The album opener should always set the tone for the rest of the album. Occasionally you will hit the play button and find yourself dropping everything to give the record your undivided attention. Track listing requires careful consideration for artists, but sadly many modern day listeners no longer sit through an album start to finish and instead skip from track to track. These 10 fantastic rock album openers create the mood, give you a taste of things to come, and lure the listener in to the record. Hitting skip is not an option for these openers.
12. “Untitled 1” – Interpol (Turn on the Bright Lights)
Interpol seem to put a lot of thought into the track listing of all their albums, and a number of their opening tracks were contenders for the list. It is the opener for their 2002 debut album that gets the nod, however, with the spine-tingling “Untitled.” Much like the entire record, the track is bleak yet simultaneously uplifting and delicate. It is a serene song beginning with chiming guitars which are kept grounded with a tight rhythm section, with delicate vocals delivered by Paul Banks. The track builds to a brief crescendo, before then gently reverting back to the soft opening guitar to close the song and settle the reader in for the rest of the album. The tone of Interpol frequently draws comparisons to Joy Division and The Cure, but they are equally a band in their own right and they prove that off the bat with this brilliant opener.
11. “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes (Elephant)
The underlying riff and driving drums of Seven Nation Army hooks the listener immediately, rendering it nearly impossible to skip and the perfect way to kick off their 2003 release, Elephant. This would prove to be their signature song and most famous album, and easily one of the most popular and recognizable rock songs of the decade. Like many of their songs, the infectious riff and hypnotic drums are contrasted with raucous guitars and crashing cymbals, as well as White’s unique vocals which are delivered with relentless attitude. This contrasting dynamic throughout the song is masterfully used by the Detroit duo, and even those who were not fans of rock couldn’t help but rock out to this opener which catapulted The White Stripes into stardom. Although it stands alone well as a single, “Seven Nation Army” is a fantastic album opener to one of the great albums from the ’00s.
10. “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” – Queens of the Stone Age (Songs for the Deaf)
You will not find a more explosive opener than “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire,” featured on Queens of the Stone Age’s hard rocking 2002 release, Songs for the Deaf. Most fans agree that the lineup for this era was the greatest, with permanent fixture Josh Homme on guitar and lead vocals, Nick Oliveri on bass and vocals, Mark Lanegan on vocals, and Dave Grohl on drums. This album features three vocalists who all take lead on a few songs, and it is the unmistakable scream of Nick Oliveri that gets the party started. After a radio intro, the songs begins with locomotive like drums before the fuzzy main riff is introduced; the song then ignites into a hard, heavy groove and feels like you are hurling 100 MPH down the freeway. There is then a complete stop, before one more crushing chorus.
9. “Debaser” – Pixies (Doolittle)
There is something enticing about beginning an album with a fantastic bass hook, and this is most evident with the Pixies’ famous 1989 release, Doolittle. This bass is then accompanied with jagged guitar, drums and howling vocals from Black Francis. It is a strange yet catchy song, which is particularly characteristic of the band and a large part of their appeal. Lyrically it is especially strange, and this is due to the fact that it is based on a surrealist film by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali titled Un Chien Andalou. It sounds like a happy song on the surface of things, but there is an underlying mania and strangeness to the song which only increases as it reaches its end. The energetic start brilliantly kicks off the album, which has inspired dozens of acts and a few artists included on this list.
8. “Cherub Rock” – The Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream)
Whilst The Smashing Pumpkins’ name has somewhat been dragged through the dirt, their work in the ’90s should not be forgotten and they played a huge part in defining the era. This was most notable with the 1993 release, Siamese Dream. This was the band’s sophomore release, and it kick-starts with one of their most popular tracks, “Cherub Rock.” It begins with a circus drum roll before a series of escalating riffs with a searing guitar kicking in, then the song blasts into full power complete with Billy Corgan’s unmistakable angst ridden vocals. It also features one of Corgan’s finest solos, making it a fan favorite with many guitarists. It is a strong way to start the album, which would prove to be one of the best releases of the ’90s. It lyrically seems particularly relevant today, with Corgan slamming phonies, hipsters and small minded indie rock culture.
7. “Everything in its Right Place” – Radiohead (Kid A)
Another band that knows how to pick an opening track, Radiohead could feature more than once on this list. Radiohead are famed for changing their style, and this was most evident with 2000’s experimental Kid A. It was their first step into the world of electronic music, and this all begins with the sublime opener “Everything in its Right Place.” It is strange and quirky yet utterly hypnotizing, and perfectly sets the tone for the album. As soon as you hit the play button it is impossible to not melt into the back of your chair, where you are likely to remain for the next mesmerizing 50 minutes. Everything about the song is unusual, from the lyrics through to the tempo and the structure, but it is also inherently comforting and calming. An incredible start to a fantastic record, and the start of a new chapter for Radiohead.
6. “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges (Raw Power)
Few acts have been more inspirational than The Stooges, and the 1973 release Raw Power is widely considered to be an influential forerunner for the punk rock genre. Perfectly titled, Raw Power oozes a primal ferocity and danger which is evident from the get-go with the iconic opening track, “Search and Destroy,” and even the opening line, “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart-full of napalm.” Musically it is urgent and pummeling, with overly prominent guitars and quiet vocals, giving it a hard edge that became so popular in the punk rock scene. Iggy Pop and David Bowie (the producer) blamed the poor mix on the album on a low budget, but the style on “Search and Destroy” would be emulated on dozens of punk recordings that followed. A wild start to a ferocious, harsh album that is brimming with attitude, and would go on to be immensely influential.
5. “Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed)
“Gimme Shelter” is one of The Rolling Stones’ most iconic songs and is heavily used in pop culture, but it is also the opener to their fantastic 1969 record, Let It Bleed. “Gimme Shelter,” and the album, is reflective of the time. The ’60s were coming to an end, the Vietnam War was causing devastation, people objected to the war and there was violence in the streets. Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995 that the song is a “kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.” There is an ominous tone established within the first few notes, emphasized with the opening line “a storm is threatening / My very life today.” The most notable aspect of the song is the shocking “rape, murder / It’s just a shot away” lyric, which is powerfully delivered by singer Merry Clayton. Haunting, powerful, relevant and catchy, and a great start to a brilliant album.
4. “Blitzkrieg Bop” – Ramones (Ramones)
The Ramones introduced themselves to the world with their debut 1976 album, Ramones, and the very first song would go on to become a punk rock anthem. The opening chant of “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” has permeated popular culture and is used heavily at sporting events around the world, and it sets the tone for rest of the song and entire album. “Blitzkrieg Bop” is simple, bouncy and fun, and uses the same three chords for the majority of the song. Although basic, it is delivered with pulsating energy and at a furious speed, which is, of course, so key in the punk rock scene. It is loud, fun, explosive and impossible to ignore, making it a great way to start an album and particularly a debut. Due to it being a punk rock anthem, and the popularity of the opening chant, it remains a hugely important and influential song.
3. “Welcome to the Jungle” – Guns N’ Roses (Appetite for Destruction)
A complete rock anthem, “Welcome to the Jungle” is one of the genre’s most famous songs. It is also the opening track for Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which is also considered to be one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time. The entire album gives an insight into the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles in the late ’80s, and the opening lyric perfectly sets the tone for the entire record—“Welcome to the jungle / We’ve got fun and games,” delivered with Axl Rose’s slightly abrasive and sneering vocals. Musically it rocks hard with unpolished guitar sounds (contrasting the typical sound at the time), and this makes it a raw and primal song that settles you in for the rest of the record. Being the opening track on their debut album, this is a very bold way to start, but it clearly worked for them.
2. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana (Nevermind)
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the song that brought the grunge movement into the mainstream, and it is consequently a defining song for an entire generation. It also one of the greatest opening tracks of all time, kicking off the seminal 1991 release, Nevermind (their first major label release). The simple yet brilliant four-chord riff delivered by Kurt Cobain will give the majority of listeners strong nostalgia, and it also features a hard hitting rhythm section delivered by bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl. The song also uses an alternating loud and quiet dynamic, and Cobain admitted to trying to “rip off the Pixies” who famously used this dynamic. Like all good openers it hints at what is to come and establishes the mood, but it became much more than this, an unexpected enormous chart success that changed the face of music forever.
1. “Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II)
Led Zeppelin II is one of the all-time greats, and also one of the most influential rock albums to ever be created. The bands pioneering heavy, riff-based brand of hard blues-rock was at its best on this record, from the moment you hit play. The opening track, “Whole Lotta Love,” hints at what is to come and sets the tone, and starts with the iconic riff, which is widely regarded to be one of the best ever. It follows a rigid structure for the first minute and a half, before dissolving into a free jazz-like break in suitably chaotic Zeppelin fashion. Plant’s yearning vocals and moans add to the experimental mix, and the powerful drumming of John Bonham throughout keep the song (somewhat) grounded. It is the perfect start to a phenomenal album, and would prove to define what we know as hard rock and even heavy metal.