Side One, Track One
The first song on a record has always been important. It’s the sort of thing that sets you up for a much bigger experience when done right. For a time that first song held even more power. In the days of analog vinyl records and cassette tapes, the first side song was a means of orienting one’s self. Furthermore there was no skip button, the track had better be good. A good first track often meant a good album. With the contemporary resurgence of vinyl in the music marketplace, modern music fans can once again experience albums as they were meant to. With that in mind, and in the spirit of the “High Fidelity” clip above, I am going to give you my favorite side one track ones.
1. The Clash – “London Calling”
I probably couldn’t tell you anything that hasn’t already been written about this song. I’ll instead give you an embarrassing admission. The first time I ever heard this song was in the 2003 Amanda Bynes film “What a Girl Wants” which to say the least is not the ideal venue to be exposed to such a powerful and politically charged song. Regardless of my early personal experiences with the track, it remains as not only an incredible song, but also as the namesake and beginning to one of the most important rock records of the past 35 years.
2. Foals – “French Open”
Rising from the ashes of English math-rock band The Edmund Fitzgerald, Foals have become one of the biggest acts of the 21st century neo post-punk movement. “French Open”, the first song from Foals debut record Antidotes displays both the bands roots and where the band plans to go. While the song sounds complicated, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Between masterful metric modulation and impeccable guitar/keyboard interplay, Foals lay a blueprint for their future career in making easy things sound difficult and difficult things sound easy. “French Open” serves as a great introduction to a great debut album from a great band. Not much else need be said.
3. Arctic Monkeys – “View From The Afternoon”
Arctic Monkeys are currently enjoying all-time career highs and based purely on the value of this song from their first album, it’s not hard to see why. Upon first listen, the band demonstrates exactly why they have become one of the biggest rock bands in the world. “View From the Afternoon” has it all: Top notch lyrics, precise and tight arrangements, pleasant surprises and twists, perfect use of dynamics and balance, and most importantly energy. The playing might be a bit sloppy, the production values might not be the highest, but the band basically gives a crash course on elements that make up great rock songs on their first time out. The song has aged well and the added narrative of the Monkey’s current success easily cements this as an all-time classic alt-rock track.
4. The Postal Service – “The District Sleep Alone Tonight”
I can vividly remember the first time I heard this record and it still gives me the chills whenever I hear it. The haunting initial organ chords invoke an almost religious feeling, not dissimilar to that of a church organ. Somehow, the punchy drum samples, glitchy synths, and Ben Gibbard’s dreamy croon manage not to detract and keep the ethereal balanced and drive it towards a much larger burst of synths, drums, and guitars. The added female vocal harmonies and the lyrical subject matter push this song to the point of inducing tears in the listener. The Postal Service has only ever released one album and this is only the first song.
5. Wilco – “At Least That’s What You Said”
Initially, Wilco was a humble, hard-rockin’, alt-country band. However that all changed with the arrival of their 2002 masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its follow-up A Ghost is Born in 2004. Suddenly Jeff Tweedy had transformed his humble singer-songwriting project into an all-out experimental tour-de-force. “At Least That’s What You Said” is a song that perhaps most exemplifies this new found creative freedom. The track opens with a quietly somber piano and vocal cut, and slowly crescendos ‘till Tweedy gently sings the last verse of the song “At Least That’s What You Said”. Suddenly an electric guitar pierces the heavy atmosphere and a wave of drums, piano, and heavy guitar strums fill the air till they break up into a beautiful rock breakdown. The song has possibly the greatest guitar solo I think I’ve ever heard. A distinct mix of Zeppelin shredding, american twang, and Sonic Youth-esque experimentalism. While Yankee Hotel Foxtrot announced the arrival of a new sound, A Ghost Is Born cemented Wilco as one of the premier acts in American experimental rock.