05/09/2008

My Favourite Intros ... Ever!

In a slight variation from my normal theme, I now present ten of my favourite introductions. In fact, this may turn out merely to be the first instalment of many. Or not.

So, what are we looking for? One of the key ingredients of a classic - or even good - pop song, is an immediate hook, something that grabs you. All the usual suspects have excellent intros. Plus, of course, any song that happens to be a particular favourite probably has your musical juices flowing within the first few bars just through anticipation, but that's not necessarily the same as it being a really good introduction.

Luckily, since I am not claiming to be making a definitive list (lacking, as I do, the stupidity to believe that such a thing is possible, and the arrogance to believe that I'm the person do it), I don't have to distinguish between those that I like because I just love the song, those that evoke memories and those that are just genius to my ears. So here goes.

The ISO-standard best intro is, as any fule kno, The Beach Boys' "California Girls". I'm ambivalent about the rest of the song, but the first 20-odd seconds is as fine a piece of music as you will find anywhere. Dreamy, sunny, wistful, it floats just out of reach - entirely appropriate in a paean to beautiful women. Then the rest of the song lumbers in with leaden male chauvinist boots and leers at fit chicks. Such a disappointment. But an illustration that the equation "good song = good intro" isn't infallibly true in either permutation.

One of my favourite intros is actually available in two flavours: "original" and "artifically sweetened". Rose Royce's "Is It Love You're After" has a classic building intro: starting with a throbbing synth pulse, it brings in a four-on-floor kick, then a sprinkling, sparkling hi-hat before hitting us with the stabbing brass riff that is probably more familiar to most people as the intro to "Theme from S'Express", cheekily sampled - or swiped wholesale, if you prefer - by Mark Moore and pumped more full of steroids than a body builders' convention. Sadly, while I find Rose Royce's original to be listenable all the way through, the young pretender drops off sharply after a promising start.

So that's two songs that fail to meet the promise of their first thirty seconds. But don't worry, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band have the answer. "The Intro And The Outro" is the only song to acknowledge that often the best bit of a recording is the intro and therefore to consist entirely of an introduction. Truly comic music is rare but this continues to be endlessly funny. My favourite bit, out of many:
Count Basie Orchestra on triangle. (A single note is played) Thank you.
I could write a whole journal just about ABBA's intros. More than just about anyone else before or since, Benny and Björn understood the value of grabbing the listener good and hard right from the start. They only really hit their stride with Arrival - god, there are some awful songs on the first couple of albums - but after that, solid, solid gold right through. If had to pick my particular favourites, there are two that stand out for me. My dad was doing some work at CBS in 1976 and returned one day with a copy of Arrival for me. The first track, "When I Kissed the Teacher" now evokes for me the magic of my first album, played on my own record player, and the start of a journey into music that has stayed with me ever since, as well as remaining one of the best recorded examples of 12 string guitar I know. My second choice would be "The Winner Takes It All", which is a beautifully restrained and simple statement of the main theme and a subtle start to one of the saddest songs I know. (And who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to have fucking McFly cover it at the London 2012 launch party recently? What the fuck was that all about? For fuck's sake, do these idiots not have ears? Sorry, sorry, rant over.)

Talking of 12 string guitars, what about "A Hard Day's Night"? One of a select few songs that can be identified solely by their opening chords (although no-one seems quite sure what it actually is!), it is of course a classic song, but for me again, it's more a reminder of playing my parents' albums when I was very young. And on the subject of single chord recognition, I'd include "Purple Rain", whose opening chord somehow sounds as though it's being played in the middle of a moody, swirling storm. Obviously heavily in debt to Jimi Hendrix, it nevertheless stands as one of Prince's highpoints.

If making an introduction memorable with a single chord is a tricky prospect, how much more difficult is it with a drum beat? And yet it is a feat New Order have managed more than once. I bet that most well-listened (is that a valid parallel to "well-read"? It doesn't seem right somehow) folks would be able to identify both "Blue Monday" and "True Faith" just by hearing the first beat. A tribute to New Order's sonic mastery!

Finally, possibly the finest last 30-odd seconds of a song - ever! - is that of Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman". (And don't remind me that Simon Bates or Mike Read used to use it as a bed because I don't care.)

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