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.