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10 Best Album Opening Tracks

Jack White / Jason Isbell / Zack de la Rocha
Michael Buckner / Mike Coppola / Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Even in this ever-changing digital world of music, the first track on an album, both past and present, serves as a master of ceremonies of sorts. It invites you in for what the artist has to offer at any given stage in their career whether it’s their first disc or their last. Perhaps the most important song on any release, the opening track can set the tone, create a mood and become your own personal anthem – all with the push of play.

Whether it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship or just a one night stand, the opening song should greet you with the fervor, flavor and temperament of the rest of the music that will follow, luring the listener in and locking the door behind.

We wondered how many albums have accomplished this with their opening track, so we decided to put together 10 of our favorite opening tracks. Check them out below — and then let us know what makes your personal Top 10 list!


10

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"

Wilco, 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'
 
 

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," the lead off track from Wilco's 2001's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is one of those songs that lyrically puts forth something we can all relate to through the pains of heartbreak — however, it’s within the vulnerability of the delivery that the song truly takes form. The honesty in the lyrics also makes it a stand-out song, and it’s that honesty that grabs hold as the song explodes into a kaleidoscope of sounds. There’s no way the listener doesn’t stick around for more after this one. Well played Wilco, well played!

 
9

"Stacked Actors"

Foo Fighters, 'There Is Nothing Left to Lose'
 
 

There’s always pros and cons to the old trick of leading with one of your strongest tracks, but in this case, it paid dividends. Foo Fighters have consistently delivered on energy and emotion and that’s exactly what "Stacked Actors" from 1999's There Is Nothing Left to Lose offers up. Starting off softly before the crunchy chorus kicks in and all hell breaks loose, this song punches you in the face with the type of reckless abandon we’ve come to expect from the Foo Fighters. It also marks the introduction of drummer Taylor Hawkins to the mix who makes his presence known throughout.

 
8

"To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"

Ryan Adams, 'Heartbreaker'
 
 

Before you say it, yes, we know that technically the album opener for Heartbreaker is "(Argument With David Rawlings Concerning Morrissey)." And while it's a lovely track, we think it's safe to say that "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" -- co-written by Rawlings -- is widely considered the introduction to Ryan Adams debut solo LP. It's quintessential alternative country, and it's not only a taste of what's to come on the impeccable Heartbreaker, but it's also a brief peek at Adam's unmatched prolific career as a solo artist.

 
7

"Debaser"

The Pixies, 'Doolittle'
 
 

The rumbling bass that signals the opening track on the Pixies' second album sounds like something big and mighty is approaching on the horizon. After the jagged guitars and drums enter, Black Francis' apocalyptic vocals -- howling surrealistic nonsense inspired by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí -- sound like they're a natural part of the landscape by the time they show up.

 
6

"Cover Me Up"

Jason Isbell, 'Southeastern'
 
 

We've said it before, and we'll say it until our last dying breath: Jason Isbell might very well be one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- songwriters alive today. His talents were beautifully captured during his run with Drive-by Truckers, but he didn't truly shine until he hit the road on his own, and the song that introduced an even bigger world of new fans to Isbell came courtesy of the lead to 2013's Southeastern. Equal parts beautiful and sad, powerful and subtle, "Cover Me Up" is the perfect representation of why we can't stop listening to everything Isbell creates, and perfectly sets the stage for the rest of the album.

 
5

"Bombtrack"

Rage Against the Machine, 'Rage Against the Machine'
 
 

"Bombtrack" is Rage Against the Machine. Opening with a funky riff from Tom Morello and Tim Commerford, the track quickly explodes into one of the band's heaviest, stacked with Zack de la Rocha's on point lyrics being spit out in his signature rap-rock delivery. Rage Against the Machine is packed full of memorable moments, all highlighting the band's desire to raise awareness for political causes through their music, but none could serve as a better and more powerful introduction than "Bombtrack."

 
4

"Radio Free Europe"

R.E.M., 'Murmur'
 
 

The four drum smacks that kick off "Radio Free Europe" come off like urgent knocks at the indie rock door. And then the musical template for everything great about '80s college rock settles in: jangling guitar, shimmering production, mumbled lyrics that people still can't make out. Once R.E.M. got in, they redecorated things to their style. And we like the way things look.

 
3

"Seven Nation Army"

The White Stripes, 'Elephant'
 
 

We don’t know what a "Seven Nation Army" is but if the White Stripes are leading the charge, consider us recruits. The raucous opener to 2003's Elephant, driven by the duo of Meg White on drums and Jack White ripping out eclectic guitar tones, corners every market of theit factor for a first track; it's infectiously catchy from start to finish, leaving you wanting more. The quirky twosome serve up the perfect introduction with this one making it one of the most successful opening tracks of all time.

 
2

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Nirvana, 'Nevermind'
 
 

There’s no denying that Nirvana's Nevermind helped usher in the grunge movement to the public eye, and it all culminated with the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The introduction on their '91 release spoke to Generation-X in a way they had never heard before and lives on as one of the most influential rock songs of all time, not to mention one of the greatest openers in the history of music.

 
1

"Everything in Its Right Place"

Radiohead, 'Kid A'
 
 

Full disclosure, we had a few different Radiohead options for our top spot. In the end we went with "Everything in Its Right Place" from 2000's Kid A because on the heels of OK Computer, Kid A took a drastic turn for the ever-evolving band and it all started with the opening track. From the first note of "Everything in Its Right Place," the journey into experimenting with electronic music begins. Mixing odd unintelligible gibberish with a quirky melody, it was everything we didn’t expect from Radiohead from past experience; as each element was added to the song, it got stranger and stranger but in the end, the mad musical experiment all seemed to make sense and a whole new era of Radiohead was born.

 

Worst to First: Every Radiohead Album Ranked

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