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.
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.
23 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR
- The moment that Hüsker Dü graduated from unique hardcore band to all-time great rock and roll band? This guitar solo. At 2:51 in Celebrated Summer by Hüsker Dü.
— From 1985’s mold-breaking New Day Rising
- 1,203,604 massed Jack Whites battle a single squealing guitar note at 1:53 in There’s No Home For You Here by The White Stripes.
— From 2003’s too-big-for-the-room Elephant
- All of the chaos comes to a close with one last Pete Townshend guitar chord and just before the iconic synth part takes us to that scream, there’s just a couple of strums of acoustic guitar — hey! did you know that there’s acoustic guitar?! — at 6:26 in Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who.
— From 1971’s transcendent reclamation job Who’s next
- Not even Richard Ploog’s big big drums can stop that insistent guitar jangle at 1:58 in Dropping Names by The Church.
— From 1983’s perfect for making out Seance
- The lyrics might be giving one reason, but the real reason James Brown screams and screams is because he’s celebrating the fact that he’s inventing a whole new form of music at 6:30 in Cold Sweat by James Brown.
— From 1967, but best heard on what might be the greatest box set ever, Star Time
- The first verse of most joyous and rocking anti-rock ‘n’ roll song ever recorded kicks in at 0:58 in Memphis, Egypt by The Mekons.
— From 1989’s says what it is Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll
Sure, there’s not a note out of place, but the handclaps add at least a dollop of humanity to the gorgeous icy perfection that permeates that guitar break at 2:30 in Hitch a Ride by Boston.
— From 1976’s corporate rock-inventing Boston.
- This far down the line, most people aren’t going to believe that The Bangles started as a tough, 60’s-influenced guitar band. They played Letterman after their amazing debut, and added an extra long guitar solo to “Hero Takes a Fall,” adding an extra twist to an already great song. Two albums later, they played Saturday Night Live, and added a synth to make the song sound exactly like the record. Here’s some proof of that toughness at 1:48 in Hero Takes a Fall (Live) by The Bangles.
— The original version is from 1984’s amazing debut All Over the Place
- What’s this? Sonic Youth writes a recognizable pop song? With an actual hook and everything? They did that more than you think, actually, at least to my ears. At 1:30 in Sugar Kane by Sonic Youth.
— From 1992’s hard as diamonds, and just as beautiful Dirty
- Plenty of bands stole from The Stone Roses, but nothing was quite as successful as the last chorus at 4:35 in Stay Where You Are by Ambulance LTD.
— From 2004’s looking more and more like a one-shot LP
- The guitars get so big, and the production gets so deep that the drums are buried, and have to try and fight their way out at 1:42 in Somethings Wrong by The Jesus and Mary Chain.
— From 1986’s awesome, supreme, near-perfect in every aspect Psychocandy
- Rox would never be geeky enough to do one of these lists, but if she did, at the top would be the sugar-coated stop-time part at 3:21 in Boys on the Radio by Hole.
— From 1998’s last gasp Celebrity Skin
- You can’t spend your teenage years in a band with Paul Westerberg without something rubbing off, and Tommy Stinson got it right — and like Paul before him, got my life at the time — at 3:50 in Friday Night is Killing Me by Bash & Pop.
— From 1993’s spirited if vocally limited Friday Night is Killing Me
- Robyn Hitchcock wanders around in a forest of “ahhs” with just his acoustic guitar for company at 2:29 in Autumn is Your Last Chance by Robyn Hitchcock.
— From 1984’s strangely affecting I Often Dream of Trains
- Gods know that I’m nowhere near a Pet Sounds fanatic. I’ve always thought that it was overrated, and I’ll take one of their singles comps any day. But even I can’t deny the heavenly pile of voices that starts at 1:59 in God Only Knows by The Beach Boys.
— From 1966’s overrated Pet Sounds
- “Jesus Christ! / Why can’t we do anything right? / What’s the matter with you / What’s the matter with me?” Tom Gray asks the unanswerable questions one last time at 3:03 in Heart in the Street by The Brains.
— From 1981’s disappointing follow-up Electronic Eden
- It’s the joyous, headlong rush of kids with all the energy and brains in the world that makes them earn their exclamation points at 0:42 of Death to Los Campesinos! by Los Campesinos!
— From 2008’s breathless Hold On Now, Youngster…
- First, the singer declares that he’ll “splatter my brains all over the wall for you,” and then the guitars spend the next few minutes doing just that at 4:21 in …For You by The Chant.
— From 1985’s beyond obscure Three Sheets to the Wind
- In perhaps most the most Neil Youngy of all Neil Young songs, he declares: “People my age, they don’t do the things I do.” Which has been true for his entire career. At 1:05 in I’m The Ocean by Neil Young.
— From 1995’s pretty great Mirror Ball
- Noone is ever going to mistake Jeff Tweedy — or any of his hardcore fans — for a hard rocker, but even he understands the visceral power of stoopid as shown by the Big Dumb Headbangy Part at 3:58 in Spiders (Kidsmoke) by Wilco.
— From 2004’s new beginning A Ghost is Born
- Has there ever been anything so perfectly lovely as Roger McGuinn’s 12-String Rickenbacker guitar? No. Never. At 1:56 in 5D by The Byrds.
— From 1967’s underrated Fifth Dimension
- You could almost hear the tensions pulling apart the entire band — and an entire strain of 80’s indie rock as well — as David Lowery repeats “of life and love” at 4:25 in All Her Favorite Fruit by Camper Van Beethoven.
— From 1989’s bittersweet Key Lime Pie
- You’d never think it with a band that seems so, well, basic, but between the weird drumbeat, the huge spaces between the chords and the melancholy vocal, nothing else in Fresno radio in 1977 quite sounded like the chorus at 1:45 of Southern Girls by Cheap Trick.
— From 1977’s seminal In Color