Begin the Begin - R.E.M. (from Life's Rich Pageant)
Songs with 'start' or 'begin' or 'go' in the title always make good track ones. I remember being distinctly annoyed at Arcade Fire for not kicking off The Suburbs with Ready to Start. Thank goodness, then, that R.E.M. were savvy enough to spot this song's potential as an opener. If you're listening to all of their albums chronologically, Life's Rich Pageant marks a pretty huge turning point, and that nice little guitar lick (together with Michael Stipe's "let's begin again" line) is the perfect announcement of their crisp new sound.
The Chad Who Loved Me - Mansun (from Attack of the Grey Lantern)
Nothing catches the ear like a big orchestral flourish. I remember the first time I listened to Attack of the Grey Lantern rather vividly, and that's mainly because I was so instantly smitten with that intro. Everything about this song, from its cinematic first steps to its elegant descent into chaos, suggests a top-notch LP to follow. Still, as good as The Chad Who Loved Me is, the opening string motif is arguably even sweeter when (SPOILER ALERT!) it pops up again at the end of the album.
The best curtain-raisers are the ones that leave you saying 'Damn! And that was just track one!' Dance Yrself Clean, a nine-minute goliath of an opening gambit, is a fantastic example. It starts slowly and quietly, worming its way under your skin and abruptly blowing your mind at around 3:08. And then it happens again.
Cloud Shadow on the Mountain - Wolf Parade (from Expo 86)
And if you don't like slow starts, there's always this frantic little slice of heaven. Cloud Shadow on the Mountain doesn't beat about the bush; instead, it sets fire to the bush and dances naked around it, chanting nonsense lyrics about scorpions and gazelles and dreamcatchers. It's just the right shade of odd, and a great one to have in your headphones when you're out running. Not jogging, mind you, but running at full tilt as if you're being chased by the government or something.
Electro-Shock Blues was a dark, downbeat, depressing diamond of a CD, but for all of its based-on-a-true-story morbidity, the closing track (P.S. You Rock My World) did hint towards a light at the end of the tunnel. Daisies of the Galaxy is that light, and while the colourful artwork is a pretty big clue, the album's first few notes - parped out by a jolly-sounding brass section - leave no room for doubt. Grace Kelly Blues is the ultimate statement of cheery defiance, with Mr. E describing in detail how shitty the world is before adding "I think, you know, I'll be okay."
Oddly enough, not one of these songs is the best its parent album has to offer. Admittedly, Cloud Shadow on the Mountain comes close, but the point is that a good track one should set the scene instead of stealing the show. Sure, we can all agree that Lose My Breath is a fantastic way to start an album, but if Beyoncé et al didn't put any effort into the rest of Destiny Fulfilled then why should we?
What's your favourite track one? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments below.