Music + Movies + Books

The best album openers.

I need to take a small break from talking about my job (it’s been a looooooong week) and think about music for a bit. Album openers, specifically. I’ve always been a full album kind of gal more than one who goes for individual songs or singles (I’ve never used the “shuffle” setting on my iPod!), and there’s just something about a great opening track that’s so inspiring. The opener sets the stage for the rest of the album, fills you with anticipation, and lets you know what kind of listening experience you’re in for.

Not the album version, of course, but “Plainsong” is always my favorite concert opener for the Cure as well.

The Cure, “Plainsong”
Opening track from Disintegration (1989)

The Smiths, “The Queen is Dead”
Opening track from The Queen is Dead (1986)

Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough”
Opening track from Off the Wall (1979)

The Psychedelic Furs, “India”
Opening track from The Psychedelic Furs (1980)

The Clash, “London Calling”
Opening track from London Calling (1979)

This pairing with clips from 2001: A Space Odyssey works quite well!

Joy Division, “Disorder”
Opening track from Unknown Pleasures (1979)

The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Opening track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton”
Opening track from Straight Outta Compton (1988)

Prince, “Let’s Go Crazy”
Opening track from Purple Rain (1984)

Lou Reed, “Vicious”
Opening track from Transformer (1972)

Okay, that’s my top ten (in no particular order!). I always have a touch of regret after I name favorites of any kind, because five minutes later I remember a bunch of amazing things I forgot and get all crazy and mad at myself wishing I would have picked those other things instead and what if I can’t sleep tonight because my list is wrong and how can I ever repent for not getting it exactly right and what is wrong with me for leaving off so much awesome stuff (deep breath), but you know what? I’m just going to call this Good Enough and let it stand as-is.

Your turn! What are your favorite album openers?

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  • Reply Anna at D16 September 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm


    I left off “Space Oddity”. What is wrong with me??

    (See what I mean?)

  • Reply Laura September 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I agree with you on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band! I love that opening, and the ending with “Billy Shears” is fantastic. The whole album really rocks, and the opening track really does set the tone for a fun story.

  • Reply jennifer in sf September 17, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Oh man. I am crap with picking my Top # of [things]. (Which drove my high school boyfriend crazy, because he was High Fidelity level obsessed with lists.) I feel like it depends! It changes!

    A recent-ish opening I like is “Time Stands Still” from Cut Copy’s Bright Like Neon Love.

  • Reply paule September 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    OOOUUHH i love The Clash. and true that! for the opening song. i recently fell in love with Matt & Kim and “Daylight” is a great opening song for their album as well…

  • Reply evan September 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    The opener also takes on more significance for me particularly if it’s a great band’s first album. In no particular order…

    Wire, Reuters (Pink Flag)
    The Stone Roses, I Wanna Be Adored (The Stone Roses)
    David Bowie, Five Years (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
    Husker Du, New Day Rising (New Day Rising)
    Built to Spill, In the Morning (There’s Nothing Wrong With Love)
    Mission of Burma, That’s When I Reach For My Revolver (Signals, Calls, and Marches) — so what if it’s an EP

  • Reply AK September 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Cups on Underworlds album “Beaucoup Fish”

  • Reply kc September 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    holy moly, it’s like yer in my brains!

  • Reply Adam September 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I have to throw in Peek-A-Boo for Siouxsie & the Banshees Peepshow album (what kind of devoted fan would I be if I didn’t?)! I think that song really set the mood for the album, and very nicely!

  • Reply Adam September 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Oops, I also forgot “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” off of Rufus Wainwright’s “Poses” album.

  • Reply heather September 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    ugh this is so hard! I am an album lover myself, and probably have a hundred favorite openers, but I’ll just go with what comes to me…

    “Unknown Legend” (Neil Young)
    “Second Hand News” (Fleetwood Mac)
    “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (Pink Floyd)
    “6’1” (Liz Phair)
    “Sure Shot” (Beastie Boys)
    “Everything in Its Right Place” (Radiohead)
    “All I Want” (Joni)
    “Ol’ 55” (Tom Waits)
    “Human Behavior” (Bjork)

  • Reply Fiona September 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Great list. And loving everyone else’s choices. Well as you say it’s impossible to make a definitive… oh who am I kidding, Revelate from Fitzcarraldo by The Frames. and all together now down the back ‘wanna grow up to be, be a DEBASER, DEBASER’ Doolittle, The Pixies

  • Reply Frank September 17, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Intro by The XX! Gets me excited for the album every single time.

  • Reply No Idols September 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    What a great list! The Cure’s Plainsong is one of my favorite tracks ever. One other song that would be on my list for sure would be:

    “Where the Streets Have No Name” from U2’s The Joshua Tree

    The intro has always made me feel like I’m flying!

  • Reply Yolanda September 17, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Human Behavior. Debut. Bjork

  • Reply Dan September 17, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Straight Outta Compton. Yes. (this surprised me, to be honest, but in the very best way.)

    It’s been like 3 years, but I still think the Cold War Kids’ Robbers and Cowards works together as an album in a way I haven’t really heard artists accomplish recently. “We Used to Vacation” is the opening track.

  • Reply David September 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    This is a great list! The two things that came to mind after I read it were “Spellbound” on Juju and (seriously, I can’t believe I’m typing this) “2112 Overture” which William and I listened to on the way to his Kindergarten this morning and he loved, like, beyond words. (I am trying to get his Rush phase out of the way early.)

  • Reply thecapeonthecorner September 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    totally with you on the smiths. i love the opener “feeling good” by michael buble. what a fun topic. i recently did my top voices-it’s much too hard for me to pick songs-and of course morrissey is my number 1 on that list.

  • Reply Jo in NZ September 18, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Can I throw in ‘Zoo Station’ for Achtung Baby?
    And ‘Changes’ for Hunky Dory?

  • Reply steve September 18, 2010 at 7:15 am

    “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” from Funeral by Arcade Fire.

  • Reply Alina Turner September 18, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I’m with you on the whole albums. I’ve been thinking about how ‘shuffle’ takes away from appreciating, and getting to know slowly, an album in its entirety.
    ‘Astral Weeks’ at the start of … Astral Weeks (Van Morrison)
    ‘Start of War’, on Modern Day Addiction (Clare Bowditch)
    ‘Geiger Counter’, on Radioactivity (Kraftwerk)

  • Reply Alina Turner September 18, 2010 at 9:54 am

    btw… I think if you liked Janelle Monae you might like this!

  • Reply erin September 18, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Great post! I’m also a full-album girl from here to eternity.

    “Only Shallow”, My Bloody Valentine
    “Age of Consent”, New Order
    “Needle in the Camel’s Eye”, Brian Eno
    “Running up that Hill (A Deal With God)”, Kate Bush
    “She’s So High”, Blur
    “I Want to be Adored”, The Stone Roses

  • Reply andrea.d September 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

    I’ll just go ahead and second Heather’s entire list. (You have great taste!)

    Also, is it just me, or was 1979 a great year? (le wink.)

  • Reply kay* September 19, 2010 at 10:03 am

    okay…totally off topic but what font did you use for the word “best” in the banner? LOVE.

  • Reply Anna at D16 September 19, 2010 at 10:13 am

    @kay*: The font is Parfait Script. 🙂

  • Reply Rosa, Copenhagen September 19, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    There is no doubt:
    “Suzanne” from Leonard Cohen’s “The Essential”.
    31 songs in a row. A must.
    I know – I’m an old-fashioned girl;-)
    Went to a concert with him in August in Malmø, Sweden – WOW!

    Ohh – and I must shamefully admit, that I know very few of any of the listed albums. I mainly listen to classical music – but not a day without Leonard Cohen. Not one:-)

  • Reply Joakim Jansson September 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I’m a massive Jesus & Mary Chain fan and would put the four songs from their first 4 albums up there.

    Just Like Honey (from Psychocandy, 1985)
    Darklands (from Darklands, 1987)
    Here Comes Alice (from Automatic, 1989)
    Reverence (from Honey’s Dead, 1992)

    Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana, from Nevermind, 1991)
    Dreams Never End (New Order, from Movement)
    Love Vigilantes (New Order, from Low-Life)
    Debaser (Pixies, from Doolittle, 1989)
    The Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths, from Meat Is Murder, 1985)
    Strange (Built To Spill, From Ancient Melodies Of The Future, 2001)
    The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 (Neutral Milk Hotel, From In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, 1998).
    Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones, from Ramones, 1976)
    Candy Says (Velvet Underground, from Velvet Underground, 1969)
    Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground & Nico, from Velvet Underground & Nico 1967)

    Ok. I better stop myself now.

  • Reply amy September 19, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Two come to mind (though there are so many!): Cool As I Am, off Dar Williams’ Mortal City, and Neil Young’s “Good to See You” off of Silver & Gold. Gah, life-changing. Wait, definitely Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain, off American Beauty….(what am I, some sort of hippie? You already mentioned all the really rad ones….).

    Oh, and Samson off Regina Spektor’s early EP. An absolute killer. Off to dig that puppy up now…..

  • Reply drew kora September 20, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I like your list quite a bit, though I have to add “Fell in Love at 22”, opening song to the Fell in Love at 22 EP by Starflyer 59. Do EPs count? Not sure, but this may be the best opening track ever…and it finds its way onto many of my mix CDs as the opening track.

    Also, “La Femme D’ARgent” on Air’s Moon Safari is a solid opener.

  • Reply Erin September 21, 2010 at 12:14 am

    oooh thank you for pointing me to that Joy Division song. just added more to my iTunes debt 🙂

  • Reply Shelly September 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Plainsong!!! That song and Disintegration changed my relationship with music. I can remember exactly the moment when I heard that song for the first time.

    Thank you for the great list!

  • Reply Ali September 22, 2010 at 4:29 am

    love it! and love the fretting over the list – so Rob from High Fidelity. this blog is giving me so many ideas for my reno all the way down in Perth, Western Australia – thanks!

  • Reply Oliver September 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    So many Stone Roses fans! Yesh!

    The last time I saw the Cure was in Chicago for the Disintegration tour. They opened with Plainsong, and I remember they just let those bells at the beginning go on for a while, and it was all smoke and flickering light. The anticipation was incredible. Then that first big note… the lights came on, and the rest was a dream, just me and Robert.

    Ahh. Where was I? Oh yeah. Submitted for your approval:

    Son of a Gun- The La’s
    Just a Little Lovin’- Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis
    Alsatian Cousin- Moz, Viva Hate

  • Reply Grumble Girl September 26, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    All of them so hurt-my-soul-in-a-good-way awesome… love.

  • Reply dana g. October 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    my #1 favorite album opener without question…

    Black Dog / Led Zeppelin IV

    I also like…
    Is This Love / Bob Marley, Legend
    Come Together / Beatles, Abby Road
    Speak to Me/Breathe / Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
    15 Step / Radiohead, In Rainbows
    Dee-lite theme / Dee-lite, World Clique
    Up the Beach / Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking

    I’m totally with you on Plainsong and London Calling.
    great post.

  • Reply dana g. October 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I forgot to mention that I don’t really care for “shuffle” either. I like to listen to one album at a time, start to finish – the way it was meant to be.

    oh, and Where the Streets Have No Name / U2, Joshua Tree

  • Reply Patrick February 2, 2011 at 1:04 am

    “1969” – The Stooges
    “Search & Destroy” – The Stooges
    “Uncontrollable Urge” – DEVO
    “Garbage Man” – The Cramps
    “Teenage Riot” – Sonic Youth
    “Loser” – Beck
    “Cannonball” – The Breeders
    “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes
    “Is This It” – The Strokes
    “No Wow” – The Kills

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