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.
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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.
22 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR
- Saint Joe the Strummer speaks the gospel of artistic freedom, while Mick Jones provides backup, both vocally, and as guitar hero at 2:04 in Complete Control by The Clash.
— From 1977’s best single Complete Control (b/w City of the Dead)
- When it came out, nobody knew for sure that Let it Be was going to end up so beloved, and classic. And the greatest album in the history of everything. And yet, I remember sitting in the Pit at Fresno State a few months it came out, talking to a synth-pop loving girl who said “I don’t really like that type of music, but that song ‘Unsatisfied,’ it really really sounds like he means it.” And there is no doubt that Paul Westerberg means it at 2:40 in Unsatisfied by The Replacements.
— From 1984’s beloved, classic, and greatest album ever in the history of everything Let it Be
- Just like the guy that they’re singing about, you can try to resist, but eventually you’ll succumb to the “Shoop shoop ahhhhhhs” underneath the chorus at 1:36 in Shy Boy by Bananarama.
— From 1983’s girl-not-groupie Shy Boy 12″ single
- “Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet Emoooooooshhhhhhhhun. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet Emoooooooooooooooshhhhhhhhhun.” The power of the slow build exploding into a riff for the ages. At 0:36 in Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith.
— From 1975’s breakthrough Toys in The Attic
- Somewhere at this very moment, an aspiring guitar player has the headphones on, trying to suss out the MÃ¶bius strip riff that begins at 0:27 in Soon by My Bloody Valentine.
— From 1992’s landmark Loveless
- Otis begs pleads prays for one more day when you know that he’ll be using his horn section to ask for yet another one tomorrow at 1:11 in Just One More Day by Otis Redding.
— From 1966’s of-course-it’s-great The Soul Album
- Everything that went on prior is just building up to the breakdowns, which finally erase everything else at 3:16 in Nowhere Again by The Secret Machines.
— From 2004’s bigger-than-you-are Now Here is Nowhere
- “IIIIIIIIIIIII’m. Searching. Forrrr. Myyyyyyyyy. Mainnnnnnnnn. Liiiiiiiiiiinnnnnne.” Maybe Lou Reed couldn’t hit it sideways, but that’s exactly what John Cale is doing at 12:42 in Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground.
— From 1968’s everything louder than everything else White Light / White Heat
- The absolutely ethereal chorus peaks and peaks, and then peaks some more at 1:55 in My Heroine by Rage to Live.
— From 1990’s otherwise forgettable Blame The Victims
- John Bonham tries to knock the harmonica out of Robert Plant’s mouth. Robert Plant resists with everything he’s got at 2:51 in Nobody’s Fault But Mine by Led Zeppelin.
— From 1976’s eternally underrated Presence
- Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain are absolutely and utterly locked in at 6:10 in Hummer by The Smashing Pumpkins.
— From 1993’s career-making Siamese Dream
- Morrissey runs out of actual words just as Johnny Marr piles on the guitar at 3:30 in The Headmaster Ritual by The Smiths.
— From 1984’s comparatively weak Meat Is Murder
- Some days . . . Dan Bern just likes to dream. But it probably ain’t gonna happen while all of that slide guitar is going on at 7:13 in Simple by Dan Bern.
— From 1998’s career peak Smartie Mine
- Back in the 80s, the jukebox at the Olympic Tavern in Fresno hadn’t yet been upgraded to CDs, but was loaded with 45rpm singles. And one of the discs it held was an ancient 7″ of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” The b-side of which was a rarer than rare live version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” recorded on the legendary 1966 tour. A different night than the much-bootlegged (and later officially issued) Manchester show. I used to play it a lot, as we were breaking down after soundcheck, just to see if anybody ever had a WTF? moment. Noone ever did. My favorite part of this version is Garth Hudson making his organ sound like Xmas lights winking in the distant fog. At 3:01 in Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Liverpool, May 14 1966) by Bob Dylan.
— B-side to 1966’s “I Want You” single
- Maybe the greatest Beatles cop ever begins with the bendy guitar lick announcing the winding “La-La-Londinum” section at 4:29 in Towers of London by XTC.
— From 1980’s rocking Black Sea
- It’s a jangly guitar summit for the ages when yet another 12-string joins the party at 1:17 in There She Goes Again by The La’s.
— From 1990’s one-shot (but wotta shot) The La’s
- Ignoring the odds of 801 to 1.6180339887, Brian Eno and his gang discover for themselves that they’re never going to find anything golden on the radio at 1:31 in The True Wheel by Brian Eno.
— From 1974’s still-ahead-of-its time Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
- “Don’t expect me to die, don’t expect me to die.” OK, we won’t, Kurt, ‘cept that we totally did . . . At 3:09 in Jesus Doesn’t Want For A Sunbeam (Live) by Nirvana.
— From 1994’s sublimely retrospective cry-for-help MTV Unplugged in New York
- Everybody sing along! “Ba Da Ba Da Ba Ba Ba Ba Da Da / Ba Da Ba Da Ba Ba Ba Ba Da Da / Ba Da Ba Da Ba Ba Ba Ba Da Da / Ba Da Ba Da Ba Ba Ba Ba Da Da!!!” at 1:40 in Promise by Violent Femmes.
— From 1983’s eternally horny Violent Femmes
- Mick and Keith disagree on whether or not sleepy London town is a place for a street fighting man. Mick says no, Keith says “yeah” at 2:24 in Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones.
— From 1968’s back-in-the-pocket Beggars Banquet
- Anybody who was worried that moving to a major label meant automatic sell-out was immediately disabused of that notion by the all-cylinders opening at 0:00 in The Hungry Wolf by X.
— From 1982’s dark Under The Big Black Sun
- Aston “Family Man” Barrett lays down one of the most perfect bass parts underneath Bob, Peter & Bunny’s even more perfect harmonies at 0:18 in Stir It Up by Bob Marley & The Wailers.
— From 1973’s world-changing Catch a Fire
That’s it! We’re up to 94 moments, and there’s no end in sight. Next month: 21 Musical Moments to Die For!