Singing: It’s why you’re on this website; it’s why I’m on this website. Singers and songs and melodies that move you, both figuratively and literally. Sure, a great guitar riff or a drum beat can do the business, too, but more often than not it’s the words coming out of the frontman’s trap that gets the pulse racing. Even if you like Radiohead and all that noises-from-boxes malarkey, you must surely still admit that it’s the “Rain down…” bit in ‘Paranoid Android’ that makes you swoon the most.
But you know the only thing that can top the peak of the chorus? The spoken word intro. This is another seemingly forgotten songwriting art that can send shivers up the spine. They are rare, and they can quite easily make you sound like a ridiculously earnest knob, but when they are skilfully deployed, there is nothing better. Yes, they are almost always stupid, but that’s the whole point. In the words of David St Hubbins of Spinal Tap fame: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
Got it? Right. Good. Now witness these ten, speaking like they mean it.
Antony & The Johnsons, ‘Fistful Of Love’
I’ve not heard that Lou Reed/Metallica album yet, though admittedly it has the potential to be brilliant. Until that comes out, though, this stands as Lou’s finest moment in years, a rare moment of upbeat beauty on ‘I Am A Bird Now’. He adds jagged guitar lines to the light soul of this, but mainly it’s his double entendre intro that pushes this song into the realms of magic. “I was lying in my bed last night/Staring at a ceiling full of stars…”
Johnny Cash, ‘The Man Comes Around’
I used to live near one of those pubs that has one set of songs just on all the time, on which, every Saturday night, was this. I had to stop going there eventually, just because like all of the album to which it lends its name, this song is simply devastating. It’s one of the last songs Cash ever wrote before his death, and… well, listen to how it begins.
The Shangri-Las, ‘Leader Of The Pack’
The greatest ’60s girl group there is. You all know this one, I would hope, so just get a load of this TV performance.
The White Stripes, ‘Little Acorns’
This came at the height of White Stripes fever, midway through ‘Elephant’ and with ‘Seven Nation Army’ fresh in people’s minds. Jack White was doing a pretty darn fine job of resurrecting the idea of the rock’n’roll star as an out-there eccentric, and this sure did help: prefacing what might have been a pretty normal Stripes rock out with a clip of Detroit’s own Mort Crim’s ‘Second Thoughts’ radio show. Cheating a bit, maybe, because it’s kind of a sample rather than a singer speaking, but it’s great, so it’s in.
Prince, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’
I was fortunate enough to witness one of the earlier nights of Prince’s O2 Arena run a few years back, and he started with this, coming out of the middle of the stage, in a fug of dry ice, uttering the immortal words, “Dearly beloved… we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life”. This was true. By way of appreciation I and the rest of the auditorium responded by taking up the suggestion of its parent song’s title.
Alice Cooper, ‘The Black Widow’
This gets in there just for the use of the phrase ‘humanary stew’ apart from anything else.
Manic Street Preachers, ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’
Anyone who loathes the Manics, look away now: the intro to this is everything you hate about them. It’s a poem by Nicky’s brother, Patrick Jones, entitled ‘The Eloquence In The Screaming’. This makes me love the Manics even more. It may well make you hate them even more. But hey, here’s a video where some clever clogs has made Megatron of Transformers fame mime along to it.
Tom Petty, ‘Here Comes My Girl’
My favourite American singer, singing maybe my favourite American love song ever, this is taking the idea of the spoken word intro one better, and turning it into the actual verse, so you can rise even further and further then drop into the beautiful chorus.
NWA, ‘Straight Outta Compton’
There are loads of hip hop spoken word intros, of course – my dad, in fact, says “it’s all just bloody talking over records” – but this one is the best: short, sharp, just about preparing you for the barrage that is to come
New York Dolls, ‘Looking For A Kiss’
This is the best bit from the best song on the best album of all time. It’s a bunch of made-up violent-dandy rock’n’rollers nicking a line from the Shangri-Las. But even better than the spoken-word intro to THAT, is the spoken-word intro to this performance, by Bob Harris on the Old Grey Whistle Test. After their other performance that show, he sniffed and declared it ‘mock rock’. If you only watch one of these clips, make it this one.