17 Musical Moments to Die For

Camper Van Beethoven play a house party in Fresno, CA in 1985.It has been four months since I’ve done one of these, a far cry from my original plan of doing one a month, and I can’t promise when the next one will be, or even if there will be a next one.

So, really quickly, the ground rules. These aren’t about artists, or albums, or even songs, but rather, moments: that piece of a song that draws you into it; that piece of a song that you wait to happen again; that piece of a song that is running in your head when you can’t sleep; that piece of a song that you find yourself humming at inopportune times.

That piece of a song that you can’t live without.

This is the ninth in a series: The first one had 25; the second one had 24; the third one had 23; the fourth one had 22; the fifth one had 21; and the sixth had 20; the seventh had 19 and the eighth had 18.

17 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR

  1. Big Star were practically a myth when they were together, so it’s not surprising that the myth has grown to the point where the actual music might now be a letdown to those are are hearing it for the first time. It will be interesting to see whether the box set wins them a whole new group of fans, or whether the legend has peaked. That said, I can’t ever see how any power pop fan ever could resist the cowbell-driven guitar solo that kicks in at 0:58 at In The Street by Big Star.

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    — From 1972’s should-have-been-what-it-was-called #1 Record
     

  2. Doug Hopkins only got about a half-dozen songs released before he killed himself after being thrown out of the band that recorded those songs, but just because Gin Blossoms became biggish stars with that kinda weird karma surrounding them shouldn’t diminish the songs. Nor does the fact that Hopkins was copping from Big Star’s 20-years-old pop formula doesn’t diminish how perfectly “we could drive around this town / and let the cops chase us around” encapsulates that formula in every way, shape or form. Pop songs this great should be hit singles. Now and forever. At 0:37 in Hey Jealousy by Gin Blossoms.

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    — From 1992’s New Miserable Experience
     

  3. Caitlin Cary, whom – after years of being overshadowed by the bad boy antics of Ryan Adams in still-lamented Whiskeytown – should know, ponders the fate of anonymous musicians everywhere at 2:53 in Cello Girl by Caitlin Cary.

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    — From 2003’s I’m Staying Out
     

  4. In 1985, after defining my entire generation’s mindset in a single line, Camper Van Beethoven follows it with a big fat lie — “one day soon, it will all settle down” — that you know they really didn’t believe. Or even particularly want. Nor did the rest of us. At 0:00 in Ambiguity Song by Camper Van Beethoven.

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    — From 1985’s unsettled Telephone Free Landslide Victory
     

  5. The reason that the Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower” routinely gets placed as the greatest cover in rock history (my vote goes for Hüsker Dü’s “Eight Miles High”) is that it isn’t so much a cover as a radical reinvention. It owes more to Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” than the Rolling Stones “I Wanna Be Your Man.” And ironically, forever elevated what may have otherwise been considered a minor song in Dylan’s canon. Forget the wind, it’s the guitar that really begins to howl at 3:15 in All Along the Watchtower by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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    — From 1968’s epically epic Electric Ladyland
     

  6. Perhaps it took a band that died and came back featuring a front man who wrote hauntingly about his own near-deaths to come up with perhaps the funniest death song this side of Warren Zevon. That’s just how great it is. At 0:54 in Everybody Dies by Dramarama.

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    — From 2005’s resurrection Everybody Dies
     

  7. Communist Stadium Rock? From the U.K, natch. And only in the 1980s, double natch. On Easterhouse’s debut, Andy Perry’s big voice was matched echo for echo by his brother Ivor’s even bigger guitar, adding fraternal tension to a sound pitched halfway between U2 and The Smiths. By the second album, they’d lost the plot: the lyrics may have still been communist, but the music was pure capitalist. Which is why I ignored the second record but still gravitate to the gigantic, roaring sincerity found at 2:18 To Live Like This by Easterhouse.

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    — From 1986’s shoulda been Contenders.
     

  8. I can’t even imagine (see what I did there?) what 1970 musta felt like for Beatles fans, watching in horror as it all came apart at the seams. One of the reasons I can’t imagine, of course, is that — through either inaction or something more sinister — Let it Be remains unreleased on DVD, so we can’t really see the falling apart as it accelerated. That said, at least I don’t have to imagine what 1970 felt like to John Lennon, cos he laid it all out there on the table with a-still remarkable litany which ends in what could be interpreted as a “fuck you” to Beatles fans. I’ve always thought was more like a “fuck you” to John Lennon as an abstract idea. Which means that it was a “hello” to John Lennon as a person. At 2:30 in God by John Lennon.

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    — From 1970’s therapeutic Plastic Ono Band
     

  9. In the late 80s, the Rolling Stones hadn’t quite settled into their final form as a myth-trading money-making touring machine, so the idea of Keith Richards pulling it together enough to release a coherent solo album seemed like a smack-inspired fever dream. But what he put out was full enough sly riffs and slyer solos that it didn’t even matter if he couldn’t really sing. That’s what the backing dudes were for. Those of us who always loved Keef myth got to revel in it for one last time at 1:16 in Take it So Hard by Keith Richards.

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    — From 1988’s solo debut Talk is Cheap
     

  10. Caught out in a relationship that he’s sure not wants, John Roderick piles on the passion, and despite almost instantly twisting the issue with passive-agressiveness — he’ll keep seeing her if she doesn’t say she’s falling in love — the agression in his guitar solo is more telling than any of his words. At 1:20 in Ultimatum by The Long Winters.

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    — From 2006’s totally grand Putting The Days To Bed
     

  11. After 40 days and 40 nights of Jimmy Page’s guitar and John Bonham’s drums delivering a nonstop downpour, there’s finally a pause. Whew. Finally. Some relief. But it’s a temporary respite, at best, because now it’s time for Robert Plant to deliver the bad news: the deluge is just beginning. Somewhere, it’s still going. At 1:24 in When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin

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    — From 1971’s album that never even needed an actual name
     

  12. You know you could get killed, drunk driving! This public service announcement was brought to you by the Alter Boys, who — no doubt with the help of producer Andy Shernoff — then proceed to so joyously chant “drunk driving! drunk driving! drunk driving!” that it sounds like the most funnest thing ever. In this case, though, here’s hoping that the cops don’t chase us around. At 2:26 in Dry-Out Center by The Alter Boys.

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    — From 1987’s long gone Soul Desire
     

  13. For 15 years, I admired — as opposed to loved or hated — how Madonna made an art form out of publicity like no other popstar before or since. From my outside perspective, it always seemed like she kinda knew that she was somewhat full of shit, and her endless provocations always seemed more a product of postmodern artistic calculation than heartfelt artistic expression. Her music? It wasn’t my music, and it was never going to be my music. Which is why I was so surprised to discover how much I loved the postmodern artistic calculation behind the exactly-of-its-time psychedelic techno chorus at 2:00 in Ray of Light by Madonna.

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    — From 1998’s provocative Ray of Light
     

  14. Dobie Gray simultaneously sings about it and does it during the gorgeous near-acapella chorus at 2:37 in Drift Away by Dobie Gray.

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    — From 1973’s Drift Away
     

  15. Not knowing if her the object of her affection is actually reciprocating, Linda Hopper provokes and cajoles and demands. But she never pleads, because she realizes it’s all as inevitable as the power chords pushing her inexorably forward at 2:30 in The Crush by Maganapop.

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    — From 1994’s lost power-pop masterpiece Hot Boxing
     

  16. In the song the Coldplay is still trying to write, Ben Gibbard acts as if telling her he needs her closer over and over again will wear her down. But eventually he gets impatient, as does the rest of the band, so together they implore her to “c’mon” already. At 6:24 in Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie.

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    — From 2003’s deserved breakthrough Transatlanticism
     

  17. For just about any other band, Richard Lloyd’s twisty, winding guitar solo would be the absolute pinnacle of their entire recorded output. In fact, it just about is, so much so that Tom Verlaine feels the need to start singing over it. As if that would even remotely blunt the impact. At 3:24 in Ain’t That Nothin by Television.

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    — From 1978’s suffers only in comparision Adventure.
     

That’s it! We’re up to 179 moments, all told. Next time: 16 Musical Moments to Die For.

5 Responses to “17 Musical Moments to Die For”

  1. tinalidav says:

    Delighted to see Magnapop mentioned! I felt like such an outlier in favor of Bob Mould’s production of Hot Boxing, but it’s still in my regular rotation…

  2. Ranjit says:

    Awesome list — several all-time faves, several overlooked moments on albums I like, and some I don’t know at all. Thank you thank you!

    Can’t wait to click the Play button 17 times.

  3. Jim says:

    Thanks, Ranjit!

    And tinalidav, dunno why people ever bagged on Mould’s production: I thought it added both crunch and sophistication to their sound.

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