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Kristian Bush made EW a playlist of his favorite first songs

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David McClister

Kristian Bush is entering his third iteration as a recording artist—first was as one half of the folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim, the second as one half of the many times platinum and Grammy-winning country duo Sugarland. Tuesday, he’ll release his first solo record, Southern Gravity. In celebration, we gave him homework—a playlist, Kristian! He gave us his favorite opening tracks from a bunch of amazing albums. He also gave us the opening track off tomorrow’s release, “Make Another Memory.”

“I was very aware when I picked this song to be the first on my album it was going to be the first time people were hearing my voice. I was nervous, but I’m excited for people to hear it,” he says of the number. “It’s a classic love song—my favorite lyric is ‘We’re two hearts on a runway running with our arms out to the wind’ because, while I don’t think there actually is, I just picture it being a perfect John Hughes-movie scene.”

Herewith, collected from a phone call, his favorite opening songs. 

“Where The Strees Have No Name,” U2 — Joshua Tree

“What an opening—I mean, this just sounds like the start to a movie. You’re immediately listening to a show.”

“Where Will I Be,” Emmy Lou Harris — Wrecking Ball

“This was the first song, well album, where I realized not just that I could make country music, but that I really had been all along. I thought, if you took Emmy Lou Harris plus The Dixie Chicks plus Steve Earle, well then what do you get? Exactly what I was doing.”

“Also, Emmy Lou Harris, she’s the one person in this town I am so nervous to meet—I saw her once but couldn’t make myself go say hi. And I don’t know what this is all about, but I am oddly attracted to her. Maybe it’s the older woman thing [laughs].”

“I Will Dare,” The Replacements — Let It Be

“The Replacements are a punk band and then they started the album with this—it was just so unexpected. I mean it shuffles and was just so cool.”

“Lonesome Day,” Bruce Springsteen — The Rising

“You know he’s talking about New York City [“Lonesome Day” is about the Sept. 11 attacks], and how do you start that conversation? Well, you just go ahead and start it. Rip out the first two chapters and dive right in. This is what I hope to do with ‘Make Another Memory.'”

“London Calling,” Clash — London Calling

“The way this one starts with the guitar chords, it makes you pay attention.”

“Play Something Country,” Brooks and Dunn — Hillbilly Deluxe

“I love how this song doesn’t apologize or explain anything. It does exactly what it says—it becomes the song that the song is about.”

“Box of Rain,” Grateful Dead — American Beauty

“You know, I’m not a big Dead-head. But this album—which was so acoustic, in a time that was really electric—has so many memorable tracks and starts off with this one, with Phil [Lesh] singing. I mean first song, and Lesh is singing.”

“Closer to Fine,” Indigo Girls — Indigo Girls

“So I have a story with this song. I was in college in Atlanta—I’m going to date myself, it’s 1988—and I’m trying to get to this party but I didn’t have a car. So I was going with this girl, my friend Michelle who was a little older and had a car, and she said we had to stop somewhere first. I’m just along for the ride and where do we go? Well it ended up being the record release party for Indigo Girls.”

“It’s the first time I ever heard them and I have been forever changed by that moment. Immediately I thought, ‘Well I could do this with an acoustic guitar,’ and then, I ended up meeting them and knowing them. I mean, they won a Grammy and suddenly I was looking at people I knew on Letterman. It was one of the most inspirational touch points of my 18-year-old self. So I’ve always been a fan of the fact that that was their first song and it skyrocketed. It went as far as it could go.”

“Rain on the Scarecrow,” John Mellencamp — Scarecrow 

You know there are some movies where you zoom out from outer space down to the earth and then they eventually zoom all the way down into a little town? Well, this is very different. [Laughs] You don’t get any chance. When you turn on ‘Rain on the Scarecrow’ it’s just on you.”

“Long Time Gone,” Dixie Chicks – Home

“So by Home, the Dixie Chicks were super famous and this is the first song you get from a person who has ascended to super famousness—it’s a totally different pressure and the way they handled it was with a groove. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool. I never would have done that if I was a superstar.'”

“And Home is the pinnacle of album art. If the LP died, it was after that. Everybody bought Home. Everybody had the same experience of turning it on and it’s grooving.”

“1999,” Prince – 1999

“His Purple Badness decides he’s going to just out-do whatever he’s previously done. The sounds on 1999, just the way it starts, I’m not sure there’s anything more celebratory and anthemic.”

“Radio Free Europe,” R.E.M. — Murmur

“This is the first R.E.M. song I’d ever heard. And I heard it, strangely enough, because I had gotten my appendix out and my brother had said, ‘Hey Kris, want me to bring you anything?’ and I was in middle school and I said, ‘Can you bring me my cassette player and just go to the store and grab any cassette?’ And he brought me Murmur and in my first real memory of anesthesia was the very beginning of ‘Radio Free Europe.’ It feels like everything after I heard that changed for me.”

“Syncronicity 1,” The Police – Syncronicity

“I was a super Police fan and all we had heard from this album before it got released was two singles and oh my gosh if that song wasn’t absolutely cooler than anything I had heard yet–it was a very calculated aggression. This was a band at the top of their game making the best decisions they could, with an audience that was completely captive.”

“Feel Alright,” Steve Earle — I Feel Alright

“This record was made right after a record I made, Billy Pilgrim—with the same people just a different singer and different songs—I passed Steve Earle in the hallway on the way out and had to ask who he was. So I was super curious and excited and I ended up kind of geeking out on Steve Earle because of this discovery.”

“Slate,” Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne

“If you’re not an Uncle Tupelo fan, it’s worth going back and figuring out who they are because it’s Wilco and Sun Volt before they split. This was their last record and they made with Natalie Maines’ dad, Lloyd Maines. I don’t think they knew it at the time, but this was the last record they ended up making and it’s like recklessly getting dressed in the morning before you go out to work—that’s what this song is. You can almost here the band with one shoe on and a T-shirt where you just missed the armhole. They’re just going for it. It’s the most charming and complete conversation I’ve ever heard from Uncle Tupelo.”

“Rehab,” Amy Winehouse — Back to Black

“I just love that the beginning of her record was a conversation about the end.”

“Days Go By,” Keith Urban – Be Here

“I really enjoy Keith Urban, he’s so positive and a great guitar player, but I wasn’t in love with his stuff until I heard this song. When I got to this, I bought in hook, line, and sinker. And then I started bugging my manager about opening for him and we did for a year and a half of his tour.”

“Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash — At Folsom Prison (Live)

“It’s a beautiful expression of a guy telling your story to you, in your house. There’s nothing more humble than that, you can just get out of the way.”