Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
A song intro has a fairly simple task: to pull the listener into the song. There are several ways to do this: 1- establishing a melodic hook; 2- setting up a rhythmic/harmonic hook, or 3- establishing a general mood. Many intros mix all three ideas. If you simply strum away on a chord waiting for verse 1, your missing opportunities! Here are five songs that have fantastic intros.
1) TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS (The Beatles)
The Beatles rarely wasted time with mindless intros. Some of their best tunes didn’t use them (“Penny Lane”, “Hey Jude”, “Hello, Goodbye”). Their song “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the “Revolver” album represented the early days of their monumental shift toward the psychedelic. The intro comes squarely under the category of “setting up a mood”, and presents the sounds and imagery that the listener will encounter. Given its time, this intro probably raised more than a few eyebrows. HINT: If your song uses non-traditional instruments or other innovative techniques, try featuring them in your intro.
2) 25 or 6 to 4 (Chicago)
One of Robert Lamm’s best-known songs, this intro reels the listener in instantly with one of the most memorable guitar riffs of all time. One of the reasons this intro works so well is that it contrasts the descending scale of the guitar with the rising scale of the vocal lead. HINT: Your hook does not need to directly relate to any melodic shapes from your song. “Smoke on the Water” and Derek and the Dominos “Layla” are other great examples of the hook-intro.
3) SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT (Nirvana)
If you’re looking for an intro that establishes the basic sound of a song, and previews the important harmonic/rhythmic ideas of the chorus, this song is a great model to follow. An intro like this, which presents itself at the same dynamic-level (volume) as the chorus, lets the audience know that even though the verse is quiet, all hell will soon break loose. HINT: If your song pumps up the energy level, use your song intro to let listeners know what’s coming.
4) NEW BORN (Muse)
In an opposite approach, Muse’s “New Born” uses an intro that doesn’t give any hint at all that you’ll be hearing anything other than a gentle lullaby with a peaceful keyboard accompaniment. HINT: Don’t assume that if your song is high-energy your intro must be high energy as well. A quiet intro for a driving song can work really well.
5) WHITER SHADE OF PALE (Procol Harum)
A great intro of the countermelody type. In fact, that gorgeous melody presented by the organ has arguably become more identifiable than the actual vocal melody of the song.
Songwriters, if we can learn anything from these, and the hundreds of other great song intros out there, it’s that your intro requires as much thought as the rest of your song. If you find that your intro does nothing for the song, follow the example of “Hey Jude” and simply leave it out.
Gary Ewer’s songwriting e-books will show you why the world’s best songs are so great, and what you can do to get your own songs working. Click here to read more.