Martha & the Vandellas had me thinking about my favorite passages in music and this is what I came up with off the top of my head real quick.
- They Might Be Giants “Minimum Wage” from Flood.
They Might Be Giants was the first band I seriously listened to that didn’t have any black people in it (I grew up on 80s R&B, Motown, and Sade) and Flood will always hold a special place in my music library. I was really young, but I remember hearing “Minimum Wage” and I had never experienced an instrumental that encompassed a concrete notion before. You could feel sad or happy or some other abstract feeling, but to make a song about minimum wage with no words? I was blown away. I still feel like this is a perfect sonic embodiment of what minimum wage is.
- Muse “Hysteria” from Absolution.
Intro. 20 seconds.
That bassline is ridiculously fun. I was hardcore into my saxophone studies and I used to use that bassline to warm-up. The passage isn’t all that hard, but the phrasing and slurring were a great exercise to get my tongue ready to go. The first time I heard it, I replayed it over and over again. Perfect exercise.
- Whitney Houston “I Have Nothing” from The Bodyguard.
From 3:36. 10 seconds.
The whole song is amazing Whitney in her prime. There will never be another voice like Whitney. Some may have range, some may have power, some may have musicality, but none of them have the richness of Whitney. I still get goosebumps when she hits the end of the chorus at 3:36 and then modulates up. During a weak moment, it actually brings me to tears.
- of Montreal “We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling” from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Intro, from 0:25. 85 seconds.
Best instrumental intro of all time. I actually listen to this song up until almost the two minute mark and then restart it from the beginning. Two of my ultimate dreams in life are to A) Perform this instrumental with a men’s acapella group and B) Become a superstar songwriter and use this sample as the basis for an entire pop song. And I love how long the bassline sequence is before it repeats again, not your usual one or two measures. It’s a full passage.
- Martha & the Vandellas “Heatwave”
Last verse and chorus, from 1:45. 60 seconds.
I love music that sounds live or like it was recorded on the first take. When Martha turns the sass up on “I ain’t never felt like this before” I’m done. DONE! And then the girls hit that call and response afterwards? That’s how it’s supposed to be done. This is what is supposed to happen when you bring gospel to R&B music.
- Hans Zimmer “Time” from Inception.
Horns at 3:05. 30 seconds.
I couldn’t decide if I liked Zimmer’s score from Inception because it worked so well with the visuals or because it was genuinely good. But “Time” is one of my favorite segments of movie music ever. It’s simple, but effective. It basically builds upon the same few notes for three minutes, adding more volume and more instrumentation, but not straying from theme. But when the horns come in after the three minute mark with those descending fifths, I get chills. The whole track is so heavy, and then the horns come in to CRUSH YOUR SOUL. Amazing.
- Natacha Atlas “The Righteous Path” from Gedida.
Instrumental with strings at 4:10. 30 seconds.
Natacha is an Egyptian pop star by way of Washington DC. She rarely records in English and “The Righteous Path” is no exception. This epic 7 minute song is all golden, but it’s the string orchestra that comes in on top of the middle-eastern percussion during the last half of the song that really set me off. It just makes me want to be sad and drive solo. The whole passage is insanely beautiful, but it’s when the strings hit some sweet dissonance at 4:27 that puts it over the top. That progression is probably my favorite chord progression in music.
- Brandy “Should I Go” from Afrodisiac.
Vocal harmony from 3:25. 90 seconds, through end of track.
Brandy has the best vocal production in music. Nobody sounds as good singing their own background as Brandy. She layers track after track of herself singing background until there is literally an army of 6 or 8 different lines going on behind the melody. Throughout “Should I Go” you hear bits and pieces of different lines. They’re clear and distinct and you can label them. The first verse is sung over Line A, the first chorus over B, second verse over C, etc. When Brandy wraps up the last verse and gets ready for the last chorus, all of the previous lines come together—ABCD—in a choir of harmony and wonderfulness and it blows me away every time. It’s not hard or difficult, but nobody does it like her. I use this passage as a test for potential boyfriends sometimes. If we’ve gotten to a serious point in the relationship and I wanna know how much we really have in common, I’ll put on “Should I Go” and see if they can really appreciate it. If they can’t…well…I mean…Should I Go? Cause we obviously not on the same page.
Nerd moment over. That’s all I got for now. I’ll probably re-read this and think HOW DID I FORGET ABOUT SUCH AND SO, but these were the first that came to mind.