Have there ever been four better songs to start an album than ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Outshined’, ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, and ‘Jesus Christ Pose,’ the opening quartet from Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’?
My suspicion when I first asked the question was that there were likely a multitude of alternatives that were as good, but none that were better. That feeling is still generally intact.
‘Takin’ a Ride,” ‘Careless,’ ‘Customer,’ and ‘Hangin’ Downtown’ from the Replacements’ ‘Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash’ was the first alternative candidate offered. Undeniably great, and at least as visceral, but missing a certain depth.
From the complete opposite end of the rock spectrum came Rush with ‘Moving Pictures’ and ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ‘Red Barchetta,’ ‘YYZ,’ and ‘Limelight.’ Definitely deep and retaining great human feeling and songcraft despite the technical prowess on display, it fell solidly into the “as good” column.
The Stones got a nod with ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Sway,’ ‘Wild Horses,’ and ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ from ‘Sticky Fingers’ (probably my favorite album of theirs). I guess this works. But only if you like ‘Wild Horses.’ It’s always driven me to distraction. I find the melody unimaginative and the bulk of the lyrics cliched; neither in a way that qualifies it for ‘simple beauty.’ But to each their own.
‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ ‘It’s So Easy,’ ‘Nightrain,’ and ‘Out Ta Get Me,’ from Guns n’ Roses genre-resurrecting debut ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was another completely legit contender and also likely rises to the level of as good.
It was when someone proposed the first four from Led Zeppelin’s fourth, however, that the dialogue took its first real twist. To my estimation Side 1’s ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Rock n’ Roll’ were held back by ‘Battle of Evermore’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ On this basis I suggested ‘IV’ would make a better Last Four Songs candidate (‘Misty Mountain Hop,’ ‘Four Sticks,’ ‘Going to California,’ ‘When The Levee Breaks’) than First.
After some back and forth, my interlocutor and I came up with an alternative track listing and created a stronger version of the album. I present ‘Led Zeppelin 4.1’: ‘Black Dog,’ ‘Rock n’ Roll,’ ‘Misty Mountain Hop,’ ‘Levee’ // ‘Four Sticks,’ ‘Battle of Evermore,’ ‘California,’ ‘Stairway.’ It’s majesty and might are inescapable.
The last word on the Best First Four topic occurred when ‘Abbey Road’ was thrown into the ring. First of all, I consider it the greatest rock album ever, and holding that accolade should disqualify it from the lesser category discussed here. Then there’s the fact that it’s essentially one piece of music, none of which can be disentangled from the rest.
But this is the stuff music conversations are made of, and I’m happier than ever that I asked!