We were originally planning to run this fun/dumb musical discussion of the best track 1, album 1 next Friday but due to the passing of Tommy Ramone, the last original Ramones member, over the weekend, we’re going with it today.
We also know this exists…
We also know that a lot of great albums have excellent track 2s after a very short intro. Intros count.
We also know that this could go on for days.
Ramones Ramones “Blitzkreig Bop” (1976)
The Ramones played over 2,200 shows during their 20-year career. The first song on their first album laid the groundwork for those shows. And all their albums. And thousands of bands that heard this song.
Written by drummer Tommy Ramone and bassist Dee Dee Ramone, the succinct 2:12 track (shorter live) is perfect. Perfect length, perfect lyrics, perfectly simple. Anyone with 30 minutes can learn to play the song on guitar. Anyone with 35 minutes can learn to play the song and sing. It’s greatness is its simplicity. Whether you’re 14 or 64, anyone can play this song and it sounds good.
The Stooges came first, but the Ramones are the first punk band. This is the first punk anthem. It’s undeniably great. It’s why it was used in Thursday Night Football promos in 2012 and National Lampoon’s Vacation nearly 30 years earlier. Hum the chorus and it’s in your head for the day. It’s timeless. It should be in your head. -Brandon Wetherbee
Curtis Mayfield Curtis “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go” (1970)
After spending 15-years harmonizing with The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield released his solo debut. Rather than give an already adoring audience a 3-and-a-half-minute soulful song about love, Mayfield decided to take on everything. Racism. Sexism. The afterlife. Everything. A chika-chika guitar riff, conga solos and one of the thickest bass lines of all times make this nearly 8-minute epic an epic. -Brandon Wetherbee
Talking Heads Talking Heads: 77 “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town” (1977)
Of all the comings of David Byrne, surely the first one matters the most. And on 77, the debut album by my universally-acknowledged-during-cocktail-party-conversations “favorite band of all time” (Talking Heads) he brought us “Psycho Killer” and more (more, MORE) nuggets of all the beautiful weirdness and the only political pop I have been really able to handle (“I see the laws made in Washington, D.C. / I think of the ones I consider my favorites / I think of the people that are working for me.”) this band was to become famous for. All of which makes me want to write a long essay about the genius of the whole endeavor. But, smartly (and luckily for you in this case), as if making this record for me, they opened with Uh Oh Love Comes To Town so I just get to write a few sentences about IT. An under-3-min confection (something I appreciate more than most – you go over 3:30 and, lets face it, with a perfect pop song, you could do some editing, always) which broadcast to the world the unlikely marriage of Byrne’s quivering quavering voice, the band’s collective love of 60s bubblegum music and Motown, ALL mixed in with that breezy urban tropical vibe that would later permeate everything from “This Must Be The Place” to “Sugar On My Tongue.” New Wave (of everything) indeed. From “the smartest man around” (which you’ll learn soon from the smartest girl in town). -Svetlana Legetic
Television Marquee Moon “See No Evil” (1977)
The best debut album in rock history. In 1975 at CBGB’s in NYC, one of the greatest music scenes in our country’s history was just starting to grow, and Television was at the creative forefront of what became punk. The interesting thing about this album is not just it’s creativity and original songwriting, but it’s remarkable musicianship and execution. The band simply executed the material as perfect as one could have imagined. It’s one of the few perfect albums ever made; genius songs recorded masterfully and performed by top level musicians at the top of their game who still value originality over all else.
The opener “See No Evil,” perfectly embodies the album as a whole. Deceptively simple yet incredibly original dual guitar laid over a rhythm section with as good of a pocket as you can imagine in rock. Tom Verlaine’s lyrical genius only adds to the fact that this is overall one of the greatest albums ever made, and certainly a debut with no serious competition artistically in the history of rock music. -Alex Tebeleff
The Pretenders Pretenders “Precious” (1980)
A song about your hometown on an album most people from your hometown aren’t going to love. A confident screed against everything and nothing. Vague enough to stand up 30+ years later.
2:41, “Fuck off.” -Brandon Wetherbee
The Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy “Just Like Honey” (1985)
Before I get to the song, I want to talk to those nerds who want to pick apart the ending of Lost in Translation. In it, Bill Murray’s character whispers something to ScoJo’s character, and the audience cannot hear it. I cannot stress the last part enough: the audience cannot hear it. Because we cannot hear it, it does not fucking matter what he said. What matters is that he said something. It’s a secret between those people, and Sofia Coppola is happy to leave it as such. Anyway, after that scene the song “Just Like Honey” starts playing. It’s an amazing song, for many reasons, but there are two I want to highlight. It helped jumpstart shoegaze, which is a popular genre nowadays (for better or worse). Warm, fuzzy guitar noise is the best kind of noise. The second reason is that shoegaze musicians, whether they know it or not, want to sound like Phil Spector. The Jesus and Mary Chain have the wherewithal and self-awareness to steal directly from Spector’s most famous song, a decision that makes this album 1, track 1, better than all the others on this god damn list. -Alan Zilberman
Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction Welcome to the Jungle (1987)
In Los Angeles in 1987, the state of rock and roll had reached such a cartoonish meta-state, where in the subtly glamorous affectations of Aerosmith (Steven Tyler’s scarves) had been processed by the next generation into neon leotards and absurd theatrics, that the era is sonically high-end dominant because of the effect of cocaine on the human sense of hearing. This period is documented with particular snark by Penelope Spheeris in the movie Decline Of Western Civilization, the subjects of which cannot even fathom the notion that they will not be famous, which is he singular goal in being a musician if the fresh faced, loaded party animals of the sunset strip. These “hair bands” were the bane of anything sacred about rock and roll. It was over, so everyone thought– lost in a tragic, superficial ethos of jacuzzis and breast implants.
From the outset there was something dangerous about Guns N Roses debut track “Welcome to the Jungle,” the swirling police sirens and clawing guitar scratches, which build into an explosive and violent riff, like a fight just broke out. Lyrically it encapsulates everything despicable that punctuated the LA rock scene, but that the others bands were too busy preening to talk about: porno, drugs, vanity, money, disease, crime, and self destruction. Aesthetically GNR wore leather and were junkie-skinny; nothing neon about this band, and certainly no spandex. Matt Pinfield remarked that once Appetite for Destruction arrived, all bets were off. This debut cut wasn’t just an introduction to the band, but to a scary metallic underworld that, up to this point, had no proper soundtrack. -Andrew Bucket
The Stone Roses The Stone Roses “I Wanna Be Adored” (1989)
You can trace the lineage of every respectable British rock band formed after 1990 back to the Stone Roses. Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines, Coldplay and yes, even Radiohead all owe a debt to the Manchester quartet who released their stunning eponymous debut album in spring 1989. It makes sense that it would inspire a generation of English musicians because, at its heart, The Stone Roses is a concept album about struggling to become, and finally achieving rock stardom.
It takes forty seconds for “I Wanna Be Adored,” the record’s opening track, to finally start moving with a slippery, hypnotic bassline courtesy of Mani, who along with drummer Reni form the group’s mononymed rhythm section. Guitarist John Squire soon enters the fray, and nearly two minutes after the song begins, vocalist Ian Brown finally lets it be known, “I don’t have to sell my soul / He’s already in me.” From there, Brown clarifies his (and the group’s) mission statement: “I wanna be adored.”
Such an aggressive statement was a shift away from how contemporary acts of the era presented themselves. Rather than shy away from superstardom (like Robert Smith), or flirt with it (like Morrissey, whose band broke up two years prior), the Stone Roses embraced their destiny. Give them credit: they wanted to become the biggest rock stars in the UK, so they did. One can even argue that “I Wanna Be Adored” was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Five years later, another group from Manchester released “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” It also was the first song off their wildly successful first album. I wonder where they got the idea? -Andy Johnson
Wu-Tang Clan Enter the 36 Chambers “Bring Da Ruckus” (1993)
1993 saw the release of the Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal record, “Enter the 36 Chambers,” a rusty buzzsaw at the neck of the typical backpack dance rap and new jack swing hip-hop era. I’m sure other lazy writers like me have equated this to how grunge bodied hair metal but it’s apt. Lead single “Protect Ya Neck” buzzed through underground shows like Bobbito and Stretch, “Method Man” established Clifford Smith as a playful, breakout solo star (as much as a dusted blunt smoker could be), and “C.R.E.A.M.” topped rap charts while championing Mazda MPVs as the minivan of choice for project thuggery (2 sliding doors). Once you got your hands on the tape, though, it was “Bring Da Ruckus” that cemented the Wu-Tang as one of the hardest, weirdest groups decades before the spaced out idiosyncrasies of a Weezy or Future. Littered with 70s Kung Fu dialogue and an unfriendly as ever 20+ “motherfuckin”‘s, enunciated as deliberately then as on any RZA line since, the track is a shotgun blast of Wu ethos to the chest. Partners and solo legends Ghostface and Raekwon shine first while the GZA/Genius, currently giving lectures at Harvard, anchors the gutteral track with the hunger of someone recently fucked by the industry. RZA lays an evil facade of keys over a chopped up Melvin Bliss “Synthetic Substitution” breakbeat that’s downright horrific and, like any good horror movie, you can’t pull yourself away for the next 45-minutes. -Josh Phelps
The New Pornographers Mass Romantic “Mass Romantic” (2000)
Like a lot of records I bought between 1998 and 2004, Mass Romantic was purchased without my having heard a single note of it. A positive review, provactive cover art, and sympathetic pricing at Tower Records and then Plan 9 was generally all the convincing I need to offload my allowance for… something. Hopefully it ended up being good.
We obviously have it better these days. The barrier of entry to music nerdom is access to broadband. That’s fantastic to state the completely obvious. But it has taken the wind out of the “side one, track one” thing, at least for me. There was something about purchasing a CD, unwrapping the packaging in the parking lot, putting it in your car stereo, and, as those first seconds unfolded, the rush of “What the fuck did I just get myself into? What did my $13.99 just buy me? Does this sound like I’ve been imagining it would?” That was the power of a “side one, track one.”
The irony of choosing Mass Romantic for the list, then, is that I didn’t even purchase it in a brick-and-mortar. It was the first album I bought off The Internet. This was the fall of 2001 and the New Pornographers had yet to sign to Matador, so if you wanted Mass Romantic, you had to find someone with that Canadian connect. And so I did, and through the magic of e-commerce, the New Pornographers debut LP showed up at my door step, jumping out of my dreams and into my discman.
I was immediately taken aback by “Mass Romantic”. It was so… bubblegum. The korg was so… chintzy. Everything and everyone sounded so… ecstatic. My brain had to recalibrate. I was expecting pop music, but this was almost confrontational. I had heard Furnace Room Lullaby, but I had never heard Neko sing like this. Was I even allowed to be liking this? What were the limits of my taste? Walls were moving.
With hindsight, it’s the perfect introduction to Mass Romantic, and what the New Pornographers would do over the next dozen years. Vocals are stacked on top of vocals. Ideas overflow to an almost embarrassing degree – like the best of the Carl Newman’s work, it sounds as if he’s taken the best components of three songs and shoehorned them into one. (The bridge/coda flip in the last minute is Grade A stunting.) The whole thing is just so infectious. So magnetic. So massive. So romantic. I was hooked. -Phil Runco
The Strokes Is This It Is This It (2001)
I was the asshole kid that worked in a record store at 18 and thought The Strokes were full of shit. I thought The Vines had a future. I was wrong. I was very wrong.
The Strokes may be full of shit. I don’t know the guys and I don’t really care if they are or aren’t. I was too dumb and young to look past haircuts and fashion to hear the very good lyrics. The first verse on their first song on their first song is an excellent snapshot into what it’s like to be a certain 20-something boy or girl or man or woman living in an urban environment. Here’s the very hack part where I use the lyrics to say things I can’t.
Can’t you see I’m trying, I don’t even like it
I just lied to get to your apartment
Now I’m staying there just for a while
I can’t think ’cause I’m just way too tired
That’s it. That’s the basis for The Strokes first 13 years. -Brandon Wetherbee
Andrew W.K. I Get Wet “It’s Time To Party” (2001)
And he’s done just that for the last 13 years. -Brandon Wetherbee
The Streets Original Pirate Material “Turn The Page” (2002)
2003 on a trip to Ireland with my ex. It was, let’s say, it was a pretty important trip. A few days in she gets sick on kebab takeway or something, and we have to check out of our cute B&B in Doolin and go back to Galway so she can hole up in a tiny anonymous hotel room and sooth her intestines with bottled water, Pepto and chips. I’m driving a rental car so small that my feet tickle every cobble on the wrong-way-channeled piss-crusty streets back and forth to the news agents all hours of the night playing nursemaid. I need something to listen to so I stop by a Tower Records or whatever they have and buy a brand new copy of Original Pirate Material, which I was familiar with second hand but somehow needed, immediately, badly, for my new career as “The Getaway”-style drug mule. I pop the CD into the car and hear the strings.
I’ve never heard UK Garage on a pirate radio station. But I imagine finding the signal works like this: you catch a glimpse of the strings, grandiose minor pulsing, then zero in on a stark breakbeat. Everything seems hollow, and then a man comes to mic and tells you it’s over, we’re done, shut it down, everything’s over. And yet he goes on. He acknowledges he’s an usual person to be talking over beats, a member of a fallen ruling class from a fading empire. But he’s here to tell you the truth. 6 months before “Mom’s Spaghetti” he’s here to rescue his genre, his race, his nation, from a wack obscurity. It’s absurd, a fantasy. He has a sword for some reason. “The lord judges us,” he says. “We,” he says. “War is over,” he says. We lost probably. But he’s still here, turning it into poetry. Let’s fucking do this. Everything drops but the strings, but it doesn’t end–the next song snaps into place and we’re off, driving at night in a tiny death trap bringing our cheap solace to whoever is waiting for us. -Peter Heyneman
Bloc Party Silent Alarm “Like Eating Glass” (2005)
It’s probably been too long since any of you have listened to this song. In fact, next year will be Silent Alarm’s 10-year anniversary, which should make anyone who reads this feel very, very old.
But on the plus side, that means that a barrage of people will be revisiting this album (whether they intentionally plan on it or Pitchfork makes them), and we’ll finally get to that point in the collective conscience where we all just innately understand how big a landmark this album was, with “Like Eating Glass” kicking it all off.
Matt Tong’s post-punk drums that he turned into danceable rhythms, Russell Lissac’s iconic guitar sound, and a Kele Okereke with a fire in his belly that only comes from being 24 and putting out your debut album; there’s been enough time to pass that it’s unmistakably easy to see not only the kind of influence this song/album had on music after it, but how deftly these guys bridged the gap between musical mini-eras.
Bloc Party might not have aged well, but Silent Alarm is proving itself as an album that gets better and better as time goes by. -Bryce Rudow
Alt-J An Awesome Wave “Intro” (2012)
Yeah, I know, Alt-J is pretty new and they’re a ‘thing’ right now. But I maintain that “Intro,” for lack of a more original title, deserves some recognition for providing a beautiful encapsulation of an impossibly eclectic album. An Awesome Wave defies singular categorization, and yet “Intro” seems to sum up a lot of Alt-J’s key characteristics in about 2-and-a-half minutes. The eerie opening piano riff gives way to layered drums and spacey guitars, and comes to a head with crushing synth lows punctuated by Joe Newman’s demonically underscored voice. It’s a wave of sound and texture, and as indicated by the album title the only way to describe that wave is awesome. The track is over before you know what hit you, but it certainly makes for an intriguing opener to one of 2012’s best albums. -Trent Burns