I’m a romantic who loves destruction and a bit of chaos. I love human-made ruins, the results of criminal neglect or failed maintenance. I once saw a deserted and completely run down football stadium somewhere between Milan and Malpensa airport. Deteriorating tapes, scratched records, it all appeals to my romantic self. I hated the false promise of the Compact Disc; no more scratches, no more stuck needles, all clean and boring. In a way I hate online music even more, but for a different reason, one that gradually emerged over the course of digitalisation. I call it the end of the album. A physical record has an opening song, a closer of Side A, another opening song for Side B and an overall closer. (almost) All of that is absent in the digital format. One could even say that the digital format killed the double album.

There is a difference between technological progress and human progress. Nothing compares to the sound of the needle finding its way through the groove to the start of the first song. But there is more. Digital music creates a product that is stable and error-free. But music is no product. It is a feeling, a sensation, something that appeals in equal measures to heart, mind and gut. Prior to the CD opening songs were stronger and more seductive. The opening song served a clear purpose; to draw the listener in. In the age of streaming the album is just a list, often not even meant to be consumed in its entirety, but rather on a piece by piece, song by song basis.

High Fidelity (Nick Hornby, 1995) is a wonderful little book about a bunch of music geeks running a record shop. The movie is almost as funny. Rob, the main character, has his own Top 5 of Side A opening songs:

  1. ‘Janie Jones’, The Clash;
  2. ‘White Light / White Heat’, Velvet Underground;
  3. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Nirvana;
  4. ‘Let’s Get It On’, Marvin Gaye;
  5. ‘Radiation Ruling the Nation’, Massive Attack.

It’s a list I can relate to. I would have excluded Nirvana and Massive Attack for the simple reason that both bands didn’t record for Vinyl. I would also have picked different Marvin Gaye and The Clash songs (‘What’s going on’ and ‘London Calling’ respectively). Not because these are better songs, but because a great opening song needs a high wow-factor, it should move the listener to a different experience level and set the tone for the rest of the album. A great opening song also only exists in the context of a great album. Taking all of this together and honouring the fact that some artists (Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Clash) were so good at composing and  picking great opening tracks I could have selected 3 or 4 alternatives, I come to my own Top 10…