Monday, 18 November 2013

First Songs on First Albums

Josh Bennett put me on to an awesome real life game where you put together a list of the top ten first songs off of first albums.  So every band only has one song up for consideration, meaning your favourite bands don't necessarily have good songs to put on the list - especially if they released some lousy albums before they knew how to play.

Basically I went through every band I've ever liked a song by and see what their first song off their first album was.  I discovered albums and songs I didn't know about, none of which made the list.  But mostly what happened when I did it was I was surprised at how many possible songs there were for inclusion.  Some of them that I put on my list at first pass, like "Spanish Air" by Slowdive really got blown out later on when I realized how good some band's first albums are.  Even though it didn't make my list, I was quite surprised that "Break on Through" was the first song from the Doors' first album.  It's hard to imagine yourself living at that time and saying, "Hey, I heard this band was good" and putting on their first album to hear that.  I can see why they went on to be so famous.

Anyway, this game was quite a few hours of entertainment, and well worth doing.  I'm going to present the list of top ten, but first there is on honorable mention.  If you've never listened to Wesley Willis, he was a mentally ill homeless man living in New York who found that making rock music helped him deal with his negative emotions and the voices in his head.  His music consisted of putting on the demo track from a keyboard and speaking four line verses over it, separated by a chorus where he sang the name of the song over and over.  I give his Attempted Armed Robbery an honorable mention here because I realize that I can't really verify that it qualifies for the list - Wesley Willis could have albums that I can't find out about through internet research.  But also, if this was not his first song, I would easily swap in whatever song was his first regardless of what it was.  As such, this is more about the spirit of Wesley Willis than about any particular song.

So, on to the actual list, with the caveat that I am not actually recommending any of this music to you.  It's not a huge investment to listen to it so you don't have that much to lose, but I'd like to remind you that these are songs that I put on a top ten list, not songs that I think that you would like.  For one thing, I might not even know you, and for a second, if I do know you then I can pretty much promise you I know that you will really, really not like at least one of these.

If you had asked me to name R.E.M.'s best song of all time this would have been in a list of three or four contenders, so I was pretty pleased to see it was the first song on Murmur.  I had recalled it coming later on for some reason.

I'm not going to say I'm a fan of the Fine Young Cannibals, but considering the restrictions for this game, this song is exactly where it needed to be to make the cut.

The Electric Eels formed because the opening band at a Captain Beefheart show sucked and they thought they could do better.  Apparently many times their live shows ended when they ceased being interested in playing and got into fights with the audience.  This song is basically as punk as it is possible to be.

Joy Division was a pretty significant influence on me as a teenager, which I suppose isn't saying great things about my teenage years, other than that I was listening to Joy Division.  Once again, a favourite band with one of my favourite songs as the first song on their first album, so pretty much a shoo-in.

Hymie's Basement is one of two side projects that got on this list.  Side projects are cheating a bit because you are talking about people who have already put out quite a few albums coming together to put a single album together.  Their wikipedia entry has about four sentences in it.  Still, this is the first song off the first album by this band, and "You put your life in the hands of the highway designers" is one of my favourite lines of all time.

You could argue a long time about whether this is the best recording of Roadrunner, but if a later recording or cover tops the original it hardly matters.  Few bands manage to open their career with a classic like this.

Stephen Merritt has a lot of bands with a lot of good songs.  "Scream and Run Away" by the Gothic Archies would probably be on this list if they hadn't had earlier albums.  But nothing he ever did is as good in my mind as the first two Magnetic Fields albums with Susan Anway on vocals.

This is Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse's side project album that sounds a lot like Modest Mouse but a little more country.  I like Modest Mouse a lot, but their first album was not their best work, so Brock sneaks this one in on a technicality.

This song might be in this same spot if this were just a list of my favourite songs of all time.  But while it stands on its own as a great song, it is also a critical piece of a fantastic album.  The lyrics to this song take on a great deal of additional meaning when you've heard the rest of it.

If Glenn Tipton might be on the list of my favourite songs ever at number two, it seems strange that this is not what I would call my favourite song of all time, an honour which would go to "Ever Rotating Sky" off of the same album.  I said earlier that many bands aren't very polished on their first album.  There are also those bands - or artists - whose first album is clearly the work of a lifetime leading up to it.  I don't even like much of David Thomas Broughton's later recordings, but this first album was insane.

I strongly recommend playing this game if like music.  Making top ten lists is a lot of fun and having restrictions make it more fun.

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