Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Side 2, Track 1

Last night over a drink at a local establishment I was talking with a friend of mine about the joys and frustrations of making mix tapes: choosing the right segue (each song had to have a musical, lyrical, or conceptual connection with the songs that preceded and followed it), the mechanics of choosing the right instant to lift your finger off the pause button of the cassette recorder, the difficulty (but necessity) of ending each side with 30 seconds or less of blank tape, etc. I mentioned that I generally tried to make the transition between the first and second sides as seamless as possible; his view was that the second side was a fresh start, and so could have a completely different mood or theme from the first side.

Which got us to talking about albums, and how we tended to listen to them by the side rather than as a whole (something that the CD, and now the i-Pod, has rendered a quaint memory along with mix tapes themselves). Because you had to get up and flip the record over halfway through, you'd often just put on your favorite side, or the side that matched a particular mood. And if you were spinning records with friends, you tended to alternate not albums, but album sides.

So the ordering of the songs on an album was crucial, particularly at the opening and closing of each side. My friend mentioned that one of his favorite Elvis Costello songs is "Hand in Hand," which leads off the second side of This Year's Model (1978). That got us thinking about other great side two track ones, and when a Clash song ("White Riot") came on the jukebox it reminded me of "Janie Jones" from their debut album.

Wait a minute, you're probably thinking. Isn't "Janie Jones" track one side one? After all, in Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity (Riverhead Books, 1995), it heads Rob Fleming's list of the five best side one track ones of all time*:

  1. "Janie Jones," The Clash, from The Clash (1976)
  2. "Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen, from Born To Run (1975)
  3. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana, from Nevermind (1991)
  4. "Let's Get It On," Marvin Gaye, from Let's Get It On (1973)
  5. "Return of the Grievous Angel," Gram Parsons, from Grievous Angel (1974)
High Fidelity, p. 147

In fact, "Janie Jones" is both side one track one (of the original 1977 UK issue of the album) and side two track one (of the 1979 US issue of the album; for a rundown of the many differences between the two versions, see Wikipedia).

Along with Elvis Costello and The Clash, I started thinking about my other favorite side two track ones. I limited myself to rock and pop albums, so "Flamenco Sketches," say, or "Preaching Blues" weren't allowed. Multi-artist and best-of compilations weren't eligible either, although single-artist singles compilations were. EPs were OK if they had at least four songs, but not if they had only three. And I limited my selections to albums I discovered or own(ed) on vinyl, which means the Pixies and Sonic Youth and pretty much any post-1987 group was excluded.

I came up with a list of ten eleven a dozen favorite side two, track ones (in reverse alphabetical order by song title):
"The Wait," Killing Joke, from Killing Joke (1980)

"The Void," The Raincoats, from The Raincoats (1979)

"Teenage Lobotomy," Ramones, from Rocket To Russia (1977)

"Stir It Up," Bob Marley & The Wailers, from Catch A Fire (1973)

"Pumping (My Heart)," Patti Smith, from Radio Ethiopia (1976)

"Johnny's Gonna Die," Replacements, from Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981)

"I Heard Her Call My Name," The Velvet Underground, from White Light/White Heat (1968)

"Heroin," The Velvet Underground, from The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

"Goon Squad," Elvis Costello & The Attractions, from Armed Forces (1979)

"Disorder," Joy Division, from the "Outside" (always the second side for me) of Unknown Pleasures (1979)

"Depression," Black Flag, from Damaged (1981)

"Bankrobber," The Clash, from the Black Market Clash EP (1980)

Responses (and alternative lists) are welcome.

Update 24 October 2011: I've created a Side 2, Track 1 YouTube playlist.

I've written a follow-up to this post: Side 1, Track 1


* Worthy as all of these songs are, I don't think even one of them would be among my top five side one track ones.

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