By Ralph Greco, Jr.
They thunder from your speakers, cause you to press pedal to the metal, fist pump in a concert crowd, get your blood boiling for the big game — they are the ballsiest parts of rock tunes. Forgoing lead moments (there are just too many of these ballsy breaks to list) here is a breezy list of the 10 ballsiest moments from the already ballsy oeuvre that is rock.
1) Snare drum on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
When it comes to rock drummers, none are more laid back than the dearly departed Charlie Watts. More interested in jazz drumming than he ever really was in rock and roll and playing on as small a set as any rock drummer, save Ringo Starr, Watts manages first-place distinction here with the most delicious of slip-sliding subtly bitchin’ ballsy snare to start up the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”
2) Cowbell on “Honky Tonk Women”
Although my second pick here is also from the Stones, it isn’t Charle Watts who plays the cowbell. Producer Jimmy Miller manages the light touch but oh-so distinctive ballsy start to this one.
3) Bass intro on “Smoke On The Water”
At 34 seconds into what is arguably Deep Purple’s best-known song, bassist Roger Glover walks his bass into what is already a fantastically heavier-than-heavy tune. Those big thrumming bass notes stand out, as they do for the rest of the tune.
4) Horns on “25 Or 6 To 4”
At the 15-second mark of the early Chicago hit, with Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Jimmy Pankow on trombone, and Walt Parazaider on tenor sax, the song blares in full who-knows-what-to-the-wall force over one of Terry Kath’s killer riffs and Danny Seraphine’s grooving snare.
5) Drum fills on “Young Man Blues”
The Who’s cover of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” featured on the group’s incendiary Live At Leeds album certainly showcases the all-out guitar wailing of Pete Townshend, buried-deep-in-the-mix John Entwistle bass thunder, and Roger Daltrey screaming like the rough-hewn vocal God he was. But it’s drummer Keith Moon’s rolling, rumbling drum fills that push this already ballsy tune to a whole new level of danger from, at times, someone who could be a very dangerous character indeed.
6) Children’s choir on “‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2”
And all the children sing…While there is many a musical moment from any number of Pink Floyd tracks that could make this list, the Islington Green School children’s choir is so ballsy because it is anything but ballsy…but so perfectly placed. The single became the band’s only US and UK Number One.
7) Drum breaks at the end of “Tom Sawyer”
Pretty much a Rush concert stable from the minute they released it on their Moving Pictures album (and a song I saw the band open various shows with across multiple tours over the years), “Tom Sawyer” is a killer heavy track about individualism. And while the tune is rockin’ throughout, and dearly departed incredible drummer Neil Peart makes things seem easy with what seems like just in-the-pocket beat-keeping, by the time we get to his tom break rolls coming out of Alex Lifeson’s lead, the tune continues to its conclusion with Peart making his always dynamic unique presence known.
8) Intro to “Cross-Eyed Mary”
First, the call out of “Mary” on the Jethro Tull tune, followed by Ian Anderson’s flute, John Evan’s piano strikes, strings rising, and Clive Bunker’s locomotive-like snare (not to be confused with his playing on “Locomotive Breathe”) surely get us in the deep heavy mood for Martin Barre’s power chords and Anderson’s vocal.
9) Last “hell” sung on “Bat Out of Hell”
Surely, there have been some powerful, musical-moment-making screams vocalized by some of our best rock vocalists. But the last “hell” sung by Meat Loaf on “Bat Out of Hell” from the 1977 hit album of the same name pretty much establishes larger-than-life (or at least most lead rock singers) Marvin Lee Aday as the force he will become.
10) Bass played with a pick on “Good Vibrations”
Session musician Carol Kaye is one of popular music’s most recorded bass players. Look across a list of 60s hits, and you will see her credited by knowing musos. And although one could pick any number of low-down grumbly moments or flick-a-flick runs from this monster musician, I’ll agree with Brian Wilson who claims that Kaye playing her bass with a pick (as she often did) on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” makes what Derek Taylor called Wilson’s “pocket symphony” the masterpiece big, layered mover it is.