September 08, 2004

Opening Lines (LP/CD division)

Eszter posts a thread on great opening lines. She gets it right, with "The Metamorphosis"; unlike most striking first lines, everything follows smoothly from this one. Several commenters also get it right, with One Hundred Years of Solitude (when I reread it I noticed for the first time that it begins with a bunch of magical happenings that could happen in our world, before circling back to pick up the supernatural events). And everyone gets it right by not citing "Call me Ishmael" (my objections can be found in the comments there).

So I thought of a variation; what are the greatest first lines of record albums? And to my shame, the first two that sprang to mind were 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as They Wanna Be and David Byrne's Rei Momo, neither of which I choose to print here. The first verse of The Stooges is also pretty fantastic:

It's 1969 OK

War across the USA

Another year for me and you

Another year with nothing to do

Another year for me and you, another year with nothing to do

Uh huh


(Ray Davis also gets it right when he emphasizes great endings; only rarely is an opening complete in itself, but when you finish the ending you're done.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 8, 2004 01:15 PM

That's easy, if somewhat cliched:

"Hey hey mama, said the way you move
gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove"

-- "Black Dog", Led Zeppelin IV

Posted by: Sean at September 8, 2004 06:21 PM

Early one morning while making the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down

-Johnny Cash, Cocaine Blues

Posted by: The Editors at September 8, 2004 06:26 PM

"In the next world war
in a jack-knifed juggernaut, I am born again."

-- "Airbag", "OK, Computer", Radiohead

(though the opening guitar riff never gets tired)

Posted by: Andrew at September 8, 2004 06:36 PM

"Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine."

-Patti Smith, Horses

Posted by: Barry Freed at September 8, 2004 06:36 PM

ticking away the hours that make up a dull day
fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way

-Roger Waters, Time

Posted by: robbo at September 8, 2004 06:47 PM

"Oh, I just don't know where to begin..."
Elvis Costello, Armed Forces

Posted by: SkottK at September 8, 2004 06:47 PM

"Trapped in heaven life style (locked in Lock Kesh)
Now looking out for pleasure (H-block torture)
It's at the end of the rainbow (White noise in)
The happy ever after (a white room)"

-Gang of Four, Entertainment!

That's a great one SkottK.

Posted by: Barry Freed at September 8, 2004 06:48 PM

"Screen door slams, Mary's dress waves;
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays . . ."

Posted by: alkali at September 8, 2004 07:40 PM

"You look good enough to eat, I could eat you in my sleep"

first line of Moby Grape by Moby Grape, song is "Hey Grandma". 1968.

Posted by: Tom Parmenter at September 8, 2004 08:24 PM

"Stuck a pin in your backbone...spoke it down from there...all I ever wanted was to be your spine" - "Web In Front", Icky Mettle, Archers of Loaf

Posted by: Cryptic Ned at September 8, 2004 08:40 PM

"When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers."

~ Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane over the Sea

Posted by: Matt Reece at September 8, 2004 08:48 PM

"Well, I've been saving for a custom van
And I've been playing in a cover band
And my baby doesn't understand
How I never turned from boy to man."

-- Fountains of Wayne, Utopia Parkway (title track)

Posted by: Thlayli at September 8, 2004 09:38 PM

I am sufficiently embarrassed about this, but:

"I'm tired
so tired
I'm tired of having sex (so tired)
I'm spread
so thin
I don't know who I am (who I am)"

from Weezer's Pinkerton.

Posted by: rosalind at September 8, 2004 10:08 PM

Opening lines can do a lot, but only if they're paired with a great music opening, e.g.:

"Ice baby,
I saw your girlfriend and she was
Eating her fingers like they’re just another meal
But she waits there
In the levee washes
Mixin’ cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar"

Pavement, "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"
Album: Slanted and Enchanted

It helps when it feels like you're listening to an important moment in music history.

Posted by: Buck Wild at September 8, 2004 10:09 PM

Extra points for first release?:

Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired...

-- Elvis Costello, My Aim is True

Posted by: Dan at September 8, 2004 11:03 PM

Sitting on a park bench, snot dripping down his nos....

Posted by: zizka / emerson at September 8, 2004 11:05 PM

Take a look at these hands
Take a look at these hands
The hand speaks - the hand of a government man...

Posted by: tennin at September 8, 2004 11:09 PM

Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!


Posted by: jv at September 9, 2004 12:09 AM

"It was twenty years ago today..."
-- The Beatles, Sgt Peppers LHCB (Sgt Peppers LHCB)

"Pistol shots ring out in a bar room night..."
-- Bob Dylan, Hurricane (Desire)

"Dominion Road is bending under its own weight, shining like a strip cut from a sheet metal plate"
-- The Mutton Birds, Dominion Rd (Mutton Birds)

Posted by: Duane at September 9, 2004 02:09 AM

Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

--Dido & Aeneas

Posted by: Ignatius Brown at September 9, 2004 02:13 AM

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Emerson Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery, and, yes, I know.

Posted by: Dell Adams at September 9, 2004 02:27 AM

"You been down to the bottom with a bad man, babe,
But you're back where you belong.
Go get me my pistol, babe,
Honey, I can't tell right from wrong."

Dylan, Please Stop Cryin

This thread actually works better with first verses:

"The door it opened slowly,
my father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
his blue eyes they were shining
and his voice was very cold.
He said, "I've had a vision
and you know I'm strong and holy,
I must do what I've been told."
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
and his axe was made of gold."

Story of Isaac, Leonard Cohen.

To be remembered in a time disfigured by fanatics.

Posted by: David Tiley at September 9, 2004 04:27 AM

"Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?"

Posted by: Robert Johnson at September 9, 2004 06:11 AM

"This is a public service announcement -- with guitar!!!"

-- "Know Your Rights" from COMBAT ROCK by The Clash

Posted by: tommyspoon at September 9, 2004 06:45 AM

"Built for comfort" by Willie Dixon, sung by Howlin' Wolf

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I'm built, you shouldn't call me fat
Because I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed
But I got everything all the good girls need

Posted by: Willie Dixon at September 9, 2004 06:59 AM

"I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick
On the cigarettes there in the ashtray..."

Elvis Costello, A Good Year for the Roses

(But "Know Your Rights" might be better.)

Posted by: Dave in Woburn at September 9, 2004 07:14 AM

"I'd rather be the devil, than to be that woman's man."
Skip James, "Devil Got My Woman," Original 1930 recordings (a bit of a cheat since it wasn't conceived as an album)

"Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late."
Mekons, "Memphis, Egypt," The Mekons Rock'n'Roll

I thought of "Know Your Rights" this morning too--nice choice!

Posted by: Matt Weiner at September 9, 2004 07:40 AM

I was going to post The Clash song listed above...

But since I'm here:

"September '75, I was 47 inches high, my mom said by Christmas I would have a badass mother GI Joe, for your little minds to blow, I still got beat up after class."

-One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces, from Whatever and Ever, Amen by Ben Folds Five.

Posted by: maurinsky at September 9, 2004 07:41 AM

I'm surprised - three Elvis Costello records, and no one posted the most ferocious of them all:

"I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch
I don't wanna see you 'cause I don't miss you that much"

-- "No Action", This Year's Model

It packs a punch, no question - especially when the music kicks in for the second line. But lyrics really are beside the point when it comes to rock or pop music, anyway.

Posted by: Modern Kicks at September 9, 2004 08:00 AM

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life

Prince, Purple Rain

Posted by: Richard Vagge at September 9, 2004 10:49 AM

Here come ol' flat top
He come groovin' up slowly
He got juju eyeball
He one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

Posted by: Vern Morrison at September 9, 2004 11:43 AM

Hey that's Jerry Chesnut who wrote "Good Year for the Roses", and George Jones first recorded it. ( on as an excellent first line!)

Posted by: Robert Johnson at September 9, 2004 01:41 PM

>>He used to wear fedoras
But now he sports a fez
There's kabbalistic innuendoes
In everything he says
Sucking on a cigarette
Picking up the dregs
Underneath the Casablanca Moon

Posted by: R Byrne at September 9, 2004 02:10 PM

The most striking opening of a recent album that I can think of is "Punchbag", from "Sunshine Hit Me" by the Bees. It's not so much the lyrics, but the combination of them, the music and the delivery, that makes you feel like you're starting an album that was dreamed rather than written.

Use me like a punchbag
I'm too much for a cage of monkeys
Here they come, from the hole
In the back of my head

Posted by: william at September 9, 2004 02:35 PM

How old are you
How dumb am I
Let's count the rings around my eyes

Replacements, Let It Be, I Will Dare


I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling
Looking for something, what can it be
Oh I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some
Oh I love you, when I forget about me

Joni Mitchell, Blue, All I Want


Oh kiss me, kiss me, kiss me
Your tongue's like poison
So swollen it fills up my mouth
Just just love me, love me, love me
You nail me to the floor
And push my guts all inside out

The Cure, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, The Kiss

Posted by: cleek at September 9, 2004 02:39 PM

"Load up on guns and bring your friends
It's fun to lose and to pretend."

Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nevermind

Posted by: blah at September 9, 2004 03:02 PM

make that...

How young are you
How old am i
Let's count the rings around my eyes

for I Will Dare, above

Posted by: cleek at September 9, 2004 03:55 PM

I've been mad for fucking years
absolutely years, over the edge...

Spoken opening to Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

Posted by: Bill From PA at September 9, 2004 08:04 PM

1) "You're it." "No, you're it."

2) "If I ventured into the slipstream"

3) "The woods of Arcady are dead."

Posted by: john at September 10, 2004 01:13 AM

Hard to top the Patti Smith but there's Jefferson Airplane:

Lather was 30 years old today
The took away all of his toys
Mother sent newspaper clippings to him
About his old friends who stopped being boys

or Bowie

The return of the thin white duke
Throwing darts in lovers' eyes

or Pere Ubu (maybe cheating since it was a single)

The girls won't touch me cause I got a misdirection
Living at night isn't helping my complexion

or Einstürzende Neubauten (first non-English lyrics on this thread?)

Hörst du den Krach
Der schlagenden Herzen?
Siehst du die Geier
Über dem Brand?
Das Dach steht in Flammen solange schon
Siehst du Hyanen
Auf der Strasse?

or at least Annette Peacock

My mama never taught me how to
That's why I'm so

Posted by: Jim Flannery at September 10, 2004 03:23 AM

If you are talking lyrics then only Clutch will do. To give you just three album openings:

If you thought it was boring in Jordan
Then come out here for a day
And by the way, the name is Marcus
But if you like, you can call me Sensei

The fog is rolling in,
The tide is high.
Diane's as fat can be,
Aye, Captain, aye.

The guests seem more than pleased,
How is the wine?
We shall be underway
On the by and by.

Ahead one third
Ahead two thirds
Full ahead flank
And out from the belly of the whale came a prophet

Mistress of ices, stygian skater,
scribing devices, dancing on sabers.
So very relentless, counting the sheep.
Electrical fences, americans leap.

Posted by: Alex Fradera at September 10, 2004 07:49 AM

"Hey Ho Let's Go" always did it for me. Of course I was a teenager when punk broke.

Posted by: Anders Weinstein at September 10, 2004 01:10 PM

Well your wishes and your feelings
Your bad dreams and intuitions
Are about as much good to me right now as a brand new set of golf clubs

Driveby Truckers, "Shut up and get on the plane"

Posted by: Alan at September 10, 2004 01:32 PM

"I'm an alligator! I'm a space invader, I'll be a rock and roll bitch for you..." (Bowie, Moonage Daydream)

"Just like Che Guevara..." (Bowie, Panic in Detroit)

"Put on your red shoes and dance the blues." (Bowie, Let's Dance)

Yes, I'm a Bowie nut, I admit it freely...

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD at September 10, 2004 11:41 PM