The spirit of music-geekiness is strong upon me this week, as I am given to ponder the burning question of Great Opening Tracks on a First Album by a Band or Musical Artist. So forget America going bankrupt and dragging the whole world along with it, because today we're dealing with the big stuff here in Canvas.
I was driven to ponder the Opening Track/First Album matter while, as it happens, driving. For reasons unknown to even myself, I had popped into the CD player the first album by legendary Australian band Hunters & Collectors. The album is called Hunters & Collectors (which is helpful in terms of getting to know the band but not very imaginative otherwise). Its first track is the stonkingly good Talking to A Stranger - 7.5 minutes of deep, dark funk with an awesome bassline, people hitting strange metallic objects, and the distinctive vocal stylings of Mark Seymour. It is, as Track 1, Side 1 of first albums go, a damn fine achievement, in my opinion.
But what of some of the great bands/popular musical artists of our time? How have they fared when it comes to announcing their arrival? I'm not talking about the singles that precede any album release, for they are like trailers for upcoming movies, a taste of what is to come. No, I'm talking about the real deal: Track 1, Side 1, first album (which we shall call 1/1/1 from here on in), "greetings world, this is us and this is what we're about".
The Beatles 1/1/1 was I Saw Her Standing There. Not their finest moment, but a good indication of what the Justin Biebers of their age were all about. The Rolling Stones led with Route 66 on their British début album of cover versions and with Not Fade Away on the American version. Indeed, several centuries later, they have definitely not faded away at all. David Bowie, meanwhile, introduced himself to us all with Uncle Arthur, not a track, I suspect, that features much in his set-list these days. Never mind, David, you certainly picked up your game as you went along.
At the other end of the musical spectrum, some 1/1/1's are so perfectly the first song that no other song could possibly have been that first song. Guns N' Roses kicked off Appetite for Destruction with Welcome to the Jungle, which could have been beaten as a 1/1/1 only if they'd had a song called Welcome to the Most Messed-up, Drug and Alcohol Addicted Band in the World with a Lead Singer Who Gives New Meaning to the Phrase 'High Maintenance'. Elvis Costello's 1/1/1 was Welcome to the Working Week - a week that has gone on for over 30 years. Meanwhile American alt-beard group Band of Horses left nothing to doubt on their début album Everything All the Time by calling the first song The First Song.
A 1/1/1 can also be a statement of intent, a manifesto for the band: this is what we stand for and we shall now spend a career standing for it. Never ones to hide their light under a bushel Oasis came kicking and screaming into the world with Rock 'n' Roll Star, while their wastrel rivals Blur declared She's So High and then spent the next few years proving that they were higher than everyone else. The flipside of this particular strategy is George Michael who, after he went solo, implored us all to have Faith in his 1/1/1 and then proceeded to go about putting his faith in all the wrong places and people and at all the wrong times.
Of course, as his progression from being Wham! (with that other bloke) to being George Michael (with only himself to blame) suggests, there is another discussion to be had as to what exactly constitutes a "first" album. In 1977, for example, Meatloaf released Bat Out of Hell ( with the eponymous 1/1/1), which to most of us was our first taste of Meat. But in 1971 he had released an album called Stoney and Meatloaf, which absolutely no one bought, so does it count?
If it does, then the 'Loaf's 1/1/1 was (I'd Love to Be) As Heavy as Jesus, which, given how beefy Meatloaf is, I'd say he was considerably heavier than Jesus. So mission accomplished. So here we have it, a whole bunch of stuff musical geeks all over the nation can argue about while they wait for their pub trivia night to kick off.
My personal fave 1/1/1? Billy Bragg's The Milkman of Human Kindness because any bloke brave enough to say "g'day world, check me out" with a song that includes the lyrics "I am the milkman of human kindness/I will leave an extra pint" is the man for me.
And I don't mean that in a George Michael way.