Friday Playlist: Great little cinematic music moments
There’s an ancient proverb that goes a little something like this: “A lazy afternoon spent watching “Dead Poets Society” is not an afternoon wasted.” I find these words (alas, my own creation) comforting, as this is exactly how I spent my Saturday afternoon. What can I say? Ethan Hawke from the ’80s was an absolute fetus in the film; Robin Williams was at his rousing best. Add a near-perfect screenplay to that and you’ve got the recipe for a procrastinator’s dream of a movie.
About halfway through, there’s this pivotal, cathartic scene in which the painfully shy Todd Anderson (hunky fetus, Hawke) bursts out of his shell after his English teacher (Williams) prods him along in reciting an impromptu poem in front of the class. It’s my favorite scene in the film by far: not only does it signal a huge shift for Hawke’s character and his ambitions and philosophies, but the viewer has — having held his or her breath the entire time — moved forward too, right with him.
And so it goes for so many movies, TV shows and cultural events. We have a visual representation of a grand alteration, an emotional epiphany, the savory twist in the third act. Furthermore, we have camera angles, varied dialogue and celebrity faces to aid in the illustration of these revelatory scenes. With music, it’s not nearly as plain to see.
The question: what transformative occurrences do we, music addicts, have to cherish? Sure, we have no Todd Andersons getting enlightened, no “Lost” finale mind-benders, no Shakespearean plays — but we still have mind-blowing scenes. The definition just changes a bit.
We get that one guitar solo that melts your face. The beat that drops in the most peculiar, satisfying way. The drums that build and build until the lead singer takes it all to the climax with a brassy, colossal sing-yell. That last part? That’s the scene. And for some reason or another, all this stuff simultaneously changes the plot of the song for the better while hitting the listener’s sweet spot. It makes the listener laugh and cry and take the classic “Guys-everyone-shut-up-this-is-the-best-part-of-the-whole-song” jab at car-radio omnipotence. Do your thing, passenger seat riders.
So in honor of the great little moments of music, I have compiled a list of the top 10 coolest, most shiver-inducing parts (scenes) of songs that mark a shift into newfound loveliness. For the full effect, it’s recommended you listen to the songs in their entirety, as you would a film, an episode or a performance. (Time markers are provided for CEOs on the go.) But however you go about it: listen hard, listen often and — most importantly — listen on, my wayward son.
10. “Love Shack” by B-52’s
The “TIN ROOF” part: 3:12 to 3:55
There’s a reason “Love Shack” was a downright smash back in ’89: it’s cosmic, kitschy pop at its damn finest. Singer Cindy Wilson originally wailed the gorgeously random “TIN ROOF…rusted” line in an outtake, but the band decided to splice it into the song, and it has since become one of the most well-recognized musical tidbits in recent history.
9. “No Aloha” by The Breeders
When the guitars drop: 1:05 to the end
Sigh. The Breeders were extremely short-lived, popularity-wise (“Cannonball” is their blip of a magnum opus), though they represented girl power, grunge power and all things capriciously moody. When the rocking starts on “No Aloha,” an initially ethereal number, it becomes one of the band’s best moments.
8. “Retrograde” by James Blake
The ultimate siren ear-gasm: 1:41 to the end
As British electronic maestro Blake exclaims at 1:41, “Suddenly I’m hit!” The siren synths gloriously compile after that, until all is swept clean again at the very end. Well played, Blake.
7. “Crossroads (Live)” by Cream
Eric Clapton’s face-melting solos: 1:29 to 2:30, 2:50 to 3:51
No words here. Listen to all of the Cream. All of it.
6. “Are You Experienced?” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi enters and crushes the world: 1:45 to the end
If Cream-era Eric Clapton ever had a rival/compadre/frenemy, it’d be Hendrix and his left-handed holiness. “Are You Experienced?” is especially out of this world because Hendrix doesn’t come in strong from the beginning, as he does on so many other classics — it all drops in one divine scene.
5. “Creep” by Radiohead
Thom Yorke’s mounting yawp: 2:26-3:02
After a whole song of cripplingly antisocial lamentations, if you don’t get even a little misty during Yorke’s last, beautiful cry of creepdom, we’re sending out a search party for your soul. The torches are ready.
4. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson
The Eddie Van Halen solo: 3:10 to 3:42
Eddie Van Halen’s bag of guitar tricks is plentiful, and “Beat It” shows off most of them: the overdriven arpeggios, that raspy-yet-techno tone. His scene is short, but it’s probably the most air-guitarred, like, ever.
3. “Somebody To Love” by Queen
Freddie’s final cry: 3:52 to 4:03
“Somebody To Love” plays out, like so many other Queen songs, about as close to a symphony as rock music can get. Freddie Mercury’s voice (that voice) is the flamboyant lead instrument, but when “Somebody” climaxes around 3:52, he buckles into a barely audible, descending solo run. It’s one of Queen’s most intimate moments, and stronger than a yell in so many ways.
2. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
That key change: 3:04
Get the tissues. You got ‘em? OK. They still won’t help you when Whitney hits that note that takes the song up to a whole other key (and godly level). No one has been able to replicate it since. Not even you in your shower.
1. “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles
Every single damn part.
This product of “The White Album” is the ultimate song of scenes. It’s hard to quantify or pinpoint when the transitions happen because they’re all over — in John’s deadpan-turned-passionate vocals, in the changed tempos, in George’s gritty-turned-pretty guitars. And John’s final falsetto note is just about the sexiest thing ever. I’ll be quiet now and let the music do the talking.