The Best Musical Interludes

used to get annoyed when a song would get to the “musical interlude” section. It seemed mandatory and not really necessary for the song to be whole. It was as if the interlude was there to give the vocalist or whoever was leading the song a chance to take a breather. For me, it was a distraction from the wonderful goodness of a song to fulfill some unknown-to-me rule that all songs had to have this break.  Often it was the dreaded guitar solo.  I hated the guitar solo.  I don’t know why everyone I know liked it.  I just never had an appreciation for it (until “Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live”).

Every song had one. Good songs, bad songs, slow songs, fast songs, art rock, or pop rock all had musical interludes.

My tastes evolved and I lightened up a bit. There were some songs that I discovered that I really did like for their interludes. Here are my choices for top 3.

  1. Boston – “Smokin’”
  2. Steely Dan – “Aja”
  3. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – “Karn Evil 9 (First Impression, Part 2)”

Boston took the world by storm with their debut self-titled album from 1976. Once the stations firmly entrenched the first single from that album, “More Than a Feeling”, “Smokin’” became their next exploit. Those two songs along with “Peace of Mind” and “Foreplay/Long Time” are still staples on rock radio. Skilled vocals, good harmony, great production, and expert musicianship made the band a blowout winner. The aptly titled “Smokin’” was one of those songs that left you breathless and unlike many other tunes, the interlude didn’t let up. It features many transitions and the fantastic use of a Hammond organ. I love organs in rock. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer may be the only band that rips an organ better than Boston. The hook for me (and I’m going to try to text-type a tune when I can barely hum one) is the part when a harpsichord sounding instrument does a stepladder down while the guitar does a wah a wah a wah wahwahwah. Cool.  And the Hammond organ kicks in.  Double cool.

Now for a complete change of pace, I choose Steely Dan’s sublime “Aja.” Steely Dan is a treasure of the music world that seems just a bit off the beaten path from regular rock radio’s mainstream but talented enough and compelling enough to be on regular rotation with the other core rock bands of the time. I don’t think they received enough notoriety though their induction in 2001 to the hall of fame, while late, was deserved in recognition of their value to the music world.

“Aja” was a pleasure though its interlude wasn’t really an interlude. It was really the transition to the finale of the song. It features my first recollection of a whistle in a song. That sounds comedic. Since when is a whistle a feature of a song? For whistle aficionados, there is Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” which brought the whistle tier one prominence.  Thank you Ms. Summer.  Thank you Disco!

Finally, there is Emerson, Lake, and Palmer with “Karn Evil 9 (First Impression, Part 2)”. There is a legendary Detroit rock station, WRIF 101.1FM still strong today, that had a great television commercial way back in the day. Actually, they had a few. One of the most memorable is one that anybody from the Detroit area who is old enough to remember, will definitely remember. It featured a close-up of Kelly Harmon lip-synching some songs and radio sounds and ends in a lip-synched ‘BABY!’. BABY was deep-voiced station DJ Arthur Penhallow’s signature call line.

The other less notorious commercial that introduced me to ELP was a simple shot of clouds rolling through the sky and the sound of synthesizers playing a wicked tune. I didn’t know it was ELP at the time I first heard the commercial and as usual when I heard a song I didn’t know, I listened to the station with note paper ready just in case they played the song and the announcer was kind enough to tell me what it was they played. Those were the days. With Youtube, radios with text, and apps like iPhone’s Audio Recognition, you don’t have to do so much work anymore.

This song started me on an obsession with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. They fulfilled my every need in Rock music. Keith Emerson was a master at the keyboard and many of ELP’s songs emphasized his playing. “Karn Evil 9 …” was one of those songs. Incidentally, I was listening to a radio documentary on the life of Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer. The documentary credited ELP’s “Lucky Man” with bringing the Moog to rock notoriety. “Lucky Man” features a very brief finale utilizing the Moog. For “Karn Evil 9 …”, the interlude highlights Keith Emerson’s keyboard and is a welcome musical relief to the whirlwind energy and vocals of the rest of the song.

That’s my list. I’m sure I have missed some great ones but these are at least the first that come to mind.

One thought on “The Best Musical Interludes

  1. It is hard to believe I overlooked the grandaddy of all interludes, the defacto boss of all boss riffs, yes, it’s “more cowbells”. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” has one of the greatest breaks in a song ever!

    Speaking of cults, the Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken parodying a faux BOC producer demanding more cowbells during the recording of “Reaper” has a cult following of its own. Search for it on Youtube. It is well worth the effort.


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