A while ago I made a list of my favorite songs that opened the second side of an album (Side 2, Track 1)—only possible, of course, in the days when albums had sides. (Now, of course, the album itself is becoming a quaint artifact.)
At the time I decided against following up that post with the (perhaps more obvious) list of my favorite side one, track ones. Partly it was because side one, track ones are usually the hits, or the would-be hits, from a band's catalog; they feel pre-chosen, in a way. They can be great songs, but for me can somehow lack that sense of personal discovery and personal meaning that is easier to ascribe to less famous songs.
But the other night, hearing a fragment of the Pixies' "Into the White" being used as filler between segments on NPR (of all things) made me dig out my copy of Doolittle, their brilliantly demented album from 1989. When the first notes of "Debaser" came on, I remembered dancing with my loving partner in a sweaty basement club called Lipps Underground in SF's SOMA district. The DJ that night was Don Baird, the SF Bay Times' "Beat This" music columnist, and he was spinning some great punk and punk-influenced rock: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Nirvana, Fugazi. Just when the dancing had reached a peak, he threw on "Debaser" and the place exploded.
"Debaser"—with Joey Santiago's punky guitar, Kim Deal's alternately deadpan and poppy backup vocals, and Black Francis' Surrealist lyrical allusions—started me thinking about my favorite side one, track ones. As Doolittle played on, I sat down and scribbled out most of the list that follows. I gave myself the same restrictions as with my first list: a dozen songs from albums I discovered on vinyl (so, ironically, "Debaser" was disqualified—see Frank O'Hara's "Why I Am Not A Painter"). Here, with only a few additions and subtractions, is what I came up with, in chronological order:
1. "All Tomorrow's Parties," The Velvet Underground & Nico, from The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
2. "What's Going On?," Marvin Gaye, from What's Going On? (1971)
3. "Let's Stay Together," Al Green, from Let's Stay Together (1972)
4. "Concrete Jungle," Bob Marley & the Wailers, from Catch A Fire (1973)
5. "Gloria," Patti Smith Group, from Horses (1975)
6. "Holidays In The Sun," The Sex Pistols, from Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977)
7. "Art-i-ficial," X-Ray Spex, from Germ-Free Adolescents (1978)
8. "She's Lost Control," Joy Division, from Unknown Pleasures (1979)
9. "London Calling," The Clash, from London Calling (1979)
10. "Paralysed," Gang of Four, from Solid Gold (1979)
11. "Shouting Out Loud," The Raincoats, from Odyshape (1980)
12. "Requiem," Killing Joke, from Killing Joke (1980)
Bands that appear on both my Side Two, Track One and Side One, Track One lists:
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Patti Smith Group
Albums that appear on both lists:
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Bob Marley & The Wailers: Catch A Fire
Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
As ever, all comments positive, negative and alternative are welcomed.
Update 24 October 2011: I've created a Side 1, Track 1 YouTube playlist.
Update 1 Nov 2011: Two bonus tracks:
1. "She's Lost Control," Joy Division, live on BBC-TV's Something Else, September 1979
2. "To Hell With Poverty," Gang of Four, live on WDR's Rockpalast, 1983