By Ralph Greco, Jr.
There is the ‘accidental’ feedback at the start of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” John Bonham’s crash-and-burn iconic cymbal get-up-and-go of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll,” the oh-so-distinctive Don Felder-penned (and played) guitar pick beginnings to the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and the cash register roll kicking off the funky beat to Pink Floyd’s “Money.”
These wonderful, instantly recognizable openings lead listeners to some of rock’s best — there’s no denying this fact. But how about those vintage rock song openings that are just as mind-blowing and super cool, just not as well known? Here is a rundown of our Top 10 Obscure Vintage Rock Song Openings.
1) The Sherbs – “We Ride Tonight”
Although they released this key-laden single, along with a video for the song on MTV under the name of The Sherbs, this band began life as Sherbert (also known as Highway). The quintet raked up a slew of teen-pop hits in the 70s, making the quintet one the most successful Australian bands of the day. This spooky dirge, quite different than those hits, begins with a sailing organ giving way to a soaring slide lead guitar…all of which floats away to the tick-clicking muted guitar versus all but bitten by lead singer Daryl Braithwaite. The opening will give any prog rocker a good tickle up their old address, that’s for sure, no matter how 80s poppy things do get as the song progresses.
2) Queen – “White Queen (As It Began)”
Queen has given us so many great intros. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites The Dust” mine the poppy side of the street, while the “We Will Rock You” opening declares its anthemic pull no matter what sport you love. For this list, though, Brian May’s descending crying guitar into a shimmery acoustic guitar strum sets up such a sweet Freddy Mercury’s vocal; I feel this one must be included. It’s simply another great song from this band’s second album, an album chock-full of great songs, and arguably one of Queen’s best releases.
3) David Bowie – “Future Legend”
This brief, spoken word intro with scary background music behind it has David Bowie telling us all about “fleas the size of rats” and “rats the size of cats.” It’s not so much the intro, though, to this particular song (not that there actually is one per se) that gets it into this ten. It’s that the ‘song,’ such that it is, rolls right into one of rock’s greatest pronouncements: “This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide,” as the lift off of the main guitar riff of the second song/title track “Diamond Dogs.” Bowie’s eighth studio release as much takes from Orwell — the songs “1984” and “Big Brother” appear on this album—as well as the writings of William S. Burroughs. “Future Legend” delivers the opening salvo to a post-Ziggy Stardust dystopian worldview.
4) Supertramp – “Child Of Vision”
With the distinct kinetic beating of a Wurlitzer electric piano, the last cut on Supertramp’s Breakfast In America stands above the rest of the tunes on this monumentally successful album as having a most ominous intro. When the rest of the band comes in (most notably Dougie Thomson’s bass), ‘The Tramp’ manages to undercut the menace with some poppy moments, but we never stray so far from the seriousness that the piano and rumbling bass set up from the jump.
5) Genesis – “Firth Of A Firth”
Genesis keyboard master Tony Banks has had plenty of moments of which to be proud. As much from his always subtle synth leading, Mellotron additions and organ riffing, the man is a master at his craft, as all the players, ex or current, of Genesis is. Banks’ beginning solo piano opening for the third song on the band’s 1973 album Selling England By The Pound, is a classical rock hybrid masterstroke. Although Banks has admitted he was most conscious of avoiding the grand piano’s pedals so as not to making noise in the studio when he recorded this, what we hear at the beginning of “Firth Of A Fifth” are complex rhythms, wild time signatures, and just expert ivory-tickling. This is the tune Steve Hackett consistently picks as one of his favorites from his Genesis days.
6) Little Feat – “Cold, Cold, Cold”
There are too many great rock drum openings to compile across even the most extensive of lists. What makes the opening of the snare, toms, and kick on this tune so delicious is how ‘loosey-goosey’ the kit sounds, stomping the beat into and under a country funk electric guitar. Slide, vocals, bass, electric piano, horns, and backing female vocals all slide in, but the drums stay as loud and lose as they begin managing the swampy funk so perfectly for this song from Little Feat’s second album, Sailin’ Shoes.
7) Rick Wakeman – “Music Reincarnate The Warning, Part 1”
Gone were the orchestras, choirs, and certainly the King Arthur ice shows for what would become one of the most underrated solo releases from Rick Wakeman, his 1976 release, No Earthly Connection. Opening the “Music Reincarnate” suite that covers all side A and splashes over into side B of the original vinyl release of this album, “Part 1: The Warning” begins with a single note laser-like keyboard strikes that layer over one another and rise to one single note. If this opening doesn’t shoot the listener right off into space, one isn’t ready and ripe for mind-music explorations.
8) Hawkwind – “You Shouldn’t Do That”
The 15-minute plus opener from Hawkwind’s 1971 album In Search Of Space is a psychedelic trip, to be sure. The song begins with trippy burping and undulating keys, with guitar string scratching crawling up the listener’s nerves as a high-pitched single not rises until we get into bass flipping single notes that begin the tune. Love ‘um, hate ‘um, leave ‘um be, still, has there ever truly been any band as unique as Hawkwind?
9) Carmen – “Stepping Stone”
Forget unique; how about just flat-out bizarre?! Marrying progressive rock with flamenco, David Clark Allen, with his merry band Carmen, attempted a wild flight of imagination, castanets, and even “footwork” on their debut, Fandangos In Space. The snare marching under twinkly vibe touches with a soft falsetto scream give way to “wah-wah” guitar and single big notes from future Jethro Tull bassist John Glascock. This heady brew opening leads into just one of the many tunes from this most unusual marriage of two musical forms not often (if ever at all, beyond this time) mixed.
10) Iron Maiden – “Alexander The Great”
Beginning with wind and a voice-over, we quickly get into plucked acoustics and matching snare, on this, one of the longest songs in this band’s canon. What’s especially fun (ok, ‘great’) about “Alexander The Great” is how there are actually three movements to this intro; the beginning soft acoustic mix, then a single-note soaring electric cutting through a slow-strummed acoustic, then the band chugging into the beat, with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris (the solo writer of this last tune of the band’s sixth studio album Somewhere In Time) playing his usual frantic clicking bass as the song starts proper.