Best Of Rock: Seven Things Taken For Granted

By Ralph Greco, Jr.

A woefully subjective-in-no-way-conclusive-completely-unscientific listing of those moments in rock music, whether intentional or accidental, that stir men’s souls and cause women’s skirts to inch-up so suggestively up their thighs that we…hell you know what I mean!

Unless you’re in your late 30s or older, you probably can’t recall too much of what I’m referring to in the previous paragraph. It’s a shame, but these stirring moments (at least stirring to me) occur mostly in rock music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I’m not talking about that amazing vocal or soaring guitar lead. In the list that follows — with hopes that you’ll start a list of your own — are those particular moments, a brief improvised exchange during a live recording or that last-minute instrumental flourish that stops you cold every time you hear it. It can be accidental or planned.

Either way, it is these brief snippets of genius that make the truly classic song truly classic. What I’m after is the uncommon, the un-noted, the not-so-obvious like Keith Emerson’s first Moog solo on “Lucky Man,” Roger Daltrey’s scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Ringo Starr’s reversed drums on “Rain,” or even Phil Collins’ percussive walk-in on “In The Air Tonight” (see, I did sneak something in from the 80’s!). All these examples are great and leave me panting, but they are not what I mean. To get an idea, let’s take a look at a few of my faves (Sorry they’re all from the 70’s — the decade I know and love so much):

1) The “do ya?” from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Ok, I did slip in this song after all! As I mentioned at the beginning, I know that most rock lists include Daltrey’s scream coming out of Keith Moon’s drum solo. But for me, it has always been Pete Townshed’s “do ya” after the third chorus that sends me up the most. I can just picture Pete so into it that he adds an extra spit of enthusiasm. At about that point in the song, I’m pretty much ready to shout out too!

2) “Judy, Judy Judy…” at the fade out of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” You know damn well the Fabs were just jamming on this one (I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that they culled the “Hey Jude” we all know from a nine minute-plus jam!) Again, this is one of those moments when musicians are experiencing such unbridled momentum — Paul McCartney is scatting and loving every single joyful expression of creating a classic track with the best band in the world at the time.

3) This is a complicated one, and albeit it might be a tad obscure, but it gets me every freaking time. At the third, final verse of the Rolling Stones’ “Memory Motel,” Mick Jagger does not sing a note for what should be the final line of that verse. In other words, all the previous verses have eight lines; this one has seven. The band plays the verse through, but there are no vocals. Every single time I hear this it gives me chills, for two reasons: a) Jagger cleverly refrained from singing this last line — a line the listener is expecting — knowing it would leave the listener expectant and unfulfilled, much like the narrator of the song; b) If Jagger simply had nothing else to say, how perfect does that fit the lyric anyway? When I think about this even now it gives me goose-bumps!

4) There’s another totally organic one, not so much accidental as it is just part of the moment. At the end of “Tuesday’s Gone” on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live album One More From the Road, Ronnie Van Zandt croons: “That lonesome, lonesome train.” Like all good blues, those simple few words are sung at just the right time and just the right way to really make you feel the loss conveyed by the song. Do I ever miss the ‘real’ Skynyrd…

5) This next one is from a production/arranger perspective. The addition of maracas — god damn maracas! — during the rocking section of Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” is about as good as it gets. At this point in his career, Elton had about the best band he would ever have, recording this landmark double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This opening track features some great synthesizer/organ work, but when that piano, drums, guitar, and bass kick in, the song elevates to a level that makes it truly a classic rock instrumental. The maracas — coming every four bars — drive the song to a height I am sure it never would have reached. I’m not even sure I can pinpoint any other time maracas have been used in a rock song, let alone this one so effectively! This was no accident and I don’t know whose idea if was — Elton’s, producer Gus Dudgeon’s, or even drummer Nigel Olsen’s. Does it ever work!

6) OK, another obscure ‘accident’ and truly one that’ll fuel the angst of teenage boys. I dare you to listen to “Mamma Kin” from Aerosmith’s debut album and tell me that the unplanned slide Joe Perry plays during the first ‘break’ doesn’t send you into paroxysms of pleasure. Don’t ask my why this does it for me — I can’t explain it! With Aerosmith turning into the squeaky-clean, Mark Hudson songwriter-vehicle corporation that it has been now for over a decade, that simple little guitar “squirk” reminds me that these boys from Beantown definitely had better days.

7) How ‘bout Robert Plant asking: “Has anybody seen the bridge?”

We could go on but I know you have your own lists. So get to it — the accident, the obscure, the throw-away can be a many splendid thing.

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