A blast of silence can mercilessly build suspense and massively pump up the power when the rock returns to re-launch the rest of the song down its rollicking road. Just witness any number of vintage live performances where Elvis Presley staggers his lyrics or Chuck Berry coming out of his famous duck walk by taking a beat.
After Sgt. Pepper propelled rock into the album era, artists more and more effectively wove loaded vocals breaks and instrumental full-stops into their very recordings. The result has been some of the most famous, most exciting and flat-out greatest moments in music. Here are the 15 most powerful pauses in classic rock.
Led Zeppelin “Good Times, Bad Times” (1969)
Power Pause: (1:27)
Led Zeppelin announced itself to the world with this opening track on its self-titled debut album. The dynamic song supplies a snapshot of a youth contemplating life as it hurls toward him, positive and negative (as the title implies). The final words before the break addresse getting dumped by a first love. Silence follows, then a single John Bonham drum beat, and then—hello, universe!—Jimmy Page proclaime himself the dark overlord of all future heavy metal guitar solos.
Cream “White Room” (1967)
Power Pause: (3:57)
Cream’s spooky, dramatic “White Room” is a brawny ode to loneliness that weaves a mysterious tale that ends with the narrator alone and shattered. The powerhouse musicianship by Eric Clapton on guitar, Ginger Baker on drums, and Jack Bruce on bass is such that even the song’s moment of silence quavers with heavy vibrations. A mere dangling squeal of feedback connects the singer’s final lament to the trio’s monster jam outro.
The Beatles “Hello, Goodbye” (1967)
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The Beatles kicked psychedelia into higher-than-high gear with this Paul McCartney-penned single. It’s only topped in brilliantly nonsensical acid waves department by its B-side, John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus.” “Hello, Goodbye” is a jaunty, instantly ear-pleasing loop through a relationship where one party seems to automatically always contradict the other, and neither understands why. Of course, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the glorious moment of nothingness that separates the end of “Hello, Goodby” proper and its happy babble chant coda, “Hela heba helloa/Hela heba helloa/cha cha cha.”
Bruce Springsteen “Rosalita” (1973)
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Despite its FM omnipresence and stadium-scorching live-show power, the Boss’s seven-minute-plus saga of star-crossed teen romance was never released as a single. Instead, fans propelled “Rosalita” into popular consciousness by singing along with its rock-and-roll hooligan narrator as he woos a proper young Latin lady whose parents disapprove “somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.” After ripping through a climax in which a record company advance empowers the young couple to split for SoCal, Springsteen precedes a perfect blast of silence by allowing the breathless listener to catch up for a final shout-along chorus when he hollers: “Everybody sing!”
Foo Fighters “Monkey Wrench” (1997)
Power Pause: (0:10)
The first single from the Foo Fighter’s second album weirdly front-loads its dramatic pause, but that’s aesthetically in keeping with the rest of the song. “Monkey Wrench” is a rousing power pop meets hard rock barnburner that sets the listener’s spirit soaring even as its lyrics describe Foo frontman Dave Grohl’s sour analysis of his marriage falling apart.
Aerosmith “Living on the Edge” (1993)
Power Pause: (3:25)
Aerosmith’s MTV-friendly ’90s rebirth unexpectedly connected Toxic Twins Steve Tyler and Joe Perry and their bad boy Beantown brethren to kids of the Lollapalooza era. The band’s alterna-moment was never more potent than on this 6:21 sprawl that was accompanied by a legitimately shocking music video in which Catholic schoolgirls smash car windows, Tyler unzips his own body, T2 kid Edward Furlong ditches a condom and drives into a brick wall, Perry just barely dodges a locomotive, and a sexy female high-school teacher proves there’s more to her inviting looks than meets the thigh. The song itself is also a stuffed TNT depository of sounds and ideas, so when it goes for silence, the moment really counts—lasting five long seconds.
Def Leppard “Animal” (1987)
Power Pause: (3:52)
“Animal” saved Def Leppard. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal upstarts had scored multi-platinum success in American with 1983’s Pyromania album, but back in the UK, fans ignored the record and decried its pop sound. Things looked especially dire for the group, then, when “Women,” the first single off its 1987 album Hysteria, flopped bombastically stateside. Alas, then came “Animal,” a catchy, bop-your-head-along confection that hit big in the U.S. and nearly topped the charts back in England. Part of the song’s appeal comes from the many mini-pauses it drops in just before each chance from verse to chorus and back, all of which lead to the giddy big break that sets up the song’s triumphant exit.
Metallica “Sad But True” (1991)
Power Pause: (0:17)
A slow-burn intro smolders to a boiling point that only Metallica can pull off. That’s the first sixteen seconds of “Sad but True,” the final single off their 1991 mega-stardom breakthrough, Metallica aka “The Black Album.” That downward-spiraling run-down is followed by a galloping canticle to misery that pummels as mightily as any other hell-dirge in the Metallica songbook.
The Doobie Brothers “Long Train Running” (1973)
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Before Michael McDonald smoothed their sound with his gloriously inimitable blue-eyed soul, the Doobies were a rough-and-tumble boogie band beloved by bikers, longhairs, and other cultural outlaws. “Long Train Running” is the hit that best encapsulate the their original sound. It’s a driving shuffle that matches the velocity and propulsion of the vehicle in its title, up to and including a breath-holding bubble of soundlessness that gets flawlessly broken by lead axeman Patrick Simmons’ lightning-strummed signature guitar riff.
Bryan Adams and Tina Turner “It’s Only Love” (1984)
Power Pause: (1:55)
Reckless, the zillion-selling 1984 album by Canadian pop-rock roughneck Bryan Adams, generated a relentless procession of smash singles, including “Run to You,” “Summer of ’69,” “One Night Love Affair,” “Somebody,” and “Heaven.” The one hit that seems to have slipped through the cracks, though, contains one of rock’s great stop-and-start: “It’s Only Love,” Adams’ grand-slam duet with Tina Turner. Each singer is in peak form on the short, sharp number. The not-so-secret weapon of “It’s Only Love,” though, is the fever pitch Adams and Turner whip the music up into only to screech to a halt, stay mum for a moment, and then return with an all-out haymaker of a guitar riff and a farewell chorus.
The Troggs “Wild Thing” (1965)
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“Wild Thing,” the brontosaurus-footed stomper performed by the caveman-esque Troggs, tore a before-and-after line in ’60s pop music. In its wake, it you wanted to to truly rock, you had to go heavy or you had to go home (and/or to Greenwich Village folk clubs or maybe the Troubador in L.A.). Aside from the bestial guitar plod and the mind-splintering flute solo, a major component of its prehistoric force is when it just stops. Nobody moves. Nobody breaths. Then—dun-dun-DUH-dun—“Wild Thing” starts kicking over mountains and munching on treetops again.
Meat Loaf “Bat Out of Hell” (1978)
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Songwriter Jim Steinman aimed to create the ultimate teenage car crash anthem with “Bat Out of Hell,” a tradition that produced notable transistor radio tearjerkers such as “Teen Angel,” “Last Kiss,” and “Leader of the Pack.” Steinman was blessed then—as were we—when he teamed with the volcanically larger-than-loud vocal talent known as Meat Loaf. Coming off The Rocky Horror Picture Show and singing lead on Ted Nugent’s Free-For-All album, Loaf took up Steinman’s mantle and the pair created rock’s most epic Wagnerian overstatement with the seven songs on Bat Out of Hell, the flaming madman spirit of which is embodied by its nine-minute title track.
“Bat” comes on just likes its name says, with an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer orchestral keyboard onslaught, followed by towering guitar leads, and a piano breakdown in which the song’s hero declares his zeal to ride free and just live, dammit—live! That’s when everything screeches to a halt, there’s a pause, then a electrifying blast of percussion and Meat wails: “I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram/on a silver-black phantom bike…” and it’s eminently clear he won’t be coming back. Rock itself never did, either.
New York Dolls “Personality Crisis” (1973)
Power Pause: (1:57)
Lower Manhattan’s gnarly proto-punks snarl their way through a masterwork of gutter-blues skronk, taking a young lady (or somebody dressed like one) to task for improperly nailing down a workable identity. The siren shriek of silence in “Personality Crisis” separates two of rock’s greatest lyrical couplets. First, front-freak David Johansen belts out: “All about that Personality Crisis you got it while it was hot/But now frustration and heartache is what you got….” That’s followed by a 69-month pregnant pause and then the explosion: “And you’re… a… prima ballerina on a spring afternoon/Change on into the Wolfman, howlin at the moon, how-whooo!”
Sex Pistols “Bodies” (1977)
Power Pause: (1:55)
Abortion Rock is one of pop’s least plumbed subdivisions, but, naturally, nobody’s ever done it nastier or with more soul shattering vitriol than the Sex Pistols. “Bodies” was reportedly inspired by a young woman showing off a plastic bag containing the results of her terminated pregnancy to singer Johnny Rotten. The song’s sound matches the way that story makes any sane person feel. The lyrics first detail the situation, then the medical procedure, and then the fetus itself roars out for mercy. A chilling silence follows, after which the father of the unborn launches into a diatribe that more or less defines the very essence of NSFW language. Press play only while wearing headphones.
Tim Curry “Sweet Transvestite” (1975)
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As cross-dressing, pansexual, space alien mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter, Tim Curry storms into The Rocky Horror Picture Show and introduces himself by way of the show-stopper, “Sweet Transvestite.” It’s one of the great entrances in all of cinema and the chorus is familiar to anyone who’s ever been near a movie theater at midnight: “I’m just a sweet Transvestite/From tran-ssssssexual, Tran-syl-van-ia!”
Curry’s pause toward the end of the song is also one of filmdom’s most delightfully unbearable moments of verbal suspense. He sings, “So… come up to the lab/and see… what’s on the slab/I’ll make you shiver with antici….”
He holds his tongue (for once), prompting Rocky Horror’s famously interactive audience to shout maniacally, “Say it! Say it! Say it!”
Then, finally, Curry, relieves the tension by hissing, “….pation!”