It’s rather undefinable and perhaps indescribable. We can be so attached to our music, but why? Many people will hang their lives on lyrics, but I’ve found over time that, while I *do* enjoy a good set of lyrics, especially if they mean something to me, I am far more likely to find beauty and magic in the instruments or song structure itself. And when it comes to lyrics, I usually latch on to the melody of them long before I may even know what is being sung. Sometimes I’ll discover the lyrics to a song 20 years after I first heard it. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind too much being an instrumental songwriter.

But if you asked me to describe what it is I like about any given song that I like, and there are so many, most of the time I don’t think I can. Sometimes I can attribute a lot of credit to one tiny aspect, but tiny aspects don’t make songs. They might make them better, for sure, but a good song is a whole piece of goodness.

One song that frequently comes to mind when thinking about what it takes to write a good pop/rock song is Santa Monica by Everclear. I think I could crawl through the timeline of that song and explain how every few seconds, they do one thing or another that makes the song a masterpiece in my ears. It’s not complex by any measure, but it’s just good. It probably has a lot to do with how it builds up, but I’m sure there’s more to it.

A few years ago, I made a list of songs that I said had transcendental moments for me. They all had one spot in them where the song switched gears and carried me from one place to another. Those songs are in a slightly different class for me – I may not even enjoy some parts of those songs, but the one magic moment makes up for the doldrums of the rest of the song. I will try to recreate that list and post it here someday, but I can tell you for sure that the chart topper there is Chop Suey! by System of a Down. The song is a fairly average heavy rockin’ tune for the first couple of minutes, but (pardon my kidspeak) O.M.G. does it go to a holy place at 2:51. Those vocal harmonies at the end elevate the song to a pedestal I can only dream of one of my own creations ever resting upon. Without that ending, the song would be utterly ordinary to me. But to the rest of the song’s credit, I can’t just fast forward to 2:51 and knock my socks off. The beginning builds the song to a place where it can launch into the stratosphere, and it takes me with it … every time.

What’s your magic song?


  1. LisandroP says:

    Something similar happens to me with Filter’s “Captain Bligh”. A solid, yet unremarkable rocker… until 3:57.

    That bit deserves a song on its own.

  2. Epiphora says:

    Yep, similar kinda vibe. I like it – the song’s energy comes to a stop, and then it delicately walks away.

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