The first track of an album is your introduction to the artists’ work. Like a novel it can be their first, their sequel, their latest in a series or their last. And like a book it can drive the reader into the story or out of it. These 11 tracks are some of my picks that lead you on a journey into a seminal work. A work that establishes or re-establishes the creators as major players. A work that turns their past work upside down and either confirms it or destroys it. The first track also is as worthy as every track that follows, it is the first chapter of a remarkable book that stands the test and ravages of fickle time.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Right off the bat you knew something was different, what did it mean, where were the Fabs? Ok Revolver was different and wonderful but who are these guys? Well, from here to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds to A Day In The Life you found out and it blew your mind… and the first track starts the engine. All aboard the train from Fabland to Pepperland… and beyond.
Alice Cooper – Under My Wheels – Killer
A blast of screaming guitars, howling vocals, booming bass and drums and you knew Alice Cooper had arrived. Every teenaged boy’s catharsis embodied over 8 rocking tracks and, of course, every parent’s nightmare. Wonder why Alice Cooper is enshrined in the Rock n Roll hall of fame? Here’s the answer in about 37 minutes.
Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone – Highway 61 Revisited
The needle hits the vinyl and explodes. This ain’t no Blowing In The Wind. This is Dylan tough, uncompromising, and plugged in. Considered the greatest rock song ever written Like A Rolling Stone starts your journey all the way down to Desolation Row. It’s a hard earned trip but worth every minute.
The Band – Across The Great Divide – The Band
This song sets the stage for a sepia toned trek through the full spectrum of American music – country, blues, rock n roll – and characters. From The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down to King Harvest Has Surely Come, The Band opens the back doors to rock’s history. This is where the genre Americana started and where it ends. It is a timeless precious artifact.
John Lennon – Mother – Plastic Ono Band
The bells toll and the John begins to sing. The music is stark, the vocal full of angst but beautiful in its rage. This was not The Beatles, nor the John of In My Life, this was the John of In My Real Life Fuckin’ Right Now. If you had to pick only one Beatle solo record for your collection, this is the one. It is one of the most brutal and beautiful albums ever recorded. John’s singing was never better than on this collection, just listen to God, and Ringo’s drumming is fantastic. John’s emotional travels always starts and ends with his Mother, as it does here.
Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good – Heart Like Wheel
Up to now she had made nice music with a terrific voice, but with the first punch of You’re No Good you know this is really a Different Drum. This starts a musical trip of fantastic songs sung by one of the greatest voices in any genre of music. Produced to bring out her vocal prowess, backed by her crackerjack band and an array of pros and stars, such as The Eagles and David Lindley, this was a game changer of a record and remains one.
Tom Waits – Tom Traubert’s Blues – Small Change
This voice was different from his first two studio albums, it was rough, gravely and as real and impactful as any instrument. Tom Traubert’s Blues kicks this album off and it is a masterpiece of songwriting and as sad and beautiful as any Charles Bukowski poem. Waits wrote of the life after dark: the alleys, the bars, the dives, the drunks, the taxi drivers, the night people. Here on this album he writes from the life. It marks a change for him artistically and emotionally and more than likely saved his career and life. After all, the starting gun track’s character is named Tom.
The Rolling Stones – Rocks Off – Exile On Main Street
The needles hits this first track like a race car hitting the gas – but it’s not quite what you’d expect. Rocks Off is a great Stones rocker punctuated by some horns but the sound is murky, the vocals are to the back of a muddy mix. Thus the greatest rock n roll album by the World’s greatest rock n roll band begins. Upon first listening you may think you have a badly pressed vinyl but no, listen again. Underneath that dark water is why they were also labeled the most dangerous rock n roll band in the World. These songs form a quilt of sex, drugs, sweat, piss and blood. It’s a masterpiece but a dark masterpiece. It gets your rocks off.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks – Astral Weeks
Well from the first bars you know this ain’t no Brown Eyed Girl. This first and title track opens up an album of mystery and mojo. Like most critics and fans I can’t explain its beauty or its compelling allure. It has no genre, it has no shelf, it has no structure, what is has is magic. All I can tell you is to turn down the lights, have a glass of your favorite beverage, sit with someone you love then start Astral Weeks, you won’t understand it, only feel it. And it’s fine.
Deep Purple – Highway Star – Machine Head
The bass starts, the drums kick in, the organ lays a riff, guitars well up, the vocal rises up and Highway Star starts one the best heavy rock/metal albums ever released. The song tells the truth of the work, here’s what you get and you’ll like it. This is driving fast music, either in or out of the car. Look, it has Smoke On The Water and Space Trucking in its gas tank, hit the damn ignition and ride with it!
Taylor Swift – The 1 – folklore
Yup Taylor Swift. The 1 starts an album of great beauty and heart. Written during 2020’s unprecedented pandemic times, this is a masterful work that we needed right then and now. This is songwriting at the highest level and every track rings true. Lyrically and musically here is an artist working at the top of her game, just listen to The Last Great American Dynasty. One of the best albums of this 21st Century.