The TRL Pop Quiz works like this: our editors are posed a music-related question and have only 15 minutes and just 100 words to research, choose and explain their answers. This week’s question: what’s the best introductory/opening track on an album?
Ariana Grande’s fourth album Sweetener just dropped, but I’d already call her intro track “Raindrops (An Angel Cried)” one of the most beautiful tracks… ever. A brief cover of “An Angel Cried” by The Four Seasons, the song is 38 seconds of acapella bliss highlighting Ariana’s soaring vocals. It sets the tone for Sweetener and even has a personal connection — her grandpa’s best friend wrote the song. Plus, with Ariana’s musical theatre roots, it’s fun to consider the fact that this song is featured in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys might also play a factor in her song choice. – Kristen Maldonado
“Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” from Patti Smith’s iconic album Horses is my favorite album opener. The track reimagines an existing song, “Gloria” by Them, and incorporates poems and previous works of Smith’s. Within the song, Patti plays with gender, religion and sexuality, setting up the punk tone of the rest of the album. The song has an arc, starting very slowly with just Patti’s voice and a piano, sounding a lot like a hymn (the title comes from a Catholic hymn). It gains speed, instruments and energy as it plays, and it’s an excellent preview for what’s to come. – Leah Williams
“Supermodel” is the hook to SZA‘s excellent debut CTRL, both as its stunningly bold opening track and the album’s thematic focal point. Over three airy minutes, she delivers dangerously careless kiss-offs (“I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy,”) demands explanation for being dumped (“Why am I so easy to forget like that?”) and dreads the oncoming isolation that greets singledom (“Wish I was comfortable just by myself / but I need you”). Those tension points of insecurity, loneliness and how those feelings can often lead to bad behavior weave through the entire album, but are honed brilliantly from the very beginning. – Terron Moore
I’ll start off by saying that “Self”, the first track on Noname’s album Room 25 has one of the best lines I’ve ever heard: “My p*ssy teachin’ ninth grade English / My p*ssy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” The song introduces her new maturity to her audience following her mixtape, Telefone. On “Self”, Noname raps about how people don’t believe she can rap and that she made this album for herself, not for anybody else. It does a good job of introducing the album as her coming-of-age story, talking about politics, musical success, sexual exploration and personal growth. – Landyn Pan
In less than 90 seconds, Tori Kelly prepares you for the next 50 minutes on “Where I Belong,” the opening song on Unbreakable Smile. “I’m just a girl with her guitar / trying to give you my whole heart,” Tori sings to open up her debut studio album, setting the stage for a no-holds-barred, acoustic soundtrack of her experiences with love, loss and fame. It’s clear that after four years of making music, Tori found a sweet spot with her sound and was doing things her own way, not to appease her label or anyone else. – Matt Gehring
“Lucky Star” isn’t just a great album opener; for some, it may have been their first moment hearing Madonna. On her self-titled debut, Madge delivered a decade-defining hit from the jump, kick-starting a career that produced countless more. The qualities that made her an icon are immediately recognizable in “Lucky Star”—her appeals to the dancefloor; the breezy, teasing vocals; her willingness to conflate the sacred with the sacrilegious. This didn’t just set the template for one of the best albums of the ‘80s (which it is); it signaled the emergence of arguably the most influential pop star in history. – Gus Turner