Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Great Moments in Songs

Relatively new Cleveland-based blog Good Hodgkins asked music bloggers to list their favorite "visceral moment" from a song. For example, one person lists a moment from "Westfall" by Okkervil River and writes: "But oh, that moment that Sheff pronounces 'Evil don’t look like anything' with a punch at the end of a hushed verse and the rest of the band takes up the call. It literally made my hair stand on end the first time I heard it."

You get the point.

I imagine this type of list will satisfy Laura Miller, my younger sister, and others who think that listing things depreciates them, because this seems to be about delving further into something rather than standing back so far that judgment becomes flip or meaningless.

So, here are a few moments for me (picked pretty randomly out of what could be thousands, I think). Feel free to leave your own in the comments.

"Not Forgotten You" by Kelly Willis -- When Willis sings, "And I said 'Hail the western bound/with its black tail flying/lay on the rails and leave me to dream/of when your love was mine." The way she stutters the "i" in mine and then the organ comes in right after.

"My Life" by Iris Dement -- Pretty much the whole song, but the way she sings the chorus -- "but I gave joy to my mother/and I made my lover smile/and I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting/and I can make it seem better for a while" -- kills me every time.

"Funny" by Trash Can Sinatras -- The way he freaks out singing the last verse. I found a guess at a translation online, but I'm only convinced about some of this -- "and when the cap fits I'll wear it/and if I knew what made carpets fly/wouldn't be sitting here twiddling my thumbs in a bar/I'd threadbare my soul and wheedle my way into other people's lives/and out of my own." ("Threadbare" doesn't make sense as a verb, I know, but there is a lot of silly wordplay on the rest of the album, so who knows.)

"Smile" by Pearl Jam -- Both times the music shifts and Vedder soars in with "I miss you already(-eady-ay-ay)."

"Settled Down" by Richard Buckner -- A great song, the best of several good ones added on to a reissue of his first album. Visceral moment is when he goes up high, cracking a bit to sing the "now" in "I'm younger now/history, my dear friend/years away, you say my name/I'm settled down, but I won't give up again." Really, really pretty.

Then there are impressively sustained visceral performances, like most of Patty Griffin's vocals on the album Living With Ghosts or Ray LaMontagne's through most of Trouble or the entirety of Radiohead's performance on The Bends.



Blogger cb said...

I can't think of one that counts--Mike Mills (?) singing "It's gonna fall" on the chorus of "Fall On Me" came to mind immediately, but that seems too small in scale. Oh, wait, so lame because I mention her constantly, there's this moment in Neko Case's "Deep Red Bells" where the song pauses and shifts from noirish murder ballad into some banjo gospel and she sings "Does your soul cast about like an old paper bag/Past empty lots and early graves?" Elvis Costello spitting out "But you know that all boys are/really girls at heart" on "The Impostor"; his song "Little Triggers." All the classic songs by the Jam. But I hadn't thought about the freaking out at the end of "Funny" in a very long time. Though now I remember I've loved it. I went to iTunes to listen to the rest of the songs on that album (I still just have it on cassette, and no working tape deck) to see if I could come up with any others, but I think you picked the best one. Ok, I'll stop now.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...


But one that leaps to mind: on Van Morrison's (and we could make a separate Van Morrison visceral moments list, actually) "Slim Slow Slider" that closes his sublime ASTRAL WEEKS album. It is more a musical moment intersecting with a vocal moment, where the string bass hits that very sad and gorgeous minor note twice in the song. The first time is where Morrison says "you're out of reach..." and the second time is when he says "I know you're dyin', baby". When he sings those two lines and the bass hits that note (whatever it is) always gives me goosebumps. Delicate but powerful moments.

On the other extreme, and one more familiar to everyone I am sure, is at the end of the Who anthem "Won't Get Fooled Again", after the long synth interlude, when the band comes roaring back in and Roger Daltrey lets out one of the best screams in rock history: "Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhh!!!!!! / Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss". That's some rock and roll right there, folks.

Oh, Dire Straits has quite a few too. Try out "Wild West End" from their debut, where the crisp and clean electric guitar notes come cascading in during the intro over the National Steel rhythm guitar. Or Knopfler's line: "'Scuse me talkin' / I wanna marry you" (looks silly on paper, but the way he sings it in the song is magnificent). And "On Every Street", which has a pretty dull first three minutes or so, but then the pause, and Knopfler comes in with that fantastic guitar riff that builds up the epic second instrumental half of the tune.

More later.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

The moment at the end of "Alabama," from Coltrane "Live at Birdland," when it finally ascends out of minor. This may be a little tricky to locate, since there's no lyric, but the phrase in question is the same as the first two notes of that bonging NBC theme or of the kids' song "Inchworm." This may sound complicated, but you can't miss it; it's the thing right at the end that sounds aggrieved and exultant and different from the rest of the tune.
You can listen to it here, with very very bad sound quality and trimmed down a little but still more or less intact and still shivery and strong:

9:34 AM  
Anonymous lfw said...

in simon & garfunkel's 'america' (the whole verse this is a part of is greatness), from "and the moon rose over an open field..." over into "'kathy, i'm lost,' i said, though i knew she was sleeping. 'i'm empty and aching and i don't know whyyyy...'"

12:58 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

CB, again with the Neko Case.

Just kidding.

I didn't spend too much time thinking about REM possibilities, because my head might have exploded. I scrolled through my iTunes library to come up with ideas, and I have more than 150 songs by them in there. That said, I did consider Fall On Me.

There are lots of great moments on Cake, but another that almost made it is in Best Man's Fall when he sings "if I was a millionaire, I'd be a million miles from here."

Dezmond, lots of Van was considered, as you might imagine, including four or five moments from "And the Healing Has Begun," maybe my favorite song of his.

Nick, cool pick. And thanks for the link. We indie-rock kids need all the jazz education we can get.

LFW, great call with "America." I probably should have included the moment in "Bridge Over Troubled Water" when he sings "I'm sailing right behind..." Beautiful.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous lfw said...

that "best man's fall" moment is one i meant to mention, actually. unbelievable, that of all the songs we know in common, you would also light on that.

1:22 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

I think I am fairly educated in the jazz area, thank you very much JW! =) Great pick, Nick.

If you want to stay with some jazz: From Ramsey Lewis Trio's "The In Crowd" live album, during the title track after a short quiet interlude, they dive back into the grooving main theme and you can hear the club crowd erupt behind them. One of the few times where crowd noise on a recording actually enhances it the song. It helps that it was recorded in a club vs. an arena or the Enormodome or something, so you can hear the individual crowd members yelp and shout at the band.

How about some Miles Davis moments? Many, for me, are after long quiet (honestly, kinda noodling) segments, and the band finally falls into a groove. Miles does that so well, like a big release. He does that on "Solea" on SKETCHES OF SPAIN, "He Loved Him Madly", much of IN A SILENT WAY, etc. Oh, John McLaughlin's jagged groove on "Right Off" from JACK JOHNSON.

JW, yes, Van has many moments. "And the Healing Has Begun" would be high on my list as well. For me, it is that whole spoken part. That is my favorite part.

JW: I need to know how to get in touch with you this weekend. I will be there for part of the time and want to get together with you guys.

9:05 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Dezmond, I sent you an e-mail about this weekend. Looking forward to it...

On "Healing," I think the spoken word part is funny, but also kind of cheesy. My favorite moments are just the first time he starts singing -- "And we'll walk down the avenue again, and we'll sing all the songs from way back when" -- and later when he really yelps "We're gonna stay out all night long, and then we're gonna go out and roam across the field."

10:22 AM  
Blogger RNrealnurse said...

the most soulful song ever...Sam Cook, "A Change is Gonna Come"
...It's been too hard livin' but I'm afraid to die-- because I don't know what's up there beyond the sky...

11:20 PM  
Anonymous everysandwich said...

Warren Zevon's frantic, deperate yelps and funny asides ("hot dog!") in Detox Mansion. They wind me up and make me laugh at the same time.

5:28 PM  

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