Leave the best for first
Will Butler

13:45 14th July 2015

The first track of an album is significant for a number of reasons. It tends to be the moment we remember the most when listening to a record for the first time, but it also sets the tone for how the album progresses. Some great records are defined by their opening tracks so we thought it'd be a good idea to run through some of those great tracks on even better albums.

Nirvana's Nevermind starts with the one of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time, 'Cherub Rock' throws you right in the deep end of 'maximum fuzz' with the Pumpkins and Raw Power's 'Search and Destroy' shows how the entire punk movement changed within ten seconds of it playing. Point is, there's a lot of pressure on opening tracks to make a statement for, not only the record they precede, but the band as a whole.

Here are 29 of the most perfect album openers. 

  • The Strokes - 'Is This It' (Is This It, 2001): The first few seconds of loose hi-hat work tell us more about the whole album than the rest of the song. The production is rough as hell and will shape the sound of indie-rock for the next decade. Lazily strummed guitar remain steadied as the lethargic charisma of Julian Casablancas slumps over Nikolai Fraiture's, now cult, bassline.

  • The Rolling Stones - 'Gimme Shelter' (Let It Bleed, 1969): Boasting one of the most iconic choruses of the Stones' career, 'Gimme Shelter' is wild, rallying and vaguely psychedelic. A stone-cold classic.

  • Iggy and The Stooges - 'Search and Destroy' (Raw Power, 1973): Like mainlining gravel, Search Destroy is abrasive and probably bad for your health. Bowie produced, this track (and album) went on to map the blueprint for the whole punk movement.

  • Smashing Pumpkins - 'Cherub Rock' (Siamese Dream, 1993): Ceremonially opened with drum-rolls, the most grunge of grunge guitar riff has eroded itself into rock history. Corgan's sweet laments pairing with harmonious fuzz was no accident, it's what's given Pumpkins the longevity they have.

  • Weezer - 'My Name Is Jonas' (The Blue Album, 1994): "Come sit next to me / pour yourself some tea" sings a very young Rivers Cuomo. The Blue album is rich in innocence and kindness given the backdrop of glam-rock riffs. The opening track begins with this sustained acoustic guitar that explodes into a power-chord driven riff. Complexity traded for efficiency - the Weezer motto.

  • Bloc Party - 'Like Eating Glass' (Silent Alarm, 2005): Viscerally produced drums are what gives this whole album the trajectory it had and has. It only makes sense to front the record with them. Guitars whirl and hover at the top end of the mix slowly gaining sustain to create a size of indie sound that noone had quite reached at that point in the modern indie timeline.

  • Neutral Milk Hotel - 'The King of Carrot Flowers pt 1' (In An Aeroplane Over The Sea, 1997): A song that can bring people to tears for no explicable reason. The emotive powers of Jeff Magnum are a phenomena that cannot be explained. The warm guitars and homely accordion wheezes layer as Jeff spins this tale of an abusive family and a disheartened romantic, the character Jeff embodies for the entirety of this masterpiece.

  • Outkast - 'Gasoline Dreams' (Stankonia, 2000): Hendrix guitars zig-zag as boom-bap drums swagger under Andre 3000's "Alright, Alright, Alright"s creating this assertive electricity. The duo trade verses highlighting their individual strengths and new experimentation that Stankonia plays the role of platform for.

  • Queens of the Stone Age - 'You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire' (Songs For The Deaf, 2002): The rattling of car keys signifies the beginning of the roadtrip through hell that is Queens' third record. The opener burns with the heat of 1000 suns as Nick Oliveri's screams rattle over distorted guitar lines at a breakneck pace.

  • Wu-Tang Clan - 'Bring Da Ruckus' (Enter The Wu Tang: 36 Chambers, 1993): "Tough like an elephant tusk" Ghostface spits over guerilla production. Hip-hop's most volatile collective, Wu-Tang represent how hungry and competitive you have to be the be the best in the game and 'Ruckus' is just them stepping into the ring.

  • LCD Soundsystem - 'Dance Yrself Clean' (This is Happening, 2010): Probably the most cathartic moment in modern music, when the beat drops 'Dance Yrself Clean' turns into, not only the most danceable tune ever, but a song to get to know yourself to. It sounds cheesy but This Is Happening is written as relatable to James Murphy as it is to everyone that casts their ears to it. An epic odyssey of electro, everything that Murphy did best, and yet another painful reason to miss LCD.

  • The Velvet Underground - 'White Light, White Heat' (White Light, White Heat, 1968): 'The band that other bands listen to', 'White Light' crafted a structure for punk to come. Lou Reed sings with an unabashed freedom that was absent from The Velvet's debut while dirty guitars bound off each other.

  • Nirvana - 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' (Nevermind, 1992): Iconic and irreplaceable, Nirvana's Nevermind is the album that has gotten people into the ideas of albums since 1992. It introduced many to what a guitar riff is and will continue to do so for as long as rock music perseveres.

  • PJ Harvey - 'Rid of Me' (Rid of Me, 1993): Sinisterly quiet for the first minute, Harvey's vocals remain indiscernible but her attitude is very much clear. Don't mess with Harvey, just got the guitar chops and vocal aptitude to tear everyone apart. PJ's second album is an internal battle between neediness and violent rejection, it's sorely underrated as a record.

  • Michael Jackson - 'Wanna Be Startin' Something' (Thriller, 1982): Arguably the opener for the greatest pop record of all time, 'Startin' Somethin' is grandiose, catchy and the soundtrack of formative years for anyone aged 20-50 right now.

  • Nas - 'NY State of Mind' (Illmatic, 1994): Arguably the last 'authentic' hip-hop record of the 90s before monetisation wounded the genre. Illmatic kicks off with the most New York sounding hit ever, the beat is foggy and dramatic as Nas spits whatever he can to keep integrity. The opener sounds as vital as the album became.

  • Pixies - 'Bone Machine' (Surfa Rosa, 1988): Disjointed and possessed, 'Bone Machine' is the perfect introduction to the Pixies outside of 'Where Is My Mind?'. Frank Blank and Kim Deal's voice harmonise sweetly before sinewy guitars bend and distort, flooding the mix in an obtuse aggression like nothing you've heard before.

  • Patti Smith - 'Gloria' (Horses, 1975): Fusing punk (before punk was established) and poetry, Smith took Van Morrison's 'Gloria' and turned into something completely different. It's a testament to Patti Smith as an artist by opening her debut with a cover and transforming it into one of the most original moments of her career. "Jesus died for somebody's sins / But not mine" - wow.

  • Sonic Youth - 'Teenage Riot' (Daydream Nation, 1988): A perfect opener for a handful for reasons. It's nearly 8 minutes long, it builds to a climax of immeasurable awesomeness and it apparently details a fantasy world where J Mascis is president - what more could you want?

  • Tribe Called Quest - 'Excursions' (The Low End Theory, 1991): A four minute introduction to the history of Hip-Hop. Q-Tip runs through the importance of appreciating your craft's roots over a double bass and drum beat. The Low End Theory is golden age at it's best, it deserves a seminal opener.

  • Interpol - 'Untitled' (Turn On The Bright Lights, 2002): An album of post-punk revival that should be in every indie fan's collection. Swaying between uplifting and miserable, the unnamed opener from Interpol's debut is an essential part of their discography - sublime and subtle majesty.

  • Manic Street Preachers - 'Yes' (The Holy Bible, 1994): "You crazy fucker, how do I write music for this?" said frontman James Dea Bradfield when Edwards handed him the lyrics to what would become one of the greatest opening tracks in rock history. An anthem for anyone who's ever felt cheapened by the self-prostitution by doing just what it takes to get by, the Manics crowning moment comes in this firey number that states we're all whores, and that 'everything is for sale'.

  • The Beatles - 'Come Together' (Abbey Road, 1969): What appeared, at the time, to be complete nonsense actually become one of The Beatles' most celebrated songs of all time. Abbey Road, maybe more than any other Beatles release, shows the Fab Four coming together to surpass the limits of their individual talents.

  • Arcade Fire - 'Reflektor' (Reflektor, 2013): A great opener sets the thematic tone for the rest of the album, 'Reflektor' does exactly. "Trapped in a prism / In a prison of light", sings Win Butler as James Murphy influenced disco patters behind him. It's genius can be appreciated alone purely for it's dramatic departure from the dreary sounds of The Suburbs.

  • Pulp - 'Mishapes' (Different Class, 1995): The anthem for outsiders, 'Mis-Shapes' is the Britpop anthem for the less confrontational who want to be more justified in themselves. "Brothers and sisters can't you see / the future's owned by you and me", inspirational stuff from Cocker and the gang.

  • Queen - 'Death on Two Legs' (A Night At The Opera, 1975): Freddy Mercury is one of the most generous and 'all-in' frontmen of musical history. This applies not only to stage presence but also demeanour. 'Death on Two Legs' is widely regarded as Mercury's 'Hate Letter' to an ex-manager. It's a scorching opener to an album that actually unfurls multiple facets on the emotion scale.

  • David Bowie - 'Speed of Life' (Low, 1977): Not only the opener for Bowie's Low, but actually the opener for the whole Berlin trilogy, 'Speed of Life' marks the sound of brand new Bowie like no one had ever heard. The use of the overlaid harmoniser created a mix that sounded unlike any of his previous records. Inspired by A Clockwork Orange, the space age came again - courtesy of The Thin White Duke.

  • Wilco - 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2001): Only Jeff Tweedy can write such a vindictive song and win us over for an entire album. Totally fragmented, it's the perfect representation of a heart under fire from guilt.

  • Muse - 'Apocalypse Please' (Absolution, 2003): "Declare this an emergency," shrieks Matt Bellamy on a track that starts the album with the end of the world. Where can they go from there? Well, everywhere.

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Photo: Press