(Editors Note: I started writing this post and got about halfway finished before I remembered that Jodi had done something awfully, awfully similar a few months ago. On the bright side, she came to all the wrong conclusions, so let's just call this imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and move on.)
I can't stand instrumental music. Can't stand it. This probably why I'm so hostile to jazz in all wankerific incarnations. It may also partially explain my profound loathing for hippie jam bands (though they're despicable on so many levels that it's probably not worth parsing the individual reasons why they suck). Music, especially rock and pop music, for me is all about the vocal. This is not to say I don't enjoy an impressive rhythmic or melodic flourish, but I really need the lyric to tie it all together.
Lyrics don't necessarily have to be important, or profound, or even cogent (I'm looking at you Anne Wilson) but they do have to grab my attention if I'm going to make the emotional investment of listening to a 3-minute rock song. Suffice to say, if you're selling you're little song to me, the lyrics are important, and perhaps none more so than the opening line that sets the table for the whole listening experience.
The opening line is key. A bad one is like a canary in a coal mine -- it can clue you into a bad song before it picks up steam (see: uno, dos, tres, quatorce). A good one can tip you off that you're about to hear something special (e.g. I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend). So here, without further ado, are the top ten opening lyrics of all time, until I remember the ones that I'm forgetting.
(Astute readers will also note that some of these opening "lines" are in fact the opening two, or even three "lines." I could have called it "best opening complete thought" but that would have been a little bulky. - ed.)
1) "I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm" - Search and Destroy/Iggy and the Stooges
As a statement of intent, you don't get much stronger than the first line of the first track of the Stooges 1973 masterpiece Raw Power. Iggy is informing all of us that he is about to rock our faces off, and that if that doesn't sound like our cup of tea, we may want to stick to Seals and Crofts.
2) "Kick out the jams motherfuckers!" - Kick Out the Jams/The MC5
I don't know what was in the water in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I want some of whatever it was, cause it produced the two best opening lines ever. To be honest, the ordering of the rest of this list is pretty arbitrary, but numbers one and two are absolute locks. This line is even better in the original live recording when Rob Tyner yells to the crowd: "And right now! right now, right now I think it's time to.....kick out the jams motherfuckers." It's like the anti-Wilco.
3) "I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it. It said they were suckas" - Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos/Public Enemy
As a lyric-driven genre, hip hop has some of the very best opening lines. You could probably compose this entire list out of hip hop lyrics and not be that far off. As awesome as this lyric is on paper, you really need to hear Chuck D's menacing delivery to get the full impact.
4) "I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend" - Darling Nikki/Prince
I can't imagine I need to defend this choice, but suffice to say that this line gets extra bonus points for singlehandedly creating the Parental Advisory label. I love picturing Tipper Gore's face when this little gem came pumping out of the family hi-fi in front of her lily-white daughter.
5) "In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man" - Good Times, Bad Times/Led Zeppelin
The line that introduced the world to Led Zeppelin. I'd day it was pretty effective.
6) "One Saturday, I took a walk to Zipperhead. I met a girl there and she almost knocked me dead" - Punk Rock Girl/The Dead Milkmen
Simple. Direct. This is how all love songs should aspire to start.
7) "A cheap holiday in other people's misery" - Holiday in the Sun/The Sex Pistols
Johnny Rotten always had a flair for a nasty turn of phrase. This was his best opener.
8) "Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you" - Maggie May/Rod Stewart
If only because I have to agree with Jodi about something.
9) "Concrete and chaos rise up, spiderweb across the land like a giant rash" - Big City/Operation Ivy
If you don't know Operation Ivy, you should quit reading this list, buy their discography and come back when you've rectified the gaping hole in your music collection.
10) I'll tell you one thing that I know: You don't face your demons down, you gotta grapple 'em jack and pin 'em to the ground - Long Shadow/Joe Strummer
Yes, I realize its like four lines (see above), but its awesome, and nobody really thought they were getting out of that list without reading something written by Joe Strummer, did they?