One of the best things an album can do to draw you in is open with a killer track. The right song can set the tone and act as a preview of things to come. If the song makes you want to listen to the second track immediately, then it has done its job. Here are five of my favourites.
1. The Abandoned Hospital Ship by The Flaming Lips - Clouds Taste Metallic (1995)
This song kicks off with the sound of a film projector, some sparse piano and Wayne Coyne's high, reedy voice. It pretty much stays that way until the 1:40 mark when everything drops off. The sound of a single guitar plays the opening piano line and the band crashes into life. I say crashes because this song (and the whole album) is a fine example of noise pop/rock. The resulting lead guitar break is drenched in feedback and not your typical clean melodic solo. I find it absolutely transcendent. Others might not.
2. The Mission: Unexplainable Stories by Cloud Cult - Light Chasers (2010)
One of the few songs that had me at hello. Opening with the slow dual melodies of a trombone and french horn, underscored by a cello, the songs gradually builds to a rocking crescendo. The vocals don't start until two minutes in and only take up sixty seconds of the song's total running time of five minutes. Check out this great live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiaUnamXgg8
3. Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pts. 1-5 by Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (1975)
It's pretty audacious to open an album with a thirteen minute epic, but the fact that this song is divided up into five musical movements makes it easily digestible. The fourth section contains the words and it certainly helps that its catchy as all hell. David Gilmour's fluid guitar work in the second part are truly sublime.
4. Cochise by Audioslave - Audioslave (2002)
I was never much of a fan of RATM or Soundgarden, but I did enjoy some songs of both bands. I got excited about the idea of Audioslave because I loved Chris Cornell's voice and dug RATM's rhythm section of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. Tom Morello I was fairly indifferent about, because I thought some of his soloing was indulgent and noisy for the sake of being noisy. This was the first Audioslave song I heard and I loved it instantly. Once that killer guitar riff kicks in after the opening build and Cornell lets rip it entrances me. It remains my favourite song of theirs and is a fantastic introduction to the album, and the supergroup.
5. Peaches En Regalia by Frank Zappa - Hot Rats (1969)
Zappa's sleeve notes describe this album as a "movie for your ears". This opening instrumental track is arguably one of his best, with the dizzying melody lines crafting scenes in your brain that you don't really understand, but enjoy nevertheless. A stunning piece of music showcasing the talents of multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood. It is hard to believe that there are only four musicians on this recording, thanks to some extensive overdubbing.
London Calling by The Clash - London Calling (1979)
Tell Me Why by Neil Young - After The Gold Rush (1970)
Roscoe by Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)
Mama by Genesis - Genesis (1983)
Baba O'Riley by The Who - Who's Next (1971)