Top 20 Best Opening Song Lyrics
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best Opening Song Lyrics.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most memorable lines that effectively set the mood for a compelling track.
Did we forget a great set of opening lyrics? Let us know in the comments below.
#20: “Gangsta’s Paradise” (1995)
Coolio feat. L.V.
Coolio’s signature track gets going with a memorable paraphrase of the Book of Psalms. Building off of a Bible verse and then spinning off in its own direction, the opening lines immediately set the tone for a hip-hop song that delves into existential themes. He’s able to walk the line between an epic poem and a gritty look at life in the modern era. Even after all these years and a Weird Al parody, his lyrical skills in this composition are without question. There’s a reason this is considered one of the standout rap hits of the 90s.
#19: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (1995)
The Smashing Pumpkins
In a career of entertaining rock songs, The Smashing Pumpkins outdid themselves with the release of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” from their album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” Billy Corgan opens up the anthem with an unforgettable nod to blood-sucking creatures, in a comparison that immediately locks listeners into a unique alternative production. The addition of Jimmy Chamberlin’s drums drives home the tense introduction. Corgan helps to ratchet up the intensity with every phrase, which all builds to a cathartic chorus. Regardless of its greater meaning, this track never relents from its first moments.
#18: “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (1987)
Guns N’ Roses
As much as they were considered the bad boys of rock, Guns N’ Roses still had a knack for heartfelt and poetic lyrics. The start to “Sweet Child o’ Mine” contains one of their most evocative opening phrases. Axl Rose provides intimate details about the woman he’s fallen for, in a delicately-written beginning. This doesn’t mean the track can’t also find other ways to rock out or to feature an instantly-recognizable guitar riff. Revealing the band’s ability to tug at the heartstrings, this electrifying single is a reminder of the power of the group’s lively music.
#17: “Wonderwall” (1995)
Oasis was among the guiding lights of the Britpop movement, with the single “Wonderwall” being among their greatest achievements. Noel Gallagher’s words establish a love song full of complexities and notable verses. Beginning with a soulful opening courtesy of his brother Liam, the writer fills the production with a number of deceptively complex phrases about relationships. This combination of clever songwriting and a simple musical accompaniment combine to make this a classic. It's since taken on a life of its own as one of the most famous British rock staples of its day, partly due to the unprecedented talent of the two musical brothers.
#16: “Where the Streets Have No Name” (1987)
With Bono at their helm, U2 is known for dozens of inspirational and spiritual tracks. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is one of the best examples of their format, leading off the iconic album “The Joshua Tree.” This particular song begins with a series of hopeful proclamations from the lead singer. Carried by the intricate soundscape of his fellow musicians, the vocalist reintroduces the group with a series of mission statements that have carried them through many successful decades. The exciting single encapsulates all of the intensity of the act’s finest work with some of their greatest lyrics.
#15: “Straight Outta Compton” (1988)
With the furious introduction of Ice Cube, N.W.A. established themselves as the premier rap talents of the late 1980s. There was no turning back for the genre after an opening verse that tore the roof off of convention. Never one to hold back, the rapper’s lyrics and lightning delivery changed the game with its explicit nature. This track and the accompanying album quickly altered the fabric of the music industry with its grounded look at life in Compton, California. A few carefully chosen phrases later, the band members were hip-hop icons with a massively influential record.
#14: “Don’t Stop Believin’” (1981)
Steve Perry starts off this Journey classic like a fairytale. In only just a few lines, he sums up the intricate story of strangers looking for meaning in their lives. “Don’t Stop Believin’” has maintained its popularity because of Perry’s passionate vocals and the accompanying lyrics. Among the singer’s best performances, he serenades listeners with a group of disparate souls hoping for connection. The inspirational narrative feels universal and emotionally resonant to this day, long after the arena rock era in the 80s. Serving as the group’s magnum opus, the ultimate impact of the song lands especially well with the help of Jonathan Cain on keyboards.
#13: “Basket Case” (1994)
Off of Green Day’s breakthrough album “Dookie,” “Basket Case” represents all of the frenetic energy that accompanies their best singles. It also begins with a career-best introduction from singer Billie Joe Armstrong. Aggressive only begins to describe the vocalist’s signature style behind the microphone, which comes through perfectly in this performance. It also stands as a pop-punk staple that has few equals. The lyrics describe an internal struggle with a tongue-in-cheek tone that provides the overall production with a razor-sharp edge. They spent the next decade building off of this one-of-a-kind mix of wit and anger.
#12: “Billie Jean” (1982)
“Billie Jean” represents a high point for Michael Jackson as both an artist and a storyteller. The singer introduces a twisted tale about a woman claiming the narrator is the father of her child. Scandalous and provocative, the hit single also features some of the greatest word choices in any Jackson song. His storytelling not only feels grounded. It also flows with a fluid pace that draws in the listener with every subsequent detail. Along with high-quality pop production, the vocalist ascended to new musical heights with this piece. This track later became one of the artist’s best-selling and acclaimed works because of its ability to enthrall audiences.
#11: “Landslide” (1975)
This moving ballad by Fleetwood Mac tops an impressive list of classics from the band. Written by band member Stevie Nicks, the pristine track excels as a melancholic exploration of life and its many changes. Nicks doesn't waste any time in setting up an emotional narrative that speaks volumes across generations. The vocalist only needs a simple guitar part underneath, which keeps the focus on her performance and stellar writing abilities. There's a reason that the artist is often hailed as one of the songwriters of her generation, with this being the exclamation point on an exceptional career.
#10: “Hallelujah” (1984)
While it has become one of the most covered compositions of its kind, “Hallelujah” ultimately belongs to its author Leonard Cohen. The singer and songwriter was well into his career when he crafted this masterpiece. Starting with a biblical reference, this track has all of the trademark qualities of an exceptionally talented and influential artist. Its soulful beginnings underscore the writer’s knack for finding just the right word and still surprising his audience at the same time. Going far beyond the realm of its seemingly religious connections, the song wows listeners to this day for its lyrical beauty.
#9: “What’s Going On” (1971)
Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece comes together with both musical excellence and lyrical brilliance. In an emotional plea for peace and understanding, “What’s Going On” delves deeply into the inequities of the early 70s. It also contains one of his more delicate vocal performances. The words addressed to mothers and brothers speak volumes to a world that still reels from war, inequality, and injustice. His timeless message of hope and love is the main topic for the album of the same name, which further explores the themes stated in this tour-de-force. Gaye might not be around anymore, but his undying spirit lives on through this engaging work.
#8: “Lithium” (1991)
Kurt Cobain provides a melancholic introduction to one of his best lyrical efforts. In only the first verse, the singer sets up a narrative about a lonely character who turns to religion for some relief. Cobain’s inflections make every syllable feel that much more impactful in this single from “Nevermind.” Known for tackling serious subjects, the songwriter explores the darkest depths of the human psyche. The band also finds room to rock out in this track, but only after setting up a mournful tune. “Lithium” stands as yet another reminder that the music of Nirvana has a timeless sound.
#7: “American Pie” (1971)
As one of the great epic songs in American history, "American Pie" begins like any legendary story should. Don McLean skillfully sets the stage with a track that’s as densely-packed as a novel. He might be taking us back to one of the darkest days in music history, but one that inspired this moving piece of art. Sometimes overlooked, this work is still as powerful all these years later. Its eclectic mix of references and colorful imagery enhance the experience into something much more than a bland history lesson. McLean is best remembered for this particular effort, which deserves further recognition for its slow-building and effective beginning.
#6: “Hello, I Love You” (1968)
While the track might be undervalued by some people, “Hello, I Love You” still shows off all of the band’s charisma. Singer Jim Morrison manages to crank up the charm in a vocal performance that starts especially strong. In a quick turn of phrase, the vocalist boils down a chance encounter into an introduction for the ages. Morrison’s words came as no surprise to fans of the group, many of whom grew accustomed to his mix of poetic and literary ideas. The groovy rock sound also added to the group’s legend in the late 1960s. There are several songs from their catalog that are worthy of inclusion, such as the haunting work “The End,” but this one edges out the competition.
#5: “Hurt” (2002)
Originally written by Trent Reznor for his group Nine Inch Nails, the song “Hurt” received a new spin after it was covered by country legend Johnny Cash. The second version brings out all of the best qualities of Reznor’s writing, but with the added benefit of another singer’s personal history. This is especially true with the first haunting line. Getting to the heart of pain and regret, the somber lyrics don’t hold back in describing a narrator that reflects on their existence. While the songwriter wrote the piece about himself, the composition fits perfectly against the backdrop of Cash’s career.
#4: “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” (1979)
Pink Floyd made a name for themselves as innovators of progressive rock, but it was arguably this song that transcended genre and musical taste. "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" is an iconic piece from their album "The Wall," whereby the band takes aim at education. The first lyrics are as widely quoted as any rock anthem from the decade. Becoming a part of a much larger metaphor, the popular introduction represents a track that's as vital as it was in the late 1970s. Songwriter Roger Waters offers up his own revolutionary message that fights back against abusive schooling practices.
#3: “The Sound of Silence” (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel
The duo Simon & Garfunkel created more than a handful of folk standards in the 1960s. “The Sound of Silence” may or may not be the group’s greatest achievement, but it certainly has their most noteworthy opening. Paul Simon’s lyrics never fail to deliver a moody atmosphere. While some might recognize the song as the soundtrack of memes, it’s easy to forget that the tune boasts one of the finer explorations of the soul. Listeners might debate its greater meaning, but it's ultimately an emotional experience from the first few seconds. Harmonizing with Art Garfunkel, the songwriter created one of the act’s first triumphs in terms of both composition and performance.
#2: “Yesterday” (1965)
Paul McCartney famously tinkered with this composition under a completely different title. Thankfully for all of us, he found a new group of words and gave the world "Yesterday." The well-known track from the "Help!" album features one of the better sets of lyrics in any Beatles' song. McCartney accurately sums up the nuanced feelings of regret, love, and everything in between. It's yet another obvious example of the songwriter's endless talent with melody. Along with an acoustic guitar and a beautiful string arrangement, the singer introduces a brilliant thesis on the topic of relationships.
#1: “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975)
With their pristine harmonies, Queen recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a self-assured performance. The dynamic track is full of musical prowess from start to finish. Coming together for an inspired start, the band members' voices mesh well against the angelic lead of Freddie Mercury. All of this sets up the latter’s sweeping work with a piano, building itself through a series of imaginative phrases. It’s hard not to stop everything and sing along with this impressive opening. Starting a rock and roll suite like no other, there are few opening lyrics that can compete with these ones crafted by Mercury.