In music, there are few universal truths. That said, the inherent ability for a well-crafted spoken-word part to send a shiver down the spine of anyone who hears it is definitely one. Of course, that goes double when such a moment is your first introduction to a song.
There’s really no wrong way to incorporate such elements. You don’t have to be Hotel Books or Levi The Poet to add a little spoken-word flair. However, some artists certainly stand out with their ability to weave them in masterfully—especially right from the beginning.
Here are 10 spoken-word song introductions that you should never skip over.
“Survivor Guilt” – Rise Against
Really, just leave it to Rise Against to hit us hard whenever they so choose. “Survivor Guilt” delivers that signature gut punch with the vivid style of narration that’s present throughout Endgame. About halfway through the album, the track interjects with a spoken-word introduction that’s pulled from the film version of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The dialogue continues around the three-minute mark of the song, creating a thematic undercurrent that totally brings the whole track together.
“Dear Bobbie” – Yellowcard
Just in case you wanted to cry today, we’ll bring up Yellowcard‘s “Dear Bobbie.” Because the song that Ryan Key wrote in honor of his grandparents’ six-decade-spanning marriage apparently wasn’t sentimental enough, he had to include the heart-wrenching spoken parts to really drive it all home. And not only is the narrative of the part beyond beautiful, but it’s also genuine. That’s right, Key’s grandfather is reading out passages he’d actually written to his wife.
“Undone – The Sweater Song” – Weezer
There are many reasons why Weezer hit the ground running so fast with their debut self-titled album. Near the top of the list, of course, was their ability to incorporate such a wide variety of cool sonic elements. “Undone – The Sweater Song” offers a neat example in its spoken introduction, which just involves a casual conversation between Matt Sharp, Karl Koch and Mykel Allan. It makes the song inherently engaging right off the bat, although it did backfire by setting a tone that Rivers Cuomo hadn’t initially intended.
“Better Than Revenge” – Taylor Swift
It doesn’t matter how hardcore you are—no one can resist speaking along to the spoken part at the top of Taylor Swift‘s “Better Than Revenge.” It’s short compared to some of the other intros on this list, but it’s the outright attitude that gets us every time. Never mind the fact that it sounds like she’s scolding a young child or pet at the top of a song that seems to be about losing a significant other to someone else (who may be, but definitely isn’t, Hayley Williams).
“At The Bottom Of Everything” – Bright Eyes
Well, you can’t say that Bright Eyes do anything halfway. The spoken-word intro in “At The Bottom Of Everything” very well could have been a standalone track. Covering a detailed narrative, it goes for over a minute before the music even kicks in. The epilogue puts the whole song into the context of a conversation between two passengers as their plane goes down. It definitely sets a morbid tone for a song that’s otherwise upbeat and sunshine-y, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m A Fake” – The Used
There are few song intros that are as truly iconic as the one that kicks off the Used‘s “I’m A Fake.” In fact, if you had any sort of 2000s emo phase, you probably still have all the words memorized. The brief passage is nothing short of charged. It draws beautifully on dismal themes before catapulting the listener straight into the aggressive instrumentation. While it could certainly stand alone as a poem, it does wonders in elevating the experience of the song.
“Curse Of The Virgin Canvas” – Alesana
This eerie-as-hell spoken-word intro didn’t just kick off a song but a whole series of concept albums. The first track on Alesana‘s 2010 album, The Emptiness, “Curse Of The Virgin Canvas,” is the root of their Annabel narrative. That said, you don’t need to be invested in the musical story to fully appreciate the 20-second part. The creepy, raspy delivery is perfect for setting the haunting tone of the rest of the track.
“Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head” – Gorillaz
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, the creative masterminds behind Gorillaz, never come up short. So, it stands to reason that even the spoken parts would hold up against the rest of their discography. What’s particularly intriguing about the intro to “Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head” is how it reads like a modern fairy tale. If it weren’t for the background beats, you’d have virtually no idea that you were about to be launched into an experimental realm of alternative rock. That said, even if you wanted to skip this captivating experience, you’d be making a mistake. Not just because it’s cool as hell but because the narration carries through the rest of the track.
“Warbrain” – Alkaline Trio
If there’s anything we’ve known since 1998, it’s that Alkaline Trio hit hard with their lyrics. So, it may come as a surprise that the spoken-word intro in “Warbrain” didn’t even come from the band. Rather, it’s Craig Fairbaugh of +44 who reads the part. The first two lines also pull from a quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The lo-fi delivery adds a certain textural element to the fade-in of the music, creating an immediate interest factor.
“This Time Imperfect” – AFI
You knew this one was coming as soon as you saw the article title, didn’t you? That’s because the spoken-word intro on “This Time Imperfect” is a prominent feature on AFI‘s Sing The Sorrow. Admittedly, this one demands a focused ear and a little bit of patience. The lines are softly spoken—so much so that you might miss them without headphones—and take up the better part of four minutes. That said, the generated ambiance and cameo by Jade Puget‘s little brother, Gibson, are well worth it.
What are some of your favorite spoken-word intros in songs? Sound off in the comments!