“Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.” An excellent maxim to live by, and one that more artists should embrace with fervour. Long, extended intros should be kept to the realm of jam bands: if you’re trying to make a solid first impression, why hit the listener square in the face with the catchiest, most memorable part of the song right off the bat?
Now, it’s not often obvious which part of the song is the chorus. Classic A-A-B-A song structure, best known for its prevalence in jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley compositions but also used by musicians influenced by this particular style of songwriting like Brian Wilson (‘Surfer Girl’) and Lennon/McCartney (‘From Me to You’), disregards the verse-chorus form. Other songs, like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘2112’, are epic song suites that ignore the formalities of a chorus.
But, there are plenty of popular music examples from the past 60-plus years of songs that start with a clear and concise chorus before introducing the first verse. For this list, we’re playing fast and loose with introductions, with the basic understanding that as long as it’s not an extended intro, a few bars of instrumental work won’t sink a song’s chances.
Here are some of the best examples of songs that begin with their most memorable sections: the chorus.
15 songs that start with the chorus:
‘Chapel of Love’ – The Dixie Cups (1964)
Will you, the discerning anonymous reader, judge me harshly if I tell you that one of my favourite songs of all time is this incredibly sincere and innocent slice of early ’60s pop? At a time when girl groups were still a huge part of the American pop scene, The Dixie Cups scored their one and only hit with this ode to wedding bliss.
The famous hands that helped bring this song to life are just as notable as the song itself: Phil Spector is a co-writer along with pop songsmiths Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, while legendary songwriters Leiber and Stoller are the producers. That combined team knew the power of the opening chorus, and so we get it a capella, with nothing to stand in the way of its glory.
‘I Wanna Rock’ – Twisted Sister (1984)
Placed here just to balance out the insecurity I felt admitting that one of my favourite songs is admittedly kind of wussy. I have no regrets, but if a palate cleanser is necessary, then why not make it as direct and boneheaded as possible?
Dee Snider and his heavily made-up bandmates in Twisted Sister were never really ones for subtly. As such, ‘I Wanna Rock’ tells you right out front what the band intend to do (here’s a hint: rock). Is there a more immediate feeling than Snider yelling the song’s awesomely straightforward chorus at you right off the bat? Not for my money.
‘She Loves You’ – The Beatles (1963)
As previously mentioned, The Beatles were a band with plenty of songwriting influences that inspired them to write songs with various forms and structures. There are songs in the classic thirty-two bar A-A-B-A form, songs with traditional verse-chorus-middle eight forms, and even songs without a chorus, like ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’.
But for what still stands as one of the band’s most popular songs of their entire career, ‘She Loves You’ gives you the immediate satisfaction of hearings its indelible chorus straight away. All it takes is a quick tom fill from Ringo Starr before the hook immediately gets planted in your brain, where it will stay until the end of time.
‘Shout’ – Tears for Fears (1984)
Of all the British new wave bands to invade the US during the 1980s, today one of the most revered remains Tears for Fears. The appreciation for songs like ‘Pale Shelter’, ‘Mad World’, and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ place them a step ahead of some of their more directly nostalgic counterparts.
The power of arguably their biggest hit, ‘Shout’, comes from that eternally echoed central chorus. Sounding as if it’s being recited from the mountaintops, the chorus was a natural decision to place right at the very forefront of the tune, save for some introductory percussion sounds just to set the mood.
‘Everything Right is Wrong Again’ – They Might Be Giants (1986)
At their very cores, John Flansburgh and John Linnell are nerds. Nerds about science, and history, and language, but most specifically nerds about music. Their range of influences is wide enough to borrow elements of everything from polka to punk, frequently fusing them within the same song.
‘Everything Right Is Wrong Again’, the very first track from the band’s very first album, decides to cut right to the chase and give you the chorus immediately. Not only that, but the song gets a fake-out ending before a slowed down, underwater-sounding bridge that bursts right back into that wonderfully catchy chorus.
‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ – The Foundations (1968)
With any luck, the constant presence of ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ in moronic car commercials and lazy film and television appearances hasn’t dulled the song’s power when you hear it for the millionth time. Weirdly enough, the song has become a strange audio cue for happiness despite its clearly depressing context.
With that rollicking beat and indelible vocal melody, though, it’s hard not to feel some sense of joy when ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ blasts its way into your subconscious. After a brief instrumental intro, we get that memorable chorus right at the front, ready to get stuck in your head all day.
‘Le Freak’ – Chic (1978)
“Awwwwww freak out!” You can hear it, I can hear it, we all can hear it in our heads. No starting note or introductory jam required. What the often-maligned disco movement really did was take R&B and soul music and distil it to its most essential pop elements. Disco songs still hand the funk and flavour of great R&B, but the emphasis was put on memorable hooks and danceability.
It’s hard to get any better in the world of disco than Chic, the Nile Rodgers helmed band that brought a giant party atmosphere to everything they did. When you think of disco music in your brain, you’re likely thinking of the elements that Chic pioneered, including the removal of anything getting in the way of a monster chorus.
‘Edge of Seventeen’ – Stevie Nicks (1982)
Looking to strike out on her own right before she had to return to her day job in Fleetwood Mac for the Mirage album, Stevie Nicks conjured her devilish spell and created Bella Donna, still one of the goofiest and most fun solo debuts from an already famous singer.
‘Edge of Seventeen’ doesn’t retain any of that same lightness, instead looking to hit you right between the eyes with power and drama. Nicks had a monster sing-along chorus for the song and quite correctly decided that it should be placed right at the forefront of the song’s arrangement. The result is an instantly remembered introduction to Nicks’ solo career.
‘I Shot the Sherrif’ – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1973)
Bob Marley had such a natural intuition for musical composition that traditional forms and song structures, as well as traditions in general, didn’t fit his MO. Instead, there was always room for experimentation to create whatever the ideal version of a certain song might be.
I personally would have gone with the slow-burning beginning of ‘Stir It Up’, but it became clear that the ever-building intro of layered instruments was too long and too unique in its own right to reasonably say the song starts with its chorus. So this spot goes to ‘I Shot the Sherrif’, which is far more immediate: a quick snare roll and the symbolic tale of murder kicks into gear in media res.
‘Minority’ – Green Day (2000)
OK, so ‘Minority’ clearly has a guitar-picked intro that comes before its chorus. But since I’m the one making the list, and I’m the one who decided to play fast and loose with the rules, I wanted to include one of my favourite Green Day songs.
Around the time of Warning Green Day were seemingly lost in their desire to diversify their sound. A clear folk influence creeps into ‘Minority’, almost like Phil Ochs could have sung this song if he was a punk rocker, but as a whole Warning feels confused with itself, especially in its bloated middle. No such problem with ‘Minority’, which kicks just as much ass as any Green Day song with electric guitars instead of acoustics.
‘Song 2’ – Blur (1997)
Speaking of band’s experimenting with their signature sound. By 1997, Britpop was over. Be Here Now kind of ruined the party for everyone, but Blur were already out the door when they released their self titled fifth LP a few months before.
Mainly influenced by American alternative rock and grunge, Blur does everything it can to virtually erase the established sounds of the band’s past. ‘Song 2’, appropriately, wound up being the only recognisable Blur song that most Americans could pick out. “The Woo-hoo Song” knows its power, and after the short drum and guitar progression to establish the feeling, we’re right into that ridiculous chorus within fifteen seconds.
‘Any Way You Want It’ – Journey (1980)
Alright, enough of this “can this song make the list even though it has an instrumental intro” crap. We need a song that is unequivocally, unquestionably started off with the chorus at the very 0:01 mark. It pains me with every fibre of my being to say this, but it’s true: we need Journey.
I don’t actually hate Journey. I used to, when I was 14 and the main component of my being was piss and vinegar, but now I can appreciate the sweet dulcet AOR tones of Steve Perry and company. ‘Any Way You Want It’ has that kind of immediate pull that’s difficult to resist, and all these years later, I’ve finally come around to its charms. Damn you, Journey, looks like you’ve got me.
‘Nowhere to Run’ – Martha and the Vandellas (1965)
Let’s throw it back to the classic era of Motown to check in with the criminally underrated Martha and the Vandellas. Sure, The Supremes get all the love and attention for their litany of number one hits, but Martha Reeves has a better voice and stage presence than Diana Ross (two hot takes that make up a prominent hill that I will die on) and occasionally got better songs from the Motown machine.
One of those songs is ‘Nowhere to Run’, the killer follow up single to ‘Dancing in the Street’ that retains all the best elements of the Motown sound while delivering the ear-catching chorus at the very top of the number. Put some respect on the Vandellas name!
‘Casey Jones’ – Grateful Dead (1970)
Recorded at a time when the Dead were looking to create more concise, folk-inspired recordings, ‘Casey Jones’ was the one thing nobody could have expected from the controversial drug-fueled band: a song with clear pop potential.
It’s perhaps slightly ironic that a band known for their extended passages decided to get right to the point on ‘Casey Jones’, but that’s part of its infectious charm. Set and setting was essential to the band, and both were established in the opening seconds of ‘Casey Jones’, not indulging in the band’s past habits of slow builds and patient payoffs.
‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ – Tame Impala (2012)
Immediate choruses aren’t just an element of some of the greatest songs of the past: they also continue to pop up in the modern day. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker doesn’t always play around with explicitly pop-centric hooks, but when he does, they often find themselves at the forefront of his arrangements.
Such is the case with ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’. Parker knew how huge that chorus was, and decided not to mess around transmitting it straight into the listener’s brain. I’m always shocked that ‘The Less I Know the Better’ wound up being the band’s biggest hit, considering the directness and power of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’.