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top 25 musical climaxes

Noticed the PS LJ wasn't gettin' any love, so I figured I'd repost my latest blog here.


EDIT: I meant to say this, but I forgot. I didn't consider the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" because that would've been unfair. I mean, it's probably the best and the most important climax in the history of music.

I'm a big fan of drama, in general, so it only makes sense that some of my favorite music is multipart and climactic. So I made this list of my favorite climaxes in all of the music I know (everything in my iTunes, at least). I guess it was between choosing a handful and writing a lot about 'em or choosing a lot and writing just a little bit about each one. I chose the latter, 'cause I just couldn't stop adding to the list. Without further delay... the list.

Actually, first, I should clarify something. In making this list, I noticed a sharp distinction between emotional climaxes and visceral climaxes. Emotional climaxes are transcendental; they're the closest you can get to any sort of nirvana through music. Visceral climaxes, on the other hand, are sheer power. They just kinda punch you in the gut... with rock. Sometimes I can't decide which I prefer. Whenever I hear the one, I prefer it--up until I hear the other. Oh well. On with it.

(The times given refer to the studio versions. I've tried to provide YouTube links, and I've given times for those too, where different. But don't expect the YouTube videos to hold a candle to the real thing). (LJ Exclusive: the links will open up in new windows).

25. King Crimson, "Red" - 5:47

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBxNZT2qJ9Q - 3:38

It's when they finally launch back into the chorus after a pretty long deviation. Maybe it's 'cause the chorus is so... distinct. Built out of about a million tri-tones. I tell ya, about 50% of my appreciation for old school King Crimson stems from that disgusting bass tone. We'll see this again later.

24. Radiohead, "Climbing Up the Walls" - 3:57


Radiohead is by no stretch of the imagination a screamo band, which in my opinion makes this soul-shaking scream all the more terrifying. Also whatever vocal filter he was singing through. I mean, sometimes a dude screams because that's what he's supposed to do in his band, and because he's good at it. But sometimes a dude screams for very, very profound reasons that we could never guess (but which rattle us to the bones, regardless). This sounds like one of those screams.

23. The Smashing Pumpkins, "For Martha" - 5:22


This was always my favorite song off of 'Adore.' Disturbingly pretty... and disturbingly sad, all the way through. So when they bring it back around to the chorus at the end, they've already hit it home. But then they twist the knife in even further at 5:22, revisiting that one motif and perfectly transitioning to the end of the song.

22. Muse, "Take a Bow" - 4:10

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ghqoYxmaUE - 4:12

C'mon, you knew it. The very first--certainly not the only, but the very first reason you ever had to tell your friends about 'Black Holes and Revelations.' This is basically the coolest, and possibly the most dramatic single chord in all of modern rock. What they did here is criminal. The bar for extremely cool chords has been set impossibly high. Not to mention ending chords. Goodness!

21. My Chemical Romance, "Famous Last Words" - 3:38

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bbTtPL1jRs - 3:25

But of course--"asleep... or... dead!!!" Maybe this is on here because of how much I love 'The Black Parade' in its entirety, and because of how perfectly this song--especially from this moment on--wraps everything up so nicely. There's a real sense of closure to it. But... wait a minute... "well-- they-- en-- 'courage your complete cooperation..."

20. Radiohead, "The Tourist" - 4:31


Really, the whole end of this song tears me apart. Not in a sad kinda way... but in an apocalyptic kinda way. Like I'm drifting into unconsciousness as the world and everything in it is being incinerated in a pandemonium of atomic blasts, or something. It's hard to express. But anyway, when Thom comes back with the chorus melody at the end... Yikes. I'm starting to remember why this was my favorite Radiohead song for so long.

19. Sigur Ros, "Vidrar vel til Loftarasa" - 7:54

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I30H7mhfLe8 - 5:29

You should really go to Pitchfork and read their review of 'Agaetis Byrjun'; they describe the sublime power of Jonsi's bowed guitar far better than I could. Something about how the landscape of their homeland (Iceland) is a real presence in their work. Imagine how overwhelmed you'd be at the foot of a giant mountain or atop a glacier or at the base of a volcano, etc. The closest I can get to imagining any of that is to listen to Sigur Ros, and this moment in "Vidrar vel til Loftarasa" encapsulates it all pretty well. Those guitar notes tear through my skull. Also, peep the video for this song (linked). Don't tell anyone what happens; let 'em see for themselves.

18. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "Antennas to Heaven" - 13:45

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8JdfprFQyo - This isn't it, but skip to 3:30 for some kind of idea about GY!BE's music.

Damn. This is one of those climaxes where, every time I listen to it, I think it's the only thing that exists in music. Or the only worthwhile thing. Anyway, it's not really a climax; it's the last five minutes of the song. But if you're at all familiar with GY!BE, then you might know how five minutes of their music can sound like one long climax. These are the last five minutes of an entire double album called 'lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven,' and the music really is as transcendental as the album title implies. That album will change your life, if you let it. Anyway. These last five minutes alone are what made me start using the phrase "achingly beautiful," 'cause there's really no other way to describe it.

17. Pink Floyd, "Dogs" - 15:17

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKcCKeGf0AY - 7:17

I'm sorry, "Dogs" is just such a fantastic song by Pink Floyd. It's seventeen minutes long, but you'll never feel it, I promise. This climax is what begins the coda of the song. The main guitar theme is restated, laid to rest, and then... 15:17. Roger ushers us through a long list, full of spite and hatred--"Who was ground down in the end? Who was found dead on the phone? Who was dragged down by the stone?" Man, maybe the climax should be when Roger sings it again, at the very end: "Who was... draaaaaged, down!--by the stone!"

16. The Mars Volta, "Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt" - 8:09

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q8cGtUJavU - It sucks, compared to the studio version, but... 7:28.

Tom is fond of saying that this is the best ending to any album in the history of music, and that anyone who disagrees can... take a hike. I'm not sure whether he's still of this opinion, but either way, it can't be far from the truth. 'De-Loused in the Comatorium' features TMV's best music-to-jamming ratio--it's perfect, actually. The jamming is itself interesting and worthwhile, but it serves another function: it buffers the time between actual movements. So after a four-minute jam, we're suddenly kicked on our asses again when Cedric comes back in with "knife me in, hobbling, talking in its sleep again!" But the real climax is the very end: "who brought me here???"

15. Genesis, "Firth of Frith" - 7:38

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tloxTQjNjA - Again, just a low-quality live version, but... 6:38.

This is just such a great guitar tone. Mournful and powerful. One of those guitar lines that supports the notion--no, proves the notion that you don't have to play a lot of notes to be effective, to be emotionally resonant. Just think of a genius guitar line and maybe kick up the reverb a little. And have an awesome vibrato. By the way, 'Selling England by the Pound' is a fantastic record. Get it.

14. Rush, "La Villa Strangiato" - 4:26

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOqVywCg934 - Now, this live version is actually fantastic. No surprise there. 3:26.

This is one of the first moments in music that I can distinctly remember raising the hairs on my neck. "La Villa Strangiato" is a ten-minute instrumental suite, and since we all know how awesome Rush are on their instruments... I mean, get real. But anyway, there's this guitar solo. In 7/4, no less (which is probably easier for Rush than 4/4 is for most musicians). Alex plays around a little bit with his volume pedal, way subdued, dropping little aching notes here and there. Starts to burn the fire a little brighter. And then BOOM, that one note! It's even better live, I'm telling you, when he's got the gain turned to 11.

13. Yes, "Close to the Edge" - 17:12

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49IH0kl-Nxo - Another live version... it's harder to get studio versions on YouTube of insanely long songs. 8:30.

Ahh, "Close to the Edge." An absolute staple for any fan of classic progressive rock. After a kickass keyboard solo from 15:00 to 15:54--and let me remind you how extremely rare the phrase "kickass keyboard solo" is for me--Yes bring it back down for one last verse and then finally lead us to the summit of the mountain at 17:12, leaving us to gape, to try to comprehend the sheer majesty of it all. Progressive rock is often maligned for being soulless, but the last few moments of "Close to the Edge" are really some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard.

12. The Mars Volta, "Cicatriz ESP" - 9:19

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mITbDmZRgFQ - It's TMV live. I dunno what to tell you.

Hello again, TMV. Same deal as before, only this time the jam is much longer and much spacier, bringing us even further from what we remember of the song. But I'm not gonna start this climax at the last chorus--I'm gonna start it a little bit before, when everyone comes back in after the extended jam / sound collage. Then they just set you going at a thousand miles per hour and dump you off a cliff. The end.

11. Nobuo Uematso, "Aerith's Theme (Orchestrated)" - 3:49

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UODCxAtyDo - 4:22

If anyone's curious, the version I'm referring to is off of the 'S Generation' CD. But anyway. We all know I have a lot of emotional stock in Final Fantasy VII. Shut up. Don't make fun of me. It was sad, OK? Back to the Mars Volta.

10. The Mars Volta, "Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus" - 8:43

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG0imY4PlD0 - 1:32. Still really murky.

I started it at 8:43--right on the first downbeat after Cedric yelps "will they feed us the womb?"--but the more important moment of climax, for me, is a few seconds later, at 8:47, when we realize that this 5/4 figure is revolving, that they're gonna keep jamming on it as the song fades out. I remember the first time I heard it. I was playing Spyro the Dragon for PlayStation. I about crapped. The drummer, Jon Theodore, also contributes to the power of the climax, mainly because he's fucking awesome.

9. The Mars Volta, "Cassandra Gemini, Part VII" - 0:00

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtnvIYi4PTg - 5:40

I dunno what it's actually called, but it's the second to last track on the 'Frances the Mute' CD. "No, there's no light... in the darkest of your furthest reaches!" Again, the key to this climax is the way they make you wait. Taken as a whole (as it should be!), "Cassandra Gemini" is well over a half an hour long, and this part only occurs twice--at the beginning, and at the end. So no shit it's climactic.

8. Yes, "Siberian Khatru" - 6:17

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBXKSmz-Z2k - 6:24.

This song is nuts. The main riff is powerful and fantastic--and I mean "fantastic" literally. Like, this is an album of fantasy prog. Anyway, two thirds of the way through, they start building the tension by singing this long, incoherent list, and the words at the very end of the list are "turn 'round... glider!" (yeah, don't ask me), and at this point--maybe it's Chris Squire who holds out "gilder" for so long, and then they blast back into the main riff. It's awesome.

7. The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again" - 7:44

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3mi-bKtDGA - Just watch this video in its entirety, if you haven't seen it already. And especially if you like punk, 'cause The Who were the godfathers of punk, don't ya know!

I'm sure I don't need to explain this one. I'll never forget when my dad told me what might be my favorite piece of music trivia: when Roger released that earth-shattering "yyyeeeaaahhh!!!" as they were going back into it after the long keyboard solo--well, no one knew that he was gonna do that, so when he did, it scared the shit out of everyone. Truth be told, it scares the shit out of me every time... because it's awesome. And if you've ever seen The Kids Are Alright, then you'll always connect that scream to the slow-motion footage of Pete sliding across the stage. Rock 'n' roll in its purest form, right there.

6. Yo La Tengo, "We're An American Band" - 4:52

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6ToUwhYgtY - This was the only video of it I could find. Truly indie! Definitely doesn't compare to the studio version.

If anything, YLT are probably known for their cutesy little pop tunes (check out "Stockholm Syndrome," "Center of Gravity," "On Our Way to Fall"...), but this six and a half-minute song is absolutely devastating. There are only a handful of songs I'd be willing to lose my hearing to, or to hear as my car is falling headlong off of a cliff, and this is one of them. I can pick out at least five distinct moments in this song that raise the hairs on my neck--when Ira enters in the beginning... at the halfway point of the song, when the guitar solo starts... and a few other points in the solo itself. You know that argument often made in defense of punk rock, "Technical proficiency doesn't matter when you have passion"? This song is the best evidence I have in support of that. Ira Kaplan isn't a bad guitarist at all, but this solo isn't flashy or technically difficult. In fact, sometimes it's jarring, like nails on a chalkboard. But that's the point. Something very deep, very big, was driving this guitar solo. And sometimes I don't even think of it as a guitar solo at all; sometimes it seems to me like the guitar is just a medium, and that the last three minutes of this song are one long primal scream.

5. The Blood Brothers, "The Shame" - 2:21

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwZkXGnu9zU - Dunno. This video cuts off the end of the song, but you'll get the idea.

I remember the first time I ever finished 'Burn, Piano Island, Burn' in its entirety. I was sitting on a bed with my headphones on, playing Tetris. "The Shame" shook me to the bones. I could barely interact with my friends after that; it practically put me in a state of shock, especially since I'd been listening to it so loud. As far as I'm concerned, if there's a market for "post-apocalyptic post-hardcore," then the Blood Brothers have (err, had) it cornered. Halfway through this song, everything gets quiet again and they start this jangly march, and this chilling mantra: "and everything is gonna be just awful (when we're around) / and all the colors are gonna rot off your sight (when we're around) / and I am just a salesman, pleased to meet you (I'll show you around) / and everything must go, the shadows, the seagulls (when we're around)." As for the following three minutes... well, you'll just have to listen for yourself. Turn it up.

4. At the Drive-In, "Arcarsenal" - 2:37

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u11NAyqyaWU - 2:49. This video is really silly, but it's all I could find that wasn't live.

You know, every time I think about this song, I want to create a list of my favorite album-openers, because I know without a doubt that this song would top the list. 'Relationship of Command' is a pretty ruthless album overall, but this song is far and away the most ruthless. Maybe this is another one of those songs I wouldn't mind losing my hearing to. From the end of the bridge at 2:11 and on, this three-minute nuclear warhead of a song picks up speed until it explodes in a firestorm of "beware!"'s and ends on the most hideous downbeat I've ever heard. Get outta town, At the Drive-In. Get right outta town.

3. Pink Floyd, "Eclipse" - 0:00


And now for something a little less brutal. This is on here--and so high on the list--because of how much I love 'Dark Side of the Moon.' Really, I know it's a cliche, but there's a reason why DSOTM was on the Billboard charts for almost fourteen years. "Eclipse" is the last song; you've probably heard it on the radio, coupled with the previous song, "Brain Damage." (You know... "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon"). Look up the lyrics. It's a long list with a kicker at the end: "... and all that is now / and all that is gone / and all that's to come / and everything under the sun is in tune / but the sun is eclipsed by the moon." Think about that for a second. Maybe the point they were trying to make is that in spite of everything we know and say and do, in the past and in the future, everything is susceptible to the dark side of life, to chaos, to madness. One time I asked a friend what his favorite album was. Without a pause, he said 'Dark Side of the Moon.' I asked him how come. He said, well, the most ideal form of an album is a concept album. And as far as he knows, 'Dark Side of the Moon' is the best concept album. I can't say I disagree.

2. Pink Floyd, "Echoes" - 19:11

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfgoVZswC4k - Oh, hey, did you know that "Echoes" synchronizes perfectly with the final movement of Stanly Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'? Watch the whole song from Part 1!

You know what? This is the one climax that I'm not gonna describe, because to do so would be a crime against humanity. "Echoes" isn't an overly emotional song; it's got that spacy, otherworldly feel characteristic of early (or... early-to-mid-to-late) Pink Floyd. So this climax is more of the 'visceral' kind referred to above (though still plenty 'transcendental'). It doesn't quite break your heart as much as it punches you in the chest and steals your breath. But not at all in the way you'd expect. "Echoes" is one of the only songs I've ever listened to by itself, in front of the speakers, agape, or lying on my floor with the lights off and my eyes closed. And the climax for me was always the most sublime moment in all of music. It left me floating through life like a specter for an hour or two. Borrow someone's copy of 'Meddle,' skip to track 6, turn it up, and close your eyes. See ya!

1. King Crimson, "Starless" - 11:17

No way I'm gonna ruin it for you with a shitty YouTube video.

Curious, I know, to have a 'visceral' climax at the top of the list. I think so, at least. But every time I hear it, I remember exactly why it's my favorite musical climax. Maybe you find King Crimson annoying or emotionless, and I'm sure you'll find the middle third of this song (the "one-note guitar solo") even more so, but if you listen to the whole thing nonstop, at a deafening volume, you'll get the point. I'll tell you what does it for me (and it surprises me how often this relatively innocuous detail figures into my appreciation of music): it's the bass tone. The dude's bass tone, damn it. It's perfect! This is the crunchiest, most brutal bass tone I think I've ever heard--on an album from '74, no less. The structure of this song is pretty simple: the first third states its melodic theme by way of a slow, solemn vocal delivery; the middle third takes you on a ride far, far away from home, jamming slowly and unsurely on this very bizarre melody; the last third amps it back up again and, finally, brings you back around to the melodic theme from the beginning, only this time in a way that's urgent and incendiary. Of all instruments, the one that connects the chaotic 13/8 part to the final restatement of the theme... is a saxophone! Rarely my favorite instrument to hear in a rock song. But this one works perfectly, and besides, it only lasts for a few seconds before John Wetton's bass enters and obliterates life as we know it. Seriously, listen to that bass tone when he drops down to that tonic, to that note you've been wanting him to hit for the whole song. Absolutely the most devastating musical theme I've ever heard, absolutely. Crap, man. Crap.

Interesting statistics:

Percentage of songs that are the first songs on their respective albums: 20%
Percentage of songs that are the last songs on their respective albums: 48%


Well, anyway, thanks for reading! Try to find this stuff on CD. You'll be glad you did!


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
you introduced me into music i never really cared about, but now i have a huge appreciation for it. now i just need to make your mix cd finally.

xo gabby
Jan. 5th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC)
oh man, The Who! I love that song, even if it was because of CSI: Miami.
I'm totally gonna check out those other songs as well. Thanks, Kevin.
Jan. 5th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
I'm still REALLY bummed about The Blood Brothers breaking up.
Jan. 5th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
MCR. I think Blood may be the creepiest/best song I've ever heard.
Jan. 5th, 2008 04:08 am (UTC)
It's really sad that I've only listened to the My Chemical Romance song and I don't even really like them lol.
Jan. 5th, 2008 06:48 am (UTC)
Pink Floyd...
: )
Jan. 5th, 2008 07:36 am (UTC)
i love the smashing pumpkins.
so glad i got to see them live last year.
Jan. 6th, 2008 09:26 am (UTC)
awww this makes me miss you guys even more!
Jan. 8th, 2008 08:22 am (UTC)
haha ONE: +10 pts. for pulling out the FFVII jamz. (My friend told me one time how he teared up when Red XIII's dad got turned to stone and I still mock him to this day). =P

TWO: hate to whore myself out here, but hey, as we all know, the LJ thing worked out for a couple of your labelmates so if you get a hot minute, wanna check my band? Paul Leavitt (All Time Low, Circa Survive, Dangerous Summer etcetc) produced it and at least I think it came out pretty wicked.


ALSO. i was gonna do this whole thing in person, but east coast dates anyone? for seriously man. get on that. haha =]

alright, keep up the awesome work guys. later!


The Great Escape

Jan. 9th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
"I'm a big fan of drama, in general"

As soon as I read that, I knew it was you.

I don't have any new drama with Springfield affairs... Alex and I are good. =)

Jan. 10th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
Good. But as soon as you do...
Jan. 11th, 2008 07:18 am (UTC)
i used to listen to take the veil while training for soccer in high school, and i would run faster through each section of the song, and when 'who brought me here' hit i would sprint as fast as i could, scream out loud, and imagine i was being chased by nazis

and lol at john entwistle's (sp?) bass

Jan. 11th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
also, the first time i listened to deloused, i was driving home from a little blue bullets practice (matt greg was in on the tmv ground floor) and when the chorus came back in cicatriz esp at 11:03 i almost drove my car off the road (i had almost totally forgotten about the part, i thought i had moved on to another song), my stomach dropped and then i started laughing nervously, and rewound it like 8 times to hear that part again.
Jan. 16th, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
Hahaha, I had a similar experience. I just reacted like someone had blown down my bedroom door with a concussion grenade.

Why are you lolling at Entwistle's bass? B/C he slays?
Jan. 17th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
no just look at it. it's fucking ridiculous
Jan. 17th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)
Hahaha, yeah, I guess it is pretty ridiculous. It's also funny that he plays it as if it's not.
Jan. 13th, 2008 07:49 am (UTC)
Dude, first of all, have you listened to any M83? Before the Dawn Heals Us would be a great album (I personally dig the track 'Don't Save Us From the Flames'.....it's wicked good). You should check them out since you like climax-building, tension, and dynamics.

Second of all, have you heard Craig Armstrong's re-interpretation of 'Starless'? It's not better....it's just different. No one's better than Crimson, though. Fripp is a god.
Jan. 16th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
I listened to their debut for a while. Actually, not much at all. maybe I'll give M83 another chance. Thanks for the suggestion.

And no, I haven't heard that version. Link me?

Fripp is a pedantic fuck who sits on a stool, but I love him. Dude plays his guitar like it's a TI-83+.
Jan. 16th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
i like your music taste =]

pink floyd, at the drive in, mars volta, at the drive in, mcr, muse, radiohead, smashing pumpkins i all like ;D
Jan. 16th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
Awesome. Then check out the others! :)
Feb. 16th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
i will! =D
ahha i'm so sorry this reply is epically late! XD
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )