Best Rock Intros

Fenster writes:

Here is a 2006 Chicago Tribune article by Mark Caro making an attempt at naming the best rock intros of all time.  Granted, the article is a bit old but does it make a difference?  Most of the songs identified by the author and commenters predate 2006 by a wide margin in the first place.  And I doubt there have been many since 2006 that would make the list.  Rock per se may not be stone-cold dead, but a curatorial viewpoint is hardly inappropriate in 2012.

Heck, I listen to top 40 all the time nowadays courtesy of my kids and I don’t hear much new stuff that would qualify.  Yes, there are indie bands out there, and throwback bands we will always have with us.  But the mainstream now is some sort of hybridization of pop boy-bands/girl-bands, hip-hop and 80s synth, which was barely rock at the time.

That last influence–80s synth–seems shocking considering 60s folks like me thought it was off-putting in the 80s, and the idea that it should return does not compute.  Yet my 17 year old son asked me for a synth for Christmas.  I had no idea he knew what a synth was–but then I had my aha moment and realized just how much of what I was hearing in the car with the kids on those long drives owes to the dreaded 80s.

In any event, the heroic guitar solo–the signature sound of many of the best rock intros, mostly–is in scarce supply.

Guitars fuel much of Caro’s list and mine, too.  I have always been more partial to the Beatles than the Stones but Caro is right, I think, in putting the Stones first in the intro department.   Guitar matters here a great deal.  Caro names, among others, “Satisfaction”, “Street Fighting Man” and “Start Me Up”. No debate there.  He does not list my personal favorite: “Gimme Shelter”

The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” also makes the list.  But Pete Townsend was always good at dramatic openings, going as far back as the hard but bouncy “I Can’t Explain” through “I Can See for Miles” and on to his solo work on songs like “Give Blood”.

Early Genesis and Peter Gabriel also good at dramatic openings.

“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”

and “Red Rain”

Steely Dan’s “Don’t Take Me Alive”.  Wonderful Larry Carlton solo to start the song off.

The Electric Flag’s “Killing Floor”, a neat reworking of an old blues tune dealing with a woman problem into an anti-Vietnam war song, complete with LBJ in the intro.

Many more could make a decent list, obviously.  Early Kinks singles.  “All Along the Watchtower”, Hendrix version.  “Layla”. “Daytripper”, “Eight Miles High”.

Feel free to add.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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14 Responses to Best Rock Intros

  1. Callowman says:

    Devo’s “Gut Feeling”. Nice opening riff followed by a slow build that lasts for half the song. “Gut Feeling” would be a great cover for a hard rock band. Love the chord that splashes across the intro at about 2:05, right before the vocal starts.

    The Feelies’ “Away”. I use it for accelerator sprints, slowly increasing the tempo and launching into a full sprint when the bass line kicks in.

    The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There”. Short, sweet, and powerful. Is that even an intro? It starts with a bang, anyway.

    The Strokes’ “You Only Live Twice”. Not sure if it quite counts as an intro, since it recurs, but that opening guitar riff is pure cock, swanky, a little drunk and out on the prowl.


  2. Fenster says:

    Thanks for these. I was thinking of I Saw Her Standing There, and at the risk of offending purists, I almost like the Smithereens’ version better.


  3. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    I never tire of the opening to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” One day, I’m gonna buy a Telecaster that I keep with 5 strings in open G tuning so I can play it whenever I want.


  4. Callowman says:

    As long as we’re on the Rolling Stones, there’s “Monkey Man”. This definitely qualifies as an intro.

    Here’s a great intro. Aerosmith were a real rock band.


  5. chucho says:

    Another good Stones one is “Happy”.

    Some other good opening guitar riffs regularly heard on yer’ FM band:
    – It’s so cliched, but I still love “Sweet Home Alabama”. The “turn it up” quip makes it.
    – Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
    – Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin About Love”
    – AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” or “Highway to Hell”, etc
    – James Gang’s “Funk 49”–this one is notable since it has a “mistake” in the very beginning


  6. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    I don’t know if it quite reaches the heights of the others we’ve been talking about, but I’ve always loved the opening to “Charmless Man.”


  7. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    This one always gets my blood pumping too.


  8. Simon Grey says:

    “And I doubt there have been many since 2006 that would make the list.”

    Damn oldsters 😉 You should really get out more. Here’s “Defiance” by The Young Veins:

    This song is from Take a Vacation!, which was released in 2010. Most of The Young Veins’ songs feature similarly styled riffs, though “Defiance” remains my favorite. I’m not sure if this song would make the list, but it should at least be considered.


  9. Fenster says:

    Ah, youf finally speaks! Thanks for the Young Veins link. More current recommendations always welcome.


    • Simon Grey says:

      I’d also recommend “Acquaintances, Accomplices” by Taxes. There are some live vids on YouTube, but the quality is poor. You can get a free legal download here:


    • Simon Grey says:

      Well, now that I’m inspired to plow through my collection to see if I can find any good rock intros, I’d also add Alabama Shakes to the list (especially “Hold On,” “Be Mine,” and “Hang Loose”). I’m surprised The Black Keys aren’t getting any love (“She’s Long Gone” and a host of other songs). “This Side of Paradise” by Coyote Theory has a pretty good intro, but its more pop than rock. Also, check out Nick Waterhouse’s “(If) you Want Trouble.” Silverstein generally has some good solo intros, especially on its two recent albums, but they may be closer to metal than rock. State Bird is a band that tends to feature some pretty good intro solos (“Good Vibes” especially). Check out “Just Ride It” by Cuckoo Chaos as well.

      To be honest, I’m kid of surprised The Beach Boys aren’t getting more love. A good number of their singles from their surf rock era have pretty distinct intros (like “Dance, Dance, Dance,” ‘California Girls,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”). I get that the Boys’ reputation isn’t staked on their rock solos, but it does seem like a bit of an oversight to exclude them to such a degree.


  10. Callowman says:

    A taste for old stuff is alas a burden of age. I had a look through my starred iTunes tracks to see if I could come up with anything new that might fit this post. The pickins were slim. Here’s a post-2006 item that I think really rocks at the start. Unfortunately it devolves into an alienating melange of beeps and squinks the further it goes along.


  11. Fenster says:

    A post 2006: “Rope” Foo Fighters


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