Five For Friday: How To Start An Album In Two Tracks

Continuing a music kick from last week–or, from, like, forever–FR reveal to you, dear reader, their favorite one-two punch LP-opening salvos (salves?).

Tyler: The White Stripes, White Blood Cells

White Blood Cells is the album that put The White Stripes in the on-deck circle, after which they’d hit a grand slam with Elephant.  The incomparable ball-stomping unstoppable fury of “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” and “Hotel Yorba,” though, filthy, nasty and all full of Detroit, are what made the (devastatingly) late duo’s career.  God damn.  I’m listening to these tracks right now and they still kick absolute ass. If you’ll excuse me, I gotta go stomp around the apartment for a minute.

Nathan: The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle 

It’s almost not fair to focus on just the two opening songs from Odyssey and Oracle, because the rest of the album is just as good, and at times better, than those songs. But “Care of Cell 44” and “A Rose for Emily” are lush pop gems that most pop acts couldn’t even dream of writing. These songs are the musical equivalent of wrapping yourself in a pure velvet robe. A multi-colored kaleidoscopic velvet robe.

Travis: Nirvana, Nevermind 

Never mind (ahem) that these are two songs that everyone’s probably heard a few too many times at this point—when the album dropped, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was one of the best album openers ever, the clean, jangling chords and Dave Grohl’s Godhammer drums signalling the impending blast of hugely produced guitars. That “In Bloom,” another perfectly crafted blast of loud-quiet-loud, followed almost seems like a bonus.

Tyler: Liz Phair, Whip-Smart

Liz Phair’s outspoken, confrontational, creative exposure of her personal sexuality was never on greater display than within the back-to-back combo of “Chopsticks” and “Supernova,” two tunes that attack the sad, lonely reality of desire, and embrace its ultimate, immaculate reward.  “I dropped him off and I drove on home, ’cause secretly I’m timid.”  “And you fuck like a volcano, and you’re everything to me.”

Nathan: Arcade Fire, Funeral

Arcade Fire has made a career out of songs that feel like they are building towards something. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that never becomes an actuality. Not here. “Neighborhood 1 – Tunnels” and “Neighborhood 2 – Laika” are so good that they almost convince me that the entire album is equal to them (only the first half keeps pace). They are emotionally raw songs that feel like a good set piece scene in a movie.

Travis: The Ramones, The Ramones 

The “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!” of “Blitzkrieg Bop” is a hell of a way to start an album, and “Beat on the Brat”—with a baseball bat, of course—follows in hyper-catchy fashion. There are many arguments about when punk truly began, and that, given a few beers, I’d probably make, but any argument against the first two tracks of the Ramones’ self-titled debut is one I don’t wanna win.

Tyler: The Strokes, Is This It

Every time I listen to Is This It, I can’t wait for “The Modern Age,” as “The Modern Age” is one of the greatest fired-up get-fucked-up spirits-up songs ever put to tape.  But it is required to allow the title track to lead into it.  They are two sides of a perfect coin, a Lennon-McCartney-like A-side/B-side of brutal rock brilliance.  You can’t think ‘cuz you’re way too tired?  Well, then, try this riff on for size.

Nathan: Townes Van Zandt, Our Mother the Mountain 

The first two songs on this Townes Van Zandt album nicely represent the broad range of his capabilities, both musically and lyrically. “Be Here to Love Me”, which is probably my favorite Van Zandt song, is a jaunty country ditty with finely crafted poetry of desperation. “Kathleen”, on the other hand, is a bare-bones dirge with the detailed storytelling that would be typical throughout Van Zandt’s work. Country music has always excelled in storytellers, but Van Zandt is in his own league with Willie Nelson; “Kathleen” serves as a fine example of a master at the height of his powers.

Travis: Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) 

The Wu’s first album is an undeniable hip-hop classic, with the RZA’s minimal, gritty production the perfect bed for the rantings and ravings of Shaolin’s diversely talented cadre of MCs. Kung fu movie samples and simple, shouted choruses are the hooks on both the opening posse cut “Bring Da Ruckus” and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard/Method Man showcase “Shame on a Nigga,” the two tracks that introduced the world to some of rap music’s finest.

Tyler: The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main St.

I’ve used Exile in previous Fives.  It doesn’t matter.  “Rocks Off.”  “Rip This Joint.”  Done.  The sunshine bores the daylights outta me.

Nathan: Liz Phair, Whip-Smart

Fact #1 – Whip-Smart doesn’t even come close to being the album that Exile in Guyville is.

Fact #2 – As a direct result of Fact #1, Whip-Smart has been horribly overlooked.

Fact #3 – There is no two song sequence in all of Liz Phair’s work that better distills the beguiling paradox of the person behind the music. On “Chopsticks”, she’s a vulnerable, shy woman while she’s taking a guy home after a party; and on “Supernova”, which actually became a mini-hit for her on the alternative radio station circuit, she is a smart-ass with huge guitar riffs. On Whip-Smart and Exile, she ping pongs between these two extremes over and over, but the contrast is never so wonderful as it is here.

Travis: Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

Stevie Wonder’s follow-up to the almost-perfect Talking Book was 1973’s completely-perfect Innervisions. The most well-known songs from the album are arguably the funky “Higher Ground” and the epic, State of the World address “Livin’ for the City,” but the album’s amazing one-two punch includes neither of those iconic tracks. Instead, it begins with the grooving synths of “Too High” and the jazzy, low-key ballad “Visions.” Between them, the two songs showcase everything that made Stevie great: songwriting genius, instrumental virtuosity (all the instruments on “Too High” were played by Wonder), and that voice, in two very different settings. Essential.

Tyler: Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” track two, could be absolute garbage and this twofer might still top my list.  “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is not garbage, not absolutely, not at all, the opposite of it, and it is now all the more affecting due the loss earlier this year of The Big Man.  As a statement of purpose from an artist ready to take the reins (and for you to take his hand), there has never been better.  Sit tight.  Take hold.  “Thunder Road.”

Nathan: The Beatles, Meet the Beatles 

Try to imagine buying this, the second (only ten days after Introducing…The Beatles) full Beatles album in America, released on Capitol Records in 1964. You bring the record home and pop side A on your turntable. The first thing to blast out of the speakers is the glorious hit single “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. When that joyful, rather innocent number is over, you can catch your breath a little, but the gap between songs isn’t enough time for you to brace yourself for what comes next, because the second track is “I Saw Her Standing There”, which is probably the best pure rock and roll song written by anyone ever (except maybe Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven“). Between those two tracks there’s enough musical energy to make you want to take a nap for a week. Either that or put the needle back to the beginning and go through the whole wild experience again…and again…and again…and again.

Really, sit back and try to imagine your world without all the music that you listen to now. Try to think about all the lame 60s muzak that would’ve been surrounding you at the time. Try to think about the fact that rock and roll meant Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and a select few others; no one else. That record, and those two songs specifically, would have been a sonic tidal wave rolling into your world. This was the Beatles blasting, quite literally, onto your scene. It had to feel completely insane to listen to that stuff in 1964. In fact, it sounds completely insane when I listen to it today.

Travis: The Beatles, The Beatles

The White Album is my favorite Beatles album, except when one of the other ones is—Rubber Soul is probably the one I listen to the most all the way through. But the opening salvo that begins the first side encapsulates everything I love about the band, with McCartney’s “Back in the USSR” rocking like Chuck Berry but harder, with Beach Boy harmonies and silly wordplay—“Georgia’s always on my mind”—to boot, leading directly into Lennon’s beautiful, haunting “Dear Prudence.”

5 thoughts on “Five For Friday: How To Start An Album In Two Tracks

  1. I love that I’m the only one who didn’t include The Beatles, let alone at #1. Meet The Beatles is a bullshit Capitol mix-around of their work, but I agree with the choice nonetheless.

    I will defend every Liz Phair album up to and including Liz Phair.

  2. I’ll admit that I’m a little surprised by all of the Liz Phair love here. But I also agree with Tyler that I’m a fan of every LIz Phair album up to and including the much reviled Liz Phair. Although most people hated the commercial sound of the album — a complaint that perhaps merits some consideration — I think the album still has some great song craft on it. “Favorite” offers one of the most tortured metaphors in pop music history to describe the sense of familiarity in a couple’s relationship. “Little Digger” is a coy comment on parenthood and the Oedipus complex. And “H.W.C.” is a return to “Supernova” territory with Lizzie analogizing the spurt from her partner’s sexual organ to the “fountain of youth.” I know that many people heard “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I” as a Avril Levigne style sellout, but I saw Liz Phair perform a free live show under St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and was completely taken aback by the number of pre-teen girls in attendance. If getting a thousand tween girls and their parents to nod along to “Fuck and Run” was all that those two tracks accomplished, that alone would more than justify their presence on LIZ PHAIR.

    I like all of the selections listed above, but I’d like to throw out a few of my own, some of which probably seem like low hanging fruit.

    1) Prince — 1999 (the title track and “Little Red Corvette.”
    2) The Psychedelic Furs — TALK,TALK, TALK ( “Dumb Waiters” and “Pretty in Pink”)
    3) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — DAMN THE TORPEDOES (the double-barreled blast of “Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl”)
    4) The Kinks — SOMETHING ELSE (“David Watts” and “Death of a Clown”)
    5) New Order — LOW-LIFE (“Love Vigilantes” and “The Perfect Kiss”)

    Honorable mention to the Sex Pistols — NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS. Not a true album perhaps, but any record that begins with the one-two punch of “Holiday in the Sun” and “Bodies” should at least be in the conversation. Same goes for the Pretenders’ LEARNING TO CRAWL. “Middle of the Road” rocks like crazy, and although it appeared as a single months before the album, “Back on the Chain Gang” is one of the most beautiful and moving tribute songs in the history of popular music.

  3. I actually am not the biggest fan of “Favorite,” as I think it’s a bit beleaguered. “H.W.C.,” on the other hand, is a fucking fantastic song. “Oh no, she addresses the pleasures of sex sans protection!” Yes, that would be the point. I haven’t heard much of Everybody’s Miracle, though what I heard was enough for me. Funstyle pissed everybody off, but it was Phair rediscovering her voice, unfettered and label-free. It’s not very good, but it’s absolutely worth it if only for the merits of “And He Slayed Her.”

    Liz Phair is a Goddamn goddess. Even if she hasn’t yet given up on Chicago. Fuck that town.

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