Song Development: Intro’s

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More rubbish on song-writing…and we start with the same warning to you.  We don’t think we’re good at this stuff.  We’re learning.   But, we’re also committed to sharing lessons as we go…  So these are our lessons about intro’ss.  Remember this is about song writing, not pick up lines…

Like our previous blogs, we’ll start with a section on great ‘intro’s’ in music and then we’ll provide some personal lessons.   Off we go.

Part One:  Great Intro’s:    At Abubilla Music we love to sound all authoritative and scientific, with a strong desire to take the art of music and break it down into so many sub-species that you lose the will to live.  At least be aware we understand fully the futility of all this, but it gives us great opportunities to embed lots of songs.    But believe it or note, we’ve now broken the whole world of music, into 8 ‘classic types’ of introductions.  Really.     We know the emails, tweets and letter bombs will flood in after this, but heck, at least we try…

  • The build up:  the intro is used to build up the instruments to be used in the song, usually starting with one percussion  instrument and then adding as you go.  It can be any instrument, but can’t be the ‘riff’.  That is a different type (see below).   It’s pop foreplay, allowing you to get warmed up before you’re in.. A couple classics:
      • The Libertines, Don’t Look Back in the Sun:  Wouldn’t make anyone’s best intro’s list, but it is a classic example of the build up.


      • Rolling Stones, Honkey Tonky Woman:   The famous cowboy, to drums to Richard’s riff.


      • The Feelies, It’s Only Life:  one of the best ‘build ups’ of all time.



  • The Catch up:  the intro comes in full on, forcing you to catch up.  It is the express train whipping through your station, daring you to reach a hand out and catch a ride.  You loss an arm or disappear at 80 mph…
      • Artic Monkeys, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor:   There 2005 breakthrough single – it was silent. And then it was just there.


      • The Beatles, Help:  You’re pretty sure you missed the intro here, but nope, the boys just start by screaming, “help.”


      • Smash Mouth, All Stars:  yes, it is from Shrek.   But it just starts.  Full on.

  • The Count-in:  Can be combined with any of these, but it is distinct.  It is the band wanting you to share in how they started the song.  If most bands were being honest, they’d include a bit of click track.
      • Lynard Skynard, Sweet Home Alabama:   They count in and add a ‘turn it up.’  Nice.

      • The Beatles, I Saw Her Standing There:  You feel like you’re in the room dancing.

  • The Riff:  This is the type that usually starts everyone’s ‘best intro’ lists, and is a song that starts with ‘the riff’ that defines the song.   I could list hundreds here, including Kinks You Really Got Me, White Strips and 7th Nation Army, Bee Gees and Stayin Alive, Stevie Wonder, Superstition;   here are a couple:
      • Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water:  I simply put this in to point out that most folks confuse ‘best riffs’ with ‘best intro’s.’    A lot of intros just find the best hook for the song and start with it.  Simples.

      • Rebel, Rebel, David Bowie:   Everytime I hear this, I think we’re heading for a Rolling Stones song…

      • The Beatles, Come Together:   Paul and Ringo giving extraordinary gifts to what is an amazing John Classic:

      • 50 Cent, In Da Club.  By the time you get to ‘Go shorty. It’s your birthday.’  You’ve had the best riff in hip hop.

      • Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit:  This could fit as the ‘WTF’ intro, but does start with the riff, so we’ll include it here.

  • The WTF:  This is an intro that starts with a voice telling you something new is happening, or a set of sounds from the studio that makes you wonder whether you’re on some pirate radio station listening in accidently on a cop arrest.
      • Madness, One Step Beyond:  This starts like an advertisement.  Or maybe it’s the English Wolfman Jack introducing a group.   Lord knows.

      •  Gorillaz, Feel Good Inc.  This guys invented WTF intro’s, outro’s and mid-ro’s all in the same song.

      • Gorillaz, Dare:    You go Damian.  Really makes you want to figure out where he’s going.

      • Pink Floyd,  Money:   Before it hits the famous riffs, you’ve got the whole money thing happening.

      • Queen, We Will Rock you:   It goes here, rather than the Riff, simply becuase it is a bizzare moment in rock…

      • The Cure, Love Cats:  A few guitars sounding like cat howls and scratches and then that bass riff.  Nice.

  • The ‘Seduction’:  This is the intro that starts with a few chords or notes – not the riff, not a build, just a haunting refrain to lull you end.  Imagine Imagine.   Coldplay overuses this.
      • Snow Patrol, Run: 

      • Coldplay, the Scientist:  It has to be a couple simple chords, giving the musician the chance to be alone on the stage for a while, single spot light.  Nice long intro for air time, but not so hard you blow it.

      • Oasis.  Don’t Look Back in Anger.  You get the idea now.

  • The Bait and Switch:   These are all the songs that start off with some lovely intro and then switch into a much harder song.
      • Eminem, Lose Yourself.  Nice combination of the ‘Bait and Switch’ and ‘The Riff.’

      • Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter:   A very long build, but a good one.

  • The Build and Release:  These are intro’s that build to a point of release.  Here are two examples:
      • Survivor, Eye of the Tiger:  This is where academic requirement overcome artistic sentiments.  Don’t like it, but it remains one of the best known examples of the ‘build and release.’

      • Dire Straits, Money for Nothing. The classic build and release, starting with Sting, drums and then ‘the Riff’.  This might be classified as a WTF, Riff or Build up, which surely makes it one of the best introductions ever and a good place to stop….

Part Two:   Humble little lessons from Abubilla Music.     If Section One of these blogs is a wonderful run through the history of music and a chance to survey all that is wonderful, these Sections are always a bit more humble as we ask, ‘what have we learned in our little home studio, surrounded by pets, and fighting the post pizza carb-commas that settle down on the band?’   Here are our five lessons about ‘introductions:’

  1. Don’t get stuck in a rut – there are REALLY at least 8 types of intros:   As we reflect on the 8 types of intros we’ve identified above, we can now firmly say, we’re stuck in riffs, builds and count in’s.   We’ve at least modified the count in to include the ‘false count-in’, which was a reflection of kind of blowing it on the initial count in, but we’re not 100% sure that ‘mistakes’ is a kind of intro.    For the record that was for ‘The Only Thing That’s Missing.’
  2. Treat Every Recording Like it Might be Your Intro:   We discussed this in our blog on Your Strings from our fourth Album, King Henry’s Tears.     There are times when you find a wonderful moment in a song and think, “Wow, we can pull this forward as an intro..”  And then you find that when you recorded that bit you were doing it as a backing vocal or maybe a string section in a busy part of the track.  And you committed the cardinal sin.  You allowed headphone spill on the track because it didn’t matter in that section.  But it matters a lot if you pull the track out on it’s own.  We did this on the bvox for These Strings, and on the strings track of One in a Trillion, which we then pulled up as an introduction.   Oops.
  3. For Build Up’s, Do It Live if you Can…Don’t just mute your way to it:    This applies to any type of ‘intro’ but there’s a danger in a Pro Tools environment that you just mute your way to a cool ‘build up openning.’   You know what I’m talking about.  You finish the track and you go back and starting at the moment before the first verse kicks in, you start muting ‘regions’ until your song starts with a bass riff, then the drums kick in, then the first guitar, then the second, then vocals and before you know it, you add a cow bell and you get Honkey Tonk Woman.  But you know it is never going to sound like Honkey Tonk Woman, because the drums didn’t know they were coming in after two bars of the cowbell, and the guitarist didn’t know his riff was coming in after two bars of the kick drum, etc… What you’re ‘starting’ with in the track, is what the musicians have settled into after 20 bars or so.  Always best if you’ve edited your way to a good intro to go back and re-record it ‘live’ and get your musicians to rehearse the new opening.  Will be far better.
  4. Invest in the Intro/Outro and Transitions:  The whole reason we’re investing in separate blogs for intros, outros, and transitions in the same way you focus on verses, choruses and middle 8’s.  But we don’t.   I’ve gone back and looked at our songs and have a massive confession to make:    in 42% of times our intro was a variation of the first verse (usually a ‘build up’ or ‘riff’) and in 38% we simply borrowed the chorus.   So 80% of the time, we’re not even thinking about an intro, it’s just the stuff that happened before the singer sung.    Compare that to the Beatles Revolver Album, where only 3 of 13 songs are normal intros, starting with the riff or a verse.  And for an album written in the mid 60’s there’s an awful lot of WTF moments – not to be seen again in pop until the Gorillaz.  The point is great song writers invest in every part of the song.  The rest of us are lucky to string a verse and chorus together.  And below, our ground breaking analysis:
    1. Taxman:  a clear WTF, Countdown and Riff in first two seconds, as the ‘Taxman’ counts them in.
    2. Eleanor Rigby:  A WTF and ‘Catch Up’: jumps right into the ‘Ah, look at all the lonely people’ pulled from the chorus and then into strings…
    3. I’m Only Sleeping:  An immediate catch up… right into John singing first verse.
    4. Love You To:  35 seconds of sitar before George’s real intro begins . Clearly a WTF.  Not a great one.
    5. Here there and everywhere:   This is spectacular because Paul’s simply starts with the whole song:  “To lead a better life, I need my love to be here. ”  A clear catch up, because the train shoots by and you have to get on…That phrase is never repeated.
    6. Yellow Submarine.  Let’s take this out of the equation.
    7. She Said She Said:  This is first intro of the 6 credible songs on the first side of the album that is what you’d call the 80% intro (hereby defined as: ‘what we would do.’).  It is essentially the phrase from the verse.
    8. Good Day Sunshine:   A classic ‘release’, wonderful openning that builds to the sun rising.
    9. And your bird can sing:  This is a classic ‘riff’, and is another 80% intro.  Just a very good one given the dual guitars of George and Paul.
    10. For No One:  A classic ‘catch up’ with Paul just jumping right in.  Not a second before the first vocal.
    11. Doctor Robert:  Wow, a 80% intro – pretty much a ‘riff’ going right into first verse.  A bit lazy, mates.  They made up for it in the middle 8.
    12. I Want to Tell you:  A classic ‘build up’ intro.
    13. Got to Get you into My life:   A nice riff openning combined with a bit of ‘release.’
    14. Tomorrow Never Knows:  WTF.  Sitar.  Sea Gulls and Drums rolls.
  5. For goodness sake, don’t compare yourself to the Beatles on Intro’s (or anything else).   It is depressing.  But it is always worth reminding yourself what the best do… and why you still have pets in your studio …

That’s it.


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