As I perused Sirius/XM 90's on 9 the other day, I was greeted with an intriguing song from a particular Canadian, alternative rock/pop one-hit wonder.
This song included an intro featuring a conversation between two fellows that, while intriguing, was pretty pointless. But it got me thinking -- what are some of the better songs to include a spoken-word intro? As well, why do some artists employ this cheeky, attention-grabbing tactic?
Well, hopefully such quandaries get explained in this list of the 10 best spoken word intros.
10. Len - "Steal My Sunshine"
If you were paying close attention to my own, non-spoken word intro, you may have deducted that I was referencing Len's "Steal My Sunshine." Two gentlemen -- or bros, if you will -- kick off the track by having a chat about their friend Mark (or is it Marc? We'll never know...) and his penchant for butter tarts. I'm not Canadian so I don't know what a butter tart is, unless it has to do with poutine (which it doesn't). Nonetheless, "Steal My Sunshine" was all kinds of kitschy and quirky -- so much so that it rose to #9 on the Billboard Hot 200 back in July of 1999. Is this due to the song's spoken word intro? Well, there's no way of proving that. There's no way of disproving it, either.
9. White Stripes - "Little Acorns"
Featuring a spoken word intro provided by Mort Crim of Detroit's WDIV-TV, "Little Acorns" is the first song on this list to feature an already recorded speech as its intro. Crim's speech came from his radio show, the tapes of which were provided to Jack White during the recording process for the White Stripes' fourth album Elephant. Apparently White wanted the tapes for the catchy piano interlude and he just so happened to notice that Crim's speech coincided with the song he had written.
8. Living Colour - "Cult of Personality"
Yet another song to use a speech its intro, "Cult of Personality" -- from New York funk/metal outfit Living Colour -- employed a snippet from Malcolm X's 1963 speech "Message to the Grass Roots." It's unique that a speech from Malcolm X could inspire a band like Living Colour in the year 1988, but their employment of this particular spoken word works really, really well in this instance. Also included in the song are famous snippets from JFK and FDR, but neither quite have the gravitas of Malcolm X's words.
7. Sir Mix-A-Lot "Baby Got Back"
You know you've lost count as to how many times you've heard "Baby Got Back", that massively popular song from the 206's finest DJ Sir Mix-A-Lot. Perhaps the greatest song written about asses (sorry, Queen), "Baby Got Back" is a staple at any gathering of white people -- high school dances, frat/sorority socials and, of course, weddings.The song is kicked off by two white women discussing how much larger black women's butts are in comparison to their own. The song is painfully topical for its 1992 release, but it sure as shit ain't going anywhere soon.
6. Prince - "Computer Blue"
"Is the water warm enough?" The oh-so painfully Prince song "Computer Blue" -- taken from the soundtrack to 1984's Purple Rain -- features a conversation between then Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. One of the few songs on this list to feature a band member in its spoken word intro, "Computer Blue" contains one of the more sillier intros, especially when listening to it today. I am sure this all made perfect sense in 1984 when Purple Rain came out, but that was quite some time ago.
5. Wu-Tang Clan - "Method Man"
I fuckin'...I fuckin' love this particular intro. While many a rap song features a spoken word intro, none is better than the conversation that takes place on the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 classic "Method Man." The conversation about torture between Method Man and Raekwon is beyond ridiculous, but it fits perfectly with the song itself, a veritable introduction to the world of Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man. "Torture, motherfuckers..."
4. New York Dolls - "Looking For a Kiss"
In a line taken from 1960s pop group The Shangri-La's song "Give Him a Great Big Kiss," the New York Dolls' David Johansen declares "When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V" to kick off their 1973 song "Looking For a Kiss." It's quick, it's informative, it's perfect. The band was insanely influential for both their music and aesthetic, and their 1973 debut New York Dolls is considered by many to be one of the finest albums of that particular era. It's a shame some younger fans only know Johansen as Buster Poindexter, but I don't need to get into all that right now.
3. David Lee Roth - "Yankee Rose"
In perhaps the corniest intro on this list, David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" somehow incorporates a conversation between Roth and his lead guitar. No -- not his lead guitarist, just the guitar. As stupid as it sounds, the intro works amazing well, given that this is a David Lee Roth song we're talking about. It was only a matter of time before someone started talking to guitars, so a tip of the cap to Roth for doing it so studiously way back in 1986. Honestly, do you remember this song for its lyrical content or for its cornball intro? Exactly.
2. Ministry - "Jesus Built My Hotrod"
"So there was only one thing that I could do, was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long." Brilliant.
1. Weezer - "Undone (The Sweater Song)"
The grand poobah of the list, Weezer's first ever single -- that's right kids, Weezer made music before 2000 -- "Undone (The Sweater Song)" features an intro conversation between then bassist Matt Sharp and friend of the band Karl Koch. The conversation runs throughout the song, but it's that first part that most people remember. No one knew what to make of this geeky-looking Weezer band when "Undone (The Sweater Song)" was released in 1994, but one thing was for certain -- their popularity. The band struck while the alternative rock iron was hot, and they are still around to this day, a sentiment not true of certain artists on this list. To think, Weezer's gigantic career all started with a goofy little conversation between two friends.
Now, I'm sure many of you will take issue with this list, and that's fine. It is a list that was inspired by Len, for all intents and purposes, so the premise was already pretty ridiculous. Do we have a definitive answer as to why some artists like to start their song with a speech of a simple conversation? Not really, although it's clear how some use it as a crutch more than others. All in all, having a spoken word intro is a provocative and/or memorable way to get a song remembered, even if that memory can sometimes be fleeting.