When you first put on a record, it’s always that first song that grabs us. It shocks our musical taste buds and makes the listener want to everything there is to know about the band. The first song on a record should give the audience a good clue as to what the sound, the feel, and what the concept of the album is about.
The Beatles managed to hook listeners from the start of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While the first song and title track of the album may not be the best on a record that features such tunes as “With a Little Help from My Friends”, “Fixing a Hole” or “A Day in the Life”. The first song on the record sets the tone for what is to follow.
The song introduces the concept, Sgt. Peppers are a fictional version of the Beatles, and the album itself is supposed to be the group playing “live”. The track sets the tone for the entire record and the record never lets up from there in terms of quality content.
While the first song on the record could be used to introduce its concept, the first song could also mark a transition in sound. For the Who and their album Who’s Next, “Baba O’Riley” dramatically changed groups sound forever. Known for short punk rock songs like “I Can See for Miles” and “My Generation”, the Who shifted focus in direction with this record.
Continuing the theme of making another “Rock Opera” album like Tommy, guitarist Pete Townshend thought that a change in sound was needed. Despite wanting to make new songs, fans had wanted to have The Who to keep playing “My Generation.” Pete Townshend decided to make their new material stand out from what was recorded before. To get the sound he wanted, Townshend made “Baba” impactful as the first track by using an instrument new to The Who, the synthesizer.
The addition of the instrument marked a sonic change for the band. It set the tone for the record to follow, which included more operatic and grandiose sounding songs. These titles included “Bargain”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “The Song Is Over”. Almost all of which featured the use of the synthesizer. The record even featured a wider vocal range from singer Rodger Daltrey, who received help from a vocal coach during the Tommy sessions. All these recording experiments helped change the direction of the band which allowed them to produce some of classic rocks well known hits. This all happened because The Who decided to experiment with their sound and fundamentally alter the course of their career as a result.
The video below describes what it feels like to listen to the song for the first time:
The first song off a record is the most important because it sets up a lot of things. It can describe the concept, introduce a sense of wonder, or even change the sound of a band forever. The first song is the one that grabs you and once it does, you want to hear and know everything else the band has done. What is a first song from a record that really got you hooked onto a band or a discovered that it changed the sound from an older group?