Friday, July 1, 2011

Top Album Openers!

For most music lovers, the first song on an album is very important.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I understand that in these days of iTunes and MP3’s and digital downloads, purchasing a full album is becoming a rarity.  But we can all recall a time when we put that certain CD on for the first time and heard it kick off with a song that blew us away.  The initial track can set the tone for what’s to come, and can sometimes even make or break an album.  After all, as they like to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. 

Possessing this infinite wisdom regarding initial tracks, my Hatch buddies and I decided to break down our Top 10 Album Openers.  So, here goes, and I’m saving the best for last.  I’m even throwing in a few “Honorable Mentions” for ya.  You’re welcome!

10.  Ray Lamontagne – Be Here Now
(Till the Sun Turns Black, 2006)
Sigh.  Sweet, tender Ray Lamontagne.  With violin strings meant to grab your heart and not let go, and Ray’s soft, whispering voice telling us “don’t let your soul get lonely child…it’s only time…it will go by,” this one is a work of art.  It’s like he reaches out a hand and lays it on your shoulder.  To me, Be Here Now plays like a lullaby.  It’s a go-to song for when I need to feel okay.  And what’s even better is that the whole album is good. 

9.  Annie Lennox – Why
(Diva, 1992)
Annie Lennox is one of my favorite female musicians.  She has such a unique, strong voice and has never been afraid to experiment with different sounds, both during her time in the Eurythmics and as a solo artist.  Diva was Annie’s first solo album, and it begins with the question, “How many times do I have to try to tell you that I’m sorry for the things I’ve done?”  This song is as powerful as it is devastating.  It’s a plea….she begs, again and again, “Tell me why.”  But it’s the last part of the song, when she’s looking back, and then ahead, that always gets me.  “This is the path I’ll never tread.  These are the dreams I’ll dream instead.  This is the fear.  This is the dread.”  Tissues, please!  Anyone who has been part of an unraveling relationship can understand. 

8.  Arcade Fire – Black Mirror
(Neon Bible, 2007)
"Un, deux, trois!  Dis: Miroir Noir!"  As everyone knows, I la-ove me some Arcade Fire.  I don’t mean to wear it out, but I just do.  I think everything they do is amazing.  So consider this fair warning – this will not be the last time you see them on this list.  Neon Bible is a very dark album about this crazy, twisted world that we live in, and Black Mirror is an amazing song that sets the tone for the whole album.  It has a really ominous sound and a pretty awesome build-up.  It’s creepy and catchy and I love it lots. 

Dr. Dog – The Breeze
(Fate, 2008)
I am always amazed by how talented Dr. Dog is, and even more amazed by how long it took me to discover them.  Fate is one of those rare albums that is great from start to finish.  The Breeze kicks it off, and this song is quintessential Dr. Dog.  It’s groovy and mellow with perfect harmonies that carry you away.  I love The Breeze because it’s a comforting song about life and figuring this crazy ride out.  As Scott McMicken assures us in that scratchy voice I love, “if you gotta know what it takes to make it so, just believe.” 

6.  Clare Burson – The Only Way
(Silver and Ash, 2010)
I don’t want to reveal too much about Clare Burson, as I plan to do a full write-up on this new talent very soon, but I discovered her recently and was blown away at first listen.  Burson comes from a family with a heartbreaking story of love, loss and survival.  To honor her ancestors and tell their story, she gave us Silver and Ash.  The album begins with The Only Way, and it is haunting.  The song sets the scene for the rest, and lets listeners know that this story will not always be an easy one to hear.  It’s a song for anyone who has been faced with an impossible decision.  It’s about loss, resignation and the eventual acceptance that sometimes there is simply no other way. 

5.  Beck – The Golden Age
(Sea Change, 2002)
Beck is known for his trippy, quirky, funky personality, which always comes through in his music.  The only exception to this would be Sea Change.  I have read up on this album a lot over the years and have heard it described numerous times and in numerous ways as the most sincere, heartfelt work he has ever done.  It was written just after the end of a nine-year relationship and his heartbreak is evident.  It seeps through nearly every note.  The Golden Age begins the album with a meandering, melancholy sound that is stark, hollow and very, very beautiful.

4.  Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #1
(Funeral, 2004)
Arcade Fire’s Funeral is raw and untamed.  It’s innocent and childlike and beautiful.  And that is exactly how I would describe the opening song, Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).  It’s about forming a whole new, wild world.  My favorite line – “sometimes, we’ll remember our bedrooms, and our parents’ bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends.  Then we’ll think of our parents…well, whatever happened to them?!?”  Neighborhood #1 is at its heart a love song.  “As the day grows dim, I hear you sing a golden hymn…the song I’ve been trying to sing.”  Awwww.
3.  Muse – Take A Bow
(Black Holes and Revelations, 2006)
This is truly one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard.  The build-up is slow and creepy, with lyrics so vengeful they would make even the most forgiving of souls want to go out to find somebody and make them pay!  Plus…well, I don’t want to get political on this blog.  But if you can’t figure out who he’s singing about, listen again and again until you do.  Muse has such great talent and there are a number of really awesome songs on this album.

TIE:  Kings of Leon – Knocked Up
(Because of the Times, 2007)
While their first two albums were good, I like to think Because of the Times is where KOL really came into their own.  Knocked Up holds such a special place in my heart.  When I hear it, I am living it.  I am buckled up on navy, driving down a lonely road late at night.  And it’s painfully honest.  “Always mad and usually drunk, but I love her like no other.”  While it’s incredibly personal, it’s also an anthem of sorts.  The song ends with Caleb calling out into the night and those who are listening on that same dark, lonely road, calling back.  I read once that he called Knocked Up the song he was most proud of.  I love that, because he clearly poured his heart and soul into both the song, and the full album. 

TIE:  Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
(The Suburbs, 2010)
Since I consider The Suburbs Arcade Fire’s best work yet, and because this is my very favorite song from that album, having it high on my list was a no-brainer.  There is something about this song that just haunts me, yet I can’t get enough of it.  Judging by the lyrics, “in my dreams we’re still screaming and running through the yard…we’re still screaming,” I’m not the only one haunted.  It’s hard to describe how this track makes me feel.  Happy.  Sad.  Optimistic.  Resigned.  All of that at once.  But it’s the music that really gets me – upbeat piano with devastating violins.  When I hear Win tell me he’s “moving past the feeling and into the night,” my heart is moving right along with him. 

Honorable Mention

Death Cab for Cutie – Marching Bands of Manhattan
(Plans, 2005)
Plans is one of my favorite albums of all time.  Marching Bands of Manhattan kicks it all off very well, about two people in a relationship who cannot see past their own individual lives (or maybe they just don’t want to see) to realize their love is falling apart.  Death Cab is so good at saying what the rest of us cannot.

Otis Redding  - Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay
(The Dock of the Bay, 1968)
An amazing musician with an amazing story…gone way too soon.  How sad that this album was released after Otis Redding’s death, at only age 26.  But it’s also incredible that he made so many wonderful songs in his short lifetime. 

Alanis Morissette – All I Really Want
(Jagged Little Pill, 1995)
The release of Jagged Little Pill was a defining moment for most girls my age.  We were pissed.  We were afraid.  We needed an anthem and there it was…all wrapped up in one fierce album.  All I Really Want sets the perfect tone.  “Why are you so petrified of silence?”  This song does not mince words.  It’s in your face.  It’s relentless.  She’s kicking ass and taking names!

Florence and the Machine – Dog Days Are Over
(Lungs, 2009)
I am simply amazed by Florence Welch’s talent (on her first album, no less).  Dog Days Are Over holds a special place in my heart.  It has lots to do with Ireland, a new friend who became a best friend, and some serious soul-searching. 

MGMT Time to Pretend
(Oracular Spectacular, 2007)
Their sound is nearly impossible to define, they are bizarre and hip as all get out, but MGMT’s music is so much fun.  Time to Pretend is one of the best songs on an album of winners.

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