The Top "Pauses" in Rock Songs - because sometimes stopping the music makes it better...


aerosmith band

The Top "Pauses" in Rock Songs


Sometimes playing nothing at all can be one of the best things in a song.

What is this pause?

 It’s a ‘violation of expectation’ used to build tension which in turn creates excitement for the listener.

Delaying an expected note in a song is a great trick that many guitarists, pianists and other musicians use - and when a pause is used in a song structure, the effect can be tremendous.

Popular music producers such as Bob Clearmountain have used them to such effect that the 'Clearmountain' is often referred to when talking about the pause!

It an adage that 'silence is golden' and if that's the case, here's some classic songs that have some golden moments by way of a deliberate pause.

The first song in this list is the inspiration for this post - I was listening to it while on the bus and the pause made me sit up and pay attention:

Living on the Edge by Aerosmith from the Get a Grip album. 

Check out this video that starts with a nude Steven Tyler hold his meat and two veges and ends with Edward Furlong sharing his sandwich with a bully. The pause is at about the 3.30 minute mark. The song is seemingly building to a big moment, yet the pause drops in which leads to a drum beat and then the big moment. It's brilliant.



Wonderwall and Don't Look back in Anger by Oasis from What's the Story (Morning Glory)?

Wonderwall is probably my favourite song. Every time I pick up the guitar I ending up chuck on a capo on the second fret and go for gold. And the golden moment in Wonderwall is the pause that comes just before the start of the second verse. At the 2 minute mark Noel Gallagher delays the strum of the Em chord to perfection which means when the chord chimes it's a piece of heavenly pop.



This next pause is perhaps a little bit of a cheat. Don't Look Back in Anger is Noel's signature tune. He sang it rather than Liam and it went to number one on the British charts. It also has a great little drum fill that starts just after the solo. It's the most briefest of pauses that you could count as a pause but the linking of the end of the solo and the drum fill 'feels' like a pause. Great song moment. Here it is at the 3.30 mark.

Everybody Hurts by R.E.M. from Automatic for the People

One of R.E.M.'s greatest singles, Everybody Hurts features Peter Buck playing simple arpgeggio chords and soaring vocals by Micheal Stipe. The song is about grief and death. So when the pause  after the line "you're not alone" at the 3 minute mark, it gives you time to think, fuck, yes I feel sad, yes I feel glad, yes I loved that person or whatever it is you want to think.

When the arpeggio picks up right after, it almost feels like life has just given you a gentle nudge to say, you're still here, come with us, your hurting but you're not alone...



Closing Time by Semisonic from Feeling Strangely Fine.

One song that’s perhaps well known for its great pause is Closing Time by Semisonic (a band that should never have broken up in my opinion).  Check out the pause just before the chorus atthe 3minute mark.


This is the song that has what’s known as the 'Clearmountain Pause' -  Semisonic's producer Nick Launay is quoted assaying “we had to have our mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig, create the pause bystretching the existing pause, layering it, making it as long as he could.

Thereafter, we referred to that part of the song as the “Clearmountain Pause.”At shows over the next few years, the pause got longer, and longer, and longer until it was a musical piece unto itself.”

Love Shack by The B52s from Cosmic Thing

Tiiiiinnnnn rooooffff PAUSE rusted ! That's pretty much all you need to know about this classic song. Katie Pierceson delayed enunciating 'rusted' oh so perfectly about a seemingly nonsensical line about the shack. Rust never sleeps, I guess.



River of Dreams by Billy Joel - River of Dreams



I loved this song when it came out. It was catchy as anything and it still is - and its 4 second pause is perfect.

Coming off a funky jivin' feeling the listener is left thinking, "where did that good stuff go?" and is rewarded very well when rescued with 'in the middle of the night".

Closing Time's pause also inspired a book chapter in A visit from the Goon Squad by author Jennifer Egan which features famous pauses in rock songs. Check it out.

Never Tear Us Apart by INXS from Kick

This song was apparently another Clearmountain pause. This is song has a very bold pause - it fits neatly between Hutchence's lyric and a dramatic guitar riff - and the drama of the song is surely created and added to by the pauses before the instrumental breaks.


Monkey Wrench by Foo Fighters from the Color and the Shape.

This classic Foos track has many many pauses. You could argue they are more due to the manner in which the guitar is played with a stop start feel. Whatever, here's the official video which features classic FF mischief and decide for yourself:


The Look by Roxette from Look Sharp!

Any one who's looked at my CD collection will know there's a few periods of musical fandom I'd prefer the world didn't know about but I am certainly not ashamed to say I LOVE Roxette.

And luckily for this article, they've got a great pause in their break through smash, The Look.

 I warn you, this video is terribly dated and was probably actually terrible when it first came out to. Ah the 80's. Bless...



Here's some honorable mentions that you may wish to check out:
  • Faith By George Michael - The best bit of this long player is the awesome organ introduction but the pause is pretty good. Play it on your acoustic guitar and decide for your self .
  • Paint it black by The Rolling Stones - A quick and simple one - after the classic snake like sitar riff there's a slight delay before Charlie Watt's drums kick the song into life.
  • Purple Rain by Prince from the Purple Rain Soundtrack
  • March of the Pigs by Nine Inch Nails from The Downward Spiral  - listen to the but where Trent Reznor sings "and doesn't it make you feel better" and you'll know what I mean.
  • Supervixen by Garbage from Garbage - this is a song that's commonly singled out as having a great pause - while the band of super producers are rocking out, Shirley Manson is a seething rage of total bitch and then it just pauses.
There you have it, the best pauses in rock songs. Did you agree? Got anything else to add? Leave your interesting or creative comments in the section belllloowwww as RWJ would say. 



1 comment:

Randy Singer said...

I thing one of the first (1966?) and best pauses in a rock song is The Young Rascals' Good Lovin'