Pickled Priest Mixtape: Songs with Iconic Intros
In this mixtape, we examine 26 songs that need no introduction precisely because of their introduction. Some people walk into a party without many people noticing, some people walk in and every head turns. The difference? Knowing how to make a grand entry.
(Editors Note: Intros must establish themselves in the first 20 seconds to be eligible for this list. We realize some songs have killer intros that last several minutes, but that's not what this list is about.)
1 “Crazy Train” Ozzy Osbourne
Mixtape ideas don’t come out of thin air. When you make a mixtape with a specific theme there’s usually one song that acted as the catalyst for its creation. This is that song. We’ll see if it’s the definitive example of an attention grabbing, instantly unmistakable song intro by the end of this exercise, but you’d be hard pressed to
find another song that packs so much into its first twenty seconds. Ozzy’s maniacal “All aboard!” invitation alone might be enough to lure a listener in for a wild ride to insanity with the Prince of Darkness, but the mad cackle that follows might make you ask for clarification of the eventual destination before buying a ticket. I’m not exactly sure what the “Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay” part is all about, but it could mean your conductor is in a fragile mental state. And if that’s not enough to worry you, maybe the firm whack of a vibraslap*—which sounds like a roulette wheel made from human bones—will rattle your brain bucket. When does the next train leave?
*The vibraslap (or quijada) was inspired by the jawbone, an instrument made from the jaw of a large animal like a horse or a donkey that, when played, would get its unique sound from the rattling teeth housed within. The vibraslap, made from wood and steel, is a modern approximation of the jawbone and has also been used in classic songs like “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, and numerous songs by the band Cake, who one critic described as “the most vibraslap-happy band on the planet.”
2 “Gloria” Patti Smith
An iconic song intro doesn’t necessarily have to rock. Sometimes an opening can be laced with intrigue instead—like a great first sentence of a classic novel. If you pick up George Orwell’s 1984 and read “It was a bright cold day in April, and all the clocks were
striking thirteen,” you’d better clear out some time in your schedule—you’re not putting the book down anytime soon. The same goes for the “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” opening of Patti Smith’s radical take on Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” I always thought it would be a great book opening, too. And it would kill as the first line of this Sunday’s sermon. If you want to grab attention, try it out. No matter when you say it, it’ll cause a stir and what more do you want from a rock & roll song?
3 “Anarchy in the U.K.” Sex Pistols
I was just beginning to discover my music addiction when the Sex Pistols first appeared in the news, so for me, they were almost
entirely mythical in nature. I was a naïve, devoted Kiss fan then, so when I heard stories about Johnny Rotten throwing up on little old ladies in the airport, the band’s mere existence rattled my psyche to the core. Even though I hadn’t heard any of their music, a few tabloid photos were enough to freak me out. What was the world coming to and should I be worried? Later, when I first heard the opening strains of “Anarchy in the UK” for the first time, with Johnny Rotten spewing “I am an anti-Christ!,” punk rock was more of an established societal ill. They wanted attention and they got in your face quickly to make sure you understood.
4 “Back in Black” AC/DC
AC/DC would be a unanimous choice for the inaugural class
inducted into the Song Opening Hall of Fame (watch Kickstarter for
details). The bells tolling at the beginning of “Hells Bells” (to which Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman entered home games to dramatic effect) is on equal ground with this choice, not to mention an endless stockpile of balls-out riffs in their arsenal. But the king of the hill is “Back in Black,” the Bon Scott tribute that starts with the sound of a malfunctioning propane torch and finally ignites like a nuclear bomb.
5 “Start Me Up” The Rolling Stones
If you’re gonna call a song “Start Me Up,” you’d better back it up with a great intro. Thankfully, the Stones didn’t let us down. Like AC/DC, the Stones were masters at grabbing attention in a song’s first few seconds. There are at least a dozen possible candidates for this spot in their catalog, but the iconic Keith Richards riff that opens this track, combined with the title’s self-fulfilling prophecy, makes for an irresistible choice for the first installment in what likely will be an ongoing series.
6 “Iron Man” Black Sabbath
Ozzy strikes again, but with band this time, so it doesn’t violate our one-song-per-artist rule. Emerging from the devil’s junkyard, the original Transformer appears, much to the delight of bong-toking youth everywhere. Horror movie, comic book, or pot-fueled phantasm (let’s do another hit and go with “all of the above”), this may be the origin story of heavy metal.
7 “Louie Louie” The Kingsmen
The bad rap on fraternities is mostly justified. I joined one in college, and I generally regret the decision. That said, it did offer
some experiences you simply cannot recreate elsewhere. Until you’ve personally experienced the spontaneous combustion generated by the opening chords of “Louie Louie” at a raging toga party, you haven’t lived. And merely watching Animal House isn’t an acceptable substitute, either. Dismiss it as sophomoric, or even freshmanic, if it makes your tight ass feel superior, but the bottom line is you need to cut your inhibitions completely loose once in a while, and there are only a handful of songs similarly qualified to get that process started.
8 “What I Like About You” The Romantics
People like to dance, they like to clap, and they like to scream, and this song accomplishes all three in its first fifteen glorious seconds. It did its job so well that it has almost become passé through overuse. No matter, it’s the quintessential song for playfully and harmlessly getting to know a random member of the opposite (or same) sex in a crowded bar or at friend’s wedding. When the clanging opening guitar riff kicks in, the reason everyone scrambles to the dance floor like they’re escaping a fire is they might, just might, possibly, get laid tonight.
9 “We Will Rock You” Queen
The foot stomp, foot stomp, clap intro (whose origin story is told in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody) was created to encourage crowd participation and the impact was, and still is, instantaneous.
10 “Smoke on the Water” Deep Purple
There’s a reason the opening riff of “Smoke on the Water” is the one they teach you at your first guitar lesson. It’s so simple, and so epic, it’s like a powerful drug-it can make you feel invincible. If there were any justice in the world, Guitar Center would have to pay royalties to Deep Purple every time a beginner’s electric guitar is sold. If you polled folks on the street and asked them to give you an iconic guitar riff, over 42% of the time people would give you this one. Behold, and bow down to, the king of all opening guitar riffs.
11 “Rock of Ages” Def Leppard
“Gunter, glieben, glauchen, globen…”
Today, such a nonsensical song-opening would be debunked and deemed bullshit by internet trolls in about two minutes tops, but
back in the 80s, nobody knew what the fuck Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott was saying at the start of “Rock of Ages,” and few knew how to find out. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. It was kind of a Colonel Clink-styled count off that was certainly more fun than the straight “eins, zwei, drei, vierzehn” that U2 graced us with years later, but Def Lep’s intro actually turned out to be improvised German gibberish (if I had my way, I’d do away with the entire German language). That said, “Rock of Ages” was one of the biggest anthems from Pyromania, itself one of the most gigantic records of the 80s.
12 “Chantilly Lace” Big Bopper
“Helloooooo baaaaaby!” The Big Bopper died in his late twenties along with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens (famous as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s “American Pie”), saving him about 50 years or so of recreating this goofy phone call to his girlfriend at every county fair, retirement home, and dinner theater worldwide. Love the song so much I nicknamed my son “Bopper” in semi-tribute to the late, great J.P. Richardson, aka, the Big Bopper. Oh baby, that’s what I like!
13 “Gimme More” Britney Spears
Allow me to explain. I’ve never been a big fan of Britney’s music (ahem), but there’s no denying “Gimme More” props for being the perfect comeback hit single. From her post-white-trash-meltdown record, Blackout (if the explanation were only that easy), the song’s “It’s Britney, bitch!” intro is sheer marketing genius. Why not face your critics with a power move? A devilish cackle follows seconds later and, quick as a Las Vegas wedding, so much tabloid bullshit is in your rearview. The old adage rings true here: If you can make people dance, they’ll forgive almost anything. Hilariously, it took four “songwriters” to craft “Gimme More” (the word “gimme” is used, by my count, 84 times!), but it takes Brit only 10 seconds to dismiss all critics and reclaim her rightful place as the quintessential modern-day pop-culture creation.
14 “Barracuda” Heart
Here, we listen in on one of the ocean’s most merciless predators, the barracuda, on the hunt in its natural habitat. And his stalking soundtrack is as relentless as you’d expect, too. Not a shred of disappointment—like Jaws in quadruple time.
15 “Saturday Night” Bay City Rollers
Let me spell this out for you. No, on second thought, let the Bay City Rollers spell it out for you. Over and over again for the first 15 seconds of their massive #1 hit. Uh-oh! Guess what night it is! Guess what night IT IS! Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, guess what night it is! It’s Saturday Night! Whoot! Whoot! How happy are Geico customers? Happier than the Bay City Rollers on Saturday night.
16 “Twilight Zone” Golden Earring
Four cool things about this song’s intro:
The song is named “The Twilight Zone” in tribute to Rod Serling’s iconic late-50s/early-60s series of the same name. Serling will be forever remembered for his creepy introduction to each of the show’s mind-bending segments.
Similarly, Golden Earring’s “The Twilight Zone” also includes a short spoken word intro: “Somewhere in a lonely hotel room, there’s a guy starting to realize that his eternal fate has turned its back on him….It’s 2 A.M.”
The musical bed under the spoken word part could be used for a modern update for a Twilight Zone reboot.
The singer shadows the “It’s 2 A.M.” part immediately after the spoken part finishes, almost like the whole track was meant to be a spoken-word piece until someone said “This would make a great fuckin’ song! Let’s make this a song!” My favorite part by a mile—it’s the little things that make songs great, and this is a golden example.
17 “Ain’t No Sunshine” Bill Withers
It’s significantly easier to grab a listener with power and might. If you want to be remembered, kick down the front fucking door. But when a ballad can seize your attention from its very first moments, it’s arguably an even greater accomplishment. The late Bill Withers pulled off quite a miraculous coup on his signature song—he grabs your full attention, steals your breath, and tears your heart out all in the song’s first three seconds.
RIP Bill: There ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone.
18 “Tutti Frutti” Little Richard
Little Richard’s “A wop bom a loo mop a lomp bom bom” was the sound of rock & roll being born and it wasn’t an easy pregnancy. There was no shortage of tight-assed, religious zealots trying to jam the devil’s spawn right back up its birth canal. Alas, no luck, for rock & roll lived a fulfilling life right up until it was stabbed in the heart sometime in the early 80s. “Tutti Frutti” not only gets credit for an iconic opening, it gets double-credit for starting a whole new genre, as well. RIP Richard: There ain’t no tutti frutti when you’re gone.
19 “19” Paul Hardcastle
In 1985, this dark horse single became a big hit out of nowhere, much due to its gripping first 20 seconds. London’s Paul Hardcastle was a relative nobody when this track was released and
would’ve likely remained that way without it. The title refers to the staggering fact that the average age of the US combat soldier in Vietnam was a shocking 19 years. My son is, at the moment, a year shy of that number and to imagine him dealing with bullets flying over his head in the middle of the Mekong Delta is absolutely unimaginable and horrifying. (He can’t even get the garbage cans to the curb every Tuesday morning!) For contrast, Hardcastle also pointed out that in WWII, the average age was 26 (which is still young!). Set over a pulsating electronic groove, it made for one of the most unlikely dance floor smashes of all time. On message alone, “19” ranks with the most important songs of the 80s. And, tragically, the song has a link to the youth of today, as well. Hardcastle’s manager, Simon Fuller, and his production company, 19 Entertainment, created the musical abortion clinic American Idol.
20 “I Feel For You” Chaka Khan
I don’t need to tell you how satisfying it is to say the name Chaka Khan (go ahead and try it a few times if you weren’t doing so already). Chances are, if you complied with my direction, you said it a few times exactly the way Grandmaster Melle Mel does at the beginning of Chaka’s cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You,” her biggest solo hit single. The name requires some back-of-the-tongue dexterity to pull off, falling somewhere between the sound of a karate chop grunt and an unappetizing item on an Indian restaurant’s menu. The name is as addictive as Lays potato chips—you can’t say it just once. Heck, Melle Mel drops it fifteen times in the song’s first fifteen seconds alone and goes on such an obsessive jag that Chaka doesn’t even get to sing on her own hit for its first 46 seconds—an eternity in pop-music circles!
21 “Sir Duke” Stevie Wonder
Leave it to Stevie Wonder, an artist most known for playing anything with keys, to pen a tribute to a legendary jazz pianist, Duke Ellington, and have the balls to open the song with one of the most iconic horn charts in music history. It boggles the mind and tickles the fancy.
22 “Super Freak” Rick James
23 “Le Freak” Chic
When people freak out, it usually comes out of the blue. If you’ve ever walked into a spider web, been shown on a Jumbotron, had your name called on The Price is Right, or found people returning records to your collection out of alphabetical order, you know what I’m talking about. People often freak out when a great song comes on the radio or nightclub, too—and the better the opening seconds of that song, the more intense the freak out. Chic may have created the ultimate freak out song in 1978 with “Le Freak” (Originally, meant to be called “Fuck Off,” which would have been just as useful), the disco smash has since become the soundtrack to people flipping their lids worldwide. “Super Freak” joins the freak show with an opening rubberband riff that could shoot the Earth into another galaxy.
24 “Kick Out the Jams” MC5
“Kick out the jams, motherfucker!”
A ballsy way to start out a song, an album, or even a career, Detroit’s highly influential and indisputably legendary MC5 did all three on their debut album back in 1969. If they were looking to piss some people off, they accomplished their goal. Dropping a nasty “motherfucker” in the first ten seconds of your debut album’s opening track takes a prodigiously sized sack for both band and record label (even Blue Oyster Cult’s excellent live cover about ten years later on Some Enchanted Evening sacklessly swapped out “motherfucker” for “brothers and sisters”). The song is a declaration of uncompromising intent, and the band lived and died delivering on that promise. Even better, co-founder Wayne Kramer has said the origin of the phrase came after suffering through too many noodling guitar solos in the late 60s. Dave Matthews, Phish, Widespread Panic, and countless others, take heed.
25 “Werewolves of London” Warren Zevon
Pianos aren’t as sexy as guitars and aren’t as primal as drums, but there are more great piano intros than you probably remember. There are plenty of noteworthy intros out there, but none are more instantaneously recognizable than “Werewolves of London.” Apologies to Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way to Memphis,” “Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” to name just a few of the songs that lose out to Warren Zevon’s surreal tale of a Chinese-food-loving werewolf.
*Note the cover of the "Werewolves of London" single above, which looks more like a "Gerbil of London" than a werewolf. His hair, however, is perfect, just as advertised.
26 “Heat of the Moment” Asia
Asia was a super group that featured one of my boyhood heroes, Carl Palmer, on drums. I worshipped him. When I heard he hooked up with another band post-Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I bought their debut record without hearing a note. From the euphoric first time I heard the gargantuan opening riff of “Heat of the Moment” until recently when I heard it for the millionth time from the backseat of a minivan full of aging, tipsy parents heading home to collect their kids, it’s been a monster track—as big, if not bigger than the sea serpent dragon on the record’s awesome Roger Dean cover. It’s audacious to make a debut album featuring songs big enough to fill football stadiums, but that’s exactly what they fucking did. Dismiss “Heat of the Moment” as uncool if you dare, but I know what you do in private. You love it, you know you do.
Sequel to come someday, surely.