing tracks go, I'm certain that Neko Case's Middle Cyclone comes in dead last.

    It's also a question of 1)great song that happens to come last, or 2)song that really puts a cap on the album.  For the first, I'd offer Gillian Welch's "Wrecking Ball", and for the second, Gillian Welch's "I Dream A Highway" (although I'm not all that crazy about that album)

  9. For the latter, I've cited Liz Phair's "Strange Loop" from Exile In Guyville plenty.

  10. Carmichael Harold12:34 PM

    I think you're right and I think you're right.  I was struggling to come up options (knowing album order is not my forte), and the only thing I could come up with was "All I Want Is You" from Rattle & Hum, which I think is a decent U2 song on a very eh album.

  11. Marsha12:46 PM

    I'm assuming that it's mostly (2), but it also has to be a great song in and of itself. My nomination of "Crazy" is meant in that spirit.

  12. isaac_spaceman12:47 PM

    No "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from Nevermind?  "Black Sabbath," off of Black Sabbath, by Black Sabbath?  "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from War?  "Rocks Off" from Exile on Main Street or "Brown Sugar" from Sticky Fingers?  "Taxman," "Sgt. Pepper," "Come Together," and "Back in the USSR," off of, respectively, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, and the White Album?  All of which work both as great songs in their own right and also as introductions to the albums that follow? 

  13. isaac_spaceman12:49 PM

    As for closing songs, I don't think I'll ever think of a more iconic closing pairing than the ponderous last chord of "The End," followed by the throwaway "Her Majesty" cutting off, Sopranos-like, on a pickup note. 

  14. Joseph J. Finn1:01 PM

    For closing tracks, I love "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints" for how it closes out Graceland, an album thta has held up exceedingly well over the last 24 (!) years.

  15. George1:50 PM

    Adam, you're wrong, and I'm disappointed in you. Best opening--"Thunder Road" from Born to Run.  A better song than the title track. 

    Closing track--"Keeping the Faith" from An Innocent Man by Billy Joel. If he hadn't included that horrible song from a forgettable Rodnay Dangerfield movie, the album woudl be rightly regarded as one of hte best executed concept ablums ever.   

  16. Tosy and Cosh2:03 PM

    Opening: Matt already took "Where the Streets Have No Name," but I'll also offer up "Welcome to the Jungle" from Guns 'N Roses' Appetite for Destruction (which suggests a separate thread on artists who never equalled their debuts); Island of Souls (from easily Sting's best album, the very underrated Soul Cages); Like a Rolling Stone from Highway 61 Revisited (obvious, but, well); and the new-style-announcing "Zoo Station" from Achtung Baby.

    Closers: I've always though closing the aforementioned Achtung Baby with the dirge-like "Love is Blindness" was a brilliant choice. But my favorite is Dylan's Love and Theft ending with the stunning epilogue of "Sugar Baby."

  17. Jenn.2:14 PM

    I often think that U2 does a good job selecting opening tracks.  In addition to the ones already mentioned, Vertigo was a great opening track.

    Drive as an opening track for Automatic for the People worked---not as well as Find the River worked as a closer, but it was a nice announcement of the style of the record.

  18. Fred App2:22 PM

    As good an opening track as "Thunder Road" might be, I think that "Jungleland" is actually a better closing track. It's a great song in its own right, but its majesty sums up what the rest of the album was driving toward, which is what a closing track is supposed to do.

    For opening tracks, I'm going to get somewhat obscure: "Divine Intervention," from Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend." A great song that hooked me into the album and made it one of my favorites from that year.

  19. Jenn.2:25 PM

    Taking the Long Way was a good opening song.  So was Long Time Gone from Home.  Yet more evidence that some artists really think about how to structure an album, while others don't.

  20. Tosy and Cosh2:26 PM

    Jenn - I was going to say the same thing about U2 - "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (as Isaac mentioned), "Beautiful Day," "No Line on the Horizon," "Discotheque" - all do a great job of laying out what makes this U2 album different from others. I'd also suggest that the band is similarly adept at closers. "Grace" ending All That You Can't Leave Behind on such a mellow, optimistic note; "Wake Up Dead Man"'s exhausted, frustrated  cry; "Zooropa's" left-field apocalyptic Johnny Cash ballad.

  21. StvMg2:40 PM

    I agree with you on Jungleland. It's funny you said that about Divine Intervention. I remember often fast forwarding through that song every time I played that tape because it was the only one I didn't like out of the first half dozen or so.

  22. StvMg2:44 PM

    People have already mentioned most of my favorite openers (Where The Streets Have No Name, Beautiful Day, Thunder Road) and closing songs (Find The River, Jungleland). I'd throw in "Caroline No" from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as a great closer.

  23. Marsha2:48 PM

    Teen Spirit is referenced in the High Fidelity exchange (as are the Beatles, for that matter).

  24. Jenn.3:05 PM

    Going a bit more left field:  Ben Folds' Rockin' the Suburbs:  Starting with Annie Waits (one of several story songs on the album) and ending with The Luckiest.

  25. Other than the Sting one, I'm okay with everything you've said, including that Achtung Baby pairing.  Was it last year that I was promoting "Love Is Blindness" as the song Adam Lambert should sing on Idol?

  26. Anonymous3:25 PM

    "My Name Is Jonas"

  27. calliekl4:20 PM

    Metallica: Master of Puppets. Starts with Battery, ends with Damage, Inc.

    And, I'm sorry, but very little starts as well as the black album, and mother-effing Enter Sandman.

  28. bill.4:54 PM

    Lucky Guy, The Muffs (The Muffs). My favorite opening track is this first song from their  debut album. Drum beat followed by screaming guitars followed by Kim Shattuck's  soul-splitting wails and screams, this song more than announces its presence with authority.  The rest of the album is pretty good. Revel in all its head-banging, garage pop glory.

    Psycho Killer, Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense). "Hi. I have a tape I want to play."

    Better Git It In Your Soul, Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um). My favorite Mingus track

    closing tracks:

    Sinnerman, Nina Simone (Pastel Blues). Now that's how you close an album. Just drop the mic and walk off the stage.

    Thunderbird, Whitefield Brothers (In the Raw). Pure, badass funk to destroy soulless automatons

    Hyperactive, Thomas Dolby (The Flat Earth). Great song and the only one on the album worth listening to.

    Can't Hardly Wait, The Replacements (Please To Meet Me). If y'all don't mind, I'll just quote  Carlene Bauer on this  song:
    Apocalypse, I prayed, please pass over me, because I want to know
    what it's like to be as  torn up as Paul Westerberg sitting on a tour
    bus missing the one he loves. The Replacements  were melody and havoc,
    the havoc legitimizing the melody, and Westerberg scoffing and
    yearning, his hair and voice a terrific mess. This song had a throwaway
    line that I clung to:  "Jesus rides beside me / He doesn't buy any
    smokes." It was Jesus, in a walk-on role, looking  pretty much how I
    imagined him - hanging out with broken-hearted sinners, just as the
    Gospels  said he did, his own heart larger than his followers gave him
    credit for.

  29. J. Bowman5:58 PM

    Opening track: Beck, "Loser" from Mellow Gold.
    Closing track: Soul Coughing, "Janine" from Ruby Vroom.

    Yes, I need to buy music made it the last fifteen years. I suppose I could nominate American Idiot for both opening and closing - which is good, since it is designed to have a beginning and an end.

  30. Joseph J. Finn6:23 PM

    Incidentally, High Fidelity being part of the discussion reminds me of how much I love how the movie starts and ends, with the sound of a needle being dropped on an LP at the start of the credits and ending with the sound of the LP ending and the needle running over the black space at the middle of the disc before rising up.

  31. tortoiseshelly6:25 PM

    To this day, I still think Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" is a fantastic opener, as well as The Cure's "Killing an Arab" for the Standing on a Beach singles compilation, which was the album that introduced me to the group.

    More recently? Back to Black's "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse. "Life on a Chain" from Music for the Morning After by Pete Yorn.

  32. Nancy6:58 PM

    Boston: More than a Feeling (opener)
    Jungleland (closer)

  33. J. O'Connor8:04 PM

    So many good songs already mentioned, I don't want to repeat, but I can't stop myself from adding.

    As I was trying to think of great opening songs, it seemed to me that they fell into two categories.
    There are great first songs off great albums, where the opening sets the stage for what follows. Most of the songs that people have already mentioned fit here. Two more that I’d add are "Purple Haze" off <span>Are You Experienced</span> and "Mystery Dance" off <span>My Aim is True</span>.

    Then there are great first songs that promise more than the albums that follow actually deliver. "Gloria" off Patti Smith’s <span>Horses</span>, for example, is an amazing song (with maybe the best opening line ever), but the rest of the album doesn’t come close. Other similar great first songs off albums I don’t particularly like as a whole are the title track off Neil Young’s <span>Tonight’s the Night</span> and Nick Drake’s "Time Has Told Me" off <span>Five Leaves Left</span>.

    It was a lot harder to think of great closing songs. I imagine from a marketing standpoint it makes no sense to waste a good song at the end of an album sequence. The songs I came up with are either too long or too short to be singles or come from concept albums:

    "It’s all in the Game/You Know What They’re Writing About" off Van Morrison’s <span>Into the Music</span>
    - ten plus minutes of gruff seduction pulling out all the stops from growls to whispers to screams.

    "Ain’t No Way" closing Aretha Franklin’s <span>Lady Soul</span>
    - I think this was a single, but I’m not sure it was a hit. It’s over four minutes long, absolutely heartbreaking, and after listening to it I always feel I need a drink or a hug.

    "Hurt" Nine Inch Nails, <span>The Downward Spiral</span>,
    - a great last song, even if Johnny Cash now owns it.

    "My Mummy’s Dead" John Lennon, <span>Plastic Ono Band</span>

    - after an album’s worth of Yoko-influenced emoting and philosophizing ("god is a concept by which we measure our pain" -- please), Lennon reveals that he’s in on the joke, summarizing the entire album in a minute-long nursery rhyme ("my mummy’s dead; I can’t get it through my head").

    And yes, I stopped listening to new music when Tracey Chapman went electric.

  34. Carmichael Harold10:05 PM

    I'm not sure this counts, as the album was sort of a mishmash of previously recorded but unreleased songs, but Roadrunner off of The Modern Lovers is a pretty great opening song off of (to my mind) a fantastic album.

  35. You know, I kept checking that closing track on Neko Case's Middle Cyclone every minute or so.  I was just so certain that something had to be hidden.  Um, not so much.

    That said, I'm going to put out Things That Scare Me from Blacklisted as a great first track from a great album.

  36. Jennifer J.1:02 AM

    Agree on U2. Find the River is one of my favorite closers ever. :)