Spinner.com came out with their Top 25 best opening song lines. It’s here if you want to take a gander, but come right back. I’ll wait.
OK, are you back? Good.
I hate to make any sort of snap judgement or generalization — ok, you caught me, I LOVE making snap judgements and generalizations — but it seems to me that all the lyrics on that list that come from the most recent songs are just crap. Pure, unadulterated dog doo. Which only makes me believe that current pop culture has run out of original and interesting ideas. (This idea is proven almost weekly by Hollywood as it produces bad remake after bad remake.)
They have a few OK lyrics, but mostly it’s crap. Fiona Apple’s “I’ve been a bad, bad
girl.” Maybe you have, but that doesn’t make for a great lyric.
“Go shorty, it’s your birthday.” Wow, that’s almost as original as Happy Birthday to
“Pigs, they tend to wiggle when they walk.” Pigs, they tend to make lousy lyrics.
“Why do birds suddenly appear every time, you are near?” Why do the Carpenters appear
on a best lyric list?
“Well she was just seventeen, you know what I mean.” C’mon. Lennon and McCartney are
arguably the best songwriters of the last 50 years. You’re telling me that’s the best opening line they wrote?
“Hey ho, let’s go.” Hey ho hum.
And their number one opening lyric? “She’s a very kinky girl.” Yeah, she’s been hanging with Fiona.
I mean most of these don’t speak to me. They aren’t stimulating, or thoughtful, or insightful, or even well-written.
An opening line should evoke emotion, be provocative, controversial, get your attention, or simply be a very good piece of writing. It should grab you by the neck and not let go. Like the opening page of a novel, it should make you want to see what happens next.
None of those do that. Most of these make me change the station.
The problem with lists, especially ones that claim to be the Top 25 best, is that its damned near impossible to know every single opening line. Therefore these lists always come up short.
Here then are some opening lines off the top of my head (I have no inclination to go through my entire record collection and come up with a whole list of 25). This isn’t a definitive list, just examples of lines that I think are better than the ones in that list:
“Ahh-ahh-ahh-choo! I know this must be flu.” —Flu by Spandau Ballet
What’s that you say? Those aren’t the lyrics? It’s “I know this must be true?” Really? He isn’t suffering from a cold? Nevermind.
Lets go to the next one then,”Whenever I see your smiling face I have to smile myself because I love you.” Yeah, I’m joking. James Taylor. Right. Good one. 🙂
OK, OK, seriously:
“Holly came from miami F.L.A. Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.” —Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed
Something like the first cross-dressing, seamier side of life songs. Edgy in its day.
“I come awake, with the gift for womankind. You’re still alseep, but the gift don’t seem to mind. —Wake up and Make Love to Me by Ian Dury and the Blockheads
See? Suggestive. Better than pigs wiggling when they walk.
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy.” —Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.
“Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street.” — by Joe Jackson
Imagery, people, great imagery. You understand immediately that the singer doesn’t approve with the choices women make.
“When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay.” —Lights by Journey
Sets a mood and image in the mind of what San Fran looks like.
“I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan, oh won’t you hop inside my car.” — Vehicle by the Ides of March
Reminds me of what my mom always said, “Never take candy from strangers, unless they offer a ride, too.”
“Young teacher, the subject of school girl fantasy.” —Don’t Stand So Close to Me by The Police
Seems ironic that this song was done by a band called The Police.
“Something in the way she moves, attracts me like no other lover.” —Something by The
Heluva lot better than the line from their list by the Fab Four.
“Finished with my woman cuz she couldn’t help me with my mind.” — Paranoid by Black
Tells you exactly his state of mind. One of those throw-away songs written in a few minutes just to fill out the album that becomes an enduring classic.
“Gonna take a freight train, down at the station lord, I don’t care where it goes.” —Can’t You See by the Marshall Tucker Band
I just threw this one in here so you wouldn’t think I’m all about hard rock. Traveling songs are just so interesting.
“I used to be such a sweet sweet thing, ’til they got ahold of me,” —No More Mr. Nice Guy by Alice Cooper
See? It makes you think, “well, then what? What happened after they got ahold of him?” It’s not “I’m a bad, bad girl” where you go, “so you’re a slut, so what? Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Hello, is there anybody in there, just nod if you can hear me, is there anyone at home?” —Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
What can I say? I’ve always had a soft spot for songs about people with a less than a solid grip upon sanity.
“Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.” —Aqualung by Jethro Tull
What’s more fun than a song about a lecherous old man?
“Billy was a mountain. Ethyl was a tree growing off of his shoulder.” —Billy the Mountain by The Mothers of Invention
In the fine tradition of “Tommy used to work on the dock,” this opening line of Billy the Mountain tells us we’re going to hear a story of love and fighting to make it in life. Well, OK, its about a mountaint that gets a royalty check for all those scenic postcards he posed for, takes his wife Ethyl on a vacation to New York, and unintentionally destroys towns and Andrews Air Force Base along the way. “Within the week Jerry Lewis hosted a telethon for all the injured, and homeless, in Glendale.”
“Heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you been messing around.” —Take it on the Run by REO Speedwagon
Personally, I hate this song. It came out after REO had abandoned their version of country rock and switched to that awful Top 40 pop stuff, but even I’ll admit this is a great opening line. How many relationships have broken up because of rumors?
And the Number 1 Opening Line of All Time:
“What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me.” — Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath
Now that evokes emotions, fear and dread. That line tells you something is going to happen, but what? It’s not, “Hey slappy, it’s your birthday.” Blame this song, if you must, for being the precursor to heavy metal and instigating darker music at a time when everyone else was singing about peace and love, but as a fan of fantasy that line opened up a whole vision of supernatural horror. I still use this song to set the mood for my own fantasy writings.