Dave's Mental Meanderings
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2003-06-24 03:22:14 (UTC)

Track 2

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to talk to you about Track
2. Dig it.

Here’s a scenario. You go to your local record store,
either to look for that album that you’ve been meaning to
buy for the past 2 months, or because you simply felt the
all-too-common urge to get off your computer, leave the
house, and support capitalism by buying a new CD. In
either case, you buy a great album, leave the record store
with a smile on your face, peel the annoying wrapper off
the CD cover (you know the one I’m talking about – that
goddamned adhesive strip that you have to rip off in order
to open the CD case), and pop that bad boy into your car CD
player. Well, maybe you don’t have a car CD player… but in
any case, you listen to the CD as soon as possible.

The first song is great. You love it. What’s not to love,
it’s your brand new CD. But what lies in store after track
1? What could possibly follow up that amazing song you
just heard? I’ll tell you what. Track 2.

In my mind, track 2 is the most important song on the
entire album. It has so many responsibilities, yet gets so
little of the glory. Track 2 rarely makes it to the
Greatest Hits album. It’s like the offensive lineman of a
CD – it’s an unsung hero, it’s down in the trenches doing
its job so the rest of the album can live the dream. Allow
me to explain.

The primary duty of track 2 is to follow up track 1 with
something great, but not too great. It can’t be a let-
down, because that would make the listener think that track
1 is the only good song on the album and that the band is nothing
but a one-hit wonder, and he or she may never fully
appreciate the album. However, track 2 can’t be the best
song on the album. Rarely can it even be the 2nd best. It
can’t outshine track 1, because the listener would then be
sure to experience an anti-climax. In other words, if track 1
is sweet, and track 2 is sweeter, there’s nowhere to
go but downhill.

Track 2 must also be unique. It should be somewhat of a
departure from the artist’s usual sound, because this
prevents the listener from thinking that the album is too
homogeneous. If the listener hears something unique on
track 2, he or she will be more likely to take in the rest
of the album with an open mind. If he or she hears
something that is too similar to track 1, the CD might get ejected
on the spot.

Now of course, we all know the best way to learn is by
example. And what kind of asshole would I be to post my
opinions on the internet if I was not able to back my point
up with some examples? Well, here you go.
“Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
That’s right. That song, more than any
other song in the history of music, embodies what an ideal
track 2 should be. No wonder it’s track 2 on the band’s
self-titled album, track 2 on the Greatest Hits album, and
track 2 on CD #1 of the box set. “Breakdown” has it all.
It’s a great song, but not the best on the album. Probably
the second best, but the best isn’t until track 10, so the
album clearly keeps fresh right through to the end.
Besides, every song on that album is a gem. 10 songs of
pure, blissful rock and roll, the way it was meant to be.
Not to mention the fact that its perfect structure only
enhances the listening experience. You start out
with “Rockin’ Around With You.” It’s got a strong, fast-
paced beat, great lyrics, and a classic Tom Petty
sound. “Breakdown” comes next. It’s dramatic, but not
overdone. It’s emotional, but not as much as “Mystery Man”
or “The Wild One.” And it’s unique. Its sound has never
been duplicated and never will be, not by Tom Petty or
anybody else. It has an almost haunting sound to it, it
creeps up on you, takes you by surprise, and leaves you
feeling like you’ve just seen the light. But it leaves you
wanting more. It entices you, it challenges you to stop
listening before you’ve heard the whole album, and it knows
that you can’t. You’re hooked.

Enough about “Breakdown.” What are some other good
examples of a perfect track 2? How about these?

Bob Dylan – “Tombstone Blues”
Loudon Wainwright III – “Red Guitar”
Mark Knopfler – “Devil Baby”
Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll”

Of course, none of these are as perfect as “Breakdown.”
They’re all great songs, on great albums, by great
artists. But no song ever has or ever will
eclipse “Breakdown” as the ultimate track 2.

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