The day after Labor Day is a new beginning — a rebirth. A fucking depressing rebirth, but still…
In honor of new starts, we present the top ten songs that began a band’s career.
Like all good ideas, this list began as a barroom discussion. Now, we know that in High Fidelity, Rob & company argued over the best side one, track ones of all time; so this list has a twist. We’re counting down the top ten songs that appeared as side one, track one, on an artist’s debut album. We want to figure out who made the biggest splash right away. Who announced their presence to the world with authority?
- To be considered, the song has to be the first song on a band’s first full-length album.
- Extra credit if no major EPs or singles preceded that album.
- The song has to be among the best work the band ever did.
- The song has to be representative of the band’s sound.
- The band’s career must be long enough and significant enough for it to actually matter that their first song was great. So, “Time to Pretend” may be a great song, but we don’t know enough yet about what MGMT will become to include it here.
On to business. Counting down…
10. The Band/Tears of Rage
“Tears of Rage” isn’t The Band’s best song. It’s not even the best song on Music From Big Pink. But it is a great Band song, and it is the first Band song. And frankly, that’s enough.
9. Fountains of Wayne/Radiation Vibe
Sunny, radio-friendly, and locked in place time, “Radiation Vibe” is the quintessential Fountains of Wayne song. Long after the band started repeating themselves too frequently, “Vibe” remained a testament to their Beach-Boys-without-Brian-Wilson-if-they-were-from-Long-Island success story.
8. George Michael/Faith
The slow-build organ intro sounds just enough like “Where the Streets Have No Name” to lead to a split-second of confusion when either comes on the radio, but the rest of the song created an icon. Yes, Michael’s Wham albums count against him here, but not much, since his solo career is not just an extension of his career with Andrew Ridgeley.
7. Violent Femmes/Blister in the Sun
The Femmes never again ascended to the heights of their debut album, and “Blister” is the best song on that album. It’s been used in too many movies, and included on too many compilations, but that shouldn’t detract or distract from what a weird, original song it is.
6. Michael Penn/No Myth
Penn’s best-known song is also his best song. Unfortunately, that song led to the dreaded “one-hit wonder” label for Sean’s brother and Aimee’s husband, and he deserves better. His career has been inconsistent but interesting, with moments that flirted with greatness.
5. The Jesus and Mary Chain/Just Like Honey
This song came out in 1985. That’s an achievement all the more impressive considering 1985 is the same year we were introduced to “Broken Wings,” “The Heat is On,” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” (All songs I like, but come on…)
4. Pavement/Summer Babe (Winter Version)
This song would undoubtably two spots higher if not for the EPs Pavement released before Slanted and Enchanted. I’ve got a lot of things I want to sell, but not here babe…
3. Counting Crows/Round Here
An introduction to a band that’s no less sublime for its subtlety. The Counting Crows aren’t trying to change music, they’re just trying to write great songs. As a result, they’ve received too much, and usually too little credit. “Round Here” lays out their thesis with grace and candor.
2. New Pornographers/Mass Romantic
As sweet a way to spend four minutes as is possible in this life.
1. Guns N’ Roses/Welcome to the Jungle
Yes, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide preceded Appetite for Destruction, but “Jungle” is so good that it doesn’t remotely matter. It’s GNR’s greatest song, and it’s the song you would play first if a friend said to you, “I’ve never actually heard anything by Guns N’ Roses. What are they like?” This song blew up the pop metal movement as surely as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Just missed: The Doors/Break on Through, U2/I Will Follow, R.E.M./Radio Free Europe, Velvet Underground/Sunday Morning, Big Star/Feel, Modern Lovers/Roadrunner, Rage Against the Machine/Bombtrack
Bonus: Eddie & The Cruisers/On the Dark Side
I think we all know that the real winner of this category is the legendary Jersey Shore band Eddie & The Cruisers. (“Blinded by the Light” is not representative enough of that other Jersey Shore band to make the list.) When they released their first album, Eddie Wilson and the gang weren’t fucking around. They opened not with a jab, but with their knockout punch. The ultimate combination of words and music, “On the Dark Side” captures the sound of not just a band, but a time.
Even more amazingly, if you listen to “Dark Side” enough times, you can begin to hear tiny clues (a chord change here, a vocal inflection there) pointing to the mesmerizing, complex direction the group would take on their follow-up album, A Season in Hell.