THOSE OPENING BARS: the shop window with a difference, the musical equivalent of the intro to a newspaper story. As a rule, they hint, at the very least, at what is to come. Occasionally – the gentle piano overture to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”; the Beatles-at-Shea racket that introduces Elvis Costello’s “A Man Out Of Time” – they bowl you a googly. Either way, they make or break a song. If those rumbling drums or blasting horns or tinkled ivories don’t grab you by the lapels, defying you not to check out the rest, the day is lost.
So, with the very minimum of further ado, here is your starter for 10:
1. I Want You Back – Jackson 5
It may have been the voices, dance-steps and cute all-for-oneness that did it for Motown, but it was the sheer imagination and verve of that guitar-bass-strings backdrop that seduced a pre-teen in suburban London. Did any band ever announce itself with such musical bravura?
2. It’s A Shame – The Motown Spinners
Forget Chuck, Carlos and Stevie Ray; never mind Eric, Jimi or Jimmy: the sweet, stately, helplessly funky electric lead figure that ushers in a song Stevie Wonder somehow saw fit to give away remains THE most uplifting slab of wordless soul imaginable.
3. Wedding Bell Blues – Laura Nyro
Doo-doo-do-do-da-doo-doo, doo-da-doo-da-doo…the Bronx Bronte built an entire career out of this Grade 1 Piano riff, but who’s complaining when it trips the light fantastic with such soulfully gay abandon?
4. The Song Remains The Same – Led Zeppelin
In which James Page, deep in his double-necked Gibson heyday, revs up as never before or since: a Harley Davidson fuelled by a few gallons of uncut coke.
5. Good Times – Chic
The overture that drove the entire symphony and kick-started The Golden Age of Disco. The very definition of funky, defy-you-not-to-dance, stone-cold genius.
6. Walk On By – Dionne Warwick
That sombre, funereal beat. Those plucked, heartbroken strings. Did packaging ever anticipate contents with quite such moving accuracy?
7. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
Has a drummer ever presided so imperiously over a song as Max Weinberg did here? Slashing chords and a shamelessly Spectoresque arrangement complete the prelude with everything, kitchen sink and kitsch included, but it’s the way the man on the stool ignites the explosion that leaves you breathless. The Boss didn’t call him “Mighty Max” for nothing.
8. Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
Oh, that doh-doh-doh-dee-doh bass; oh, those sun-scraping strings. Peers despised Jimmy Webb because he made millions flogging his songs to the ageing and unhip. The true source of envy was a 24-carat soul and an ear for visual soundscapes that served as a welcome antidote to the cold, delusory flawlessness of Ansell Adams. Hear those cables hum.
9. Lipstick Vogue – Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Wherein Pete Thomas confirms himself as London’s answer to Mighty Max, powering and propelling one of EC’s nastiest ditties with six seconds of pure energy.
10. When You Walk In The Room – The Searchers
A lesson in the art of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Byrds not only ripped off the opening bass plod for Eight Miles High but also fearlessly nicked that rippling, pre-tape-loop of a riff to turbo-charge their pre-Gram Parsons oeuvre. At least Lee Mavers, as a fellow Scouser, had an inalienable right to steal it for There She Goes.