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).”