We were mildly overwhelmed and very excited by the response to our “50 of the Best Opening Lines in Music” post, and also by the quality of the suggestions that our readers came up with in the comments section. We’ve clearly got a very musically savvy audience here at Flavorpill – we got lines by everyone from Arcade Fire to Warren Zevon, and pretty much everywhere in between. So we thought we’d put together another collection of your nominations: 50 more great opening lines, as chosen by our readers!
“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop a-lop-bam-boom!” – Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti” – Suggested by Jason Gross OK, so yeah, we can’t quite believe we forgot this either. Surely the most dramatic, nonsensical, thrilling opening to a song. Ever.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” – The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus” – Suggested by Rick “John Lennon’s BS rates pretty highly up there for silly intro lyrics,” opines Rick. We’re inclined to agree.
“Every day, I get up and pray to Jah /And he increases the number of clocks by exactly one” – Camper Van Beethoven, “Take the Skinheads Bowling” – Suggested by Melissa Don’t smoke weed, kids.
“All these bitches is my sons!” – Nicki Minaj, “Did It On ‘Em” – Suggested by Russ Marshalek Gender-bendingly strange and certainly attention-grabbing. Continuing the gender-alteration theme, the rest of this verse finds Nicki proclaiming, “If I had a dick, I’d pull it out and piss on ‘em!” She’s great when she’s angry. If only the rest of her record didn’t stink the place up so badly.
“A dwarf plays pool to prove his height/People play games when they lose in life” – The Fall, “In My Area” – Suggested by Iggy Ah, Mark E. Smith – as misanthropic and acidic as ever.
“What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?/Why do they gotta front?” – Weezer, “Buddy Holly” – Suggested by Chad David Shearer All these years later, the sight of Rivers Cuomo using the word “dissin’” is still priceless, especially when it comes in the context of the Happy Days-styled video. Whitest. Band. Ever.
“This is not a test or an SOS / I’m no longer on a quest to get girls undressed” – Miniature Tigers, “Cannibal Queen” – Suggested by Adam You can let your daughters out again now.
“Sitting on a park bench/Eyeing up little girls with bad intent” – Jethro Tull, “Aqualung” – Suggested by changeagent …or maybe not.
“When I was just 17, sex so longer seemed a mystery/I saw it as a commodity to be bought and sold/Like rock’ n’ roll” – The Mekons, “Club Mekon” – Suggested by kidvinegar The fact that the Mekons are still around, three decades after their first album, suggests that their cynicism here wasn’t entirely tongue-in-cheek.
“I’m not a virgin anymore!” – Poe, “Not a Virgin” – Suggested by Lou Albano Woo-hoo!
“Grandpa pissed his pants again/He don’t give a damn” – Warren Zevon, “Play It All Night Long” – Suggested by Chester Bestertester As Chester notes, “any song written by Warren Zevon has an amazing first line.” We plumped for “Werewolves of London” in our list, but there are plenty that would have done just as well – including this killer from the darkly satirical “Play It All Night Long.” (Ignore the fact that the video gets the lyrics wrong, too.)
“When I met you at the restaurant/You could tell I was no debutante” – Blondie, “Dreaming” – Suggested by Onge No, we wouldn’t have been mistaking Debbie for a debutante, either.
“Just before our love got lost you said, ‘I am as constant as a 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” – Suggested by Sara and Seanti69 Today Joni Mitchell is pretty much the exclusive preserve of ageing hippies who live in the West Village, but let’s not forget she was (and is) also a fine songwriter. And, as this line demonstrates, she could also be pretty darn funny.
“Get up and get your grandma outta here” – Kiss, “Deuce” – Suggested by Psione Oh, Gene. You didn’t.
“You can never give the finger to the blind” – Luna, “Slide” – Suggested by Dengeroso Sage words from the ever-wonderful Dean Wareham.
“I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on the cigarettes there in the ashtray/Lyin’ cold the way you left em/But at least your lips caressed them while you packed” – Elvis Costello, “A Good Year for the Roses” – Suggested by Paul Quite possibly the most heartbreaking piece of acute observation ever. And since we got pulled up on our last post for neglecting to point out that Billie Holiday didn’t write “Strange Fruit,” we’ll note here that this song was originally by George Jones, although we do prefer Elvis Costello’s cover.
“I can’t let you be/Because your beauty won’t allow me” – Red House Painters, “Have You Forgotten” – Suggested by Gavin A similarly lovelorn (and faintly obsessive) couplet from Mark Kozelek.
“Trudging slowly over wet sand/Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen” – Morrissey, “Every Day is Like Sunday” In our main list, we opined that the best scene-setting lines do their work with a minimum of actual description. So it is here, where you can see the leaden sky and empty beach of “the seaside town they forgot to bomb” in perfect clarity. And getting your clothes stolen from the beach is right up there with a bird shitting on your head in the league of events that make you turn your eyes to the sky and shout, “Why??”
“Take a little walk to the edge of town and go across the tracks/Where the viaduct looms like a bird of doom as it shifts and cracks” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand” – Suggested by Gavin But equally, a little descriptive detail can be a powerful thing.
“She’s addicted to nicotine patches” – Tori Amos, “Spark” – Suggested by Kevin O …and sometimes it’s smallest observation that can be the best illustration of the nature of a character’s personality.
“Dress sexy at my funeral/My good wife” – Smog, “Dress Sexy at My Funeral” – Suggested by C-Otter Darkly funny and mildly disconcerting – if you could sum up Smog’s entire output with two lines, it’d probably be these ones.
“I don’t care about history/ Cos that’s not where I wanna be” – The Ramones, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” – Suggested by Pere_Ubu And similarly, this snappy couplet embodies pretty much everything the Ramones were about.
“I’ve been working on a cocktail called ‘Grounds for divorce’” – Elbow, “Grounds for Divorce” – Suggested by Lynne Elbow are less noted for their sense of humour than Mr. Callahan is, but it’s in full effect here.
“I’m bored of cheap and cheerful/I want expensive sadness” – The Kills, “Cheap and Cheerful” – Suggested by Leila Anyone who saw The Kills in their early years, when it looked like Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart might start attacking one another on stage at any moment, would have found it hard to believe that the word “cheerful” was even in their vocabulary.
“Leaning in your corner like a candidate for wax” – Blondie, “11.59” – Suggested by Peter Shorney Ouch.
“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane” – The Rolling Stones, “Jumping Jack Flash” – Suggested by Hans, D and Antonios Several people suggested this, and we’re only too happy to oblige. As Antonios noted, “I have no idea what a cross-fire hurricane is, but it sounds awesome.”
“Screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves/Like a vision she dances across the porch/As the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely” – Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road” – Suggested by Maria We also got several Springsteen suggestions. We’d probably choose “The River” – it was a late omission from our main list – but it’s hard to argue with “Thunder Road” (or “Nebraska”).
“I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” – The Stooges, “Search and Destroy” – Suggested by Nick and Robert Even four decades later, the Vietnam war imagery that pervades one of Iggy’s finest lyrics is dramatic and visceral.
“Bussinesmen drink my blood/Like the kids in art school said they would” – Arcade Fire, “Ready to Start” – Suggested by Glovas But hey, at least you got a Grammy for it.
“There’s a war goin’ on outside no man is safe from” – Mobb Deep, “Survival of the Fittest” Big Mobb Deep fan “done” suggestion several lyrics from the Queens duo – it’s hard to pick the best one, but this does have a singular dramatic power.
“Sucking on my titties like you wanted me, calling me all the time like Blondie….” – Peaches, “Fuck the Pain Away” – Suggested by Kayla H. and AndyT Here at Flavorpill, we still remember the first time we heard this, when an old roommate came home with the 12” vinyl of The Teaches of Peaches (complete with the close-up crotch shot on the sleeve) and put it on the stereo. The effect was… well, no one said much for the next five minutes, put it that way.
“Vicious, you hit me with a flower” – Lou Reed, “Vicious” – Suggested by Emily Apparently Andy Warhol suggested this line to Reed, who turned it into one of his finest songs.
“She was a girl from Birmingham/She just had an abortion” – The Sex Pistols, “Bodies” – Suggested by Mari Gustafson The Sex Pistols are often caricatured as a bunch of nihilistic thugs – an image, it has to be said, that they did play up to, especially Sid. But even before his songwriting really bloomed with Public Image Limited, John Lydon had much more to talk about than anarchy and the Queen. So it was with “Bodies,” an unflinchingly uncomfortable examination of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. (And no, for the record, this song isn’t anti-abortion.)
“Well you were high when I met you/Now you’re falling like a leaf from a tree” – Louis XIV, “Air Traffic Control” – Suggested by Kay Another band whose reputation precedes them. But whatever you might think of Louis XIV, this is a most excellent image.
“I was only 16 but I guess that’s no excuse/My sister was 32, lovely and loose” – Prince “Sister” – Suggested by Antonios No. It’s no excuse at all, Prince.
“Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies” – The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – Suggested by Jahn Ghalt Now, how could anyone have thought this was about LSD?
“And the sky was made of amethyst/And all the stars were just like little fish” – Hole, “Violet” – Suggested by Leila Similarly psychedelic imagery, this time from none other than Courtney Love. It’s a fleeting moment of beauty before the distortion kicks in and the imagery turns dark and introspective.
“When you were young, you were the king of carrot flowers/And how you built a tower tumbling through the trees/In holy rattlesnakes that fell all around your feet” – Neutral Milk Hotel, “King of Carrot Flowers, Part One” – Suggested by Wolfboy The strange, impenetrable introduction to one of the best albums ever made.
“One baby to another said, ‘I’m lucky to have met you” – Nirvana, “Drain You” – Suggested by Steven Apparently this is a quote from one of Kurt Cobain’s ex-girlfriends. It’s also a strange and disconcerting opening line to a strange and disconcerting song.
“Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth/Only, I don’t know how they got out, dear” – The Shins, “New Slang” – Suggested by Huwt “New Slang” is full of strange and beautiful imagery (“Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall,” for instance), and its opening lines are no exception.
“Frank settled down in the Valley, and he hung his wild years on a nail that he drove through his wife’s forehead” – Tom Waits, “Frank’s Wild Years” – Suggested by Adrian We also hang our heads for forgetting to include Tom Waits first time around. You can pretty much stick a pin into his back catalogue and choose any of his lyrics, but this striking opening to one of the best songs off his career-defining album Swordfishtrombones is a fine choice from Adrian.
“I can’t seem to face up to the facts/I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax” – Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” – Suggested by John The best thing about this song is its understatedness – if not for the chorus (and, obviously, the title), you’d never know that the song was about a psychopath. The rest of the time David Byrne could just as easily be talking about an overstressed businessman – which, quite possibly, was the point.
“I am a patient boy/I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait” – Fugazi, “Waiting Room” – Suggested by Ben Honestly, we wouldn’t want Fugazi waiting for us.
“I’m going to get you/For the lies you’ve been telling” – OMD, “White Trash” – Suggested by C-otter Nor, indeed, would we want OMD waiting for us. We’ve been telling the truth, we promise!
“Astley in the noose/He hasn’t got a use but he’s trying” – The Wonder Stuff, “Astley in the Noose” – Suggested by Lila Aw, poor Rick Astley. Couldn’t you have just changed the station?
“Disarm you with a smile” – Smashing Pumpkins, “Disarm” Back before Billy Corgan was touting around the Smashing Pumpkins name with no original members and no new songs, he was one of the best songwriters of his generation. This song was the band’s “breakthrough” hit, and contains some of his finest lyrics, and its use of adversarial imagery to describe human interaction was a stroke of inspiration. Why can’t he write songs like this any more?
“Back in the days when I was a teenager/Before I had status and before I had a pager” – A Tribe Called Quest, “Excursions” – Suggested by Emily Ah, remember when pagers were still the shit?
“No bad dream fucker’s gonna boss me around/Christian brothers gonna take him down” – Elliott Smith, “Christian Brothers” – Suggested by Stephen Weber As with several other artists, there were plenty of Elliott Smith songs that could have made our final 50. This unexpectedly funny couplet from his reflection on his childhood experiences at the Community of Christ was certainly a contender.
“The lunatic is on the grass” – Pink Floyd, “Brain Damage” – Suggested by Dennis R.+20 The Dark Side of the Moon’s themes of mental illness and general disillusionment come to a head (as it were) in the album’s penultimate song, and this opening line sets the scene beautifully.
“And now, the end is near…” – Frank Sinatra, “My Way” – Suggested by Frenchy In fact, the end is here. But keep the suggestions coming! We’d love to do another of these posts some time.