Favorite first line – music version

by Eszter Hargittai on September 9, 2004

Matt Weiner over at Opiniatrety puts a musical spin on the question of favorite opening hooks by exploring “the greatest first lines of record albums”. Songs usually either grab me in their entirety or they don’t speak to me much at all so although there are lines I really like, they are rarely first lines. I guess by the time you realize whether you like the first line of a song you are half way through the entire piece so perhaps the effect of that first segment is not as important as it may be for a book. In any case, there seem to be lots of music aficionados around here so I thought you might enjoy heading over to Matt’s blog and discussing favorite first lines of songs. There are also a couple of people who comment about first lines of movies in response to the book post. Oh, the possibilities…:)

{ 30 comments }

1

Barry Freed 09.09.04 at 1:33 am

Well I’ll post mine here first before heading over there:

“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”

-Patti Smith, Horses

2

Wren 09.09.04 at 2:01 am

Slightly off topic but listen to the Top 10 Guitar Riffs about 2.5 hours in

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/experimental.shtml?oneworld#

3

Wren 09.09.04 at 2:02 am

Slightly off topic but listen to the Top 10 Guitar Riffs about 2.5 hours in

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/experimental.shtml?oneworld#

4

bob mcmanus 09.09.04 at 2:14 am

dah-dah-dah-dum

5

sb 09.09.04 at 2:27 am

OT, but since the first thread died:

“Of Exactitude in Science,” Jorge Luis Borges:

. . . In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province.

The story, like so many of Borges’, is strikingly abrupt, but it follows from there like a stream from the snow (it also happens to be quite fitting for Timberites).

6

John Isbell 09.09.04 at 3:47 am

Albums? That’s weird. UK radio recently ran this as a competition. The winner, fittingly, was “A wop-bop a-loo bop a lop bam boom.”
Werewolves of London and Highway 61 Revisited made the top 10.
The opening line of “Straight”, by the Modern Lovers, is “I.”

7

Zizka 09.09.04 at 5:58 am

I don’t even like Jethro Tull, but “snot dripping off his nose” with the guitar riff is one of the best.

8

Reinder 09.09.04 at 9:20 am

That’s “Aqualung” off the album of the same name. The actual opening line, though, is “Sitting on a park bench”.

The champion of opening lines (for songs if not albums) is Richard Thompson. “God never listened to Charlie Parker; Charlie Parker lived in vain” – Outside of the Inside, from The Old Kit Bag
“Here I am in your room, going through your stuff, said you’d be gone five minutes, that’s time enough” – Cold Kisses, off You?Me?Us?, to name but two.

9

bad Jim 09.09.04 at 9:56 am

Echo chamber validated: on the desk in the family room is a postcard flier for Richard Thompson performing “1000 Years of Popular Music” on October 6, 8pm, at the Irvine Barclay Theater (UC Irvine campus).

Richard Thompson can play anything, from 13th century rounds to Squeeze and Abba; and he can make anything rock. — Rolling Stone

Eat your heart out. I’m getting tickets.

10

bad Jim 09.09.04 at 10:07 am

As for the best intro, I’m inclined towards Brahm’s 4th. Four sad diffident notes.

11

bad Jim 09.09.04 at 10:22 am

s/’s/s’/

Oh, well. I could have said “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne”. Or “Shake it up baby, twist and shout.”

12

Matt Weiner 09.09.04 at 2:35 pm

Isbell, you know I love you, but the first line of that song is “Tutti frutti, all rootie.” So are the second and the third lines. Still a fantastic choice. So’s yours, Barry.

Eszter, thanks for the link!

13

Jim Henley 09.09.04 at 2:45 pm

“Now that your picture’s in the paper
Being rhythmically admired
And you can have anyone
That you have EVER desired…”
– E. Costello, “Welcome to the Working Week”

“I hear that train a-comin’
It’s rollin’ round the bend…”
– J. Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues”

“I just got back and I wish I’d never leave now…”
– Clash, “Safe European Home”

“Now, my name’s John Lee Pettimore,
Same as my daddy and his daddy before…”
– S. Earle, “Copperhead Road”

Well they blew up the Chicken Man
In Philly last night
And they blew up his house too…”
– B. Springsteen, “Atlantic City”

14

John Isbell 09.09.04 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, Matt. According to my sister, it still won – nationwide! I guess it beats believing in Iraqi WMD.

15

Scott Spiegelberg 09.09.04 at 4:27 pm

I’d like to point out that other than wren’s mention of guitar licks and bad jim’s favorite intro, none of these examples are really music specific. People choose favorite sentences or lines, which is really treating songs as poetry with incidental music. A better list would be “the best opening musical phrase.” I’d suggest either Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, second movement or Miles Davis’ ‘Round Midnight..

16

martin 09.09.04 at 4:31 pm

Right now…[sardonic laugh]…

I am an antichrist
I am an anarchist…

17

Motoko Kusanagi 09.09.04 at 4:47 pm

For “best opening musical phrase” I nominate Ravel’s Noctuelles, the first piece from Miroirs.

18

dsquared 09.09.04 at 5:31 pm

“Peter Piper picked peppers, but Run rocks rhymes”.

with an honourable mention for

“If you want to gamble, I tell you I’m your man”

19

ruralsaturday 09.09.04 at 6:38 pm

“There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes…”

20

Vern Morrison 09.09.04 at 7:17 pm

Here come ol’ flat top
He come groovin’ up slowly
He got juju eyeball
He one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

21

HP 09.09.04 at 7:55 pm

Best opening phrase: Armstrong’s opening cadenza on “West End Blues.”

Opening words: “Scuse me, fellers. I lost my little pussy cat. Will you help me find it?” from “Pussy, Pussy, Pussy,” by (IIRC) the Light Crust Doughboys.

22

Matt Weiner 09.09.04 at 8:12 pm

“Daddy, what does regret mean?
Well son, the funny thing about regret is,
It’s better to regret something you have done,
Than to regret something you haven’t done.
And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend,
Be sure and tell her

D-squared, thanks; I was trying to think of another rap one. Also, there’s Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby’s got back” (not counting the skit): “I like big butts, and I cannot lie.”

I never claimed to have taste.

23

laura 09.09.04 at 8:19 pm

Kasey Chambers, “Barricades & Brickwalls.” A spare but muscular guitar intro, then Kasey’s amazing voice in one of its more riveting moments managing the seemingly-contradictory task of being gritty and kittenish (can’t think of a better word). I’ve heard it hundreds of times (admittedly over only a couple years) and my entire being still springs to attention when it comes on.

24

Ross 09.09.04 at 8:19 pm

I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
But you don’t really care for music do you?

Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

25

Maynard Handley 09.09.04 at 10:33 pm

“Johnny calls the chemist, but the chemist doesn’t come”
From “Johnny Calls the Chemist”, by Falling Mirror. The whole album is autobiographical about one of the band member’s (unrequited) obsession with a woman who worked at a pharmacy.
Falling Mirror had the bad luck to be a South African band in the 80’s, which meant with the boycots and so on that pretty much the only people who’ve ever heard of them are South Africans, most of whom weren’t quite ready for this sort of music. I suspect if they’d been American or British they could have been the Pink Floyd of the ’80s.
(Well sure, Pink Floyd did The Wall in the early 80’s, but you know what I mean.)

People interested in what I’m talking about can hear the whole album (condensed down to 3 minutes of 20 seconds from each song) here http://www.samp3.com/mp3/falling_mirror_johnny_sampler.mp3

(I have no financial or other connection with Falling Mirror, I just think this is a great, sadly underrated album.)

26

Maynard Handley 09.09.04 at 10:42 pm

“Johnny calls the chemist, but the chemist doesn’t come”
From “Johnny Calls the Chemist”, by Falling Mirror. The whole album is autobiographical about one of the band member’s (unrequited) obsession with a woman who worked at a pharmacy.
Falling Mirror had the bad luck to be a South African band in the 80’s, which meant with the boycots and so on that pretty much the only people who’ve ever heard of them are South Africans, most of whom weren’t quite ready for this sort of music. I suspect if they’d been American or British they could have been the Pink Floyd of the ’80s.
(Well sure, Pink Floyd did The Wall in the early 80’s, but you know what I mean.)

People interested in what I’m talking about can hear the whole album (condensed down to 3 minutes of 20 seconds from each song) here http://www.samp3.com/mp3/falling_mirror_johnny_sampler.mp3

(I have no financial or other connection with Falling Mirror, I just think this is a great, sadly underrated album.)

27

epist 09.10.04 at 12:41 am

“This is a public service anouncement. . .WITH GUITAR!”

-“Know Your Rights”, The Clash, Combat Rock

“I got a letter from the government/the other day/I opened and read it/it said they were suckas”

-“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions

28

rea 09.10.04 at 2:51 am

Don’t you know, they’re talking about a revolution-sounds like a whisper . . .

29

dsquared 09.10.04 at 3:28 am

“Son, I’m thirty. I only went with your mother ’cause she’s dirty”.

30

Barry Freed 09.10.04 at 5:29 am

Thanks Matt,

But you forgot the punchline as it were (I mean that’s what makes the whole song and kicks the album off to a rousing start):

“Daddy, what does regret mean?
Well son, the funny thing about regret is,
It’s better to regret something you have done,
Than to regret something you haven’t done.
And by the way, if you see your mom this weekend,
Be sure and tell her…SATAN SATAN SATAN SATAN!!!”

And since you’ve brought the Butthole Surfer’s up (one of my all time favorite bands, their live shows were incredible) I’ll take a little liberty and quote from the beginning of their EP “Brown Reason to Live”

There’s a time to fuck and a time to crave,
But the Shah sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave!
There’s a time to shit and a time for God,
The last shit that I took was pretty fuckin’ odd!
There’s a time for drugs and a time to be sane,
Jimi Hendrix makes love to Marilyn’s remains!
There’s a time to live and a time to die,
I smoke Elvis Presley’s toenails when I wanna get high!

Comments on this entry are closed.