My Top Ten Most Transcendent Moments In Recorded Music

Articles | Feb 1st, 2008

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There are two types of people who listen to music. The first group mostly uses music as an escape, a background noise while in the car or at the gym. These people often love music as a contributing factor to their lives. The second group are those for whom music is very much an integral part of their lives, and for whom songs are more than the three or four minutes of vocals and instrumentation. For us, music is more than just art, it’s a means by which we can communicate and understand the world. Needless to say, most of the staff at ReadJunk are in the latter category.

Most of the time an entire song will move or inspire someone. Many people need only to hear a song once and be hooked. But sometimes there’s something even greater. It only happens once in a while, but there are distinct musical moments – just a bar or two, one vocal line, or even just the right strum of the guitar – that take a song, an album, or a band, to the next level. These moments will be different for everyone, but I thought I would share mine with you. More music lover than critic, these are those convincing pieces of music that remind all of us why it’s still worth writing articles like this without being paid.

10. 1:12 into ‘Falling Slowly’ By Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova
Album: Once: Motion Picture Soundtrack (2007)

I love it when a song can really give you a good wallop the first time you hear it, and even better when it’s in an incredible film. This song, from Once, the breakaway film success of last summer introduced most of the world to two simple musicians whose vocal harmonies are far more symbolic than just a compliment to the melody. The first time Hansard sings his falsetto harmony on the word ‘time’ I realized I completely felt exactly what was going through the minds of Hansard and Inglova, whether in character or even the studio when they recorded the song. You don’t need to see the film to feel the tender heartbreak of the chorus and the way the two voices sound like they were meant to sing together.

9. 3:25 into ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ by Otis Redding
Album: Complete And Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966)

I don’t think it’s worth mourning over what Otis Redding could have done had he lived a bit longer, because he left behind a fantastic canon of soul classics. Blessed with one of the most incrediblevoices in pop music, Try A Little Tenderness is a song that grows from a slow and timid intro towards an explosion of passion embodied by his near unintelligibility towards the end of the song. By the time the song has grown from near nothing until its crescendo, and its most perfect moment, Redding seems almost unable to completely contain his musical personality within the realm of the song. Whether it makes you want to get up and dance or even just make you want a bit of tenderness, it’s hard to believe anyone can sit still with the essence of Otis Redding nearly exploding out of their speakers.

8. 1:41 into ‘Alison’ by Elvis Costello
Album: My Aim Is True {1977}

As much as I love Elvis Costello, I think he was at his creative peak in 1977, with the release of My Aim Is True. I feel like some of these songs had been worked on for years, and fine-tuned to perfection. While I don’t think Alison is even the best song on this album (and I’d have a whole lot of trouble picking just one favourite), this song contains the one moment where Costello proves that it doesn’t matter if he’s a geeky looking white guy. When he sings ‘sometimes I wish that I could stop / you from talking,’ the emotion in his vocals seems to carry into the music as well, and really takes the moment to another level. THe single word ‘stop’ is my crowning Costello moment, even if he did put together several amazing follow ups. They just didn’t touch me in the same way.

7. 3:24 into ‘Deathly’ by Aimee Mann
Album: Magnolia Soundtrack and Bachelor no. 2 (1999)

I don’t blame filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson for centering his film Magnolia around this song’s opening lyrics. Perhaps there should be more songs based on Aimee Mann lyrics. While I absolutely love this song, I think its best moment is not its filmically referenced opening line, but towards the end of the track, when producer Jon Brion’s amazing production creates a climax of Mann’s subdued vocals mix with a chorus of backing vocals (with an emotive ‘oh please’) that tends to send chills down my spine. With an already sombre song, the bombastic production coupled with Mann’s incredible songwriting makes for a truly captivating few seconds in an already fantastic song.

6. 0:46 into ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ by Wilco
Album: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

It was hard to pick one single Wilco moment that really defined them for me. But then I thought about the first time I heard this album, which starts out sounds unlike anything they had done up to that point. Beginning with organ drones, bells, and other noise, when the drums kick in with their unique and off-kilter beat, you know that Wilco has taken their music to a new level, a notion that is only further propagated as the album continues. Wilco are easily one of the best live bands touring today, but this is where they hit their creative in-studio peak, with an album that gorgeously produced, composed, and performed by undoubtably talent musicians.

5. 3:04 into ‘Last Goodbye’ by Jeff Buckley
Album: Grace (1994)

Jeff Buckley was one of the more tragic figures to emerge in the 1990s. Probably more talented than Kurt Cobain, Buckley has left even less recorded music for his public. A talented songwriter and performer, but most of all an incredible singer, Last Goodbye is both wonderfully cathartic and deeply haunting given his ultimate fate. This moment’s crescendo is alleviated by Buckley’s powerful voice, mixing a Zeppelinesque wail with a finely-tuned ear brings the song towards its most powerful lyrics. Stellar production, with strings and crashing drums make this the centerpiece of an already incredible album. Buckley gets to similar heights in his cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah,’ but it is here that he really shows everything he could hav been.

4. 0:00 into ‘September Gurls’ by Big Star
Album: #1 Record (1972)

I’m sure some would debate this, but there is good reason to believe that September Gurls is one of the best pop songs ever. And I’m not exactly sure why. But every time I hear the treble-heavy jangly guitar into to the song, it just brings a smile to my face. With better promotion, this song could have easily climbed up the charts in the early 1970s, but instead it is left as a little gem, a special gift to those who really love music.

3. 3:30 into ‘Beside You’ by Van Morrison
Album: Astral Weeks (1968)

I’ll admit that while Astral Weeks is easily my favourite Van Morrison album, and probably one of my overall faves, ‘Beside You’ is probably my least loved song on the album, but mostly because the rest of them are so incredible. But what makes this moment so spectacular for me is the way Morrison delivers his ‘you breathe in / you breathe out’ lines so passionately and so forcefully, despite being off the beat. It heightens the tension of the song and displays further proof of Morrison’s talent as a performer. The vocals sound so natural and tonally perfect that it makes you wish you could sing like that, but I don’t think anyone ever will be able to again.

2. 3:01 into ‘Born To Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
Album: Born To Run (1975)

I think this is one of those songs that everyone knows and everybody loves for the same reasons that I do. It’s also one of those songs where everyone knows what part they love most, which is when the instrumentation sounds like it’s falling apart, and then a should of ‘one-two-three-four’ brings Bruce and the gang back into it with more soul than ever. It’s hard to believe that such an incendiary moment was captured in the recording, and it’s no surprise that Springsteen is known as one of the best live performers ever. If he can do this much with a simple count, imagine him singing the alphabet.

1. 2:58 into ‘Armagideon Time’ by The Clash
Album: Black Market Clash (1979)

I’m sure as you’ve read through this list, you’ve noticed a smattering of logical choices, less popular tracks, and interesting rationales. Many more famous critics than me will agree that The Clash are one of the most important bands of the last 30 years. But I know that for me, there is an extra special connection. When I was 13, I heard London Calling for the first time and was instantly hooked. I not only sought out every album and song the band had recorded, but began to read all about them, and soon began to idolize Joe Strummer. One of my favourite stories about him had to do with this song. He was confident that the perfect pop song was exactly 2:58. So, in advance of the recording of the band’s cover of a Willie Williams reggae number, he told Kosmo Vinyl to let them know when the song had reached that length so they could end the number. You can still hear his voice on the track, as the guitars and drums pause for a dubby, bass-heavy moment. Vinyl shouts ‘okay boys, let’s have you out’ only for Strummer to define not only music but his entire essence with the ad-libbed ‘okay okay, don’t push us when we’re hot,’ prompting the band to get right back into its groove. There’s something about the mix of accidental brilliance and the natural passion for music emanating from Strummer’s voice at that vey moment that convinced me fully that they were and still are the greatest band in all existence, and that in many ways, The Clash are more than just a band – they are an endless series of perfect moments that changed and continue to define the way I perceive everything else. For me, Strummer’s voice in the middle of Armagideon Time is art at its very highest form, and something that immortalizes him in my mind as one of the most important musicians ever to be recorded.