You just returned home from the local music store. You unwrap the cellophane from the album cover, peruse the artwork or band photo on the front, gently slide the sleeve from the cover – carefully lower the vinyl disc onto the turntable, and gently place the needle on the record.
Side one. Track one.
There is great debate about which artists and albums provide the best opening album track. I have gone deep into a musical well to research this topic for this week’s column. My list started with 10 songs, then it was 24, 46, and eventually I had a list of more than 150 songs to sort through.
Before I present my choices, and especially for younger readers, albums used to matter. We did have the option to purchase 45 rpm singles back in the day – one track (the hit) with a B-side throw-off song. But albums, 33 1/3 rpm vinyl discs -- that’s where the magic happened. Opening songs on side A set the tone for the rest of what you were going to hear. If the first song was good, often you knew the rest of the album was going to be worth the listen. Not always, but often.
So, here is my list – and it’s mine. You have yours. Google has other opinions, but these are my favorites when it comes to side one, track one.
1. Ramsey Lewis, “The ‘In’ Crowd” from “Live” (1965/Bohemian Gardens).
This track is just perfect. Eldee Young on bass and Redd Holt on drums find a beautiful groove with Lewis’ piano prowess.
2. The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter” from “Let It Bleed” (1969)
The back-up vocal from Merry Clayton makes this song for me. The band called her in the middle of the night. She was pregnant, showed up in silk pajamas with rollers in her hair, and sang one of the best backing vocals of all time.
3. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” from “What’s Going On” (1971)
The Motown singer was deeply affected by stories his brother, Frank, told him returning from Vietnam. Gaye was also reeling after the death of his dear friend and singer Tammi Terrell, and those thoughts were cited as inspiration as Gaye wrote the lyrics for this track and the entirety of side one. Simply splendid.
4. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” from “Back to Black” (2006)
This tragically ironic song sprung from a simple conversation between Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson, as they were walking to lunch between recording sessions. “Rehab” won the 2008 Grammy for best song of the year.
5. Aretha Franklin, “Respect” from “I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Loved You” (1967)
Produced by Jerry Wexler, Aretha is backed on this album by the Swampers, the legendary studio band from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. While this was an important hit for Otis Redding, Franklin’s cover propels “Respect” into one of the greatest tracks of all time.
The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” from “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)
Bill Withers, “Lovely Day” from “Menagerie” (1977)
Sade, “No Ordinary Love” from “Love Deluxe” (1992)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Refugee” from “Damn the Torpedoes” (1979)
The Who, “Baba O’Riley” from “Who’s Next” (1971)
Stevie Wonder, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” from “Talking Book” (1972)
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from “Nevermind” (1991)
Wilson Pickett, “Land of 1000 Dances” from “The Exciting Wilson Pickett” (1966)
Boston, “More Than A Feeling” from “Boston” (1976)
Muddy Waters, “Mannish Boy” from “The Real Folk Blues” (1966)
Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love” from “Led Zeppelin II” (1969)
For the rest of my picks, you can visit my “Side One Track One” playlist on Spotify.
Paul Crutcher is the broadcast specialist and XLR Radio general manager at Lander University. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at@PaulCrutcher.