There’s so many reasons to love a particular piece of music. It could be everything about the song – the lyrics, vocals, how the performer captures what you’re feeling, the production, etc. etc. But sometimes there are songs you love for a single element. Everything else about the song might be good or fine or whatever, but there’s one thing – maybe it’s the bridge or guitar solo, or it could even be the way the singer enunciates a single word – that absolutely fucking kills you dead every time. You ride out the whole song for that one moment, and hit repeat as soon as it passes.
Cameron Crowe explains this considerably better in a scene from the extended version of Almost Famous:
But… it’s not what you put in, is it?
It’s what you leave out. Listen to… listen to Marvin Gaye…
A song like “What’s Going On.” That single “woo” at the end of the second verse – you know that woo – that single “woo.
That’s what you remember. The silly things, the little things… there’s only one, and it makes the song.
It’s what you leave out. That’s rock and roll. ”
I believe the songs that hit you because of these single moments can be more personal than any other favorite song you have, because it is all about what catches your ear. I mean, sure, everyone knows The Allman Brothers’ “Melissa” is a great song, but does everyone hear the heartbroken call that Gregg makes out of the word “crossroads” on the final verse that I hear?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, or even an attempt at a top 10, but here are some songs I will adore to my dying day, all because of one piece.
Marvin Gaye – “Trouble Man” – Gaye’s voice was unreal so often that sometimes you don’t appreciate the little flourishes he could add to song that would send shivers up your spine. Take the way he hits the two “yeahs” at the end of the bridge. It’s not quite a shout, but there’s more grit in his voice, almost like a cheer. Call it whatever you want, but I think it’s a mini-miracle.
John Mayer – “Come Back to Bed” – I’m a total sucker for any love-drenched song with a horn line, so there was no chance I wasn’t going to love this song when I first came across it. On his second go at the chorus, Mayer goes for one of those high notes on the word “leave,” and it flattens me every time I hear it.
Modern English – “I Melt With You” – You know what I’m going to say here – it’s all about that “Mmm mmm mmm” bridge. That shit can be injected right into my veins.
Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour” – The way the bass line practically becomes the lead instrument once Musgraves starts singing the first verse is just startlingly beautiful.
The 1975 – “Paris” – For most of this song it sounds like Matt Healy is singing with someone or accompanied by an echo effect. But for one exclamation, “Hey Kids!” toward the end of the second verse, he cries out clearly and on his own.
Bonnie Raitt – “Nick of Time” – The way Raitt hits the word “You” in the second part of the third verse of this classic is enough to give you goosebumps. Following the journey of the song, that “you” carries a whole hell of a lot of weight, and Raitt gives it all the lift it deserves.
Rihanna – “Same Ol’ Mistakes” – RiRi’s cover of this Tame Impala is a pretty straight forward take on the original. But there’s a little waver on the word “option” that she repeats over and over at the end that could only come from her.
Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – For my money, this might be the best bridge in pop music. The quiet beauty of it, the invocation of autumn, everything about it just works.
Vampire Weekend – “Obvious Bicycle” – Rostam Batmanglij is one of the best we have for adding all kinds of depth and layers to even (relatively) simple songs. As the bridge wraps up here, everything drops out except for the piano and an angelic backing voice. I have no idea who is doing the singing or where he got the idea, but it’s one of the most beautiful moments in 21st century pop music.
Kanye West – “No More Parties in LA” – While Kanye and Kendrick rapping on the same song should probably be the main draw of this song (and I’d wager it is for most), I’m here for the 13-second sample from “Give Me My Love” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson, from his 1977 album, Funk Beyond the Call of Duty.