To quote Rob Gordon, “I’m feeling kind of basic today.” Not to mention tired. It’s been a fantastic weekend full of wine, women, and song (but mostly song), late nights, early mornings– because it’s in my genes and because i’m a bit of a sadist– and the week’s looking good ‘n long ‘n busy with no signs of letting up. And that’s all right by me.
I’m also honestly intrigued and curious about the concept of a mix derived from only such material. Say what you will about the need for going deep and understanding an album as the sum of all of its parts– side one, track ones set the tone for what’s to come, giving them the power to make or break whatever album experience you were hoping to have. Whether you’ve been lured to the record by the wildly successful single you’ve heard on the radio all week and are hoping to hear more of the same, or, as is more often the case these days, you stumbled upon the artist through related artist categories on your streaming music player of choice– that first song will determine whether you’re in it for the long haul or jumping ship by side one, track one, minute two.
And heaven help you if you believe that having that shiny new single on there as the pivotal track one is enough to carry you through an otherwise bland and colorless record. There’re definitely some examples of where it works, and likely a few of the following tracks will be among those examples, but generally speaking, if you’re leading off with your barnburner of a single, you better believe with all your soul and down payment on your yacht in Maui that the rest of your album is sold gold. Nay, diamond platinum.
With this in mind, I humbly submit my Top 5 Side 1, Track 1s.
1. Mike Doughty – Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well
Haughty Melodic – ATO, 2005
Starting off with a fantastic example of a side one, track one that, although being the first single from Doughty’s 2005 album, not to mention his first solo major label release (ATO), serves as a nice warm up for the rest of the record. In fact, as strong a song as it is, greater depth and all-around wonderfully hearty sonic goodness is still to come in the tracks that follow.
2. Bob Dylan – Subterranean Home Sick Blues
Bringing It All Back Home – Columbia, 1965
It doesn’t get much better than this. Often imitated, this track is as timeless in its pulsing, raucous pacing as it is peerless in its frenetic, spitfire delivery and word craft. Certainly the iconic video above is worth a watch (and yes, that is Allen Ginsberg there on the left of the screen, dressed as a rabbi), but this is one of those songs where the song speaks most clearly just by being heard. Hearing– really listening— is believing. Dylan knew what he was doing.
3. Middle Brother – Daydreaming
Middle Brother (self-titled) – Partisian, 2011
The beauty of this number is that it’s so gosh darn disarming. As with the aforementioned Doughty tune, this song belies the wonderful romp to come, doing so here in a much more understated fashion. Here is a band that albeit one wouldn’t likely stumble upon without prior knowledge of its composition (frontmen and familiar figures all of three well-known folk-rock outfits of the last five years). This shouldn’t cheapen the value of the offering, however. Regardless of its breeding, it is still, at its core, a plaintive yet resolved song of love and longing.
4. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
Born to Run – 1975, Columbia
Call it a “safe one” if you wish, this song is belongs on this list as much as a Telecaster belongs in Bruce’s hands– at all times. And look- he’s even holding one on the album cover. It’s fate. This song has it all and is the embodiment of everything we’ve come to expect from The Boss and his band: stories of real people– or brought to life so masterfully they may as well be real– sewn together with the full spectrum of living, breathing, sonic emotion.
5. John Mayer – Queen of California
Born And Raised – Columbia, 2012
A song that speaks of transitions is a fitting way to begin Mayer’s fifth studio album as it marked a departure from– or at least temporary change in– his usual sound, moving from blues rock shaman to folk americana troubadour. The change might seem strange and uncomfortable at first, but the song invites you to move with it– to trust and to believe– and sure enough you realize that this folksy side suits him as naturally as his bluesy side does; that both personas were inside him all along.