Reader Participation Thread: Music That Made You Stop
Posted on March 30, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 126 Comments
I’m thinking a lot about music these days, in no small part because of my own fiddling with the form, so I’m curious: Can you think of a song that so affected you that the first time you heard it, you stopped everything else you were doing to listen to it all the way through?
It’s the live version of “Bad” from the Wide Awake in America EP by U2, and I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard it: I was in my dorm room in high school, and this version came on the radio, from tiny station with the call letter KOLA, which I liked because it was so cheap it didn’t have DJs, just bumpers with the song title and artist, which meant I didn’t have to listen to inane morning DJ chatter, I could just listen to the music. The song came on as I was getting dressed for chapel service, and I ended up being late because I had to listen to the whole thing, and this live version is eight minutes long. Worth the demerit, in my opinion.
I had been aware of U2 before this song, of course, but I can say this is the song that made me a fan, and the one that sent me diving into their (then much smaller) discography. If it’s not still my favorite performance of theirs, it’s in the top five. There are other songs that have captured me on first listen since then, but this one a genuine moment in time for me.
And you? What song just plain stopped you in your tracks? Talk about it in the comments.
For me it was Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”.
They had me at “I am a patient boy…”
There are a few I can think of but I’ll go with Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”.
So different. So weird. So awesome.
“Photograph” Def Leppard.
Yes, this is going WAYY back. But I remember that opening riff got my attention more than any song had before and I’ve been hooked on guitar from that moment.
Hmmm . . . I’m thinking the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The first time I heard it, I was a teenager in my room with the stereo on. When Mick got to the chorus, my eyes went wide. I was blown away, and instantly fell in love with it.
Not long after that, I saw the movie The Big Chill for the first time. And when JoBeth Williams started playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on the church organ, I was floored (and delighted) again.
Most recently it was “Jack the Lion” by Harvey Danger.
Yes, the Harvey Danger that is famous for the One Hit Wonder that is “Flagpole Sitta.”
Really that entire album, Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?, is underrated and overlooked.
For me it was the most recent one that I remember best, and that was Weyes Blood “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”. It just halted me in my tracks, and held me in it’s grip.
It is very strange how different us humans are from one another, and something to be celebrated. I always imagined JS as someone who with all the fun he gets up to on the JoCo cruise, would be a lover of DJs. For me, there is much to love about the enthusiasm they bring to the table. WFMU.org is by far my go-to, as every DJ does exactly as they like, and they call it Free Form radio. Are there DJs I don’t enjoy, yes, but the ones I love bring new music to my ears every week, including the one that stopped me in my tracks.
Cheers JS, great question that’s drawn me out of lurk mode.
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. I realize it is a somewhat silly song, but still. When Patty Hurst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson Gun … and bought it.
There have been a few, throughout the years.
“On The Loose,” by Saga. Got a lot of rotation on MTV back in the day. I remember really liking the verse progression–first verse was “You,” doing whatever, second verse was “Me,” doing whatever, third verse was “We.”
“Carnival of Rust,” by Poets of the Fall. I’d heard the song on the radio quite a bit, but the first time I saw the video I was gobsmacked. Relatively few bands (imo) do that kind of genuinely theatrical video. I also like their song “Daze,” for the same reasons.
You would want me to choose one.
U2 was a big influence on me but there were so many. It would probably have to be Lips Like Sugar from Echo and the Bunnymen or Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bau Haus. The latter was a creepy crawly sensation that I was obsessed with and drove myself crazy by driving in the back country on Connecticut in the dark.
The Clash, London Calling. The opening riff, Joe Strummer’s lyrics and his vocals, absolutely floored me. I wore the album out in my college dorm room, started going to punk shows, and investigating the whole genre. I got into early punk rock both from the US (Ramones, Dead Boys, The Heartbreakers, etc.) and the UK/Ireland (Stiff Little Fingers, Chelsea, The Jam, 999, etc.). The icing on the cake was seeing them perform the song live. It really blew me away, as well as wrecked my clothes. Somehow I lost a shoe, and my t-shirt was shredded. Good times, indeed!
I’ve never been a big party-goer but I was at a party with a girlfriend and “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths came on. I guess it was 1984/85. It stopped me in my tracks.
This has happened to me several times. Just recently, Apple Music decided to serve up “Twist in my Sobriety” (Tanita Tikaram) in its generated mix, and it stopped me cold. Though this song was released in 1988—the year I graduated high school—I’d not heard it before. The voice and music combine to create a song that’s gripping and haunting.
Here it is on YouTube:
I’m a dinosaur, as my music preferences reveal. I can’t tell you what my first ever ‘whoa, stop everything’ song was other than it would have been Motown. BUT I can tell you that even now when I hear a Led Zeppelin song being played I have to stop and listen to it all the way. Fortunately no store ever plays live performances of Dazed and Confused or The Song Remains the Same, because a Jimmy Page 20+ minute solo is just too long to be blocking the aisle that’s right under the speaker.
Shawn Lane and Johnas Hellborg’s entire live set at New Dawn on their Paris DVD.
First time I had ever heard Shawn Lane play. I had to stop and rewind a couple of times because I simply couldn’t believe what I just witnessed. It is an absolutely mind blowing set from a mind blowing musician.
David Bowie’s cover of “God Only Knows”, from his “Tonight” album. Openly wept when I first heard it, still brings tears to my eyes.
Gotye, Somebody That I Used to Know. I was doing research in an office in another town. As I pulled into the parking spot this song started and I waited through the whole song, then the next one to find out who it was!
Thanks for spurring this memory! I am listening to it now and again just want to take it in!
Probably close to the same time as your U2 moment, I remember the first video I ever saw on MTV, when it first started (I was 12, so 1982/83) was U2’s “New Year’s Day” and that was it for me. Another song that got under my skin was The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now”. That weird drone of it just does something to my head.
Aaaaand, that concludes another episode of “Crap, am I old now!”
Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The first time I heard it on the radio, within a verse I could tell this was something very very different. I turned it way up and got goosebumps the whole way through.
Also years ago pretty much anything by the Eurythmics would stop me and make me listen. I passionately loved the “Sweet Dreams” album and the others from that period. Still do.
Sept 26, 2008. A friend and I had gone to see a mutual at a local listening room. It was a song swap, four singer-songwriters in a row on the stage, doing their songs round robin-style. One of them was suuuuper young. When it came to be the young man’s turn, my friend nudged me and said, “Pay attention to this kid; he’s the real thing.”
I was tired, slumped down in my chair; I’d been on the road that day, and had almost skipped out on the show.
And then the kid started this song. I sat up straight after the first line: “Cherish these times, they’re already leaving, they’re already bound for a brighter unknown.”
Changed my life in a lot of ways, did that moment.
The first (of many) that comes to mind is “Shout” by Tears for Fears. Saw the video on MTV (which I only had access to maybe once a year) in the summer of 1985, and it completely blew my mind. Coming from a tiny farm town in southern Michigan, I had never before heard music like that. I felt like Messrs Orzibal and Smith had peeled back a corner of reality and exposed something vast and strange underneath the apparent world.
Dire Straits- Telegraph Road
I can think of a few, but a real standout was Erasure’s “Blue Savannah.” I was in a clothing store and it was playing on the speakers. I had never heard a tenor with that kind of purity. I stood there and listened, then went to ask the clerk if this was the radio or a tape (so you know how long ago this was …). They told me it was a tape, and I went out and bought it.
Also, concur with the other poster about Bowie’s “God Only Knows.” It’s breathtaking.
Peter Gabriel’s Biko but always have been a U2 fan.
One of mine was this song, “Bad (Live).” I already knew the song from The Unforgettable Fire and liked it but this version stopped me cold. Still an emotional experience to hear it. Plenty of other first-listen moments but none more powerful.
‘So In Love,’ sung by k.d. lang in the Red Hot + Blue collection.
Murder Most Foul by Bob Dylan. Every time I think he’s done with me he comes up with something like that that blows me away.
Recently it was “Love is Forever” by Mary Leigh Roohan and Kari Wahlgren.
‘Everybody Knows’ by Leonard Cohen pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. I was going through an ugly breakup and one year away from detox…
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. I was the music director at my college’s radio station, and the second I heard it I knew it was going to be huge. I ran out of my office and made everyone else I could find there listen to it, and everyone had the same reaction. We were blown away by it. We put it into rotation immediately.
My song is Tool’s Stinkfist. I was in college and mostly a They Might Be Giants fan, and MTV’s 120 Minutes was on while I was working on an assignment when the very strange percussion started. My curiosity was piqued. The chunky rhythm started and I would have normally run away from anything so heavy. I just couldn’t. Maynard James Keenan started singing through what sounds like a walkie-talkie and I was hooked.
I am still huge Tool fan, but this moment drove me to explore outside of my comfort zone to investigate what is interesting in all genres.
The Ode to Joy chorale from the Beatle’s second film “HELP!”.
The movie was on TV, I wasn’t paying much attention, and then…..
I not only stopped what I was doing, I think I stopped breathing for a bit.
Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody when it was first played on the UK’s Top of the Pops in 1975. Both the music and the video absolutely blew my mind. I was seventeen.
Dirty Boulevard by Lou Reed
In my dorm room in 1989, became a huge Lou/VU fan and started exploring way beyond the 80s hard rock / metal bands I was into in high school
Rush – 2112
All I can say is, man, you guys are way younger than me. It would be hard for me to think in those terms back 50 or 60 years ago.
It was more I heard this person/group and thought, “he/she/they are going to be big”:
Young Rascals, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”
The Doors, “Break on Through (To the Other Side)”
Carly Simon, “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be”
Janis Ian, “Society’s Child”
Earlier this year I was derailed for a few days after encountering Ren’s “Hi Ren” for the first time.
The song by itself is interesting, but the song + the video is just an amazing piece of work which is made even more impressive when one realizes that Ren is a street busker from Brighton and has put together a transcendent work that somehow captures the essence of being human in a performance that ranges from classical guitar to opera to rap to rock to spoken word. In a live, 9.5 minute performance that is one man alone with an acoustic guitar that made my world stop for a few days as I tried to wrap my head around the entire thing and was compelled to watch countless reaction videos trying to ascertain whether it was really that good or had I just gone insane.
“Gunning For the Buddha” by Shriekback. I love the literalization of the truism “If you see the Buddha on the street, kill him,” and the way it combines Buddhism with current social realities. Besides, any song that both rocks AND reminds us to “have the courage of the here and now” is worth listening to without interruption.
The URL was Ren’s “Hi Ren” was eaten in my previous post, so I’ll try one more time…
by Husker Du. Here was a punk rock vanguard opening their record with:
It called out the utter ridiculousness of some of the punk rock posturing that was swirling around in 1983, and was a revelation.
A Day in the Life – The Beatles
“Pump It Up” – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
My older brother was blasting it in his bedroom with the door closed. I sat with my ear to the door, thumping my fist on the hardwood floor.
Horses, by Patti Smith. It was during the winter school vacation and I was in my room when it came on the radio. https://youtu.be/cSk6jfln84A
I know I’m an outlier because a LOT of music does this to me, a proud music obsessive since 1978. I can’t just choose one, so one off the top of my head is Failure’s “Stuck On You”. The entire Fantastic Planet album is nigh on excellent, but this song is perfection in my ears.
‘Blue Guitar’ by Cowboy Junkies caught me like that. It came on the music box just before the end of a long, long journey. I sat in the car outside my house, transfixed. It can still do that to me mumble mumble years later.
For me it was a piece of Renaissance liturgical music (despite the fact that I’m not religious at all): Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere mei, Deus”. It came on the radio while I was driving, and it was so hauntingly beautiful that I pulled over to the side of the road so I could listen to it without distraction.
Silence by Manchester Orchestra
These days I learn about a lot of new music from stuff that I read. Could be a mention of a band or even just a title in fiction; could be a description of a band or genre or reaction to a song, also in fiction. I’ve tracked down music based on articles or descriptions online as well. However, I remember two songs that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard them.
The first was Paradise Under the Dashboard Light. The fam was driving to New Hampshire to visit Meme & Pepe, and this incredible and looooong song came on that so perfectly captured a poignant fragment of teenage experience and inspired some snickers as well. It seemed so dirty, yet my kids were clueless. After that I hunted down the Bat Out of Hell album and made it part of our road trip playlist.
The second was the William Shatner version of Common People on the local am radio station. Mostly, if that station played it, I was almost guaranteed to dislike it. Yet here was this gritty, witty send up of the privileged classes that I had never heard in the original. I was all, Is that WILLIAM SHATNER?!? I considered it the best song on the Has Been album, though the whole thing has grown on me since entering my own has been years.
Warning: Do not set up a Shatner station on a certain music service unless you want to hear Bill’s version of Lucy. In the Sky. With Diamonds. or Leonard Nimoy’s Bilbo Baggins, or Paul Anka’s Having My Baby or lots of Tony Bennett. Lot’s of Eww in there, even at my age. About the only stuff I thumbed up was Richard Cheese.
To me that happens kind of regulary ever since I got Spotify and started to listen to French music over there.
There are three playlists that I play very often and that are updated every Friday.
Yeah! New music tomorrow!
So what kind of music did find there and that made me stop:
The newest French entry for the European Song Contest:
That song also made me stop:
I found that I really like Lomepal:
And of course Animaux fragiles by Ycare and Zaz:
And yes, my boyfriend still hopes that this French phase of mine will eventually come to an end.
The first time was likely an Erasure song since I got introduced to them by a college crush and fell hard for both the band and the crush. Probably “A Little Respect” or “Chains of Love,” although I imprinted hard on I Say I Say I Say as a whole album at the time.
Recently, Mitski’s “The Only Heartbreaker.” .
It has to be “That’s Me Trying” by William Shatner. I was driving the first time I heard it and practically ran off the road, because it so perfectly captured the complete lack of a relationship I have with my own father, and his complete lack of understanding how to (re)build one.
From my past, I would pick out Carole King’s entire Tapestry album. I sat and listened to that straight through and then played it again. I still think that is at the top of my greatest-albums-ever list.
At 70+ years now, though, I seem to be entering a second childhood of sorts: the most recent song that made me stop and think: Did she just say what I thought she did? was Jax’s Victoria’s Secret.
Selena Gomez’s “My Mind and Me” and “Lose You to Love Me” speak to me as well.
I don’t know that they’re as life-altering, but “Cruel” by Natalie Hamilton and “Tracks” by the Silent Critics made me stop and hit replay a lot.
The first time I heard Warren Zevon’s “Ourselves To Know”… it was live at a small theater, just him and the piano and guitar. Absolutely riveting.
Also, when my college roommate played VU’s “Loaded” album for me, I was just floored by “Rock and Roll”. The guitar solo in the middle was magical.
Funny that it is also U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Life from Red Rocks
I was in the back of a station wagon somewhere between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains with a bunch of other teenagers who worked at the same summer camp as I did in the early 80’s. It always seemed strange to me when people became fans when the Joshua Tree album came out. They had no idea what they were missing.
Way too many to count over the years, but the most recent was Kingfish Ingram’s “662”, found during an NPR interview of all places. The combination of having grown up myself in what is now the 662, and the realization that blues rock guitar wasn’t dead, it was just hiding, was a moment to celebrate.
“Band of the Run” by Wings.
I was a kid, just returning from Taiwan after my family was stationed there while i was still listening to children’s records, now 7 years old. No English-language music, only 1 english language TV show a week (WW of Disney).
Standing at the Ft Bragg pool; it came on over the speakers and my music world changed. Sometimes I still go back to that day whenever that song plays, especially when it is played over the air (not spotify/phone).
What I am wondering, when reading the comments here (Tim M, in this case):
I’ve never been to the United States. Originally I am from Germany and now I am living in Switzerland (Yes, those are two completely different countries, just as Australia and New Zealand are)
Is music in languages other than English and maybe Spanish a thing in the United States. Over in Germany the radio stations for pop- or rock-music play a huge amount of English music and maybe every now and then something in German.
My French phase is in part caused by me being somewhat tired of music in English. Do people in America also feel every now and then tired of English music?
(That’s acutally from the Netherlands)
Rush’s “Power Windows.” I was stationed in Germany when I saw they had a new album out and grabbed the cassette at the PX.
I loaded it in the car, hoping they’d gone back to their heavier, guitar-oriented roots. What I got was better than that: rich arrangements, skillful use of synthesizers, and lyrics that, yes, made me stop.
I grew up in a small semi-rural town that had three radio stations: a classical FM station with an announcer who spoke at a rate of maybe one word ever couple of seconds, a shit-kickin’ country station that didn’t play any of that rocked up nonsense, and a Top 10 station, that literally was exactly that, that simply cycled ten songs at a time, changing weekly.
Then I went to the big city, to college. And my first month there, I heard Gary Numan’s “are ‘friends’ electric?”
It sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. Nothing. It was so awesome I bought the album (Replicas) and just had it cycling on my turntable for a super long time. Still one of my favorites.
A few I can think of offhand:
The entire Tapestry album, by Carole King (true for so many of my generation)
Acadian Driftwood (The Band)
Aragon Mills (Dolores Keane)
You’re No Good (Linda Rondstadt – came out just when I’d been dumped by my first boyfriend)
Here’s a joke for you that may help answer your question:
Q: What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?
Q: What do you call someone who speaks many languages?
Q: What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?
This hit me like a truth bomb when I first heard it many years ago and in the years since (30+ in education), I haven’t noticed any upsurge in support for teaching world languages in this country. I don’t notice many English-only speakers becoming bored with their constricted language skills either.
Well, I’ve got to give it to English speakers that learning a 2nd language isn’t as usefull to them as for someone whose native language is Dutch, German or Polish. A huge part of the world already understands you (somewhat), so there is really not much use in learning a second language.
Actually English speakers who learned German and come to Germany to practise it can get somewhat pissed that almost each and every German who recognizes that they’re English speaking switches to English.
(Been somewhat of an annoyance to a former boyfriend of mine who is from London)
This very thing just happened to me a couple weeks ago when I stumbled in the ANYONE by Demi Lovato. (I believe it came out two or three years ago.) I am a sucker for an emotional song, and this is so full of raw emotion I must have listened to it twenty times that first day, and have listened to it at least once everyday since.
American Pie by Don McLean
Deacon Blues by Steely Dan
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Hotel California by The Eagles
Space Oddity by David Bowie
I have two, separated by a decade or so. The first was when I was in college, came back from classes, walked past the living room and was dragged back by the music coming out. It was complex, polyrhythmic, and like nothing I’d heard before. It was Talking Heads new album Remain In Light, the first song The Great Curve, and I can still get lost in the beautiful complexity. (My roommate who was playing it actually didn’t like it all that much, and I traded him for… the new Supertramp, maybe? Something he loved that I was meh at.)
The second was almost opposite. A decade later and I’m getting ready to drive to my sister’s place, and this music comes on. Mostly just female voice and piano, but it grabbed me hard and I ran back to the TV to see the (rather sparse) video and get the name – Tori Amos. It was Silent All These Years, the first single from her first album, and it led me into an entire new set of music (Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, Happy Rhodes, etc.) from the heavier stuff I’d grown up with.
Firework by Katy Perry
Protectors of the Earth, Enchantress, Neverdark, Never Back Down, Freedom Ship, High C’s, Invincible, Heart of Courage, Freedom, Stronger Faster Braver all by Two Steps From Hell
Immortal by Thomas Bergersen (one half of Two Steps)
Winged Hussars by Sabaton
The Call by Regina Spektor
Theme of the Undersea Battleship from the anime Super Atragon
Holding Hands by Ryan Farish
Plus many more
Two specifically that I remember: The Band Perry’s cover of Glenn Campbell’s hit “Gentle On My Mind”, which just captivated me when it came up on the radio in my workplace country fan’s office; I didn’t even know the song and had to Google it. Amazing.
Second, years ago when the show HOUSE MD was ending, FOX used a song called “Live Forever” by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors in the promos for the final episode. The song hit me between the eyes, so I checked out the band, and they’re a favorite band of mine all these years later.
Bad is one of mine, too. I was a kid, in the kitchen, and the classic rock station on our dinky radio started playing and I was frozen in place. Other songs that did that to me: Joyride by Roxette, Love Spreads by the Stone Roses, You Held the World In Your Arms by Idlewild, and Goldenheart by Whisky Trench Riders.
For me it’s “Rejoice in the Sun” written by Peter (PDQ Bach) Shickele. It’s from the movie “Silent Running,” a movie I dearly love but can’t watch because the ending is so sad and I wind up crying for a good while. The album has a slower instrumental version that I used for the processional in my wedding.
This has happened to me quite a bit over the years, but two immediately stand out in my mind:
“Jeremy”, by Pearl Jam — specifically, the first time seeing the video on MTV (probably during a Buzz Block in the spring or summer of ’92). Spoke to my sense of alienation as a child who’d been relentlessly bullied in middle school.
“On the Nature of Daylight”, by Max Richter — it’s been re-worked and re-recorded by the ever-prolific Mr. Richter, but I first heard it used in the movie Arrival, and the end of that movie destroyed me, so the song is inextricably entwined with that heightened emotion.
Johnny Got A Boom Boom by Imelda May
Peter Gunn by Roy Buchanan
Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti
In relatively recent times, Lorde’s ‘Royals’ and Courtney Barnett’s ‘History Eraser’ and ‘Avant Gardner’.
But the big one, way back when: ‘We Can Get Together’ by Icehouse, then know as Flowers. It blasted through the blandness of end-of-70s commercial radio in Australia and completely changed my taste in music forever.
Three off the top of my head:
One Way Out – Allman Brothers. I heard it on the radio in high school and fell in love with the blues. Fifty years later I still love it.
American Tune – Paul Simon. He stole the melody from one of Bach’s passions. I recognized that and thought it was so cool!
Mozart String Quintets K515 and K516. I was reading a biography of Mozart and the author made these sound interesting. The additional viola in the mix gives a darker tone that made them an instant favorite.
(Yeah, I’m getting old.)
Long time since I listened to U2, my play-on-repeat album of theirs was Under A Blood Red Sky, back in the 80s.
I can think of a few songs that have stopped me dead in my tracks …
– Over The Rainbow sung by Eva Cassidy, first time I heard it was on a repeat show of UK Top of the Pops videos. Cassidy had passed years before, tragically young, and I immediately tried to find all of her music that had been released, not much at the time.
– Follow The Heron by Karine Polwart, the last track on her Scribbled in Chalk album. I’d got the album because the single from it, Daisy, had been playing on Radio 2 folk shows and I liked it. I heard Follow… and I had to play it immediately again. I had to go out then and I was earwormed by it until I got home, where I played it again and again until I had learned it.
– the live video of Disturbed playing Sound of Silence on Conan O’Brien. Far and away my favourite version of that song, IMO much more powerful than the original, which was already one of my favourite songs. Most of the rest of Disturbed’s music isn’t for me though.
– the Alborada from Liam O’Flynn’s album, The Given Note. I heard it in concert and it was so joyous I cried.
– The Green Fields of France, by Eric Bogle, which I heard him play at a folk festival in Glasgow. A powerful anti-war song.
Oh wow, so many songs. The entirety of the album “To Touch the Stars” is collectively a huge one, and “Hope Eyrie” in particular.
For me it was two songs and I heard them first within about a year of each other. And they are starkly different in terms of genre.
The first one was on a local FM rock station that was not a pop rock station. The song was Fool’s Overture by Supertramp, and the radio station would play the whole thing, which is almost eleven minutes long. I still regularly play that one on my iTunes.
The second one was in a bar, I was underage, the drinking age here is 19 years, and I was sneaking into a gay bar, which was really a major step in coming out for me. The rush of excitement is still intense all these years later. The song was a disco hit of Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”. I was surrounded by a large crowd of gay people and finally felt I was where I belonged.
And Fire in the Sky, if I may be so bold as to toss another song out there
Feelin’ Groovy, Simon and Garfunkel. Just such a happy, playful song with some great advice – Slow down, you move too fast.
Valerie Loves Me (Material Issue)
Like a lot of kids in the 1970s, I first heard of Led Zeppelin because they had a monster hit that saturated the airwaves for decades afterward. “Stairway” was background music to growing up. So when I got a little older and my step-brother introduced me to Zep’s first album, putting the needle down on “Good Times, Bad Times”… holy hell! From that opening double power-chord DANG-DANG! to John Bonham’s bass kick triplets, to John Paul Jones’ grooving and deep bass lines, Robert Plant’s rich wailing and Jimmy Page’s absolutely ripping guitar solo, I was mesmerized. THIS was real rock and roll. Not only did I get turned on to Zep, but the entire blues-rock genre and its offshoots—I became an avid record buyer from that moment on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsZG7n7ries
I had a buddy freshman year of high school who was totally into music that I had never ever heard. He had a nice stereo set up and one night after practice he put on some music that blew me away! “Only a lad” by Oingo Boingo and then he blasted “I will follow” by U2. I was electrified!
Pamierlyja Božyšča by Dzivia.
Every time it changed to a new interesting part of the song, my jaw would re drop. I almost had to pull over my car the first time just to gape at the car’s console.
More than just one but I vividly remember listening to “Running Up That Hill” off of the Hounds of Love vinyl in my friend Jeff’s bedroom. Stopped the disc, started it over, listening with eyes closed. Same experience again 20 minutes later after flipping the record and listening to “Under the Ice/Waking the Witch”.
Still one of my favorite albums.
I became a Kathy Mattea fan with her Time Passes By album. Asking Us to Dance is still one of my favorite songs. But the one that blew me away was an older award-winning song I hadn’t heard before – “Where’ve You Been?” It was written by Don Henry and Jon Vezner (Mattea’s husband) about Vezner’s grandparents. It brought me to unexpected tears the first time I heard it, and does even more so 30 years later.
For me it was hearing Amorphis, in 1996. I saw the band recommended in some long forgotten Usenet group. I happened to see their new album Elegy the next time I was at the record store and picked it up.
I was absolutely hooked from the first few bars of Better Unborn – melodic death / folk metal from Finland was a complete revelation. I started using Amorphis as an online handle, and still, 27 years later, use the album cover (minus the band logo) as a profile pic.
Xordas by Sangre De Muerdago
My most recent was also Sound of Silence by Disturbed but I think the one that sticks in my mind is My Immortal by Evanescence. It was playing in a Good Guys shop and I heard Amy Lee’s voice and stopped dead.
Two songs jump out right off.
My first encounter with REM was while I was working in college radio. I put on the Hibtone single version of “Radio Free Europe,” and at that point REM became the band that really has been the soundtrack to my life.
Many years later, I heard Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” one morning while driving to work. It didn’t stop me in my tracks only because I was driving on a CA freeway at “rush” hour, and that would have been a bad thing. But my goosebumps got goosebumps hearing it for the first time. I was struck by just how much you could hear that he had lived that song, and that sticks with me to this day.
I Want To Hold Your Hand
I can still remember the exact spot the car my buddies and I were driving on a rural road in Gahanna, Ohio.
It’s not a rural road anymore . . .
Voodoo Child by Angelique Kidjo
It was either in the late 60s or very early 70s that I visited my Aunt Marilyn in Garden Grove, California. Of my five aunts, she was by far the coolest! In either case I was just out of my teens. I didn’t listen to the radio much, so I wasn’t really aware of everything that was going on in the world of popular music. Just a minute or two after I arrived she pointed to a little cassette player on the kitchen table – it was the kind of player that you could record to or play music with, with a small speaker, built-in microphone, and a headphone jack. It already had the little foam-padded earphones plugged in. She told me to sit down and listen to the tape. I had no idea what it was. So I sat down, turned it on, and was mesmerized for seventeen amazing, revelatory minutes. It was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” I’ll never forget that.
Well, I got hooked on a couple of German Industrial bands like KMFDM and Belfegore from a friend from Germany. Does that count? Funny story, when I first heard of the US hardcore band Die Kruzen, I assumed they were German. Nope, they are from Milwaukee.
I was in college in Baltimore, driving along University Parkway in my old beat up car, and “With You I’m Born Again” by Billy Preston and Syreeta came on the radio. I had to pull over and stop the car and listen, entranced, to the whole song before I could drive on again. The song recently popped into my mind all these many years later and I put it on my workout playlist. I still love the song, but can’t remember why I loved it so much back then!
Last summer on my way to teach summer school, Rest in Peace by Dorothy came on.
Sat in the car. Listened. Looked her up and put notes on my phone. Spent some time that evening diving into her catalogue, reading about her / the band.
I’m not a music file. I have too hard of a time understanding the lyrics. But this grabbed me.
A bunch, but the one that springs most to mind is the Main Titles music for Beetlejuice, by Danny Elfman. It was so close to the music that I semi-heard in my head (and occasionally tried to pick out on the piano) that I could scarcely believe I was actually hearing it out loud. I rewound and re-played it multiple times in a row.
Tom Waits, “What’s He Building?”
I was in a used-CD store in Studio City, and that album had just come out, and the clerk put that song on the store sound system, and gradually the hum of dozens of people browsing came to a halt as everyone stood and listened to Tom Waits take his Tom Waits shtick up to 11, perfectly. It was a shared moment of I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-hearing.
Wild Reeds, “Let No Grief” did that to me.
Twice. Many years ago, when I bought Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and again when I bought my first Chieftains album (Chieftains 9). In both cases, I just kept turning the record over and over for a couple of weeks. So What? is an incredible song.
Remember when you could turn over to the other side?
Many Moons by Janelle Monáe. I listened to it about 5 times and the bought everything they had released.
For the most memorable female vocalist, gotta say k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving”. The vocals just rip through my soul.
Heard it on WLBC Muncie while working on a project in my basement. Stopped me dead in my tracks. When it was over, I had totally forgot what I was doing.
For the guys, I owned Kansas-Leftoveture in high school and wore that record out. Six months later I was in Basic Training in Ft. Jackson SC and hadn’t heard any music in a couple of months. (It’s a basic training thing) We were outside taking a break during training and talking about our favorite songs and one guy mentioned “Dust in the Wind” so I started singing it. I finished and looked up,,,, and two whole companies of troops were staring at me. This guy leans over and says “Do it again!” So I did. Sep 1983
This is gonna date me pretty hard, but it’s “Creep” by Radiohead. Did you ever see the interview with Flea from RHCP talking about hearing “Creep” for the first time and he’s like “what the f*** was that???”? That’s about how I felt.
WOW great question! I’m a lifetime music lover and listener and collector, several songs I’ve stopped in my tracks to hear the first time around. In this case, the frist has to be Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”. Nine years old I think, hearing it on AM radio riding in the car with my mom and sister on our way back from a road game. Nothing to be stopped really except mom wanting to change the station (success) … I did put the LP on my birthday list and played it excessively, would be nice to still have it!
“Storm” by Yoshida Brothers
I think it was Sinead O’Connor’s version of Nothing Compares 2U on Israeli radio. And I’m not the biggest Prince or O’Connor fan either, I never felt motivated to own any of their albums. But that song stopped me at first listen (and every listen that happens to me).
‘Northwest Passage’ by Stan Rogers
There are two, which hit me in totally different ways, but both of which stopped me in my tracks.
Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage. This was completely situational. It totally caught the state I was in on the day I heard it for the first time. I had this sense that the band had crawled into my head and was just making my not awesome mood into a really good song.
Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. This song has everything, and it just yanked me by the ears and nailed me to the wall. I don’t even like the book, but I am blown away by this song every time I have ever heard it. I even enjoy the Pat Benetar cover, although it is nowhere nearly as good as the original (the cover lacks the misty weirdness of the original, which aligns so well with the lyrics). I mean, this is not really a pop ballad, even though that’s how the cover plays.
Neil Diamond — Coming to America
my parents (and much of my family) are immigrants; one of the grand loves of my life was a woman who deemed America the only safe place for her and New York as the shining city; she never took her eyes off the radio when that song came on;
We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel
complex and obliges you to listen closely to catch all the bits; for me, I actually had to go to the library (for you kids that was the pre-internet mode of googling) to look up some bits; I so wish Billy Joel would add on the 4-ish decades since the song came out (sadly he’s stated repeatedly he never would)
…and zillions of others
Uninvited by Alanis Morissette. An unusual song that stop me in my tracks. I am mostly a classical listener but like most any music.
Wo! popular thread. For me the one that comes to mind is the Spanish number played in the last few minutes of “Master and Commander” — really different rhythm, ear-catching as all get out. I located the violin score and managed to adapt it to keyboard. Happy listening and playing, everyone.
I never like music unless I know the words. When my sister wanted me to like Hamilton, she linked me to some YouTube clips with the gorgeous costumes, AND to a site with the songs and the lyrics together. She is a good sister.
This was as an adult, but my wife and I owned a music store for several years and Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” came on. I wasn’t familiar with the Nine Inch Nails’ original, so I didn’t have a point of reference. It stopped me in my tracks.
2004 – I’m driving on a street in Greensboro, NC, and “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw came on the radio. I was so gobsmacked by this tale of a cancer survivor — a tribute especially to my mother and mother-in-law — that it’s fortunate for the drivers around me that I went on autopilot.
2013 – AXS-TV was showing a concert from Red Rocks. My attention was riveted, and my musical tastes added to forever, when I heard and saw the back and forth guitar battle between husband and wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi during the Tedeschi Trucks Band playing “Learn How To Love”.
2021 – Following an online poll, found “Blackbird” by Alter Bridge. Came for the Myles Kennedy/Mark Tremonti twin guitar solo, stayed for the vocals and lyrics.
In college a friend and I once spent an entire afternoon doing nothing but listen to Pink Floyd’s album “Wish You were Here” over and over. Does that count? I mean it’s not one song but we did stop what we were doing to listen to it.
Understanding the lyrics is also a big thing for me. For example when I’ve listened to “Animaux fragiles” it made me think back about John and Jane:
Toi et moi, des animaux fragiles
Et cette planète n’est qu’une île
Elle-même perdue dans les étoiles
You and me, fragile animals
And this planet is but an island
It itself being lost within the stars
I thought that this might be a sentiment they could share after their adventures.
(I live in part in a French speaking area, that’s why I keep practicing it. It’s not any more unusual than immigrants to the US having to learn and practice English)
Born to Run, Springsteen, 1975. I was a just-barely teenager walking down a hill in a park on a hot summer day and it was blasting from someone’s boom box. I froze and just stood there until it was over. Joy is the correct word, so intense it was a physical experience. There are a number of other songs I vividly remember hearing for the first time, but nothing like that. I suppose it was tied with being very young, but I still hope.
I’ve had lots of them over the years, but I will limit myself to one here: the original version of MacArthur Park by Richard Harris. Yes, that shambling mess of a song that some of us love and a lot of people love to hate. I immediately identified it as a hit in the making the first time I heard it, and so it was.
Sure, the lyrics don’t quite make sense. But neither do the words of I Am The Walrus, or just about any Killers song. Music can work by evoking vivid images, whether or not they add up to a coherent narrative.
Bitter-sweet memory of the late great Phil Ochs’ Drafter Dodger Rag. First heard late night on a cheap portable radio from barracks of Fort Monmouth NJ, some miles south of NYC, a couple months after “joining” the army during the war on Vietnam..
^ youtube link failed, dunno why..
Most recently, probably The Sounds Of Silence cover by Disturbed.
Other songs that can and have totally derailed my day:
* Let It Go, from Frozen
* Write In Go, parody / homage to the above, by ScaleAbility, the Google a capella choir. /geek
* 76 Trombones by The Ambassadors Of Harmony. It’s on Youtube; I was there when it was recorded and it was just freaking awe inspiring.
* Fight Song, by Rachel Platten
* Thunderstruck, cover by 2CELLOS
In These Shoes? Kirsty MacColl
I was in a bad place when this came over my local public radio station. Definite change of mood.
She is no longer with us, but “Tropical Brainstorm” is one of my favorite albums.
Au fond du temple saint – especially with Bryn Terfel singing the baritone part – is guaranteed to make me stop in my tracks to drown in the glory of those exquisite harmonies.
I have been known to pull off to the side of the road in order to belt out the alto part of Beethoven’s Chorale Fantasy without causing an accident.
And Stan Rogers performing The Mary Ellen Carter will bring me to my feet to fight the “smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go” no matter how tired and depressed I am.
Thanks for asking this question. It’s a good one.
‘Cygnet Committee’ by David Bowie, ‘New Rose’ by The Damned, and ‘Ieya’ by Toyah just blew my socks off!
Oh, also forgot ‘Sign of the Cross’ by Skafish!
“Deep Red Bells” by Neko Case. One of those songs playing on the radio that when you get home you stay in your car to hear the rest of it. I managed to remember a couple of lyrics and rushed up to google it. Bought the album that night.