Sunday, April 15, 2007

Five O' Diamonds: Favorite Album Openings

Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)

The drone lifting the lid on "Runnin' With The Devil" was only the first clue that the days of plodding and ragged Led Zeppelin and amateurish Grand Funk Railroad were fading. "Still holds up today" doesn't do the first four tracks justice: "Devil", "Eruption", "You Really Got Me" (a cover, true, but it's right in line with the band's nailing shut the coffin of their symbolic older brothers' more earthbound stylings), and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" (supposedly Edward Van Halen's expression of disdain for nouveau two-chord punk) represent a Big Bang-level of influence for guitarists, lead singers, and songwriters. But just about anybody can be moved by Van Halen on some level, and that's why it's first here.

Replacements, Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
It almost didn't make the list, my favorite complete album ever. There's nearly too few outright classics between the "oh shit, did they get good in a hurry" opening ("I.O.U.", "Alex Chilton", and I Don't Know") and the transcendent "Can't Hardly Wait" which survived its later use as the title for a Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle. Despite that small shortcoming, I keep returning to the immediacy of those first three songs, entranced by the combination of rough edges and sentiment, beginning with "I.O.U."s sentence of "ninety days in the electric chair", to the toll paid to travel on the same road as "Alex Chilton". Not letting up, they roll out the sneering and self-deprecating "I Don't Know" ("Are you making a fortune? (I don't know) Or don't you wanna tell?"). This CD reshuffled my musical deck, the one left behind by Van Halen.

Urge Overkill, Supersonic Storybook (1991)
That this CD made the cut is a testament to just how good the first four tracks are, because the rest of this half-classic drops off a cliff. The shambling, edge-of-dissembling grind of "The Kids Are Insane" gives way to the pulsing "Candidate" and the garage band rave-up "Blackie's Birthday" before unleashing the simmering masterpiece "Emmaline", a Hot Chocolate,[1] cover. Nash Kato's cries to the titular woman at the end will freeze your blood.

Soul Asylum, Hang Time (1988)

I don't know if being from Minneapolis (like the Replacements and Husker Du) forced Soul Asylum to be a better band or not, but Hang Time certainly holds its own with any of the other local heavyweights from the era, and in some instances surpasses. Dave Pirner's lead and Dan Murphy's growling backing vocals from the first salvo "Down On Up To Me" seem to be fighting and hugging at the same time, and the snaky riffs of "Little Too Clean" set up the more amiable "Sometime To Return" and weathered, knowing "Cartoon". This is a gem, and a hallmark of true chemistry in song.

The Hold Steady, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (2004)

The only CD on my initial list that could overcome the disadvantage of its relative youth. It's also got the longest "opening"; the first six tracks on Almost Killed Me swirl around me like the best bar band on Earth, flies on the wall at a meeting that ends in Anonymous. Possibly the most concentrated mass of great lyrics in all of recorded music, including name-dropping two members of both The Band and Journey in "The Swish"[2].

[1] Yes, that Hot Chocolate, the ones who gave us "You Sexy Thing" and "Every 1's A Winner".
[2] Don't question it, just find it and listen, acknowledge the greatness and move on.


At 6:27 AM , Blogger Allen Holt said...

See, this is why you need to write about music more often. Like, daily. You have strong opinions, know what you're talking about and it means something to you, all of which adds up to doing quality work -- so write about music all the goddamn time, y0. Got me?


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