What makes a really good rock song?

So my wife is in the other room watching that movie about Julia Childs… it was a great movie, and I really enjoyed it the first time we watched it.

I happened to catch, out of the corner of my ear, that the song “Psycho Killer”, by the Talking Heads, is in that movie.

Now I don’t know about you, but I love that song. And so do lots of other people. It seems to me that even if I didn’t like anything else by the Talking Heads, I’d like that song.

My question to myself (and to you, gentle reader) is, “why?”

Because I figure that if I can get to the answer, then I’ll know how to write some seriously great songs. Or at least one really good song. A song that stands the test of time. I don’t even necessarily care if anyone remembers who wrote it; I’d just love to write a song that sticks in people’s minds so much that they can’t seem to shake it. (I’d prefer they smile when they think of it.)

Let’s face it. These days, there is SO MUCH music available that it can become tough to distinguish between bands. It can become tough to care.

I know from personal experience that it wasn’t always this way. I grew up poring over the liner notes of LP’s. My mom used to blast Barry Manilow and Cher at full volume while doing housework. And she’d sing. Loud! It was awesome.

Meanwhile, my dad would be back in his den. I’d go in and stare in awe at the blacklight posters… And when I went to kindergarten, I just assumed that all the other kids knew Zappa and Dr. Hook. Because that was just normal at our house.

Turns out they didn’t.

The other little kids in my class weren’t hearing Warren Zevon. They weren’t getting an education in rock. They weren’t hearing about the subtle nuances that distinguished a Fender Precision bass from any other bass. They weren’t wondering who Waddy Wachtel was. They weren’t studying “Guitar” magazine from 1979.

So for them, “Exciteable Boy”, “Briefcase Full Of Blues”, and “Aja” didn’t mean a thing. But for me, they were unquestionable. They carried a weight that could not be denied. And they were instantly recognizable.

Is it still that way today? Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t tell anymore. All I know is that there are certain songs that carry a wallop. And that wallop doesn’t seem to be the result of any predictable recipe or formula.

I’d love to think that some of my music carries a wallop…. I know for me a lot of it does. But I’m not sure how much that counts, since I wrote it. But I can tell you that when I hear something that really moves me, it REALLY moves me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And somehow I can stay interested in it even after 500 listens. That’s the hallmark of a magical song for me.

To break it down, a really sweet distortion sound is important to me. Doesn’t have to be overly-overdriven to be good. And a lot of compression can sound great in some circumstances (Dream Theater), but crappy in others (like when I try anything like that).

All I really know is that some rock songs just grab me by the throat, and others don’t.

So, what is it that makes a song magical for you?

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1 Comment

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One response to “What makes a really good rock song?

  1. Texas J

    I think what makes a song magical, and I will use a magical term, is the quality or ability of that song or piece of music to “invoke” a response in the listener. It may only do it once, it may only do it in a particular setting, or only in a certain mind set of the listener, but it does. This quality, if the song has powerful magic, will invoke a response in a larger number of people and more often. Sometimes the invocation is on the mental plane, some times on the emotional plane, sometime the music will speak directly to the subconscious. It is the latter that I feel is most powerful as it seems to bypass the cultural filters of the brain. This is most likely a music that will touch any one at any place or from any where. Then it is said that music crosses cultural boundries.

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