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The Greatest Opening Lines in Rock and Roll

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As seems to be my custom, I just discovered some interesting old news: this BBC Poll of the Greatest Opening Lines of Rock Songs, which ran last April. I can’t really quibble with their choice of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” at the top of the pack — that is a great line, and the Lee Ho Fuk reference gives it a distinctive touch.

What follows are a few of my own favorites. As is true with books or movies, there are no rules as to what makes for a knockout lead — it can have a telling scrap of conversation that sounds like it came out of a Raymond Chandler novel (Joni Mitchell), poetic imagery (Bruce Springsteen), or just be bravely and brazenly retarded. The main thing is to hook and hold the attention, and all these songs make me drop what I’m doing and listen:

“Just before our love got lost you said I am as constant as the Northern Star and I said `Constantly in the darkness, where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar.'” — Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You.”

*Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard, but I say `Oh bondage, up yours!'” — X Ray Specs, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”

*”In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream/At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines.” — Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”

*”Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?” — Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”

*”Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” — Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

*”Everybody’s heard about the bird, buh-buh-bird-bird-bird buh-bird is the word, uh well-ah bird-bird-bird buh-bird is the word … ” — The Trashmen, “Surfing Bird”

*”I am Governor Jerry Brown, my aura smiles and never frowns — soon I will be pres-i-DENT!” — The Dead Kennedys, “California Uber Alles.”

*”Heeeeeeeere, kitty, kitty!” — The Cramps, “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?

*”All aboooooard — for night train!” — James Brown, “Night Train”

*”A cheap holiday in other people’s misery!” — “Holidays in the Sun,” Sex Pistols

*”Well he shot four men in a cocaine deal … he left them lying in an open field, full of old cars, with bulletholes in the mirror…he tried to do his best, but he could not…” –“Tired Eyes,” Neil Young

…and, of course, my absolute Number One favorite opening line:

“Come on, everybody, let’s do the hawg!” — Eddie Kirk, “The Hawg (Part One).”

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About Bunuel

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    “She was just seventeen…you know what i mean”.

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    I went and looked at the BBC article you linked to. I can’t believe that out of Elvis Costello’s entire catalog, he chose the opening lines from “Alison”. My pick would have been this:

    “It’s at times such as this she’d be tempted to spit, if she wasn’t so ladylike…” — Elvis Costello, “All This Useless Beauty”

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “masturbation saved my life…” from Femtex by Therapy?

  • http://www.bigtimepatriot.com Big Time Patriot

    Don’t forget the screaming of “Londons Burning” from the Clash song of the same name.

  • http://www.morethings.com/music/costello Al Barger

    So many choices, even just from Elvis. You could very well start with what might be considered the opening line for his whole career, the first lines from the first song on his first album.

    “Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired,
    you can have anyone that you have ever desired.”

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/08/03/232849.php Rodney Welch

    Rhythmically admired — so that’s what he’s saying, thanks. I’m one of those Elvis fans who spent over a decade thinking “I’m up late pacing the floor” from “Two Little Hitlers” was “I might play bass on the floor.”

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “I’ve been so sad… since you said my accent was bad”

    Throw The R Away – The Proclaimers

  • http://expatcat.typepad.com felix

    Save a few points for John Hiatt:
    “I’m sitting on the toilet with my sunglasses on.”

  • http://www.morethings.com/music/costello Al Barger

    On the first album, Costello’s doing a meta-punk rock gesture by consciously casting himself against classic rock iconography, thus all the stuff about looking like Buddy Holly’s evil twin.

    Most of all, of course, this means casting himself against the Elvis Presley iconography. Thus the obvious Elvis style song on the album, “Mystery Dance,” plays precisely against the Elvis Presley king-stud image, fumbling around in the dark.

    Likewise, then, for making the first line on his first album a masturbation reference. He was playing the anti-Elvis.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “taking off his turban, they say, “is this man a jew?”
    Clampdown – The Clash

    Man,this is a whole heap of the “fun” and so on. Thanks, Rodney

  • godoggo

    and right now and right now and right now and right now and right now it’s time to kick out the jams motherfuckers

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “i love you from the bottom of my penci-case”

    Beautiful South – song for whoever

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    oh, and “i was 21 years when i wrote this song / i’m 22 now, but i won’t be for long.”

    Billy Bragg – a new england

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywel Rodney Welch

    Duke — Paul Simon liked those lyrics so much he used them first.

  • Eric Olsen

    “I’m a gonna raise a fuss, I’m a gonna raise a holler”
    “Summertime Blues” Eddie Cochran

    “You think we look pretty good together, you think my shoes are made of leather”
    “Substitute” The Who

    “Got an urge, got a surge, and it’s out of control”
    “Uncontrollable Urge” Devo

    “Hey, I’ve been wondering, Where you go so late at night”
    “The Not Knowing” Tindersticks

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris

    “Are you Reeeeaaaddyyy?” Blind by Korn
    Combine that with the opening measures of the song= perfect way to start a show.

  • bill_mink

    Hey kids want to piss off your parents in the grand tradition of rock ‘n roll? Try the opening line from Patti Smith’s Horses

    “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    I listen to that record all the time, although I don’t sing along until after that line.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    rodney – heh, i forgot uncle bill inched that one from Simon. Still, his follow up is priceless also;

    “people ask me, when will i grow up to be a man? / but all the girls i loved in school are already pushing prams”

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    another classic Bill moment (one which is, i belive, unconnected to either paul or art)
    “i woke up this morning / to find that we have outlived the myth of trust”
    Great great lyric. Cause he shagged around on his wife, y’see.

    Also, Bill has the best masturbation lyric ever-
    “With my own hand, when i make love to your memory / it’s not the same / i miss the thunder, i miss the rain”
    – St Swithins Day

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “life’s a bitch, then you die, black hell / hell’s ditch, naked howling freedom”
    Hell’s ditch – the pogues

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    and who can forget – “one summers evenin’, drunk to hell, i sat there nearly lifeless”
    A pair of brown eyes – the pogues

    And of course,
    “It was christmas eve, babe, in the drunk tank / and old man said to me, won’t see another one”

    Fairytale of new york – the pogues

  • Eric Olsen

    “I met my love by the gas works wall,
    Dreamed a dream by the old canal”
    “Dirty Old Town” Ewan McColl, as performed by the Pogues

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    And then there’s this cheerful little ditty from Joe Jackson (another one of my favorite lyricists):

    “Everything
    Everything gives you cancer
    Everything
    Everything gives you cancer
    There’s no cure, there’s no answer
    Everything gives you cancer”

    — “Cancer”, by JJ

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    all in all though, i think the best opening line might well be;

    “arseholes, bastards fucking cunts and pricks”

    from Plaistow Patricia by Ian Dury.

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    I’ve given it some thought, Duke. I can’t top that.

  • godoggo

    I’d 2nd the Patti Smith & Beatles quoted above. Also, but of course, “I am an antichrist, I am an anar…” sorry, don’t know how to spell that.

    My personal fave though is “I just heard a sad song by another band sung by another man/ he gave me the once over twice” BTW they rocked completely and utterly at Sunset Junction last weekend; all they ever needed was a rabid audience and Billy.

  • clash77

    BTW – I believe the opening line in Elvis Costello’s “Welcome To The Working Week” is “Now that your picture’s in the paper being GRAPHICALLY admired…” isn’t it?

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    BTW – I believe the opening line in Elvis Costello’s “Welcome To The Working Week” is “Now that your picture’s in the paper being GRAPHICALLY admired…” isn’t it?

    Nope.

  • The Dude

    Best opening lines? That’s simple:

    A-WOP-BOP-A-LOOM-A/A-WOP-BAM-BOOM!

    I can’t believe no one mentioned that one.

  • http://www.kalyr.com/weblog Tim Hall

    I feel obliged to include some classic prog-rock opening lines:

    “I wanted you to be deep frozen too”

    “It’s one O’clock, and time for lunch, dum de dum de dum dum”

    “Cat’s foot, Iron Claw, Neurosurgeons scream for more, at paranoia’s poison door”

    “Raise your can of beer on high”

  • http://www.bigtimepatriot.com Big Time Patriot

    A cliche but sung (or screamed) with conviction.. “For those about to rock, we salute you”- ACDC

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Distorted Angel — The site you linked isn’t official, so their guess as to whether it’s rhythmically or graphically is only as good as anyone else’s.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    “I don’t fuck much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future!”

    -Patti Smith

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Distorted Angel

    Agreed, Rodney, so I hope you’ll consider the liner notes to the Rhino re-issue to be an official source. The word is indeed “rhythmically”.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/http://www.rodneywel Rodney Welch

    Got me there. Now what in the world does it mean/i>? Al?

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Some punk rock openers come to mind:

    “My name’s Henry, and you’re with me now”
    -Henry Rollins, Black Flag, “Damaged 2″

    “God told me to skin you alive”
    -Dead Kennedys, “I Kill Children”

    “Efficiency and progress are ours once a-more
    Now that we have the neutron bomb
    It’s nice and quick and clean
    And gets things done!”
    -Dead Kennedys, “Kill The Poor”

  • huw

    “Delia , oh delia , delia all my life, if i hadn’t shot poor delia i would had her for my wife.”
    Johnny cash “Delia’s gone”

    and I am surprised no one has mentioned
    “Pretty women are walking with goriila down my street”
    Joe jackson “Is she really going out with him?”

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Not rock, but an obscure Johnny Cash song from 1984, “Beans for Breakfast,” paints the whole picture of a relationship:

    “I couldn’t hear you for the TV,
    I didn’t know you’d said goodbye.”

    Also: Paul’s “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” has a great opening line, but I can’t remember it offhand.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Oh, and “Drug Test,” by Yo La Tengo:

    “Ate a leftover steak for breakfast/
    watching the sun go down.”

  • http://gohah.blogpsot.com GoHah

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run…”
    (Bob Dylan–Highway 61 Revisited”)

    Honest to goodness the bars weren’t open this morning/ They must have been voting for the president of something (X-“The New World”)

    The world is full of little people like you
    They have to read a book to learn what to do
    (“Temporary Beauty” Graham Parker)

    Oh I used to be disgusted
    but now I’m just amused
    “Red Shoes” (Elvis Costello

  • gonzo marx

    “you dare to tell me what to do?
    you’ve got a lot of nerve,
    watch yer mouth or you might get,
    the Dentist you deserve”
    Motorhead

    and of course…
    “my Warning, meant nothing…
    you’re Dancing, in quicksand.”

    Tool

    just a few…

    Excelsior!

  • http://songsonglines larry

    all of you have enlightened me!!

    all of you have enlightened me!!
    i should listen closer the lyrics
    thanks larry

    all

  • http://gohah.blogpsot.com GoHah

    “All life we work but work is bore,
    If life’s for livin’, then what’s livin’ for…”
    (Oklahoma USA–the Kinks)

  • gonzo marx

    “the silicon chip inside her head,
    switched to overload.”

    Boomtown Rats

    Excelsior!

  • Bennett

    “I’m a top prime cut of meat, I’m your choice.”

    Elected – Alice Cooper

  • Bennett

    “I remember it as though it were a meal ago”

    Tommy the Cat – Primus

  • Jake

    Do you have the time to listen to me whine

    Green Day, Basket Case

  • register_allocation

    How can you not include

    Romeo was restless/he was ready to kill
    he jumped out the window ’cause he couldn’t sit still
    Juliet was waitin’ with a saftey net
    said “don’t bury me ’cause I’m not dead yet!

    Or

    Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends
    we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside!

    Or

    Here come old flattop
    he come groovin’ up slowly
    he got joo-joo eyeball
    he one holy roller

    And, for the sheer poetry of it:

    Up on a hill, as the day dissolves
    With my pencil turning moments into line
    High above in the violet sky
    A silent silver plane – it draws a golden chain

  • boffity

    Lord Tracy, Piranha

    “This is a song about a fish, and fish are bad! BAAAAAAAAD!”

  • John

    In ancient times…
    Hundreds of years before the dawn of history…
    Lived a strange race of people…
    The Druids!

    No one knows…
    Who they were…
    Or…
    What they were doing…
    But their legacy remains…
    Hewn into the living rock…
    Of STONEHENGE!!
    –Spinal Tap

  • http://www.gobubbago.com.au/ Strollers

    Fairytale of new york is super from the pogues for
    “It was christmas eve, babe, in the drunk tank / and old man said to me, won’t see another one”
    I like that!

  • Rad

    Now somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon.

  • me

    (beautiful guitar opening)follow by
    “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
    when mountains crumble to the sea, there would still be you and me.” – LED ZEPPELIN (thank you)

    Way better than all of these in my opinion

  • Dylan 37

    I can’t believe no one said the most obvious Elvis Costello opener: “Calling mister Oswald with the swastika tatoo, there is a vacancy waiting in the english voodoo”
    I’m late to this thread, though.