Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 17 best song openings of the 60's and 70's

I first suggested this concept a few years ago to Blender magazine's editor in chief when we worked together. And like most story ideas I gave them, they ignored it. But I didn't forget it and that's why we have blogs like this, so we can do it. Except I'm just focusing on two decades the 60's and 70's.

Here's how I define the criteria for this list: it's an introduction that signals something is about to come, a true curtain raiser. It's not a riff -- if I wanted to do a list of great riffs, that would be something else. I wanted to single out openings that were not the song's main riffs.


1) The Beach Boys -- "California Girls." This was the first song I thought about when I devised this concept. I used it during the opening credits for a California family trip video I made because the opening has distinct sections that could be timed. "California Girls" unfolds like a slowly growing flower, dual guitars in unison playing the melody as the saxophone section blares louder and louder, the tingles of the cymbal rides, surrounded in Brian Wilson's amazing wall of sound reverb.

2) Michael Jackson -- "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." This is like a bottle under pressure ready to pop. To the steady rhythm of an egg shaker, it seems like an electric bass and synth bass blended together in a rather short, sharp pattern. Jackson does a famous under his breath cosmic mumble: "You know I was, I was wondering if we should keep on. Because the force it's got a lot of power. And it makes me feel like... It make me feel like ...WOOOOOOOO!" From my favorite Jackson album, Off The Wall.

3) Average White Band -- "Pick Up The Pieces." A true call to get up onto the dance floor, eight seconds of Hamish Stuart's suspended rhythm guitar chord, the bass starting on one note and up an octave, a mashy organ chord fading up, and a tambourine sizzling through it all. An intro to one of the greatest hit instrumentals of all time.



4) The Beatles -- "A Hard Day's Night." One three-second ringing electric guitar chord from George Harrison's Rickenbacker. That'll get your attention. I always thought it was the one-hit strum of a typically-tuned open guitar (EADGBE). Except a couple of years ago, Guitar Player magazine devoted a whole page to what that opening chord really is. It's an F chord with an added G note on top. And Paul's bass is in there somewhere with a D note. Supposedly, George Martin's got a piano note in there as well.


5) Bruce Springsteen -- "Tenth Avenue Freezeout." The Boss has had many terrific song intros -- "Thunder Road" would be right on top of that list -- but if there's one song that had an intro that stood apart from the rest of the song, it's this one from Born To Run. Legend has it that nobody was happy with the song's horn arrangement until guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, a true connoisseur of everything great that's rock and soul, basically hummed the arrangement he heard in his head to the horn playing Brecker Brothers. The intro was a three chord R&B fanfare done in time to the ride cymbal, then Max Weinberg's snare powering up like a motorboat, kicking it into glorious life.

6) Edwin Starr -- "War." A five second drum roll that gets louder and louder, clearly meant to represent the military, perhaps "Taps." Then Starr and the singers launch cold into their "War" chorus. Startling and dramatic for one of 1970's most socially-conscious Motown hits.

7) The Fifth Dimension -- "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In." The epitome of 60's orchestrated pop, this massive hit was the collaboration of producer Bones Howe and the top LA studio musicians and arrangers of the time (I'm thinking of the infamous "Wrecking Crew" with drummer Hal Blaine). Taking hippie culture and making it mass market acceptable for the radio, the song opens with a spacey three note pattern played on flutes and piccolos with a triangle ringing, high strings fading in and then the tuned timpani's booming out that beat, a hi hat on every other beat. The whole opening evoked some kind of out of body travel experience ("When the moon is in the seventh house...").


8) The Rolling Stones -- "Honky Tonk Women." You knew exactly what was coming from the mere distinguishable unaccompanied taps on the cowbell, followed by the thunderous entry of Charlie Watts' drums. I must have worn this 45 down to a pulp and played it for my grandmother, who said she "liked the beat" (a line she must have copped from "American Bandstand").



9) Earth, Wind & Fire -- "In The Stone." This group was at its commercial peak when they released the I Am album, which opened with this song. Of all the songs on this list, this is probably the most full-blown, something you'd picture smoke bombs and fireworks going off, the famous EWF horns, strings, hand percussion -- this sounds like a damn overture for one of the finest dance tunes the band ever did. I'm already envisioning using it for my family's bar mitzvah entrance next March.


10) Billy Joel -- "Piano Man"/"The Stranger." Although this first song is considered a classic, but far from one of my favorites of his, Joel was always a witty jokester. So to begin his autobiographical tale of a lounge piano player, he plays two schmaltzy chords and accompanying overdone dramatic notes, the kinds you would hear in just about any nightclub. Joel went for an even more cinematic effect with the second tune, low Em piano chords and slow sizzling cymbal beats accompanying a heavily-reverbed whistle, evoking the lonely man image of the song.

11) The Hollies -- "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress." I saw a guy playing this electric guitar intro note per note at the Guitar Center in Carle Place about two years ago and thought I should go home and teach myself that one. This is a virtuoso solo electric guitar piece that has nothing to do with the song that follows it except it just sounds so cool and heck if I know why it's even there. It's an arpeggioed Em-G pattern with two thunderous tom slams at the end of each go 'round, and then into the E major boogie of the song with the nearly un-decipherable lyrics.

12) Arthur Conley -- "Sweet Soul Music." Who would have thought that the main motif from "The Magnificent Seven" on horns could translate into one of the great soul music intro's of the 60's? And what a great song, name checking southern soul greats like Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, and James Brown.



13) Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons -- "Let's Hang On." The sung intro to this hit reminds me of a lot of old 40's songs, such as the so-called "American songbook" of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, which had sung mini-intros that had no resemblance to the rest of the song. It's like that kind of throwback to those days and damn if it works: "There ain't no good in our goodby-in'... True love takes a lot of tryin'... oh I'm cryin'."



14) The Doors -- "Light My Fire." I don't know who thought of the idea of piecing together the chord progressions of John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things" and turning it into a Bach-sounding canticle roaring into one of rock's psychedelic classics, but it worked all too well.





15) Jimi Hendrix -- "Foxey Lady." I'm not the world's biggest Hendrix
fan, but how can I not appreciate a searing growing feedback buzz coming in from the distance as this song's intro. He was the first to do this on a hit single, and it represented him perfectly.




16) Aerosmith -- "Sweet Emotion." It took a lot of imagination to do a pretty lengthy spaced-out intro like this before Joey Kramer's snare intro bumps into this hard rock classic. Shakers, a guitar talk box, funky bass -- it's all groove with no drums, but it gives you plenty of time to anticipate the roaring guitars about to come.



17) The Sweet -- "Ballroom Blitz"/"Fox On The Run." I can't believe I almost left these two out. "Ballroom Blitz" has a truly insane kick-off, with a hard-pounding snare march and kick back beat, and Brian Connolly calling out each member of the band: "Are you ready, Steve?" "Ah hah." "Andy?" "Yeah!" "Mick?" "OK." "All right, fellas. Let's go-o-o-o-o!" I mean, what the hell was that? And "Fox On The Run" with its analog synth going out of control, its cutoff opening wider and wider until it blows its top. You have to credit the brilliant producer Mike Chapman for those memorable beginnings and songs themselves.


RUNNER UPS:

Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airman -- "Hot Rod Lincoln." How can you not love a song that starts with the singer alone babbling out one cool line from the end of it?

Boz Scaggs -- "Lido Shuffle." Jeff Porcaro's confident fast shuffle to David Hungate's one note bass playing 16ths. Sometimes the simplest things just work.

The 80's

When I get to best song openings of the 80's down the line, I'm 100% sure that Prince's "Dearly beloved" monologue for "Let's Go Crazy" is going to top the list.


3 comments:

Axe Victim said...

A work of art. Bravo man, bravo.

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