You can talk about genres, artists, albums, or even songs, but sometimes what keeps us coming back to music is the discovery of the transcendent musical moment. For me, “the moment” is the part of the song that fully and utterly engages me; the reason that I keep coming back to it.
I’m not necessarily talking about hooks here, because the purpose of a hook is the draw you into a song. I’m really talking more about traps: the part of a song that that keeps you there.
Also: there is a slight — but not total – Christmas theme going on with this one. More of an arc, really. And a couple of mini-arcs, too!
Every single moment I’ve listed below kills me single every time I hear it.
Oh, and this isn’t in any kind of order, despite the numbering.
21 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR
- Perhaps the most universally beloved musical moment in all of Western Civilization (if that was actually a category) is the stop-time piano part which manages to combine 60 years of jazz, blues, soul and rock into a single lick at 0:35 in Linus & Lucy by The Vince Guaraldi Trio.
— From 1964’s Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown, but best found on 1965’s heart-tugging A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Powered by Robyn Hitchcock’s and Kimberly Rew’s splash fight guitars, the absolutely amazing chorus resurfaces one last time from the depths at 3:44 in Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys.
— From 1980’s underheard Underwater Moonlight
- “I can’t die now, cos I got another show” is the antidote to every single whiny “on the road” song ever written. Watch as the first of Patterson Hood’s great death songs hits some kind of emotional peak as he finishes the story of HIV-positive Gregory Dean Smalley at 4:08 in The Living Bubba (Live) by Drive-by Truckers.
— From 1999’s story-filled Alabama Ass Whuppin’
- Look. Look. Look. The entire point is that there’s always other boys. Or so argues Craig Finn during the desperate last chorus at 2:17 in You Can Make Him Like You by The Hold Steady.
— From 2006’s best album Boys and Girls in America
- The original vinyl version of Big Star’s Third I bought led off with “Stroke It, Noel”, and the sad precision of the strings on the chorus simultaneously set up the emotional devastation and belied the artistic dissolution that followed. I mean, has there ever been a more desolate-sounding invitation to dance? At Alex Chilton’s behest, subsequent releases placed it further in the tracklisting — diluting its power, IMHO — which just points out for the zillionth time that Chilton never really knew what to do with all of his talent. At 0:32 in Stroke it, Noel by Big Star.
— From 1978’s sadder than you’ll ever be Third/Sister Lovers
- Prefiguring their world-conquering Joshua Tree sound by a couple of years, Bono observes “love won’t find its own way home” as The Edge uses his guitar to beat love senseless . . . or at least right into some of the best harmonies U2 ever sang at 2:35 in The Three Sunrises by U2.
— From 1985’s Wide Awake in America EP
- On the short list for greatest debut single ever (which is a category) is this absolute master class in constructing a pop song. From the piano glissando that kicks it of to the swooping bassline that anchors it, the opening of “I Want You Back” says, “look people, the overlords at Motown think so highly of us they’ve devised this amazing song. Oh, and the little kid singing? He’s the most talented motherfucker you’ve ever seen.” At 0:00 in I Want You Back by The Jackson 5.
— From 1969’s hedging their bets with the title Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5
- Not even Diana Ross at her most diva-y would disapprove of the pure pop supremacy of the horn solo, handclaps and jagged organ, but she might have a problem with the beautifully off-kilter singer who, er, repurposed her song title. At 1:20 in You Can’t Hurry Love by The Concretes.
— From 2004’s otherworldly The Concretes
- One of the most perfect songs of the 1980s — or any decade, really — ends with the protagonist putting putting her lifesaving music away, because she knows that it’s going to be needed for another day. The melancholy trumpet agrees. At 2:29 in Levi Stubbs’ Tears by Billy Bragg.
— From 1986’s difficult third album Talking With the Taxman About Poetry
- Hey girl, Dwight Yoakam just wants you to know that it’s alcohol what’s healed his broken heart. That is, in case you cared about whether or not he was over you. You do still care, right, girl? At 0:10 in Since I Started Drinking Again by Dwight Yoakam.
— From 1990’s heartbroken If There Was A Way
- If it’s his legacy to have written a stone cold Christmas classic featuring words like “slut” and “faggot”, and one that perfectly captures the ambivalence that so many of us feel about the holiday, I’m guessing that there are worse fates that you would imagined to have befallen Shane MacGowan. First, he theorized that trading insults with the ones you love were as much part of the experience as police choirs and ringing bells. Then, he got Kirsty MacColl to help him prove it. At 2:14 in Fairytale of New York by The Pogues.
— From 1988’s god-like If I Should Fall From The Grace of God
- Steve Wynn gives us the first taste of what I’ve always referred to as his “psychotic” voice, mannnnnnn, but it doesn’t faze Karl Precoda’s guitar even the tiniest bit at 1:38 in Tell Me When It’s Over by The Dream Syndicate.
— From 1982’s desert island disc The Days of Wine and Roses
- How is it possible that it was blink-fucking-182 who so perfectly summed up just how fucking awful divorce can make the holidays? At 1:43 in Stay Together for the Kids by blink-182.
— From 2001’s slightly more mature Take off Your Pants and Jacket
- The first record review I ever published under someone else’s purview was of Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain in the CSUF Daily Collegian on September 10, 1984. About my favorite song on the album, I wrote: “… epitomizes the quiet/loud dichotomy of their music — the way McCulloch’s scream of “king-kingdom-kingdommmmmm!” falls into the guitar solo is, to me, a transcendent moment.” A quarter-century later, it still is. At 1:48 in My Kingdom by Echo & The Bunnymen.
— From 1984’s last great Bunnymen record Ocean Rain
- Given the dopey nonsense pun of the title, the bouncy New Wave horns and the general cheeriness of the whole damn thing, there is no way I should like what has become The Waitresses’ legacy. But “you mean you forgot cranberries, too?” had me the first time I heard it at the pre-on-air KFSR studios all those years ago and still de-Grinchifies me every time. Finally getting laid: the greatest gift of all!! At 4:00 in Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses.
— From 1981’s stopgap but really last gasp I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get The Parts EP
- I always thought that the calculated beautiful doominess of Jim Morrison made The Doors the Saturday morning cartoon version of The Velvet Underground, even if their debut remains some kind of landmark. After that, though, it was pick and choose, since Morrison’s decline started early and often. On the title track to their swan song, I love how the crack band effortlessly mimics the ideal of driving on L.A.’s freeways even as Morrison’s dessicated voice evokes the reality of traffic jams in Hollywood. Mister Mojo? Fallen. At 0:55 in L.A. Woman by The Doors.
— From 1971’s swan song L.A. Woman
- Decembers in Hollywood don’t usually kick in until after Jim Morrison’s birthday, so a long one is an anomaly. Such an anomaly, in fact, that it renders Adam Duritz and co. wordless at 3:46 in A Long December by Counting Crows.
— From 1996’s sophomore peak Recovering the Satellites
- “Song is over!” Rick Rizzo helpfully shouts, but like the MC5, that’s just left-wing propaganda. Instead, the song goes on for another minute and half of guitar, guitar, and, oh yeah, guitar. At 3:08 in Between Here and There by Eleventh Dream Day.
— From 1989’s underrated by me at the time Beet
- Elvis may be singing about it, but the real riot act is being read by the bass guitar of Bruce Thomas at 3:09 in Riot Act by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
— From 1980’s fully loaded Get Happy!!!
- Sometimes, all I want from a song is for the guitar to come in at just the right time and in just the right way. The way it comes in at 1:23 in Darl by Buffalo Tom.
— From 1992’s surprisingly great Let Me Come Over
- A mash-up hundreds of years in the making and 20 years ahead of its time drops into that eternal riff for the ages at 1:04 in Gloria (In Excelsis Deo) by The Tryfles.
— From 1984’s ahead-of-it’s-time A Midnight Christmas Mess
That’s it! We’re up to 115 moments, all told. Next time: 20 Musical Moments to die for.
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- 23 Musical Moments to Die For
- 24 Musical Moments to Die For
- 25 Musical Moments to Die For
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