When the opening couplet to a track is terrible, it can swamp everything else. No matter how good the rest of the song is, the memory of the awfulness cloaks everything in embarrassment. The only exception to this rule is Michael Jackson, who managed to make ‘Bad’ sound amazing despite opening with the line, “Your butt is mine, gonna take you right“. With that in mind, let’s celebrate when artists get their intros right.
10The Specials – ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’
Lead singer Terry Hall always had an innate talent for encapsulating a small universe in a couplet, and ‘Friday Night…’ is no different. Laconically he notes, “Out of bed, 8am. Out my head, half past ten”. The final couplet of the track is equally telling – “Wish I had lipstick on my shirt, instead of piss stains on my shoes”.
9Arctic Monkeys – ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’
Alex Turner is a fitting heir to Hall’s throne. In the opening lines of ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ he manages to tumble out the world of a woman whose life has become dull and sedate. “You used to get it in your fishnets, but now you only get it in your nightdress”.
8X Ray Spex – ‘Oh! Bondage Up Yours’
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think, oh bondage, up yours!” With one snarled intro, Poly Sterene (RIP, sadly) brought Riot Grrrl into the world.
Though the upbeat tempo and the excitable melody which open ‘All My Friends’ may lead listeners to think that it’s about late night fun with pals, James Murphy’s world-weary delivery soon changes to the tone. Deadpan, he intones, “That’s how it starts, we go back to your house“. The boredom in his voice belies the repetition, he’s already over it- he just doesn’t know how to stop.
Do we even need to explain this? From the tremulous first syllable of “I love the colourful clothes she wears” to the end of the phrase, it’s a movement from the past into the future. By the time the theremin comes in, everything’s changed totally- forever.
5Jimi Hendrix – ‘Hey Joe’
A woozy guitar line, backed by a threatening hi-hat leads into Hendrix’s seemingly innocuous opening question- “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?” – which is repeated immediately, only this time more urgently. The opening lines serve to create the atmosphere of the track. From the start, we know there will be no happy ending.
4The Velvet Underground And Nico – ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’
From the jangling guitars, to Nico’s low croon, ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ is a Warhol-produced lullaby. When Nico opens with “I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are in case you don’t know”, it feels like the sun shining through a window, so cosy that you don’t even notice that the next line is even more comforting: “I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset. The light on your to show that you’re home”.
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It doesn’t matter how many butter ads John Lydon makes from now on. He can cash in on his image and past in any way he sees fit, all because on the 17th of October, 1976, he recorded the immortal lines: ‘I am an Antichrist, I am an anarchist’ and set alight the spirit of punk.
2Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hurt’
Whether if it’s the Johnny or Trent version, the opening lines of ‘Hurt’ are enough to stop anyone in their tracks. Trent Reznor’s vocals are introverted and fragile, while Cash’s are declamatory and resigned, as each man sings, “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel”. It’s a striking beginning to a track that explores the depth of depression and isolation, and as shocking as the lyrics become, they never top the opening lines.
1Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – ‘Into My Arms’
No list of opening lines would be complete without this number from the man with the deepest voice in music. Over a piano-led background, Cave rumbles “I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling that you do”. He goes on to hypothetically plead with God to leave his love interest alone, and that if God had to intervene, that he’d sent his love forever into his arms. Though the accompanying video focuses on the gloom and melancholy tone to the track, it misses out on the optimism shining through.