Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Track Twos

The Album Wall turned one year old yesterday, and so today's blog feels like the start of a new chapter - the Season 2 premiere, if you will (that's right, my blog is a TV show now).

This was the first thing I posted, all the way back in June '13 - that one was all about opening songs, and so I thought I'd start TAW's sophomore year with a few of my favourite track twos. The second track of an album is arguably even more important than the first; many is the LP that starts with a bang and fizzles out immediately afterwards, presumably because they hoped that everyone would form their opinions and switch off the hi-fi before the end of the first song.

A good track two consolidates the impact made by track one, reassuring the listener that, yes, the whole album really is going to be this good. It's a big moment of truth, and when properly executed, it gives you this glorious feeling of "aw yes I really spent my money wisely here".

So here are five of the best second songs:

Infinite Dreams by Iron Maiden (from Second Son of a Second Son)
This is the perfect example of what a second track should be - after the breakneck flurry of Moonchild, Infinite Dreams finds Maiden settling in for the long haul and getting on with some epic rocking. It's certainly less frantic than the opening gambit, but it doesn't feel like they're hitting the brakes. They're just building it bigger.

Lipgloss by Pulp (from His 'n' Hers)
I'm not a huge fan of Joyriders, the first track from Pulp's fourth album, but that's what makes Lipgloss so awesome: after the jerky awkwardness of that opener, they use this song to reassure us that we will be getting big, sexy, swooping pop songs on this CD as well.

Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin (from Led Zeppelin IV)
So you're listening to Led Zep IV and you've just reached the end of Black Dog and you're like, 'Damn! Surely the rest of this album can't measure up to that yardstick?'

(We're assuming, for the sake of argument, that you don't know what a Stairway to Heaven is.)

And then Rock and Roll starts up and you realise why Led Zeppelin are so revered, even all these years on - because most artists only produce one or two songs like this in their whole careers, and Led Zep could fill entire discs with them. How many other records have a Black Dog and a Rock and Roll? And how many records have another song, further down the tracklist, that's even more popular than those first two?

Going to Your Funeral, Part I by Eels (from Electro-Shock Blues)
The second Eels album is kind of like an episode of CSI or one of those other American crime drama thingies. Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor is the dramatic cold open, designed to shock you and catch your attention; Going to Your Funeral is hardly Won't Get Fooled Again, but like the immortal Who track that inevitably follows Horatio Caine's contrived one-liners, this song marks the moment when things start to swing into action and the story truly begins.

Paranoid Android by Radiohead (from OK Computer)
Okay, it's an obvious choice, but it's obvious for a reason. Airbag is a solid start, don't get me wrong, but Paranoid Android is the first real sign that OK Computer is going to be...well, OK Computer. Not unlike the Iron Maiden track mentioned above,  this is the part of the album where Radiohead find their groove and get down to some serious business. Airbag is pre-fight trash talk - it shows off with samples and slightly strange time signatures, but it makes no play for the meat of the matter. Paranoid Android is where the fight truly begins, and this multi-faceted epic find Thom and Co landing all kinds of brutal, walloping blows.

In short: Airbag tells us that this is going to be a really groundbreaking album; Paranoid Android shows us.


  1. A few of my selections:

    Killing In The Name from Rage Against The Machine's debut album
    Dear Prudence from The Beatles' White Album
    In Bloom from Nirvana's Nevermind
    The Placid Casual from Super Furry Animals' Radiator

  2. Congrats on the year of blogging! In terms of track 2s, I'm a fan of I'll Stick Around by Foo Fighters, Atlantic City by Springsteen off Nebraska, Lippy Kids from Build a Rocket Boys! by Elbow and Getchoo from Weezer's Pinkerton. All strong songs!