The best title tracks don’t just anchor the classic albums they come from. They also work as introductions and often the central themes of their parent LPs.
In the below list of the 50 Best Title Tracks From Classic Albums, songs span an early 1960s instrumental through a mid-’90s solo LP by one of rock’s most popular artists. Most of the records come from the ’70s and ’80s, a peak period as albums settled into their creative grooves.
Some of the biggest names of the past half century and more are included: the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen, among them. And several are represented by more than one work. Many of the songs were popular hit singles; others are album tracks that have carved out their legacies over the decades.
The 50 Best Title Tracks From Classic Albums are undoubtedly great songs. But they’re also the reasons many of these timeless LPs exist in the first place. They’ve all secured their place in music history.
50. Eagles, “Desperado” (1973)
The Eagles‘ second album was a concept record about the Old West and real-life characters like the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Its title track was a centerpiece: a stirring ballad complete with strings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Linda Ronstadt covered it.
49. Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly” (1972)
“Superfly” did triple duty as a hit single, the title track to a soundtrack and the theme song from a Blaxploitation movie. The album, Curtis Mayfield‘s third as a solo artist, stayed at No. 1 for four weeks, while the song reached the Top 10. A period classic.
48. Booker T. & the MG’s, “Green Onions” (1962)
Pulled together during a jam session featuring guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewis Steinberg, drummer Al Jackson Jr. and organist Booker T. Jones, who was 17 when he came up with the riff, “Green Onions” is one of the greatest instrumentals of all time.
47. Motorhead, “Ace of Spades” (1980)
Motorhead‘s fourth album was the first to be distributed in the U.S. It more than warranted that honor: The LP’s opening song, the title track and lead single is 168 seconds of pure adrenaline. The perfect intro to the metal band’s best album.
46. The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)
It’s not even a fully formed song, just reaching the two-minute mark, but the opening track of the Beatles’ magnum opus sets the tone for the album from the fade-in of a murmuring crowd. Everything that follows lives up to the initial anticipation.
45. Michael Jackson, “Thriller” (1983)
The cultural impact of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller is still being felt all these decades later. Seven of its singles reached the Top 10. Seven. Its title track – cannily released as the final single – turned into a multimedia event with a nearly 14-minute video. Era defining.
44. The O’Jays, “Back Stabbers” (1972)
Kicking around since 1958, the O’Jays signed with Philadelphia International in 1972 and immediately scored their first Top 40 hit. “Back Stabbers” went all the way to No. 3 and anchored an equally strong album that also included the No. 1 “Love Train.”
43. Yes, “Close to the Edge” (1972)
“Close to the Edge” isn’t just the title track of Yes‘ fifth album, it’s also the only song on Side One. The nearly 19-minute, four-part track is prime prog: long, instrumental breaks, soaring vocal choruses and a section called “The Solid Time of Change.”
42. Madonna, “Like a Virgin” (1984)
Madonna‘s 1983 debut was a tentative step; she held little back on the follow-up. Produced by Nile Rodgers, who also supplied guitar, “Like a Virgin” was deliberately provocative. The campaign worked: By decade’s end she was the world’s biggest star.
41. Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath” (1970)
The ghostly tolling bell and rolling thunder at the start of Black Sabbath‘s debut album told listeners all they needed to know about the band. More than six minutes later, and after a blood-curdling scream by Ozzy Osbourne, a new genre had been forged.
40. Jackson Browne, “Late for the Sky” (1974)
Jackson Browne has slotted some of his best songs as the title tracks of his albums. This is one of his greatest. Bonus points for its use during a pivotal scene in Taxi Driver when Robert De Niro’s unbalanced character snaps one of the last threads of his sanity.
READ MORE: Top 40 Album Opening Songs
39. Prince, “Sign ‘O’ the Times” (1987)
Prince‘s ambitious 1987 LP Sign ‘O’ the Times is a cornerstone album of his career. The double LP is a sprawling work of funk, pop, R&B, psychedelia, gospel and rock. The opening title track is haunting, minimalist and the perfect entryway to the record.
38. Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk” (1979)
Fleetwood Mac took two years to make the follow-up to their mammoth Rumours album of 1977. It seemed like an eternity then, but the double album Tusk was an underdog masterpiece of another color: ambitious, weird and studio-centered – see: “Tusk.”
37. Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life” (1977)
While David Bowie was making his Berlin Trilogy, Iggy Pop was along for the ride, crafting his two best solo LPs – The Idiot and Lust for Life, both from 1977 – in the city with his friend. The latter’s title cut found new life thanks to its part in Trainspotting.
36. Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (1964)
Bob Dylan rarely took the straightforward route to song and album titles. His third LP is an exception, named after its standout song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Nobody wanted to miss the opportunity to capitalize on one of Dylan’s most enduring works.
35. Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (1973)
After two consecutive No. 1s, Elton John was granted the freedom to do whatever he wanted on his next LP. And he took full advantage, crafting his seventh album into his double-record masterpiece. The semi-autobiographical title track sets the path.
34. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together” (1972)
Al Green started his string of classic LPs with Let’s Stay Together, the first of two albums in 1972. The slow-simmering title song is the anchor, a smoldering soul classic that showcases Green’s supple voice and Willie Mitchell’s glowing production.
33. Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” (1967)
After nine albums and going on her 13th year as a performer, Aretha Franklin finally hit gold with I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. A label change and a producer who knew what to do with her big voice spurred the climb; the Queen of Soul did the rest.
32. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Green River” (1969)
Creedence Clearwater Revival released three classic albums in 1969; Green River was in the middle. Its title track opened the record, laying the road for other John Fogerty classics “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Lodi.” A key record during a peak year.
31. Albert King, “Born Under a Bad Sign” (1967)
Albert King was one of the few blues artists on Stax that had just as much commercial impact as the label’s R&B roster. Written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones, “Born Under a Bad Sign” quickly became a new blues standard. Cream covered it a year later.
30. Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty” (1977)
Jackson Browne’s 1977 song cycle about being on the road – recorded on tour, in buses, onstage, at sound checks and in hotel rooms – starts with the reflective title track, as the 29-year-old singer-songwriter takes stock of his life up to that point.
29. Alice Cooper, “School’s Out” (1972)
The title track of the original Alice Cooper band’s fifth album is their only Top 10 hit (Cooper had two more as a solo artist) and still one of the all-time best summer’s-here anthems. Inspired, witty and fist-raising, it’s the pinnacle of the band’s singles.
READ MORE: 40 Songs With Titles Not in the Lyrics
28. AC/DC, “Highway to Hell” (1979)
AC/DC was starting to make some headway in the U.S. when they finally cracked the Top 20 with their sixth album. Opener “Highway to Hell”‘s iconic guitar riff helped get them there. It wouldn’t last, though: Singer Bon Scott was dead in seven months.
27. Prince, “1999” (1982)
Prince’s mainstream move was aided by a pair of hit singles from his fifth album. 1999‘s title track got the party started. Bigger things were to come from the Minneapolis wunderkind, but the apocalyptic dance fury of “1999” opened the doors to his success.
26. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence” (1966)
“The Sound of Silence” has a tangled history. Originally on Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1964 debut as “The Sounds of Silence,” the acoustic song was remixed with folk-rock-inspired drums and guitars. It went to No. 1 and gave their second LP its title.
25. Funkadelic, “Maggot Brain” (1971)
The 10-minute instrumental “Maggot Brain” opens Funkadelic‘s third album and works overtime as an introduction to the psychedelic soul band’s heady mix of mood-building and guitar fireworks. Eddie Hazel’s free-form solo is a masterclass in controlled chaos.
24. Tom Petty, “Wildflowers” (1994)
Tom Petty had just rebounded with a pair of albums – one solo, one with his band the Heartbreakers – made with producer Jeff Lynne. But for his second solo LP, he turned to Rick Rubin, who stripped back the studio gloss for a more natural sound.
23. Ike & Tina Turner, “River Deep-Mountain High” (1966)
Phil Spector wanted to work with powerhouse singer Tina Turner but wanted little to do with her controlling husband, Ike. So the producer recorded Tina and agreed to give Ike co-credit. “River Deep-Mountain High” cost a fortune but tanked. It’s now a classic.
22. Paul Simon, “Graceland” (1986)
Paul Simon‘s 1983 release failed to reach the commercial heights of his preceding records, so after a three-year hiatus, and a trip to South Africa, the singer-songwriter returned with his most enduring work. Graceland‘s title cut is based on a Memphis visit.
21. Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” (1973)
Marvin Gaye was restless in the early ’70s after being granted creative freedom by Motown. A political LP, a scrapped record and a soundtrack filled his time before he found his way to the bedroom on Let’s Get It On. The title cut doesn’t hide its intentions.
20. The Beatles, ‘Help!” (1965)
The Beatles had released an insane amount of music by 1965: four albums and a scattering of new singles in less than two years. John Lennon‘s plea for “Help!” was real. Another hit album doubled as a soundtrack for their second movie.
19. John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
After a solo debut album that worked as catharsis for the battered Beatle, John Lennon followed up with a softer, more meditative record that was more aligned with his former group. Imagine‘s title track has become one of his most-covered and beloved songs.
18. The Who, “My Generation” (1965)
Released as a single by the Who just weeks before it appeared as the title track of their debut album, “My Generation” helped define both the band and a post-Beatlemania era of British music. A harder and more guitar-based form of pop was on the horizon.
17. Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984)
Like a handful of other tracks on Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album, Born in the U.S.A., the title track began life as part of the Nebraska demo sessions. The E Street Band was brought in for muscle, and the opening cut on his massive hit LP launched a new era.
16. Steve Miller Band, “The Joker” (1973)
Steve Miller had been on the scene since 1966 and had released seven albums when he finally scored his first Top 40 hit in 1973. Not only that, “The Joker” went to No. 1, with its namesake album stopping at No. 2. Two more hit albums closed out the ’70s.
15. Billy Joel, “Piano Man” (1973)
Billy Joel‘s 1971 debut album bombed; to make ends meet, the New Yorker made a living performing at a Los Angeles piano bar. The experience led to the writing of his signature song and the title track to his sophomore record, Piano Man. Hits followed.
14. Metallica, “Master of Puppets” (1986)
Thrash leaders Metallica went into their third album with the determination to legitimize their genre. From start to finish Master of Puppets redefined the perimeters of both metal and ’80s music. The epic title track remains a highlight of their catalog and genre.
13. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here” (1975)
The Dark Side of the Moon shot Pink Floyd into an entirely new stratosphere, allowing them to make their ninth album at their pace and discretion. A tribute to mentally scarred band founder Syd Barrett, Wish You Were Here is at its most poignant on its title cut.
READ MORE: Top 40 Albums of 1983
12. Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush” (1970)
Like other artists making the transition from the ’60s to the ’70s, Neil Young took the opportunity to reflect on the title track of his third album. The spare piano ballad has grown over time, evolving with the decades, but its haunting original take is essential.
11. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Band on the Run” (1973)
The third album credited to Paul McCartney & Wings was the closest its leader got to his Beatles days, wasting not a single track over its 45 minutes. The opening song, like others in McCartney’s catalog, stitches together several pieces into a uniform whole.
10. Television, “Marquee Moon” (1977)
Unfairly lumped in with punk luminaries because of their ties to the New York club scene, Television was closer in spirit to ’70s classic rock. The marathon title song of their debut album remains one of the greatest guitar tracks in rock history.
9. The Doors, “L.A. Woman” (1971)
The Doors‘ detours following the success of their first few albums led to their final LP with doomed singer Jim Morrison. A return to their blues roots, complete with stripped-down takes, L.A. Woman remains their leanest work. The title song is the highlight.
8. The Beatles, “Let It Be” (1970)
The Beatles were famously falling apart during the making of Let It Be, a project that started as a back-to-basics exercise for the splintering group. The album was shelved, surfacing right before they broke up. The elegant title song still sounds like a hymn.
7. Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain” (1984)
Prince was already on his way to becoming one of the decade’s defining artists when the soundtrack to Purple Rain hit in 1984. A chart-dominating blockbuster, the LP sealed its legend with the epic, closing title track: nearly nine minutes of gospel meets Hendrix.
6. AC/DC, “Back in Black” (1980)
After the death of singer Bon Scott in February 1980, AC/DC returned just five months later with their masterpiece and a blazing new frontman, Brian Johnson. “Back in Black” doubles as a requiem and new statement of purpose; their seventh LP went Top 10.
5. The Clash, “London Calling” (1979)
One of the best albums ever made starts with this rousing call to arms that’s about as close to the Clash‘s expected punk routes that London Calling gets. Rockabilly, ska, pop, surf, soul and classic rock are strained through the band’s filter throughout.
4. Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run” (1975)
Bruce Springsteen’s third LP, the one that made him a star, is a conceptual piece about breaking free from hometown traps and dead-end lives. No song epitomizes this more than the anthem-sized title cut, a Spectorian overload of strings, bells and guitars.
3. Eagles, “Hotel California” (1976)
The epic opening song on the Eagles’ No. 1 album about Hollywood decadence and despair sets the tone for the LP with its harrowing imagery (“They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast“) and weary, reggae-lite rhythm.
2. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” (1971)
Marvin Gaye entered the ’70s as a newly independent artist, still working under the Motown banner but granted the freedom to craft records under his direction. What’s Going On‘s title track sets in motion a song cycle on life, death, war and ecology.
1. David Bowie, “Heroes” (1977)
Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, while a watershed period for the artist, can be challenging for listeners used to “Changes” and “Suffragette City.” But there’s no denying the pull of the middle LP’s slow-build title track about divided lovers on either side of the Berlin Wall.