A great song intro is often the difference between a regular old hit single and the type of monster hit that becomes a part of the cultural lexicon, and it can instantly make a band before anyone has heard more than a few awesome notes. It is the splash in the face, the electric shock, that makes the listener pay instant attention and say, “Whoa, what the hell was that? Play it again.” And while there have been many, many great song intros over the years, and I’m sure we’ll leave out your favorite, which you’ll be kind enough to holler about in the comments, here are truly nine of the best song intros ever.
9. ‘Regulate’ – Warren G
Forget the spoken word sample – although the “Regulators! Mount up!” really puts the cherry on things – it’s all about those badass opening chords. Put this on at a party and people will lose their shit right away. It just stops the moment, and freezes everyone in a desire to do it early ‘90s style. It’s instantly recognizable, and instantly badass and sexy at the same time.
8. ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’ – Van Halen
For as legendary a career as Van Halen has had, especially in the Diamond Dave era, the opening to this song is arguably the high point. It’s just totally badass, like the sound of a train from hell bearing down on you with the devil and his boys shredding the shit out of their instruments riding in a boxcar. And the most amazing thing about it is that this is the opening to the very first song on Van Halen’s very first album of their career. They should have just quit right then, because they were never, ever going to top this.
7. ‘Satisfaction’ – The Rolling Stones
It’s incredibly simple – just a badass guitar lick mingling with low-key bass – but it’s also perhaps the most recognizable intro in the history of pop music. That’s kind of an incredible statement to make, but just about everyone in the world could instantly tell you the song based on just the first few licks. The Stones were masters at this sort of thing, and it’s probably a big reason why they became as big as they did.
6. ‘Back in the Saddle’ – Aerosmith
Now this is how you do a badass rock intro. It sounds like a gunfighter riding into town one more time while everyone scrambles for cover. This is what you want to play for someone whenever they want to know why Joe Perry was a big deal.
5. ‘Baba O’Reilly’ – The Who
I know it probably seems like I am going to the classic rock well pretty heavily here, but what can I say? Those old dudes knew how to open a song. And perhaps none is as unique – or as cool – as The Who’s “Baba O Reilly,” which you probably know better by its unofficial name – “Teenage Wasteland.” It’s a weird, spiraling, kaleidoscopic kind of sound, but it instantly transports you to their world, and then Pete Townshend’s defiant guitar licks and Keith Moon’s thundering drums perfectly capture the overall sentiment of the song. If you could pick one minute to sum up a band, and only one, this is the one you would pick for The Who.
4. ‘Hypnotize’ – The Notorious B.I.G.
The opening to “Hypnotize” just punches you in the face right away. And then Biggie comes in with his downright scandalous grunting – yeah, that’s right, that shit is straight up scandalous – and there has never been a more in your face song opening than this. Everybody remembers the chorus to this song, but the reason why they remember it so vividly is because the opening sucked them in and refused to let them go.
3. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ – Guns ‘N Roses
Just like with Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil,” it’s incredible that this was the opening to the first song on the first album of Guns ‘N Roses career. No wonder it went on to become the biggest debut album of all time. It just sets the tone instantly and perfectly. This is the sound of a band going to war, against the streets of L.A., against all the lame hair bands, against the suits, against the fans, against each other, hell, even against themselves. This intro is Guns ‘N Roses compressed into 30 insane seconds. There’s a reason why everyone goes completely apeshit when they hear these opening chords at one of their concerts.
2. ‘Gimme Shelter’ – The Rolling Stones
Like I said earlier, the Stones are a master of the song intro. This one, darkly foreboding and wistful at the same time, perfectly captures not only the song’s overall message, but an entire cultural era. This is the late ‘60s, Vietnam era crammed into one ridiculously evocative minute. There’s a reason Martin Scorsese uses this whenever he can in his movies, or why every war video game jacks it for their commercials. By the time Mick Jagger sings “Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today,” you absolutely believe it.
1. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ – The Rolling Stones
Look, I swear I’m not some sort of Stones super-fan. It just worked out this way. It’s not my fault they mastered the art of the intro better than anyone who ever lived. In fact, I had to force myself not to put a fourth song of theirs on the list because it was getting ridiculous. And this one is the most ridiculous – and best – of them all. From the children’s choir sounding like angels sent to comfort you to the wistful French horn and jangling guitar, this is how you kick an intro up a notch, or a couple million notches for that matter. This is over 40 years old now, and nobody’s topped it since. This is the sort of thing Kanye would drown a sack full of puppies – or bone a Kardashian, which is arguably even more odious – just to achieve. It is pompous and over-the-top and ridiculously overwrought. It is also perfect.