If you follow Rick Beato’s Everything Music channel on YouTube, you’ll frequently hear him comment (correctly, IMO) that pop music doesn’t have room to breathe anymore. Gone is space for the songs to grow and unfold. One example Beato sites is Smells Like Teen Spirit. There is over 30 seconds of music before Kurt Cobain drops the first lyric. Rick argues that pop music just doesn’t allow that to happen anymore. In large part I agree with Rick and have been thinking about what I consider to be some great song intros. I’ll drop just a small handful of my favorite here and encourage the community to add their picks. I won’t get too picky on the rules either, because there are lots of ways to let a slong build and grow.
Metallica - Enter Sandman
You had to see that one coming. A masterstroke of unfolding the main (and killer!) riff a few bars at a time. It takes nearly a full minute of chugging through just a little bit more of that riff before a drum build sets up the unleashing of the riff that arguably mainstreamed truly heavy metal.
Uriah Heep - Gypsy
Proto-metal from 1970. Organ, bass guitar, drums, electric guitar, each given their own path to build and respond to each other for nearly 80 seconds before any lyrics happen.
Journey - Don’t Stop Believin’
This song is almost ALL build. It’s 3:20 into a 4:10 song before the familiar "Don’t Stop Believin’’ refrain sung at literally every sporting event ever happens. Yeah, that kinda structure is rare and hardly ever happened even back then.
Dire Straits - Money For Nothing
Do I need to comment? No. But I will anyway. Mark Knoppfler’s guitar work on those iconic riffs that drop at 1:36 don’t actually repeat themselves. It’s genius how he subtly tweaks them each time through.
Is it cheating to go full prog? I say no:
Dream Theater - A Change of Seasons
The first movement is prog metal perfection.
Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize
A slow burn. It feels like something is weighing the song down for several minutes, slowly kicking against the goads and kicking at the boundaries before it explodes into a metal fury. Propelled along by some masterful drum work.
Underoath - Casting Such a Thin Shadow
A bit more obscure, but I love the soundscape that it paints in that first half.
Alright, no firm rules. I’ve clearly slanted rock/metal here and I’m sure other genres have great intros too. Please share!