Hit Songs Deconstructed - Powerful Analytical Tools for the Music Industry

Intros of the Ages

What do artists from the 1950’s such as The Big Bopper, Elvis and Little Richard have in common with today’s hitmakers such as Iggy Azalea, Jason Derulo and Katy Perry?  Some of their most notable hits feature the same proven intro techniques utilized to instantly engage the listener on a profound level.

Whether its plugging a featured artist, hitting the listener with an ultra-infectious vocal or instrumental hook, or employing a unique element that enables a song to stand out and resonate amongst its contemporaries, it’s all been done before, and it’s all being done now.  Why?  Because these techniques work – pure and simple.

The nature of the songs may have changed, but the core craft fundamentals remain exactly the same.

Here we’re going to look at four of the most effective intro types found within popular music, and see how they were used back in the 1950’s and in the songs that are currently topping the charts. To access a playlist with these songs, click here.

(*)  Denotes a song that was written or co-written by the performing artist or one of the performing artists within the group

Narration & Artist Plug Intros

Artist plug intros function as “free marketing” built directly into a song.  This is especially important in an airplay environment when an artist is not announced before or after the song is played.

By having the artist plugged directly within the song, it enables the listener to easily track it down and become a fan.  It also heightens the visibility and clout of the artist each and every time the song is played.

Narration intros feature spoken dialog.  They are used to set a scene, plug a featured artist, or in some cases a combination of the two.

From the 1950’s

*Chantilly Lace:  0:26 (The Big Bopper – 1958) – Written by Jerry Foster, Bill Rice and Jiles Richardson Jr.

Hello baby, yeah, this is the Big Bopper speakin
Oh you sweet thing
Do I what?
Will I what?
Oh baby you know what I like

*Folsom Prison Blues Live:  0:01 (Johnny Cash – 1955) – Written by Johnny Cash

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

Current Hits

*Dark Horse:  0:15 (Katy Perry – 2013) -Written by Gottwald, Houston, Hudson, Martin, Perry, Walter

Ya’ll know what it is
Katy Perry
Juicy J, aha
Let’s rage

*Wiggle:  0:29 (Jason Derulo f. Snoop Dogg) – Written by Desrouleaux, Broadus, Frederic, Axident, Douglass, Kasher, Ryan, Spargur

Hey, yo, Jas
Say somethin’ to her
Holla at her
I got one question
How’d you fit all that in them jeans?
You know what to do with that big fat butt

Vocal Hook Intros

These intros feature a unique vocal hook that kicks the song off in an exceptionally infectious and engaging manner.   It also wets the listener’s appetite for things to come, considering that more likely than not the hook will be repeated throughout the entire song.

From the 1950’s

Rockin’ Robin:  0:12 (Bobby Day – 1958) – Written by Leon Rene

Tweedly deedly dee
Tweedly deedly dee
Tweet tweet
Tweet tweet

This vocal hook occurs within the intro, all chorus occurrences, and the outro as well.
Current Hits

*Pompeii:  0:17 (Bastile – 2013) – Written by Dan Smith

Eh-eh-o, eh-o

This vocal hook is featured within the intro, underneath the lead vocal within the choruses, as a vocal break section following the second chorus, and within the outro as well.

Instrumental Hook Intros

These intros feature an instantly recognizable instrumental hook that enables a song to stand out and resonate amongst its peers.  In some cases, the hook will only appear within the intro, while in other cases it’s reinforced throughout the entire song.

From the 1950’s

*Johnny B Goode:  0:17 (Chuck Berry – 1958) – Written by Chuck Berry

The riff that launched a million riffs.

Jailhouse Rock:  0:06 (Elvis Presley – 1957) – Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

This is one of the most recognizable two chord/snare combo hooks in popular music history.   Not only does it instantly engage the listener at the onset of the song, but it’s reinforced within the verse sections as well.

*Tequila:  0:21 (The Champs – 1957) – Written by Daniel Flores

Here’s another one of the most infectious, recognizable guitar riffs of all time.   Notice that it remains in effect throughout the majority of the song in order to ensure that it gets completely engrained within the listener’s head.  The sax hook that enters later on seals the deal.

Current Hits

*Fancy:  0:08 (Iggy Azalea f. Charli XCX – 2014) – Written by Aitchison, Astasio, Kelly, Kimble, McKenzie, Pebworth, Shave

This simplistic, irresistible synth hook instantly engages the listener within the song and remains in effect for the duration.

*Timber:  0:08 (Pitbull f. Ke$ha – 2013) – Written by Errico, Gottwald, Isaac, K. Oskar, L. Oskar, Perez, Renea, Sanderson, K. Sebert, P. Sebert, Walter

The ultra-infectious and memorable Lee Oskar influenced harmonica hook provides Timber with a unique identity amongst its mainstream contemporaries.   Notice that it remains in effect for the vast majority of the song.
*Do I Wanna Know:  0:29  (Arctic Monkeys – 2013) – Written by Turner, Cook, Helders, O’Mailey

Following the four second drum intro, the balance of the section is comprised of the dark, seductive, retro guitar riff that is reinforced within the verse, pre-chorus and outro sections of the song.

Unique Identifier Intros

These intros are primed to instantly capture the listener’s attention due to their immediate and/or “left of center” nature.  They also act to further accentuate a song’s unique identity in relation to all of the other songs on the airwaves.  The second you hear one of these intros, there’s no mistaking the song for something else.

From the 1950’s

*Tutti Frutti:  0:03 (Little Richard – 1955) – Written by Little Richard and Dorothy LaBostrie
“Wop-bop-a-loo-mom balop-bom-bom!”

(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock:  0:11  (Bill Haley & His Comets – 1954) – Written by Max Freedman and James Myers (aka Jimmy DeKnight)

One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock
Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock
We’re gonna rock, around, the clock tonight

*Shout Parts 1& 2:  0:07 (The Isley Brothers – 1959 ) – Written by Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley and O’Kelly Isley, Jr.

Weeeeeeeell, you know you make me wanna

Current Hits

Both *Dark Horse (0:15) and *Drunk In Love (0:14) feature “left of center” processed vocals at the onset of the song.   This instantly hooks the listener in and provides an easily recognizable identity in relation to their mainstream contemporaries.

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