One of the more memorable moments from the 2002 John Cusack hit film High Fidelity, was record-shop owner Rob Gordon's "Top 5 Side 1s, Track 1s" scene. For those not familiar, it's a reference to when people got their music on vinyl - which featured two sides of music on the record.
This is our list (in chronological order) of favorite album openers. Consider it a Rob Gordon Tribute list.
As we'll see on this list, a number of these songs come from some of the greatest debut albums of all time. Now, does it really get better than this? Come on. Elvis Presley changed the sound and look of the popular music scene. As far as his studio albums went, this classic was the one that kicked it all off and gave "rock and roll" fans a new entertainment hero to worship.
Not a debut album, but still arguably the best collective studio project from Diana Ross and Co. The title track is as good as it gets when it comes to starting off a true pop experience. Like a great lead-off hitter in baseball, the song sets the table for fellow shining Motown gems that follow-- "Run, Run, Run," Baby Love," "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," and "Come See bout Me."
One of The Who's greatest songs kicks off what is arguably the band's best album. Some casual classic rock fans think the song is entitled "Teenage Wasteland," since Roger Daltrey wails the phrase often. But, it's the famed intro played by Pete Townshend on the Lowrey TBO-1 organ that has become the song's true legacy. Fans of Pearl Jam know this is a popular cover during that group's live shows.
Led Zeppelin's fourth album is known by even the most casual classic rock fans for "Stairway to Heaven." Yet, this opener tends to stand out among others from the band ("Good Times, Bad Times," "Immigrant Song"). Underrated bassist John Paul Jones wrote the popular riff among the so-called "call-and-response" vocal dynamic. The song is also another example of John Bonham's greatness. In this case, without having to draw too much attention to himself.
"Hey ho, let's go! Hey ho, let's go!" Does more really need to be said? What a way to kick off a legacy. Arguably the band's most memorable tune, "Blitzkrieg Bop" helped define the Ramones' sound, attitude, and approach to the American punk rock movement. Fast-paced, straight forward with no room to mess around. At 2 minutes, 12 seconds, the opener to the group's stellar debut record is actually one of the longer tunes on the LP.
Who said girls can't rock? Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, there were more than a few. That changed, for the most part, once the world got a listen to this hard-charging furry of sound from Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, Sandy West, and Jackie Fox. A-far-from-innocent song from a band of the same ilk, "Cherry Bomb" is one of the most explosive opening numbers in rock history.
Consider this a twofer. Yes, these are separate songs. However, thanks to FM radio back in the day, it's almost impossible to hear "We Will Rock You" without expecting "We Are the Champions to immediately follow. Thanks to hand-clapping, foot-stomping "We Will Rock You" paving the way into the emotional climax of "We Are the Champions," it's been a massive part of Queen's legacy.
There are some fans of The Boss who would argue "Thunder Road" kicking off Born to Run is worthy of consideration. That said, there is something more special about the opener of the Darkness album that gets the blood flowing and feet moving to enjoy another of his classic albums. Through the years, "Badlands" has become one of the true highlights for his marathon and memorable live shows.
This will go down as one of the best pop-rock debut records of all time. And, "Good Times Roll" gets it all started. With its notable opening riff, the song was a fine example of that new-wave/pop sound listeners would come to enjoy from The Cars' early work. The song is also an example of an opener that does not need to be over-the-top or too much for the listener to handle. It's just creatively and originally perfect.
Not only is "Runnin' with the Devil" one of the great album openers, but also has one of the most recognizable beginnings of all time. From the escalating sound of car horns to the memorable bass tab, this was the music world's introduction to Van Halen. It was bombast from the beginning, and the VH train rolled on for decades -- giving fans some of the greatest hard-rock music ever made.
Like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC is in the upper echelon of bands noted for classic side one, track ones ("It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)," "Hells Bells" and "Thunderstruck"). However, the opening guitar riff alone is enough to make "Highway to Hell" one of the great songs in hard-rock history. It's also the gateway to a truly special rock record that's stellar from top to bottom and our final memory of the vocal gift that was Bon Scott.
"Kill the Poor" was not the first single off the Kennedys' debut album, but it's certainly quite the opener. It's actually one of the band's more poppier tunes, but still had enough punk credibility to serve as the perfect lead-off song to one of the most important records of a genre that was burgeoning in the United States. Indie movie fans might also remember its usage in the fabulous SLC Punk!
By this time, Journey was a staple of 1970s arena rock staple. However, the Escape album turned the band into international superstars. While hits like "Open Arms" and "Who's Crying Now," helped make the record a massive success, over the years, this opening cut has become somewhat of an anthem . Perhaps because of its use as a rallying cry during the Chicago White Sox's run to the 2005 World Series or its popularity within the Glee universe.
Trying to come up with that one standout opening track from the Stones is like trying to decide which flavor of Ben & Jerry's is the best. Still, there is something special about that opening riff of "Start Me Up." Plus, it would go on to become a highlight of their spectacular live shows, often opening those sets. Not to mention, the video offered plenty of laughs from Mick's dancing.
Hardcore, old-school Rush fans probably won't want to admit that this is the best lead-off song of any album in the band's legendary catalog. Still, "Tom Sawyer" is a perfect way to draw listeners into the Moving Pictures experience. The space-age sound of Geddy Lee's keyboard opening helped make it one of the band's most popular songs and guaranteed to be heard on classic rock radio (if there's still such a thing) on a daily basis.
Often used to open Maiden's always animated and detailed live shows, complete with Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech intro. "Aces High" is the first of a 1-2 punch with "2 Minutes to Midnight." It's a fast-paced, frenetic romp that kicks the door down on one of Iron Maiden's most critically and commercially successful albums.
Before LL Cool J went back to "Cali" and became a TV star, he was one of the biggest rappers on the planet thanks to this record. While 1985's Radio is one of the great rap debuts ever, this opening cut from his sophomore effort certainly delivers. Following an APB-style-intro, It's like a punch to the jaw. Fast-paced, aggressive, and filled with those cliched rhymes we loved about harmless '80s rap.
Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, the mainstream rock scene was essentially all big hair, lipstick and power ballads made for MTV. Then came the raunchy and strip-down sound of Guns N' Roses. One of the best examples of that sound is this opening number to the band's massively popular debut record. Sure, Axl Rose's hair was a teased a little high in the video, but the edgy lyrics and Slash's dirty guitar work opened rock fans' eyes to another side of the Sunset Strip. And, we're still grateful to this day.
When it comes to album openers, it really does not get better than this. The build-up of the synthesized open, overlaid with The Edge's Stratocaster and reinforced with Larry Mullen Jr.'s drums is simply superb. With that, U2's foray into superstardom had commenced. As they say, the rest is history, but one still can't help but get a case of the chills when hearing this pop-alternative classic.
When the music world first got a look and listen to these NYC rockers, it was something to behold. Four African-American men, sporting bright colors and even spandex, blew away the MTV crowd with this opening track from their debut album. From Corey Glover's gritty vocals to the raunchiness of Vernon Reid's guitar, Living Colour hit the ground running and never looked back.
"You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge." With those words from Dr. Dre, N.W.A. began its assault on the gangsta rap world. N.W.A.'s debut record is considered by many critics as perhaps the best rap effort of all time. This opening track sets the stage for an honest and, often, brutal lyrical depiction of street survival in southern California in the 1980s.
Always the grand show-women, Madonna went big with the lead track to her fourth studio album of the same name. It's a grandiose explosion of pop with a gospel-feel thrown in for more bombast. The somewhat controversial video for the five-plus-minute tune followed the same type of spectacle. It's a mini-film of sorts which naturally earned heavy rotation within the MTV universe that made her an international superstar.
Music pundits like to credit this song as the defining moment when grunge went mainstream and officially drove the final nail in the hair metal coffin. At least in terms of what would be played on MTV. From a historical standpoint, the song was a refreshing change of pace on the hard-rock landscape. It also introduced the rest of the world to how special Nirvana was as a band and perhaps what could have been.
The Pumpkins' sophomore effort made them mainstream alt-rock stars. This lead-off number with a memorable drum roll and up-tempo riff opened the door to a musical journey that rocked our emotions on many levels. It's also a song that showcased the uniqueness of leader Billy Corgan's vocals and guitar work. It remains one of the great songs -- from any genre -- during the MTV era of the 1990s.
When Beyoncé left Destiny's Child to strike out on her own, this was our first introduction to what would make her one of the most popular entertainers of all time. With help from her future husband, the opening cut to her debut album is larger than life. It's in-your-face dance/pop, with some R&B thrown in as an homage. It was the beginning of a legacy that's still growing.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.