The List: Best Rock Album Openers

Looking back at some of the greatest album-opening songs in rock history.

There is no song more important on an album than the first song that kicks everything off. The first song sets the tone, and if it doesn’t pique your interest, it may affect your listening experience for the remainder of the album. In today’s digital world, the album opener is not as important.

This is because people will often purchase the songs they like, and leave behind the ones they don’t. I remember hearing opening songs on particular albums throughout the years that have been life-changing. Within these songs was an unplaceable something that indicated I was in for something special.

This week on The List, I’m taking a look back at some of the greatest album-opening songs in rock music history!

Runnin' With The Devil by Van Halen

Even though it was the second single off of their debut album, Runnin with the Devil, the lead song on Van Halen’s entry into the realm of music let the world know there was a new band in town and to keep an eye out! This song encapsulated the massive success the band would receive right out of the gate. In fact, this album has one of the best “side one” tracklists in history.

Reflektor by Arcade Fire

Kicking off what I think is their best album to date, “Reflektor” off the album of the same name, is a great dance-inducing rocker from Arcade Fire. Personally, I think Arcade Fire are one of the most unique and exciting bands to come along over the last fifteen years.

Cherub Rock by The Smashing Pumpkins

The opener to Siamese Dream showed that the Smashing Pumpkins were on their way to becoming gods of the 90’s alternative rock genre. “Cherub Rock” is arena rock at its best. The guitar on this track highlights what alternative music was all about. Billy Corgan insisted that “Cherub Rock” (which was the last song written for the album) be the album opener and first single. I think he made the right choice, as I wasn’t the only fan at the store purchasing Siamese Dream the day it released!

Come Together by The Beatles

 "Come Together" is one of the Beatles’ best-known songs off one of their most famous albums, Abbey Road. There has been speculation over the years that John Lennon wrote each verse of "Come Together" with a fellow Beatle in mind.

Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones

This is a personal favorite of mine, as I loved playing it on the game Rock Band for Xbox. When you talk about album openers that set the tone for the rest of the album, think of the fact that “Gimme Shelter” opens Let It Bleed which went on to become one of the best Rolling Stones albums in history. This song is in regular rotation on my iPod—and now that I think about it—I should really grab this album on vinyl!

Bombtrack by Rage Against the Machine

Talk about making a statement right out of the gate! This opening track on Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut let the world know that these guys weren’t fooling around. This was rap-rock at it’s finest, and proved that these four men can make musical magic together as a band. Even if you disagree with their political lyrics, you cannot deny the grooves and guitar work extremely well with the bass and drum beats. Every song on this album was an in-your-face masterpiece, and “Bombtrack” is the perfect example of that tone.

Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

This song opens one of the greatest albums ever made—Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. “Thunder Road” showcases the amazing storytelling skills that Bruce Springsteen possesses. Aside from Bob Dylan, Springsteen will probably go down as one of the best songwriters of all time. To this day, “Thunder Road” remains one of the most recognizable and beloved Springsteen songs in history.

Is This It by The Strokes

Here, we have another fantastic opener off of a band’s debut album. The Strokes had a lot of buzz leading up to their debut, even being called the “best rock band since the Rolling Stones.” Their stripped approach to rock music is evident here on the album’s title track. Because of this, The Strokes became responsible for ushering in the modern age of garage rock. I highly recommend “Is This It” for both fans and non-fans alike!

Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

This song off the album Elephant will likely go down as one of the best White Stripes songs of all time. “Seven Nation Army” instantly grabs you with its drums and guitar riff. There is no way someone would skip this song, as it kicks ass from beginning to end. Hearing this song once more makes my heart ache for White Stripes comeback.

Baba O’Riley by The Who

The song kicks off The Who’s classic Who’s Next album, and grabs you right away with its opening riff. Pete Townshend has gone on record stating that the song is about the desolation of teenagers at Woodstock who wound up messed up on bad acid. “Baba O’Riley” can be found on a lot of “best of” lists and has had a second life as a constant cover by Pearl Jam at their live shows. This song in its entirety is almost like a mini rock opera in the vein of Tommy and Quadrophenia.

These last five songs are my official Top 5 Greatest Album Openers in Rock.

Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin

One of the greatest rock songs ever, “Whole Lotta Love” opens up the album Led Zeppelin II. That initial guitar riff is instantly recognizable, and once Robert Plant’s voice kicks in, you know this is something special. The band just kicks ass on this one as they jam and let loose and show why they were one of the greatest bands of all time.

Hells Bells by AC/DC

The pressure was on for AC/DC. Their lead singer Bon Scott had died tragically and Back in Black was their first album with new singer Brian Johnson. “Hells Bells” opens the album with giant bells ringing before transitioning over to that famous guitar riff. Next, you get smacked in the face, as the whole band kicks in and Brian Johnson lets you know he’s the real deal. To say this album was huge is an understatement. Back in Black has gone went on to sell over 60 million albums worldwide following its release in 1980.

Welcome To the Jungle by Guns and Roses

Guns and Roses’ first and best album, Appetite for Destruction, opens with a song that became an instant classic. This down and dirty rocker was the perfect example of the unique rock music making its way out of the scene on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. On an album of classics from beginning to end, “Welcome to the Jungle” remains the one that lets you know there is danger ahead—and rightfully so, as Guns and Roses went on to become the biggest band in the world.

Enter Sandman by Metallica

One of the most recognizable Metallica songs off one of the most beloved albums in metal music history. Who doesn’t love the feeling you get once “Enter Sandman” goes full throttle? In fact, I am listening to it right now while writing this. What other song could possibly open up an album like Metallica’s infamous “Black” album than this? The Black album truly brought Metallica up to another level, and it’s all thanks to its opening track.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

To me, this is the best album opener in rock history hands-down. This song single-handedly changed music forever; with one guitar riff and a killer drum beat, Nirvana rocketed to superstardom. No other album opener can say they changed history in the same way that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did. Nevermind as a whole was a game-changing album, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” quickly became the initial spark that lit the fuse. Due to its significance, no other song deserves the top spot more than this.

Let me know what songs you think deserve a place on this list in the comments below!

For more Lists, check out some one-hit wonders of the past, and if you want to learn more about Nirvana’s Nevermind album be sure to take a look back on its 25th anniversary.