Fleetwood Mac - Need Your Love So Bad
Longing, loss, heartbreak and a raging hard-on - somehow, Peter Green manages to transmit all that in one glorious guitar intro.
Green’s guitar playing was at its peak on this recording, and it’s about as great an example as exists of his near-mythical ’59 Les Paul’s honking tone. Throw in swelling strings and some of Mick Fleetwood’s most tasteful drumming and you’ve got an intro for the ages.
Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone
The snare cracks like a starting pistol, and Dylan leads his band out of the blocks like a man possessed.
Like A Rolling Stone is obviously a special track - a 6-minute long single that redefined what it was possible to do with a rock song - and the intro somehow sums up everything that is to follow in 11 short seconds. Swirling organs, jittery tambourines, twinkling pianos and jangling electric guitars come together to form a knotty, hypnotic whole; an impossible to ignore call to arms for a generation that was waking up to itself.
As an added bonus, Dylan released an interactive video for the song last year, proving that his restless, impish creativity is still as potent as it once was.
Donna Summer - I Feel Love
'Hypnotic' is often the word that's used to describe the Giorgio Moroder-concocted groove that powers Donna Summer's groundbreaking single. It's the jaw-dropping sequenced bassline that regularly gets the plaudits, but splendid as it is, don't underestimate the atmospheric power of the sweeping synth, which transforms itself from major to minor without you really noticing.
More than 35 years after it was recorded, listening to the opening of this still feels like you're opening a present that's been beamed down from space.
The Beatles - Come Together
The opening seconds of Abbey Road couldn’t be spookier. For the intro that serves as a repeated motif of Come Together, Paul McCartney plays a memorable, minimalist bassline that sounds like an owl hooting over a nighttime swamp. Ringo Starr’s sinister hi-hat pattern and rolling tom fills (the latter dampened with tea towels) underscore the eerie effect.
Even more unnerving is John Lennon, leaning into the mic and defiantly spitting out this tragically prophetic command: “Shoot me.” The last word is choked by handclaps, but the full force of the line works its way into your head almost subliminally.
The Rolling Stones - Time Is On My Side
Brian Jones’ gospel-infused, distinctive blues guitar lines that introduce The Rolling Stones’ Time Is On My Side melted millions of hearts in the UK in 1965. Oddly enough, American audiences got the song first, in 1964, but without the guitar part.
The Stones recorded a version with several seconds of Ian Stewart’s funereal organ as the opener in June 1964 in London, and that’s what the US heard on the radio in September of that year. Several months later, the Stones tracked a tighter version of the song in Chicago that featured Jones’ weeping guitar intro.
Either way, the intro pulls you in like a gentle prayer, setting the stage for Mick Jagger’s full-scale sermon that is by turns melancholy and cocky.
Earth, Wind & Fire - Shining Star
Earth, Wind & Fire’s first major hit tumbles down the stairs a little wobbly at first, with guitars and bass crunching together, entangling in an impenetrable thicket of sound before hitting the floor like a sure-footed (and extremely funky) drunken master.
The second half of Shining Star’s intro also serves as the musical bed for the verses, and with such a winning combination of jangly guitar, elastic bass and those dynamic horns, it’s no wonder that Maurice White didn’t want to keep a good groove down.
NWA - Straight Outta Compton
Is there any finer statement of intent within music than that at the opening of NWA’s 1988 gangsta rap masterpiece Straight Outta Compton?
“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge...”
U2 - Pride (In The Name Of Love)
The Edge releases three echo-treated harmonic blasts into the sky and lets them sing. In response, Larry Mullen Jr lurches into a stately drum roll, while Adam Clayton holds down the fort with booming bass notes.
After this majestic setup, the three take off in anthemic style, Adam and Larry locked in an almost military-like groove, and The Edge issuing perhaps his most iconic guitar pattern, a briskly strummed slapback sequence that has brought arena and stadium audiences to their feet for going on 30 years.
This stunning guitar riff is the leitmotif for U2’s rousing tribute to Martin Luther King Jr, but it’s one that is varied slightly throughout the song - sometimes Edge opens the notes up; other times he mutes their sound to match the dramatic shifts in Bono’s words. Appropriately, for the tune’s shattering climax, he’s playing to the heavens.
The Breeders - Cannonball
Kim Deal was responsible for some great intros with the Pixies - her coo-ing on the opening of Where Is My Mind? is a stone cold classic - but the fuzzy, false start intro to Cannonball has to be one of the most memorable alt-rock openings of all time.
New Order - Blue Monday
Arguably the most iconic kick drum of all time, the Oberheim DMX-powered intro to Blue Monday provides the perfect introduction to the techno meets post-punk sound the Manchester band perfected in the mid-‘80s.
The band have since revealed in interviews that Gillian Gilbert faded the opening synth line in at the wrong time, leaving the whole intro slightly out of sync. The band felt the odd timing helped add to the song’s charm, however, and left the mistake in the final recording.