The List: Best Album Side Ones

Taking a closer look at albums with the best side one tracks.

When I was growing up you often loaded entire albums onto your home or car stereo, unless you were listening to the radio or buying cassette or CD singles. Nowadays, many of us (and I am guilty of this myself), listen to our music digitally. Whether digitally means our phones, iTunes, or other streaming services, the days of playing a whole album from beginning to end is not as common as it once was.

Over the last month or so as I was preparing my Vinyl of the Week articles, I came across some albums where their first side (songs 1-6 for example) were just all killer, no filler. With the way we listen to our music constantly changing, I thought it’d be good to take a look back on artists who put together some of the best side ones music has ever seen.

Hysteria by Def Leppard

Def Leppard was already a huge act when Hysteria released in 1987 thanks to the massive success of their previous effort, Pyromania. Hysteria took the band to new levels of success, with the album selling over 25 million copies worldwide. While the entire album is worth listening to, the first six songs on Pyromania's side one were all released as singles and were all instant hits. That is unheard of.

With a lineup that included Women, Rocket, Animal, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar on Me, and Armageddon It, it’s really no surprise. Talk about a solid side one! 

Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut was a wake-up call to metal fans. With their message geared towards heavy political issues, their music rose up to match it. Rage really brought rap-rock to the forefront half a decade before other artists pushed it into the mainstream.

With Tom Morello’s insane guitar riffs, one hell of a rhythm section, and Zack De La Roca’s angry raps, Rage made their mark right away. Side one includes the classic Rage tracks Bombtrack, Killing in the Name, Take the Power Back, Settle for Nothing, and Bullet in the Head. Now if we could only get the band to reunite.

The Joshua Tree by U2 

A few weeks ago, I talked about The Joshua Tree and U2’s upcoming tour, where they will be playing the album in its entirety. I secured my tickets and can’t wait to see to hear the whole album performed live, especially considering the fact that it has one of the best side one setups ever recorded.

This includes Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With or Without You, Bullet the Blue Sky, and Running to a Stand Still. That is seriously top notch right there. 

Ten by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam’s Ten has gone down as one of the best debut albums in history. Twenty-five years later, Pearl Jam are about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once Ten hit the masses, the band was off and running, and a legendary career was born. Side one of the album includes the classics Once, Even Flow, Alive, Why Go, Black, and Jeremy.

Those songs grabbed me back then, and after all these years, are still fresh and capable of tearing the house down any time they are played. In another twenty-five years, I believe fans will still be talking about this amazing album.

Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera

For all my metalheads out there, Vulgar Display of Power is exactly what the title says it is. Pantera’s masterpiece has an opening side that is ready to smack you in the face. From the opening riffs of Mouth for War, through A New Level, Walk, F’n Hostile, This Love, and Rise, Pantera never let up once.

They were the best at what they did and the metal world has never been the same since the band’s breakup and subsequent passing of legendary guitarist Dimebag Darrell. 

Boston by Boston

Boston’s self-titled debut made a statement with their side one as the three songs that comprise it remain Boston’s three most popular songs to date. More Than a Feeling, Peace of Mind, and Foreplay/Long Time are classic rock standards and are a fun listen 40 years later.

I know that any time these songs come on in my car, I am singing and clapping along like nobody’s business, and if you are I the car with me you better be doing the same. 

Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden

This grunge standard turned 25 last year. Listening back, it reminds me what a great band they are and how Chris Cornell’s voice back in the day was untouchable.

Those notes he hits are insane! Rusty Cage, Outshined, Slaves and Bulldozers, Jesus Christ Pose, Face Pollution, and Somewhere make up a side one of rock goodness that will go down as one of the best classic albums of its time.

Born to Run/Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen

The Boss had two albums back to back boasting tremendous side one offerings that I simply couldn’t pick. I will let them speak for themselves, as there isn’t much to say about these true classics from one of the greatest artists of all time. From Born to Run the side one includes Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Night, and Backstreets.

From Darkness on the Edge of Town, the side one staples include Badlands, Adam Raised a Cain, Something in the Night, Candy’s Room, and Racing in the Street. For more on Bruce Springsteen, be sure to check out my vinyl review of Darkness on the Edge of Town for an in-depth look at a truly amazing album.

Core/Purple by Stone Temple Pilots

Like Bruce before them, I couldn’t choose which side one was better., even after thinking about it in great detail yesterday when I chose Purple as my Vinyl of the Week.

Side one of Purple is killer with tracks like Meatplow, Vasoline, Lounge Fly, Interstate Love Song, Still Remains, and Pretty Penny. However, there’s also Core which boasts songs like Dead and Bloated, Sex Type Thing, Wicked Garden, Sin, and Naked Sunday. 

Ænima by Tool

Tool’s Ænima is pretty much a perfect album for me, and I have always felt like it was their high point. Not that anything after was bad, because I don’t think that’s possible with Tool, but Ænima is extra special. Ænima has four sides as opposed to the usual two, but that first side... wow!

From one of the best openers ever, Stinkfist, to the epic Eulogy and H. right up to the classic 46 & 2,  each song finds a way to make its own statement. Make sure to check out the whole album as it’s a classic.

Nevermind by Nirvana

When you release an album that changes the music world forever, you better have a pretty amazing side one. Obviously, Nevermind did just that. From the opening song that started the grunge revolution, Smells Like Teen Spirit, through classic songs In Bloom, Come As You Are, Breed, Lithium, and Polly.

Sadly, only four years after the release of Nevermind, the band was gone. Which is a shame, as I’m sure there would have been more great side one tracks from Kurt Cobain and crew.

ZOSO by Led Zeppelin

I am going to end today's List with a classic by one of the greatest bands of all time. This was a hard choice as most of their albums have incredible side one tracks. I chose Zeppelin’s ZOSO (the album actually has no title) because I feel it beats the rest pound for pound. If you need proof just listen to Black Dog where Robert Plant hits you with that memorable opening scream.

Then there’s Rock and Roll which showed the world how a good rock and roll song sounds. Finally, The Battle of Evermore and Stairway to Heaven are just epic songs in their arrangements and scope. They proved that Zeppelin were musical masters capable of creating a side one for the ages.

Artists took time laying out their songs in a specific order on their albums to take listeners on a journey. I highly suggest giving these side one picks (as well as their second sides) a listen to embark on the album’s journey the way the artist intended.

For more Lists, check out some of the greatest opening songs to classic albums. Or, if you’re getting ready for The Super Bowl this weekend, check out some of the best Halftime Shows from years past.