Sep 082012

[If you’ve ever entered Rock Town Hall through its root URL:, you were greeted by a Townsman strumming the opening chord of “The Kids Are Alright.” Our apologies to anyone who’s ever jumped out of his or her seat at that automatically generated sound. Those of us in The Back Office typically don’t support such obtrusive devices, but I think you’ll agree that it’s appropriate for our lot. My apologies, more importantly, to Townsman Al for the long delay in posting an idea he put forth in an offlist message a few months ago. This is a worthwhile initiative to determine—once and for all— rock’s most distinctive opening chord. But first…let us develop the Field of 64. Here’s Al to take you home. – Mr. Moderator]

Rock seems to have any number of single opening note/chord that instantly identifies the song and gets you singing it immediately. “The Kids Are Alright” is one example. Another great example is “A Hard Day’s Night.” Or The Move’s/ELO’s “Do Ya”—or maybe that needs those 4 crunches (although one does it for me). Anyway, I’ve never figured out a good way to structure it.

How about a Battle Royale, using the Field of 64 playoff structure, like the recent backing band tournament? First, let’s identify 64 worthy competitors. List your suggested competitors in this thread and hash it out with your fellow Townspeople. Next week we’ll release the brackets and let the games begin!


  49 Responses to “Rock’s Most Distinctive Opening Chords: Identifying the Field of 64”

  1. An opening nomination for “Baba O’Riley” was placed on our Facebook page. This may end up in the same discussion as “Do Ya”: is the single opening chord enough, or does it rely on the 3-chord sequence? Thoughts on such nominees will be interesting.

  2. cliff sovinsanity

    I say we agree upon the single opening chord and the obvious 3-4 chords guitar progression as in:

    The Kinks – ‘Till The End of The Day, All Of The Day and All of The Night, You Really Got Me

    It would be a shame to leave these out of the competition.

    What about arpeggio intros like The Hollies’ Look Trough Any Window and Long Cool Woman??

  3. machinery

    If it’s more than just one opening chord, ala Hard Day’s Night — and just guitar openings without other instrumentation, I’d nominate:

    Highway to Hell — ACDC
    Stairway to Heaven — not really a chord, but a guitar piece
    Satisfaction — can’t beat that opening riff.

  4. BigSteve

    I think most of us could identify Street Fighting Man from the opening chord without needing the whole riff.

  5. cliff sovinsanity

    From my generation…or “no chance in hell”

    Beastie Boys – Fight For Your Right
    Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
    The Smithereens – A Girl Like You
    Green Day – When I Come Around, Brain Stew,
    Mudhoney – Touch Me I’m Sick
    They Might Be Giants – Ana Ng
    Weezer – The Good Life

  6. cliff sovinsanity

    Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Start Me Up, Jumpin Jack Flash, Brown Sugar

  7. Agreed, BigSteve. I hope we restrict ourselves to single opening chords. If the first chord of a progression is distinctive enough, by all means throw Irvine the ring. The first chord of “Can’t Explain” is distinctive without the next chords, but I don’t think the first chord un “You Really Got Me” gets enough time to make an impression before sliding up a whole step.

  8. Suburban kid

    Opening Chord sounds much more interesting and challenging than Opening Riff, but it might be too challenging for a 64-seed tournament.

    How many sounds even start with one chord just sitting there, and how many would be well known enough for everyone to vote on them?

    I think my favorite might be “Listen to My Heart” by the Ramones, but it’s a pretty obscure song (and it’s technically two chords shmeared into one). In other words, it could be the “most distinctive” to me, but since it’s not a well known song, how distinctive could it be amongst the broader audience?

    Opening Riff would be less challenging and more obvious, but it might actually be possible in that format.

  9. cliff sovinsanity

    Now I get it. Something like…I name that tune in one note.

  10. Yes, that’s what I think Al was getting at.

  11. Don’t sell our collective wisdom/nerdiness short, Suburban kid. I trust we will be able to pull this off. Let’s give it a try. For sake of determining a most distinctive opening chord, you’re right, we will have to come up with ones that at least most of us know.

  12. I would think there are arpeggiated opening chords that will qualify. I’ve actually been thinking the first chord in Chicago’s “Color My World” would be immediately recognized by anyone who attended a Bar Mitzvah or wedding in the ’70s and ’80s.

  13. It may not make the Field of 64, but I’m going to suggest the opening chord in “Pinball Wizard,” before Pete starts hammering the suspended 4ths. I think I can identify that first little chord as soon as it hits.

  14. Well if it’s going to be a one chord game, you have to put one of the most famous opening chords in rock lore in there: The Ramones “Rock and Roll High School”. Johnny was almost shot over that one chord.

    How can Baba O’Reilly count? There’s a whole minute of that keyboard part before the guitar even comes in.

  15. Go by timing. Most of these riffs/chords/runs are over in two seconds. Or opening measure.

    Waiting ’til this is settled to nominate “Funk 49”

  16. True, we need clear rules. If it’s a one strum chord, then another good one is Sex Pistols, Holiday In the Sun.

    If it’s one chord, but you’re allowed to hit it more than once, then Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag with that one chord intro strum is distinctive.

  17. I SUMMON TOWNSMAN AL TO CLARIFY THE RULES FOR ENTRY. I do hope we show the discipline and focus necessary to settle a specific question that he long puzzled the rock world.

  18. I’m traveling (actually in RTH headquarters neighborhood in south Jersey) and just saw this thread.

    I’d say it’s one note/chord. And I never envisioned 64 brackets because I didn’t think there could be that many…but I’d never bet against the collective wisdom of RTH.

    And I’ll throw in Honky Tonk Woman

  19. trigmogigmo

    Agreed. I think that if the rules are loose, there will be zillions of candidates. Perhaps a couple of examples that can be clarified as to whether they fit within the rules:

    Rush “Tom Sawyer” (long fading chord that doesn’t end until drums have done several beats; also, chord is mostly not guitar)
    Beatles “Taxman” (intro noises and count, one bass note before the chord)
    Steely Dan “Josie” (chord comprised of several arpeggiated notes, not a single strum)
    Tom Petty “American Girl” (signature is chord strummed three times)

  20. Al is having trouble posting from the road, but he sent me an e-mail with the following guidelines:

    I would say it should be one note/chord. That’s a clear dividing point.
    Anything else gets complicated as can be seen by the comments thus far.

    He is also skeptical whether we can identify 64 worthy challengers according to his strict criteria for entry, but he’s aware we might surprise him. If we only get a field of 32, so be it! A definitive decision is what the rock world most needs and expects from our efforts.

  21. Somewhat off topic. My fave chord is in Beachboys “Good Vibrations. That ahhh and then the chorus is my fave chord in Rock. My sister once sang this when I mentioned my then boyfriend’s father was a prof. of vibrations at Purdue “Good, good vibrations. He’s giving me Excitations” Real excitations. Drift?

  22. Slim Jade

    The opening chord of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which is quite similar to “Pinball Wizard”.

  23. That’s a good one. I’d never thought of those chords as being similar, but I think you’re right.

  24. Suburban kid

    A Well Respected Man won’t win, but it does fit the emerging criteria.

  25. Suburban kid

    So does I’m Not Like Everybody Else.

  26. Suburban kid

    Ramones – You’re Gonna Kill That Girl

  27. Then the title of this post should change from “chords” to “chord”.

    I have a strong feeling I’m going to end up sitting out of this tournement in protest as citizens offer up examples of what I consider to be ineligible multiple chord suggestions. But what good are games if you can’t spend 1/2 the time arguing over the rules?

    So, I’ll rescind J.B.’s “Papa”, but offer instead The Beatles “Oh Darling” with the opening one chord slow strum on that turn-around chord.

  28. The plural refers to the 64 chords that will open the 64 entries.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

  29. One strum and one only, huh?

    “Won’t Get Fooled Again”


  30. Mott the Hoople — All The Young Dudes (the whole intro is one of rock’s all time greats, but I bet I could nail it just from the first chord)

    Pulp — Common People (two chords really, but they’re the same one twice)

    Pink Floyd — Arnold Layne

    Madness — My Girl

    Canned Heat — Let’s Work Together (if it’s allowed, with that little bitty drum fill before the chord)

  31. Al asked that I pass along the following response:

    My answer to cf’s whine:

    The plural in the title refers to the 64 chords that will define the 64 entries.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

    This is only the beginning of a process that will take a couple of weeks and ultimately prove extremely satisfying. Chords is plural because we’re first gathering the most distinctive ones. Once the Battle Royale is underway, we will seek THE single most distinctive chord.

  32. Radar Love by Golden Earring

    Boys Are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy

  33. mockcarr

    I think the dirty knitting-needle punctured amp sound of the You Really Got Me chord is actually distinctive.

  34. alexmagic

    Potential #1 seeds:

    Yes – “Roundabout”

    Deep Purple – “Smoke On The Water” (it is, after all, part of the the Holy Trinity of Rock)

    Contenders for the field:

    Prince – “Let’s Go Crazy”

    The Beatles – “Dig A Pony”

    The Police – “Message In A Bottle”

    Jackson 5 – “ABC”

    GNR – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

    Skynyrd – “Sweet Home Alabama”

    CCR – “Travelin’ Band” (might need a ruling on whether that counts?)

    Isley Brothers – “It’s Your Thing”

    Band that could, in theory, run a mini-tournament of its own:
    AC/DC. I’d be surprised if I was unable to name at least 8-10 ACD/DC songs based on the opening note/chord alone.

  35. pudman13

    The Beatles: “Oh! Darling” This must be the only song ever to begin with a power augmented chord.

  36. Sabbath “Iron Man”
    Zep “Kashmir”
    AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long”
    Smiths “How Soon Is Now”
    Lou (AHWAMTBH) “Walk on the Wild Side”
    Beatles “Revolution”
    Scorpions “The Zoo”
    Cream “Crossroads” “White Room”
    SRV “Pride and Joy”
    Stones “Angie”


  37. Good one. Didn’t Costello turn a similar trick on the Abbey Road-inspired “I Want You”?

  38. I’m certainly no music theorist, but does Steely Dan’s “Don’t Take Me Alive” sound similar?


  39. pudman13

    I believe the Steely Dan chord is a 7#9 chord…the “Hendrix chord”

  40. It’s funny, growing up my friends and I also referred to this as the “Hendrix chord.” We still do. I guess that’s what all of grew up calling that thing.

  41. Happiness Stan

    First chord:
    My Bloody Valentine – “Made Me Realise”
    Joy Division – “Atmosphere”
    Teardrop Explodes – “Reward”
    The Fall – “Cruiser’s Creek”
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids – “Blank Generation”
    T Rex – Metal Guru
    David Bowie – “Jean Genie”
    Black Sabbath – “Paranoid”
    Dylan – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
    Walker Brothers – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More”
    Electric Prunes – “Get Me To The World On Time”
    Kingsmen – “Louie Louie”
    ? and the Mysterians – “96 Tears”
    Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs – “Woolly Bully”

    First note:
    Sex Pistols – “Pretty Vacant”
    Joy Division – “She’s Lost Control”
    Simon and Garfunkel – “Sound of Silence”
    Mamas and Papas – “California Dreamin'”
    Byrds – “Mr Tambourine Man”
    Stranglers – “Something Better Change”
    Crystals – “Then He Kissed Me”
    Searchers – “When You Walk in the Room”

  42. Happiness Stan

    It would be really neat to have a compilation of first notes of songs to be able to test some of them out in the wild…

  43. As I said, don’t doubt the RTH unimind! We must be at or past 64. Keep ’em coming and will review the submissions to determine the field of 64.

    Stan, that’s would be fun – but beyond my technological skills. It would make for quite a Minute Waltz/Flight Of The Bumblebee version of opening notes/chords.

  44. I have made a mental note to put this together if I can’t first convince our Master of Fun and Games (and much higher tech guy) hrrundivbakshi to do it for us:) Thanks!

  45. Here’s one that I don’t think has been mentioned yet, the false-start chord at the beginning of the Clash’s “White Man in Hammersmith Palais.”

    BTW, thinking back to a recent discussion about shameful areas of rock ignorance, in the BBC punk documentary that Bobby Bittman turned me onto, Don Letts pronounced it “palay,” but the documentary’s narrator copped out and swallowed the ending sound of the word, as I’ve been doing the last 33 years.

  46. Scratch that – it’s not really a chord, is it, more like a note or two.

  47. Musicos, please confirm: a cluster of harmonic notes, such as the opening of Yes’ “Roundabout,” is a technically notated as a chord, right?

  48. pudman13

    “Add 9” chords should really be called “the Police chord.”

  49. trigmogigmo

    The opening chord from Stan Ridgway’s “Goin’ Southbound” may not be famous but it is a distinctive monster:

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