They say never judge a book by it’s cover, so it’s probably best not to judge a song by its title. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to judge one based on the first few seconds or so. A song’s intro can be make or break, and every now and then, an act creates one so epic that it cannot go unnoticed. I have compiled a list of the 50 Most Epic Intros Of All Time (Well, the rock and roll era.) Each one utilizes a different method to an create an effective “attention grabber,” and each one is better than the next!
50. LADY GAGA “POKER FACE”
It’s impossible to not get excited when “Poker Face” begins. There’s a sense of ambiguity and suspense as that simple progression looms about and the famous “ma-ma-ma-ma” hook punches through.
49. PET SHOP BOYS “HEART” [SINGLE MIX]
Now this one is a very specific mix. The album version is great, too, but the way the intro to the single mix of PSB’s “Heart” unfolds is truly euphoric; it’s impossible not to throw your hands up.
48. FOO FIGHTERS “EVERLONG”
“Everlong” stars out with a simple guitar strum, and builds into a soaring 90s rock anthem in just a matter of seconds. By the time the vocals kick in, the mood is so perfectly set that the band doesn’t really need to do much.
47. COLDPLAY “CLOCKS”
Coldplay’s “Clocks” is one big ball of atmosphere, but its intro is so striking that before Chris Martin even sings his first line, we’re already reduced to putty. That piano riff is beyond iconic, and the way it unleashes into the song is amazing.
46. PAUL SIMON “YOU CAN CALL ME AL”
Right from the begging, those ironically uplifting horns in Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” sweeps us away. Quickly add in a delicious slap bass, and you have yourself one iconic intro.
45. THE RONETTES “BE MY BABY”
Leave it to Phil Spector to create one hell of an intro. In his tour de force, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” he leaves it simple: two run throughs of a minimal, thundering drum part. The rest is in the history books.
44. ABBA “GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT)”
To kick off one of their finest pop creations, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!,” ABBA shoots out a whirlwind of guitars, keys, and strings before launching into that iconic synth line that sits on a bed of pulsing bass.
43. MGMT “KIDS”
Easily one of the 2000’s most beautifully uplifting tracks, MGMT’s “Kids” starts off with a few rebellious chants before easing in that bitter sweet synth line that they garnish appropriately until it has enough time to sink in.
42. BLUR “POPSCENE”
Maybe not their biggest hit, but “Popscene” began Blur’s reign as Britpop icons. Beginning with Graham Coxon’s air-raid siren guitars, the tracks adds in a healthy dose of drums and bass all before those heralding horns take it up a notch.
41. DAVID BOWIE “SUFFRAGETTE CITY”
All it takes is a few simple guitar licks, but Bowie’s (excuse me, Ziggy’s) “Suffragette City” launches itself in a big way. There’s enough time to let the excitement mount, yet he gets right to the point.
40. HEART “BARRACUDA”
That menacing, “machine gun” guitar is undeniably iconic. The intro to Heart’s legendary “Barracuda” grabs you by the jugular immediately with that pulsing bass and sucks you in for one glorious ride.
39. THE CLASH “SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?”
C’mon now, who can deny the sheer brilliance that begins one of the Clash’s last great epics, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” That guitar riff is legendary, but they way they tease it in is sublime.
38. SAM & DAVE “SOUL MAN”
Soul legends Sam & Dave’s most famous hit, “Soul Man” has an intro borderline definitive of the genre. It really all beings with that monumental guitar line that preps us for an unleashing of jubilant horns and iconic grooves.
37. THE BEATLES “I WANT YOU (SHE’S SO HEAVY)”
The longest song the Fab Four can actually claim to have recorded (“Revolution 9” doesn’t count!,) “I Want You” plows through the gate instantly with one of their most ridiculously awesome bluesy guitar riffs ever.
36. DAFT PUNK “ONE MORE TIME”
There might not be a more euphoric, celebratory introduction in all of EDM than Daft Punk’s “One More Time.” It literally feels like being lifted up off the ground and launched into space.
35. CREAM “WHITE ROOM”
Inarguably rock’s greatest trio, Cream, begins their hit “White Room” in somewhat of a mystical way. With an elusive, almost intimidating progression, it calls upon our innate impatience before kicking us in the gut with the first verse.
34. AC/DC “BACK IN BLACK”
Aussie rockers AC/DC have many great intros, but none quite reach the bar “Back In Black” sets. After being counted in, Angus Young’s iconic guitar line comes piercing through, and the rest is rock history.
33. THE VERVE “BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY”
One of the Britpop era’s biggest moments is easily The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The way those famous strings are delicately eased into the mix before breaking out into a bout of euphoria is pure class.
32. STEVIE NICKS “EDGE OF SEVENTEEN”
Forget about “Bootylicious,” that iconic riff originated in Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen.” It’s simple and repetitive, and it doesn’t simmer very long, but it mounts excitement in a strikingly profound way.
31. THE SMITHS “STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE”
The Smiths tend to step right into the meat of their songs, but one of their last masterpieces, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” takes some time to set the scene. It captures this exciting sense of anticipation that makes for a great intro.
30. AEROSMITH “SWEET EMOTION”
It’s all about the bass in the intro to Aerosmith’s epic “Sweet Emotion.” Highlighted by effected vocals and light percussion, the tension mounts until it falls into a silky smooth run through of the chorus.
29. STEVIE WONDER “SUPERSTITION”
Starting out with a basic drum beat, that managed to, itself, become iconic, it’s when that bass line is introduced in Stevie Wonder’s mega-hit “Superstition” that the magic happens. The intro is musical candy.
28. BEYONCÉ FEATURING JAY-Z “CRAZY IN LOVE”
Beyoncé leaves no time to mess around with her break-out debut hit, “Crazy In Love.” That larger than life horn sample rips out the gate instantly, followed by some decorative Jay-Z lines and a breakdown, all before coming back for an instant reprise.
27. THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPRIENCE “VOODOO CHILD (SLIGHT RETURN)”
What starts out sounding like some (extra)ordinary Hendrix guitar aerobics ends up launching into one of Jimi’s hardest rocking moments in his far too short-lived career. Before the song properly starts, he’s already set off the grand finale.
26. DEREK & THE DOMINOS “LAYLA”
A song that would also easily make the list for “Greatest Outros Ever,” Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla” gets off on a brilliant foot, too. Possibly Clapton’s most iconic riff begins the track and builds upon itself to help create one of rock’s timeless anthems.
25. BON JOVI “LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER”
While the rest of the track amounts to little more than one of many over-the-top 80s stadium anthems, the intro to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” is spectacular. It masterfully builds momentum and releases into something exciting and anthemic.
24. MADONNA “VOGUE”
Honestly, “Vogue” is the dance pop intro to end all dance pop intro. The concept is rather mindless (just keep adding parts with every repeat,) but the end result is amazing. When Madge unleashes her first “Strike a pose,” we’re already too busy vogueing.
23. LED ZEPPELIN “WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS”
Led Zeppelin have too many epic intros to choose from, but “When The Levee Breaks” is their most refined. The minute and a half beginning sets up all of the track’s motifs for one of the bluesiest, rawest pieces in their unparalleled catalog.
22. FUN. “SOME NIGHTS”
The beginning to fun.’s “Some Nights” feels like being kicked in the gut in the most beautiful way possible. The multi-tracked accapella vocals that feel stacked as high as the sky pair nicely with a delicate piano that plunks in partway through.
21. MARVIN GAYE “LET’S GET IT ON”
Just 4 simple notes…under 2 seconds. That’s all the intro for Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” contains, but by the time it’s done oozing out, all the babies have already been made and we’re on to round 2. It’s that good.
20. SURVIVOR “EYE OF THE TIGER”
I dare you to find an intro that will pump you up better than “Eye Of The Tiger.” It is the quintessential motivational intro, with those electrifying guitar and drum hits and pulsing bass parts. The rest of the song is borderline moot.
19. THE ROLLING STONES “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”
In one of the Stones’ rare delicate moments, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” iconically beings with a boys choir singing through the first verse and chorus. The prelude would read as totally sarcastic if it wasn’t followed by that sweet acoustic guitar.
18. TALKING HEADS “ROAD TO NOWHERE”
The Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” begins with an accapella intro that sounds like a full choir’s worth of voices. How David Byrne’s voice manages to stick out at all is a miracle. It resonates in such a big way that you almost wish it continues on longer.
17. BLACK SABBATH “IRON MAN”
“Iron Man” is like heavy metal’s grandaddy. Beginning with pulsing kick drum, and screeching guitars, not to mention that robot voice exclaiming, “I am Iron Man!,” it’s when the famous riff kicks in that the magic happens.
16. METALLICA “ENTER SANDMAN”
Easily Metallica’s biggest claim to fame, “Enter Sandman” is a masterclass in momentum-building intros. The track initially starts out quiet and menacing and expertly grows into a full on head-banging anthem.
15. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE “I WILL POSSESS YOUR HEART”
The 4 and a half minute begging to Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” might as well be an entire track all to itself. Part after part is folded in to the mix, setting the stage for the actual song, which ends up almost feeling like an afterthought.
14. NEW ORDER “BLUE MONDAY”
“Blue Monday” is one of the few songs that actually changed dance music forever. The intro is really what it’s all about, honestly… the famous drum sequence, “oompa oompa” synth line, and throbbing bass. The rest of the track just builds off of it.
13. PINK FLOYD “WISH YOU WERE HERE”
One of rock’s biggest tear-inducers is easily Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” While the song is pretty much just perfect from start to finish, it’s the “start” that allows it to happen. The band took a simple guitar line and embellished to heaven and back.
12. ARCTIC MONKEYS “I BET YOU LOOK GOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR”
The breakthrough Arctic Monkeys hit has an intro that practically announces a new era of alternative rock. The first half swirls with excitement before breaking out into one of the 2000’s most epic riffs. It goes off like dynamite.
11. QUEEN “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”
“Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?” Easily, the award for greatest “vocal intro” to date belongs to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The multi-tracked choir-eqsue vocals create an air of confusion that sets up the song’s many (many) different phases.
10. NIRVANA “SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT”
Some will say the song changed rock forever, some will say it’s overrated, but I think we can all agree that the intro is kick ass. It feels so raw and haphazard that when it cools off to let the first verse come in, we’re all feeling gobsmacked.
09. CHUCK BERRY “JOHNNY B. GOODE”
In hindsight, it’s rather simple, but Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is the ORIGINAL rock and roll intro. He’s pretty much the mastermind behind it all, and his legendary and quintessential hit more or less invented the genre.
08. DIRE STRAITS “MONEY FOR NOTHING”
Wait. Is that Sting proclaiming “[he wants his] MTV?” Why yes it is! Dire Straits’ hit “Money For Nothing” has the intro we’ll always go back to for reference. Part A – Confusion and build, Part B – One of the greatest guitar riffs ever. Genius.
07. THE TEMPTATIONS “PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE”
“Papa Was A Rolling Stone” was the grand finale in a long run of legendary hits for the Temptations. Embracing their psychedelic side, the intro dazzles with funky bass, wah wah guitar, steady hi-hats and blaring horns for a solid 4 minutes.
06. MICHAEL JACKSON “BILLIE JEAN”
One drum beat, one bass line, and one synth part changed pop music for ever. MJ’s “Billie Jean” has an intro that goes down in history as being one of the most flawlessly executed. By pop standards, it’s rather long, but it’s so worth it.
05. PRINCE & THE REVOLUTION “LET’S GO CRAZY”
As the slightly out of tune organ blasts in the background, we hear Prince proclaim, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Before you know it “Let’s Go Crazy” has grown into a funky rock anthem. Talk about iconic.
04. GUNS N’ ROSES “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE”
Right at the beginning of their legendary debut, we hear Slash’s guitar screeching as the beginning to “Welcome To Jungle” builds itself into history. When the song properly kicks in…boom…minds blown.
03. THE STONE ROSES “I WANNA BE ADORED”
I’m not sure there’s really any words to describe the atmosphere the Stone Roses build with their album opener, “I Wanna Be Adored.” The parts are so beautifully layered in that each one brings out a new side to this grand emotion they’ve created. It’s beyond perfect.
02. THE WHO “BABA O’RILEY”
Whether it’s the arpeggiated keyboard that trots in peacefully, the clunking piano chords, or Pete Townshend’s windmill guitar riff, the intro to “Baba O’Riley” is legendary in every single way imaginable. The Who really knocked this one out of the park.
01. U2 “WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME”
Can anyone really claim a more epic intro than “Where The Streets Have No Name?” I don’t think so. The build is perfect, the riff is perfect, the atmosphere is perfect… The emotions are running so high that, by the time Bono’s vocals kick in, our goosebumps have grown goosebumps.