Top 5 Favorite Opening Lines from a Song

Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…

Top 5 Favorite Opening Lines from a Song

Just off the podium, which means Fiona Apple has another reason to think this whole world is bullshit.

Bill Hicks is something of a folk hero and comedy legend, likely aided by the fact that he died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 33. Some of his stuff hits for me, a lot of it misses and has aged fucking terribly. But one thing that will always stick with me about him is his 12 principles of comedy. #6 is one I think about constantly when I’m watching standup.

6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.

Me too! Who gives a fuck how I’m doing? I’ll know how I’m doing after your set, so get on with it!

I teach a modified version of this principle when I’m leading presentation training sessions for corporate clients. So many people start their presentations with some dumbass version of, “Uh, ok. I’m Jon, and today I’m going to talk about…” Jesus Christ. Just go sit down. You had a chance to activate my imagination, capture my attention, come correct in some way (ANY way!), and you chose the most boring, prosaic, milquetoast entrance in the world. You’re now climbing uphill for my attention for the rest of this presentation because you’ve set such a blasé tone and lowered my expectations accordingly. Congrats!

I tell my attendees to, whenever possible, make bold choices. We’ve all seen roughly one zillion uninspired presentations in our lifetimes, it’s genuinely thrilling when someone gets up there, seems to want to be there, and has put more than 2 seconds of thought into their intro. In the spirit of this principle, let’s take a look at 5 opening lines of a song that always immediately have my attention.

“I like BIG BUTTS and I cannot lie…” from “Baby Got Back” Sir Mix-a-Lot

This is, without question, the greatest opening line in any song, ever. Sure, it’s 100% on the nose, but if you’re singing a song of appreciation about women with large posteriors, anything less than this is going to be undercooked and disingenuous. Sometimes just declaring your intent bluntly is the way to go.

It doesn’t hurt that the subject matter is overtly and obviously sexual, which makes subtlety a complete waste of time. You might argue with me that the real opening line of this song is that bratty, white, valley girl chick snottily going, “Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt…” Ok. Let’s say that IS the first line, but does that even change “Baby Got Back’s” place at the top of the Greatest Opening Lines Ever Ranking? Reader, it does not. As soon as that jealous Karen starts throwing lame shade, you know exactly what’s coming, and I defy you not to get excited about it, especially when that creeping bass line starts up as soon as she says the word “prostitute.”

Everyone thinks of Sir Mix-a-Lot as a horned-up one trick pony, which I think is unfair. Yeah, you’re familiar with “Baby Got Back,” but I’ll bet you’ve never heard his nuanced, thoughtful follow up single, “Put ‘Em On The Glass,” an ode to women with big titties. LINK NSFW FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

“It’s been…” from “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies

Say these two words in the style of that chubby guy with the glasses to anyone between the ages of 30 and 50, and I’ll bet you they’ll respond with, “…one week since ya’ looked at me!” Go ahead and try it now to whoever’s next to you. He says those two words before even any instrumentation has started, and after them the music kicks in hard, and then we’re off to the races. His unique inflection, the song’s rat-a-tat machine gun nonsense lyrics, blistering pace, and earworm chorus made this one totally unforgettable, but I argue it all starts with that kooky two word opener.

When I think about this band, I always picture the chubby guy with glasses first. He has the more distinctive voice and look, but he parted ways with the band in 2009 after he got busted for cocaine. I saw Barenaked Ladies in 2013 (and wrote about it here) and the band, while ultimately fine, felt incomplete without him. And I know that Ed Robertson, the other lead singer, does that gonzo rap during this song’s bridge section, but having seen him and his lame dad raps live, I’m here for the Iiiiit’s been… guy.

Also, I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist at all, but this song is totally about a guy who killed his partner.

“What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?” from “Buddy Holly” by Weezer

Aided by that weird video where Weezer is inserted into that old episode of “Happy Days” the incongruency of this nice, straight-ahead alt-rock and that modified street slang scratches an enormously fun pop culture itch. Ebonics were all the rage back in 1995, and misdirected try-hard white kids everywhere were trying to sound cool by talking like that. This song takes that discrepancy to its logical extreme and thoroughly shines a light on just how stupid we all sounded trying to talk like that. The only band that did this better was Dynamite Hack when they straight up covered “Boyz in the Hood” in 1999 like a yacht rock song.

“Buddy Holly” is delightful commentary and pointy criticism wrapped up in a glossy, catchy package, and it’s goddamn great. Weezer is a weird band for me because outside of this song, I can never tell if they’re kidding. Is “The Sweater Song” serious or not? Is “Beverly Hills?” Is “Hash Pipe?” I gave up trying to figure them out because I mostly don’t give a shit. None of those three songs are even good in my opinion, so why waste any brainpower attempting to decode them? Weezer falls into a unique personal category (along with Mumford & Sons) where I don’t dislike them, but if I never heard any of their songs ever again, I’d be pretty much okay with that.

“Buddy Holly” will always hold a special place in my heart because if you can reference both Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore in the same song where you ask “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?” and have it make sense AND have it not be all over the place tone-wise, you’re doing incredible work.

“Shakin’ like a dog shittin’ razorblades…” from “Radio” by Alkaline Trio

Without question one of the greatest Alkaline Trio songs ever, and after 34 seconds of instrumentation, the opening line drops on you like a piano out of the fucking sky. I’ve never played this song for someone and not had them immediately either chortle out of surprise or adjust their posture to pay better attention to whatever’s coming next. That line is just so arresting, and for the longest time I thought it was meant comedically. Yeah, the imagery is grotesque and horrifying, but it’s also absurdist because the idea of a dog eating multiple razorblades and then excreting them intact is totally impractical and illogical.

Then Matt Skiba had to go and ruin my fun when he appeared on Chris DeMakes A Podcast and discussed how the term “shakin’ like a dog shittin’ razorblades” is a common phrase among Vietnam veterans in describing how PTSD feels. Yikes. Regardless, it’s evocative as hell and fits neatly into this song which is already wildly intense in its depiction of relationship angst.

It’s funny. Like with any marriage, Kristin and I have been through some shit. In real world terms, it’s much more serious and consequential shit by leaps and bounds compared to anything I went through in a relationship in my younger years. But time, experience and perspective tends to flatten out your emotions, which renders all the overwrought turmoil of petty youthful relationship drama pretty silly in retrospect. But my God, it FELT like life or death at the time, didn’t it?

“SomeBODY once told me…” from “All Star” by Smash Mouth

All right, first things first… I don’t like this song. It’s hokey and cheesy and dumb. Second, I goofed on it once already four years ago and those criticisms are all still valid. Also, Shrek is a movie that gets worse every time I catch part of it on TV. The movie has an unbelievably ugly vein of cynicism running through it that once you see it, you can’t unsee. The entire Shrek franchise can go fuck itself. The music video is somehow even worse – a late 90s technicolor suburban hellscape with cameos from the cast of the gratefully forgotten Ben Stiller vehicle Mystery Men.

So what is this song even doing here? It’s because that opening line is the musical equivalent of the Kool-Aid Man busting through your fucking living room wall. It never fails to make me laugh. Steve Harwell has all the subtlety of a garbage truck and half the charm. This song is an anthem for losers, yet somehow everyone here is playing it totally straight. It’s like if everyone from your middle school suddenly dropped the snark and actually enjoyed the dorky motivational speaker that came to your gym to warn of the dangers of sexting or whatever.

I LOVE when I’m out in the wild and this song comes on because I will laugh every single fucking time at the blunt force trauma of that opening line. Kristin and I will sometimes just be in the house and say that opening line to each other out of nowhere.

And that’s what a solid marriage is built on: Communication, making each other laugh, and mutual mockery of shitty songs from 20 years ago.

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