TEN BEST ALBUM-OPENERS
BOB DYLAN — “LIKE A ROLLING STONE,” HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (1965)
Unlike the hushed acoustic strums that open Dylan’s first five albums, a startling thwack of a snare drum announces the beginning of both Highway 61 and the artist’s electric phase. Folk purists famously chastised Dylan at the time for this stylistic transition, but the album is now perhaps his most acclaimed, largely due to “Like a Rolling Stone,” which Rolling Stone magazine voted the Greatest Song of All Time in 2004. Despite the blatant bias there, it’s deserving of the spot.
LED ZEPPELIN — “WHOLE LOTTA LOVE,” LED ZEPPELIN II (1969)
Jimmy Page’s chugging guitar riff is the perfect start to Led Zeppelin’s sophomore outing, which finds the band at its most freewheeling. But as famous as the “Whole Lotta Love” riff is, Robert Plant’s seductive cadence, John Bonham’s masterful percussive bridge and Page’s astonishing solo all trump it. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how this band was so critically scorned in its day.
MARVIN GAYE — “LET’S GET IT ON,” LET’S GET IT ON (1973)
Though already responsible for an array of hit singles, Marvin Gaye didn’t master the art of the album until he released the classic What’s Going On in 1971. Gaye’s next album, the equally-famous Let’s Get It On saw a shift in his subject matter from injustice to, well, gettin’ it on. The title track features the most rich and soulful vocal performances I’ve ever heard and is massively influential to the crooners who followed, from Prince to R. Kelly to Frank Ocean.
SONIC YOUTH — “TEEN AGE RIOT,” DAYDREAM NATION (1988)
Consider the 80-second prologue of “Teen Age Riot” as Sonic Youth playing possum. Kim Gordon recites spoken-word over then-husband Thurston Moore’s hypnotic guitar rhythm, making for a delicate Sonic Youth sound, one the band wouldn’t fully embrace for at least a decade later. But then Moore suddenly begins an invigorating riff that lays the framework to a song that’s as vital in its tone as it is in its influence to the indie rock movement that followed.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE — “ONLY SHALLOW,” LOVELESS (1991)
If “Teen Age Riot” features a calm before a storm, My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” is a pure Frankenstorm from start to finish. It’s an intensely overwhelming audio cascade of loops, obscured vocals and overdubbed effect-heavy guitar parts (hence the genre of shoegaze).
RADIOHEAD — “EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE,” KID A (2000)
Releasing an album as excellent and beloved as 1997’s OK Computer was a blessing and a curse for Radiohead. Their stock skyrocketed critically and commercially, but they faced the unenviable burden of having to follow it up. The opening five chords of “Everything in Its Right Place” signal the band exploring uncharted territory, as they do throughout Kid A. The album is challenging and far from immediate, but its complexity and beauty give it a limitless ceiling of potential enjoyment. In other words, it’s my favorite album of all-time.
WILCO — “I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART,” YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2001)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is Wilco’s equivalent to Kid A, almost to a startling degree. The album saw the band take an experimental leap in the studio, made evident by the brave opening minute of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” which features singer Jeff Tweedy at his most vulnerable. The storied process of making the album is documented in a film that shares its name with the opening track.
DAFT PUNK — “ONE MORE TIME,” DISCOVERY (2001)
With apologies to Gil-Scott Heron, the revolution wasn’t so much televised as it was broadcast by two French robots. “One More Time,” the audio equivalent of a New Years Eve party (or perhaps a rapture party), is an utterly timeless song. It’s a risky move to start an album with such a go-for-broke track, but it speaks to Discovery’s quality that the momentum is sustained through the following four songs, all classics in their own right.
COMMON — “BE (INTRO),” BE (2005)
I know. Be is a good album, but hardly one of classic status, like the others listed here. But as Common’s last relevant album, one largely produced by Kanye West and the dying J Dilla, it’s definitely significant. The West-helmed “Be (Intro)” triumphantly incorporates jazz and neo-soul into one of the more unique and uplifting opening statements in hip-hop history.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM — “DANCE YRSELF CLEAN,” THIS IS HAPPENING (2010)
In theory, “Dance Yrself Clean,” the first track off LCD Soundsystem’s third and final album, is a simple song. It gradually shifts from being soft and pondering to boisterous and assured over its seven minutes, accompanied by an insanely intricate synth breakdown midway through. “It’s the end of an era, it’s true,” James Murphy states. Though LCD’s lifespan was a mere five years, they’ll eventually be recognized as this generation’s Talking Heads.