Whether called “Intro,” “Overture” or “Prelude,” you know the song. It doesn’t behave like the others on the album. It’s usually instrumental. And iTunes’ singles chart laughs in its general direction.
“The intro song might be traced back to the overture in Western classical music—a preliminary instrumental piece often preceeding an opera which sets the tone for the drama to follow,” explains Conrad Keely, frontman for Austin rock band …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. “Since records are essentially dramas, an intro song is similar to the rolling of credits at the beginning of a movie when everyone grabs their popcorn and settles down into their seat to await anxiously for what is to come.”
In pop music, the concept was once relegated to live recordings and deluxe packages of marquee albums. (“Hear the alternate intro to your favorite song!”) If used on studio albums, it was usually by theatrical nerds (Rush, Spock’s Beard, ELO) or metal heads. Rappers proliferated the intro in the ’80s, and it now seems a prerequisite for hip-hop. The intro largely disappeared from rock music in the ’90s, as pomp and circumstance became enemies number one and two. But in recent years it’s come storming back on albums by everyone from Gorillaz and Hot Hot Heat to Michelle Branch and Dave Matthews.
Producer/DJ Mark Ronson included an intro song on his 2003 record Here Comes The Fuzz “I think an intro song is usually a rubbish idea, and often a byproduct of hip-hop’s excessive nature,” he says. “Unless you have a brilliant sense of humor like De La Soul on their ?rst few records, or are as entertaining as Ghostface, leave it alone.”
In recent years, intro songs even opened albums by Panic! At the Disco, New Found Glory and Hanson—bands expected to ?ll album slots with hits. Especially now that albums are usually stripped and sold for parts, intros seem a little nostalgic. Which may be the point—the intro is retro.
“I love downloading individual tracks, but albums that are just collections of singles seem kind of depressing to me,” says Moby, who included an intro on his latest album, Hotel. “Intro songs are there for the dwindling percentage of people who continue to listen to albums in their entirety.”