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 hooks 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.
This is the first of a series: I’ve already identified dozens of songs, and figure to be doing these — weekly, hopefully — for quite some time.
For those of you scoring along at home, excerpts below run around 30 seconds and contain the part of the song I’m describing; for those of you who want more context, I’ve helpfully (hopefully) identified the approximate time it happens. (And I really hope that the player works, cos it was a bit sketchy while I was putting this together. There might be issues with these playing in Firefox.)
Oh, and this isn’t in any kind of order, despite the numbering.
Finally, if there is a preponderance of older material here, I think it’s because you have to live with something for a while to know whether or not it’s to die for. Also, people might notice that this list and the ones that follow will be weighted heavily towards artists I’ve always said were my favorites. Imagine that.
25 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR
- Toots Hibbert is interrupted while describing the building blocks of his music by a drum roll that simultaneously tears the song apart and stitches it back together at 1:43 in Funky Kingston by Toots & The Maytals.
— From 1973’s roots classic Funky Kingston
- “Then she remembers what she said / Then she remembers what she said / Then she remembers what she said / Then she remembers what she said.” Steve Wynn starts getting psycho just as Karl Precoda starts getting beautiful at 2:18 in Then She Remembers by The Dream Syndicate.
–From 1982’s transcendent The Days Of Wine and Roses
- “I bargained for salvation / and they gave me a lethal doooooose!” On my short list for Bob’s best singing ever at 3:33 in a Rolling Thunder Revue live version of Shelter From The Storm by Bob Dylan.
— From 1976’s underrated Hard Rain
- The sheer gloomy awesomeness powering the opening riff at 0:00 in Symptom of The Universe by Black Sabbath.
— From 1975’s secret classic Sabotage
- The jangling jumble of clanging guitars and off-kilter drums that frame the chorus at 1:34 in Duel by Swervedriver.
— From 1993’s criminally overlooked Mezcal Head
- Best. Cowbell. Ever. Tambles in at 2:36 in Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
— From 1969’s swampy Bayou Country
- The pathos in Paul Westerberg’s voice as he sings that sublime last verse: “growing old in a bar, you grow old in a bar” at 2:18 in Left of the Dial by The Replacements.
— From 1985’s myth-solidifying Tim
- Craig Finn repeats his thesis statement — “I survived the 80s one time already / and I don’t recall it all that fondly / so hold steady” — as Tad Kubler riffs off of the beat at 3:18 in The Swish by The Hold Steady.
— From 2004’s fully positive The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me
- Duncan Kilburn’s fucking amazing sax riff comes in for the final time as Mr. Richard Butler chants about his love (it’s us!) at 2:46 in We Love You by The Psychedelic Furs.
— From 1980’s not-really-psychedelic The Pyschedelic Furs
- Jimmy Page’s guitar solo — more like a guitar attack, really — at 1:24 in Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin.
— From 1969’s eternal Led Zeppelin
- “Turn that fucking music down says my motherrrrrrr!” John Freeman sums up decades of teenage angst at 1:35 in One More Reason by The Magnolias.
— From 1986’s indie-punk Concrete Pillbox
- Miles Davis’ trumpet finally arrives, having traveled light years to get here, and still having light years to go at 1:44 in Shh/Peaceful by Miles Davis.
— From 1969’s jazz-rock triumph In a Silent Way
- Michael Stipe, Bill Berry & Mike Mills pull off one of the earliest of their multi-dimensional choruses, with extra added percussion at 3:41 of Pilgrimage by R.E.M.
— From 1983’s scene-galvanizing Murmur
- It may not have deserved the death penalty, but Mick Jagger coulda been arrested for what he was thinking about doing to the non-carded 15-year-old during his enthusiastic scream at 1:46 in Stray Cat Blues by The Rolling Stones.
— From 1968’s not-really-that-satanic Beggars Banquet
- Chuck D battles not just the government, but the unrelenting piano sample at 0:30 in Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos by Public Enemy.
— From 1988’s revolutionary It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
- Paul Thompson’s kick drum bridges the gap between Phil Manzanera and Bryan Ferry coming out of the instrumental break at 2:20 in Editions of You by Roxy Music
— From 1973’s glamtastic For Your Pleasure
- Chicago – “All things go / All things go.” That first swirling, swooping chorus rings in at 0:52 in Chicago by Sufjan Stevens.
— From 2005’s unexpected Illinois
- After all of the stops and starts and stops and starts, Entwistle, Moon and Townshend decide that they can pretty much go anywhere they damn well please at 1:34 in Young Man Blues by The Who. So they do.
From 1970’s high-octane Live at Leeds.
- After Bono checks in, it’s unclear whether even The Edge’s gigantic guitar will help him get out at 1:28 in A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel by U2.
— From 1988’s faux-soul with real soul Angel of Harlem 7″ single
- Near the end of a tale that is worth a thousand pictures, Rod Stewart starts to come back in a beat too soon and just catches himself at 3:46 of Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart.
— From 1971’s star-making Every Picture Tells A Story
- The ache in Jay Ferrar’s voice belies his youth as he realizes that he’s not just choosing that whiskey bottle over Jesus, but pretty much everything else at 1:15 in Whiskey Bottle by Uncle Tupelo.
— From 1990s genre-creating No Depression.
- Parker Gispert tries unsuccessfully to keep his rhythm section from ripping out his heart at 2:20 of Right Hand on My Heart by The Whigs.
From 2008’s possible future classic Mission Control.
- John Cale’s piano riff announces itself as something you’ve never heard before, or since at 0:18 of All Tomorrow’s Parties by The Velvet Underground.
From 1967’s unbelievable The Velvet Underground & Nico
- Joseph Hill and crew send out an all points bulletin at 0:16 in Calling Rastafari by Culture.
— From 1977’s apocalyptic Two Sevens Clash
- John Squire has his finest moment as the long instrumental break kicks into gear at 4:00 in Waterfall by The Stone Roses. So good that the next song was that one backwards.
— From 1989’s glorious The Stone Roses
That’s the first batch. Not even necessarily the best batch. And gods willing, there will be more. Much more.