This list is wrong. Not just to you, reader – who might argue that S Club 7’s Bring It All Back was the greatest album opener of all time (SPOILER: It isn’t), but also to me, the creator of this list. That is because like all things in life, music is an entirely momentary and a song that I like one day I might despise the next.
Nonetheless, what follows is an attempt to answer the definitive bar room question; a theoretically perfect album by amassing the best songs from each album track position. My only rules are that the songs must be from their original albums – no compilations or live versions – and the same artist cannot appear twice. So without further ado:
Honourable mentions: Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Welcome To The Jungle – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Following poor sales from his first two albums Bruce Springsteen’s third outing, Born To Run, shies away from the brash and brazen sounds of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle and into darker, more melancholic territory.
Thunder Road introduces us to this cynical Springsteen, his narrator having gone from liberating and confiscating Rosalita to telling Wendy that he’s no hero; while his girls have gone from a “stone desire” to “no beauty, buy hey you’re alright.”
Meanwhile, Welcome To The Jungle from Guns ‘n’ Roses Appetite For Destruction is one of the most recognisable openings to any song. That it’s Side 1/Track 1 of their first ever album is remarkable, not least because they haven’t come close to getting this good again. However, what the song is missing that my Track 1 has is a bagpipe:
Track 1: It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) – AC/DC (High Voltage, 1976)
Like Welcome To The Jungle this is Track 1 of AC/DCs first album (unless you’re Australian, in which case it would be Baby, Please Don’t Go – a song which has 1,068 recorded versions). It might not be as well known to many as other AC/DC songs – Back In Black or Highway To Hell to name but two – and is instead probably best remembered as the song Jack Black covers at the end of School Of Rock. Or perhaps by people who sing “it’s a long way to the shop, if you want a sausage roll.”
Honourable mention: Losing My Religion – REM
Comprised of a bassline stolen from Fleetwood Mac, and Peter Buck trying to learn the mandolin, Losing My Religion is the best religious song that has absolutely nothing to do with religion ever recorded.
Track 2: Aren’t You Glad – The Beach Boys (Wild Honey, 1967)
I’ve never quite understood the obsession with Pet Sounds – supposedly The Beach Boys’ “magnum opus.” Apart from Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows (two songs ruined by the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates) it’s a largely mediocre album, far surpassed by Wild Honey. Most of the eleven songs from this album could make the list, but Aren’t You Glad’s falsetto chorus makes it irresistible.
Fact – only one of The Beach Boys could surf.
Honourable mentions: My Girlhood Among The Outlaws – Maria McKee, Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode
I first heard Maria McKee through her song If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags), used during the scene in Pulp Fiction where Mia is ODing. She’s essentially Dido, but marginally less embarrassing to admit listening to. Unfortunately Hang Me In Rags can’t make the list as it never appeared on an album, but the pick of her album tracks, My Girlhood Among The Outlaws, comes close.
Personal Jesus, however, with its booming bass is a far more masculine song inspired by the autobiography of Priscilla Pressley. As well as being another horrible mondegreen song, “your own personal cheese board,” on a par with The Jam’s Eating Trifles, this is a masterful electronic/pop song that’s either about one-sided relationships or tele-evangelists.
Hilary Duff also did a cover of it… No?
Track 3: Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio feat. L.V. (Gangsta’s Paradise, I Am L.V., 1995)
I can hardly bring myself to write “gangster” without an “r” in it, because even at my most irate and threatening I am still a very long way from being ‘gangsta’ in any way at all. I spend my days drinking tea and going for walks through Cambridgeshire farmland; this is certainly not “the valley of death;” nor am I entirely sure what Coolio is talking about when he sings, “I was raised by the stripes/so I gotta be down with the hood team.”
Nonetheless, there is something I find so appealing about Gangsta’s Paradise that isn’t there with most rap; this line from Wikipedia pretty much sums it up:
“This song is one of the few Coolio tracks which does not feature profanity.”
While its subject might not be as relatable to myself as others on this list, the lyrics themselves are heartfelt, the music sampled from Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, while L.V.s chorus has a powerful soul vibe.
Next time – tracks 4-6.