This Song Will Be Right Back, After This Pause

Email a Friend

Yesterday on the show, author Jennifer Egan was talking about her new novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, where music and the music business are the connecting thread among the various different characters whose stories are unfolding in different decades.  One of those characters becomes obsessed with pauses in music – what they mean, why they can be so powerful, etc.- and she compiles a list of pop music’s greatest pauses. 

There are lots of examples of very pregnant pauses in music.  Classical music is full of them, from the beginning of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture (and the old Perry Mason TV show theme that seems to have been, um, “inspired” by it) to the three oddly-spaced pauses that end Sibelius’s Symphony #5.  But rock and pop have their share as well.  Egan’s book lists some classics: “Foxey Lady” by Jimi Hendrix, “Young Americans” by David Bowie (who actually used pauses even more effectively in songs like “Time,” and his cover of “Let’s Spend The Night Together”), “Time of the Season” by the Zombies, and “Roxanne” by the Police – notable because its pause is not a “false ending,” as so many pauses in pop music are. 

I’ve been trying to think of other great pauses, where the pause really makes the whole song better.  There’s “Mahna Mahna,” the song associated with the Muppets show; that song is nothing without its pauses.  (Producer Joel Meyer’s reply: “that song is nothing without its puppets.”)  I think the pause in The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” just before the final chord, would also make the cut.   But as fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show know, there is probably no song more dependent on its pauses than the one I’m about to list next. 

I can tell you’re waiting for it.  In fact, I can see you shiver with antici


[cue “Sweet Transvestite” here]

What’s your vote for best pause in music, and why?  Leave a comment