Among all the entries in this list, "The Way We Get By" might be the purest example of what a second track should be: it collects from the shrapnel of opener "Small Stakes" into a shortform indie-rock anthem. It's got a magnetic tension that dissuades even the most attention-deficient listener from skipping ahead or wandering off. It's a classic Spoon song--both in the sense that it's considered one of their best, and it's a perfect representation of the band. Featuring a chunky electric piano riff behind Britt Daniel's grainy snarl, "The Way We Get By" is the keystone of Kill the Moonlight.
5. Modest Mouse - "Gravity Rides Everything"
The Moon and Antarctica is, at times, a frightening album. There are psych-rock wildfire breakdowns and lyrical turns that, frankly, will depress the shit out of you. But thankfully, its utility as a second track is not only in its breath-easy pace and shimmering aesthetic; "Gravity Rides Everything" provides a caveat to all the downer fare that awaits. Isaac Brock offers a message that, on its face, is a comfort: "everything will fall right into place". Sure, he applies the phrase to sagging flesh and dead bodies, but in context it acts as a much-needed consolation. It's something to keep in mind while he spends the next 13 tracks howling about how we're all going to die. Alone. Gee, thanks man.
4. Bob Dylan - "Isis"
(Thanks to a copyright claim by Sony Entertainment, there is no Youtube available of "Isis". This is stupid. But it'd be equally stupid if you've never heard "Isis"--I would suggest grabbing Desire as soon as possible.)
I've been going on about the importance of a second track relative to the others, and how it can guide an album and all that stuff. But in this case, the track itself is just so good that it doesn't especially matter where it fell. I've written about my personal attachment to "Isis" in the past, but let's put all that aside for a minute and look at the facts: it's a song about a death-defying journey to an ancient tomb, it's seven minutes long, and it's one of the few songs to feature fiddle playing I'd deem "bad-ass." He also rhymes "necklace" with "reckless", which stands as Dylan's second greatest rhyme.* It actually does provide a service to the album, adding some much-need whimsy after opener "Hurricane"--one of Dylan's most well-known songs, but far more topical than most tunes on Desire.
*The first, of course, is "employed" and "De La Croix".
3. Sun Kil Moon - "Carry Me Ohio"
Often, second tracks have a "let's get down to business" feel to them, especially when they follow a lighthearted opener. "Carry Me Ohio"--easily one of the best songs I've ever heard--is an excellent example of this. After the whimsical lyrical set of opener "Glen Tipton", Mark Kozelek reminds us that he earned his stripes writing achingly personal lyrics; the kind that eschew melodramatic overtures, but still manage wring every last drip of sympathy from your heart: "Can't count to/all the lovers I've burned through/so why do I still burn for you/I can't say." There's a sort of portentous feel about the arrangement that makes it gripping, but never redundant. It also shares an album with last month's Best of 11 top track, "Si Paloma". Expect to see a few more Ghost of the Great Highway tracks appear before the feature ends.
2. Wilco - "She's a Jar"
What makes "She's a Jar" such a brilliant second track is that it should have been the first track. Before the release of Summerteeth, the label put pressure on the band to include a radio-friendly single. Reluctantly, they remixed "Can't Stand It". But instead of compromising the flow of the album with a punched-up single, they placed the song at the very front of the album. That way, you can get the single out of the way--and then the album starts. This is how I always listen to Summerteeth. And I really like "Can't Stand It". But "She's a Jar" makes it painfully evident that it, and not its predecessor, is the start of Summerteeth.
Tomorrow, we reveal the number one number two.