The spoken-word intro has always held a special place in my heart. Usually they come at the start of songs that are romantic and really corny, or really sleazy, and I guess that’s part of the appeal.
I was thinking about some of my favorites — “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites (1971), “Starting All Over Again” by Mel and Tim (1972), “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Main Ingredient (1972) — and was prepared to say I’d discovered the golden age of spoken-word intros. Then it occurred to me that, for me, 1971 to 1973 seems to be the golden age of everything: songs about hot pants, songs about adultery, songs about space travel. Is it possible that those couple of years are really that extra-special, or are they just special to me?
Well, I think the answer is, a little of both. Those are pretty spectacular years musically by any measure, but they are especially important to me since they mark the time I really started paying attention to pop music in a big way. More on that in a future blog post.
Anyway, spoken-word intros were around for a long time before I started paying attention. The early ’60s had a few such songs hit #1: “My Boyfriend’s Back” (1963) and “Leader of the Pack” (1964) are classic examples; “Big Bad John” (1961) predates them, but it was pretty much all spoken, so I don’t know if that counts.
Later in the decade, things got more eclectic with “Atlantis” by Donovan (1968), Paul McCartney’s attempt at a Southern accent or something in “Rocky Raccoon” (1968), and the Doors’ scary “Soft Parade” (1969).
Diana Ross famously transformed “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1970) by making most of the first 4-plus minutes into one long, spoken-word crescendo…and her solo career was on its way! Clarence Carter’s “Patches” came out around the same time. (Maybe this was the golden age of spoken-word intros.)
The spoken-word intro tradition certainly didn’t end with the 1970s, but once rap took over and it all became spoken-word, it kind of started feeling less special. Or am I just nuts about the 70s?