This month, on Musical Moments to Die For: secrets, influences, and secret influences, all book-ended by the two best bands to ever come from Athens, GA.
We’ve also got the front-runners for greatest guitar and organ solos ever; Neil Young’s most despairing moment; and not one, not two, but three variations of the beat solidified by the late, great Ellas McDaniel.
As always, I’m not necessarily talking about hooks here, more like traps. The parts of these songs that bring me back to them over and over again.
And yeah, you probably see the pattern and think you know the endgame, but I can promise you that there’s a twist!
20 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR
- When people made fun of Murmur by calling it “Mumble,” one of the songs they were talking about was “9-9”. And why not? With its multitracked muttered midsection and shimmering guitar dominating the dueling voices on the chorus, it’s one of the things that inspired us to hold the utterly unsuccessful R.E.M. lyric-deciphering party over a decade before we could just look up the words online. I still haven’t — looked up the words, that is — and probably never will. After all, I’ve probably listened to Murmur more than any album ever in my entire life, so I don’t need to know the words (besides “conversation fear”) to sing along. I also don’t need to know the words to know that this is the secret great R.E.M song. At 2:45 in 9-9 by R.E.M.
— From 1983’s nothing left to say about it’s exqusiteness Murmur
- When I first heard the slow, tasty jazz guitar backing Michael Franti as he croons his manifesto, it felt weird and out of place on an album dominated by Public Enemy-style near-industrial hip-hop. Now I realize that on an album crammed full of every type of message, this was the one he wanted to make sure got heard. At 3:05 in Music and Politics by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
— From 1992’s mouthful Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury
- As if her screams of “Not so fast, fucker!” weren’t powerful enough, Carla Bozulich follows those with the even more chilling taunt of “shoulda killed me when you had the chance.” Because now? She’s fully protected by Nels Cline’s raging guitars. at 1:08 in Seven or in 10 by The Geraldine Fibbers
— From 1997’s “alt country? we don’t need no stinkin alt-country!” Butch
- Those who think that Mr. Zimmerman has fully lost it in concert should check out this evidence to to contrary. On what is easily one of his very greatest late period songs, he growls his way around the title like its 1966. Or at least 1975. Seriously, if you don’t like the way he sings “coooolllddd i-rons bowun,” you’ve given up, not vice versa. Also evidence: figure that he’s the one who had his crack band shimmy in and out of the noisy inside-out Bo Diddley dance beat that turns and stops on a single echoey guitar chord. At 2:10 in Cold Irons Bound (Live From Bonnaroo 2004) by Bob Dylan.
— From 2008’s endlessly deep Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol.8
- Zooming directly from Mars into your speaker, Mick Ronson’s instantly-classic variation on the Bo Diddley beat kicks off one of the many peaks of David Bowie’s greatest album. No doubt Che Guevara would have approved. At 0:00 in Panic in Detroit by David Bowie.
— From 1973’s best Bowie album ever Aladdin Sane
- There is a tipping point in a great band’s discography where they jump from being “good” or “interesting” to utter greatness. Sure, I loved the first album, but The Smiths became as amazing as they’d been saying they were on this Bodacious b-side. Morrissey’s moping goes from being personal to being universal (this might be the first time he acknowledges that an “everybody else” even exists) while Johnny Marr’s guitars gets so universal that they literally span decades. At 0:46 in How Soon is Now? by The Smiths.
— Best heard on 1984’s odds & sods Hatful of Hollow
- Speaking of mope, how come nobody ever talks about Hank Williams as a secret influence on Morrissey? If “When the time rolls around for me to lay down and die / I’ll bet I’ll have to go and hire me someone to cry” isn’t a couplet that Mozzer wishes he’d written, I’ll eat that catch in Hank’s voice that he also stole. At 0:08 in Nobody’s Lonesome for Me by Hank Williams.
— It was a b-side in 1950, but you’ll have more luck in finding it in 1990’s compilation 40 Greatest Hits
- Despite — or because of — all the stories about his drug use, Grant Hart fired the first shot in the post-Hüsker Dü breakup with a single that was as perfectly realized as any of even his greatest Hüsker songs, and yet a total break from his past. And because of — or despite — all the stories about his drug use, it climaxes with his resigned prediction that “it will probably not be the last time I’ll have to be out by the First.” Then it’s time for all of us to sing along. At 2:15 in 2541 by Grant Hart.
— It’s on his debut album, Intolerance, but you want to find 1988’s utterly awesome 2541 EP.
- Grant Hart may have fired the first shot, but Bob Mould won the Hüsker Dü break up once and forever with Copper Blue, which started off with four songs so perfect — “The Act We Act,” “A Good Idea,” “Changes,” and “Helpless” — that neither Hart nor Mould ever came close again. For much of the autumn of 1992, I would spend the early evenings sitting on the porch of my Tower District apartment sipping a pre-Livingstones cocktail (or two) with this CD just blaring through the screen door. The best part? Bob Mould’s ringing, clanging guitar riff at 0:00 in Changes by Sugar.
— From 1992’s award-winning Copper Blue
- Remember all of those stories of invincible young men that made Straight Outta Compton such a rush? It turns out that they weren’t so invincible after all. Here’s the flipside, which could only have been told after those other stories, because otherwise Cube would have seemed like a scold, and not a reporter. And adds weight to his indelible question for the ages: “How strong can you be when you see your pops cryin’?” At 2:18 in Dead Homiez by Ice Cube.
— From 1990’s instant Kill at Will EP
- Neither Ian Gillan’s patented scream nor Ian Paice’s lightspeed fills can hide the fact that Jon Lord is uncorking what is probably the greatest organ solo in rock history. Hell, even Ritchie Blackmore, who never saw a musical space he wouldn’t try to cram his guitar into, is cowed. At 2:12 in Highway Star by Deep Purple.
— From 1973’s perfect except for the drum solo Made in Japan
- The guitar solo starts, totally not where you would expect the greatest guitar solo ever to start, with Tom Verlaine making the sound of an exposed copper wire. It’s like he’s trying to figure out which notes he wants to play, so he figures that these low-key ones are good enough for now. But there’s still a long, long way to go at 4:50 in Marquee Moon by Television.
— From 1977’s landmark Marquee Moon
- One of the conceits of the “Musical Moments to Die For” series (I mean, besides the conceit to even consider it a “series”) is to have at least one obscure 1980s indie rock classic in the mix. This one has a transcendent, instantly memorable chorus that will have some people saying “Hey, I didn’t know this song was called that!” At 1:30 in Dear Friend by Flying Color.
— From 1987’s one-shot Flying Color
- When you think Funkadelic, you instantly flash to acoustic-guitar driven, raggedy gospel-tinged songs featuring a basso so deep it makes Barry White sound like Tiny Tim, right? No? Well, Eddie Hazel must have had the day off. At 2:09 by Can You Get To That by Funkadelic.
— From 1971’s awesomely-titled Maggot Brain
- One of the greatest non-essential bands in all of Rock history, the Hoodoo Gurus were always rollicking good fun. And many of the reasons why could be found in the litany of influences David Falkner starts reciting at 0:16 in Let’s All Turn On by The Hoodoo Gurus.
— From 1984’s killer debut Stoneage Romeos
- In the early part of this decade, there arose a whole slew of bands that took Joy Division as a primary influence. Unfortunately, for nearly 30 years, the only band that’s actually ever worked for is New Order, and they did it by ignoring it. Not even the best of this most recent crop has come close to rising above their influences for an entire song, much less a full record. With one exception: the layers of guitars that rise and rise and rise above each other at 3:55 of PDA by Interpol.
— From 2002’s less than the sum of their influences Turn on the Bright Lights
- The reason that Tonight’s the Night was such a seamless expression of sadness was that it was full of song after song where it seemed like Neil & co. went to the studio and rolled tape because they had no idea what else to do with their lives. In this one case, however, it was just Neil who made it — or maybe he forgot to leave — and he has never sounded so raw and scarred as he sounds at 2:19 in Borrowed Tune by Neil Young.
— From 1975’s career momentum-shattering Tonight’s The Night
- If I was abducted by aliens, and they asked “What’s this rock and roll that you’re always babbling about?” I would tell them to download “I Can See For Miles” by The Who. There isn’t a context in which this song doesn’t sound absolutely fantastic. I remember hearing it on the AM radio — a single speaker alarm clock Craptrola radio, I think it was — who knows how long ago, and and having the realization that it couldn’t be classified as anything else but Rock. The voices, the guitar and — fuck yeah! — the drums all come crashing together in perfect harmony at 3:21 in I Can See For Miles by The Who.
— From 1967’s pop-art explosion The Who Sell Out
- Timeless and magnificent. The singing at 0:58 in Book of Rules by The Heptones.
— From 1979’s Rockers soundtrack
- I could never understand the slagging of The B-52’s as a mindless party band. They were a witty party band! Who were smart enough to know that parties end, and sometimes sadly. Still, for years, I was so enchanted by how Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson sang together — not to mention Ricky Wilson’s always-great rhythm guitar — I didn’t even realize that this was a slyly out-of-bounds fuck song instead of a zooming car song. Which makes it even wittier that Fred Schnieder is nowhere to be found, and sadder that Ricky Wilson wrote this song. At 2:26 in Dirty Back Road by The B-52’s.
— From 1980’s sophomore triumph Wild Planet
That’s it! We’re up to 135 moments, all told. Next month: 19 Musical Moments to die for.
- 21 Musical Moments to Die For
- 22 Musical Moments to Die For
- 23 Musical Moments to Die For
- 24 Musical Moments to Die For
- 25 Musical Moments to Die For
- 207 of The Greatest Indie Rock Songs of All Time
- My Favorite Album For Every Year I’ve Been Alive
- That’s What I Like: Bob Dylan
- How The Bootleg Series 8 Will Lead to More Bob Dylan Piracy