Aug 232010

One of the better books I read this summer was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. The book is a series of chapters about numerous overlapping characters, and each chapter has to do with music in one form or another. One of the last chapters, “Great Rock and Roll Pauses,” is a PowerPoint presentation by an adolescent character who is trying to illustrate for her parents an obsession her older brother has with pauses in music. The characters discuss and graph multiple variables: The Relationship of Pause-Length to Haunting Power, Proof of the Necessity of Pauses (which graphs pause power to song excellence), and The Persistence of Pauses Over Time. They provide examples, such as “Bernadette” by The Four Tops (it had their highest pause length to pause power ratio), “Young Americans” by David Bowie (short pause length, low pause power), and “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix (short pause length, high pause power). They also conclude that “pause power” is related to “song excellence,” listing The Zombie’s “Time of the Season” and The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running” as having the strongest overlap between those variables. The characters also debate the differences between pauses, rests, and “interruptions” (an example of the latter being “Supervixen” by Garbage).

Now, if two fictional adolescents are able do this, I think we at RTH can, too. What are some songs that have noticeable pauses? Are pauses different than rests? Or “interruptions?” Does it matter if you hear ambient noise in the background of the pause? Would the song be better without the pause? What is a pause for?


  29 Responses to “Pause for Effect”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    I’ll have to think on this further, but in general, I am a HUGE fan of rock pauses. More later.

  2. ladymisskirroyale

    Me, too. Mr. Royale and I had thought of a couple, based on research for other RTH posts: Lee Michael’s “Do You Know What I Mean?” and the Rascal’s “Good Lovin’.”

    Also, what about that powerful phenomenon of the pause at the END of the album/cd? You think that the album is over and then low-and-behold another track comes on. This may have gone the way of the record player, but it always astonished me when there was a secret track at the end. “Train in Vain” is probably the best example that I can think of for that.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    One of the coolest series of pauses that comes to mind for me are in Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” where the pauses sound artificially created – and artfully, sloppily artificially created by tape edits that don’t pay much mind to the beats following the pause by each full-band stop. Pauses usually create a sense of drama that is fully satisfied when the chorus kicks back in. In the case of this song the pause is a little disconcerting and the resumption of the song is not the “perfectly anticipated” charge that would happen in, say, “Good Vibrations.” Maybe it’s just a case of sloppy editing, but something tells me Eno did this on purpose and could give an 8-page answer on why he did this.

  4. ladymisskirroyale

    Ah, Mr. Mod, I would SO love it if you could ask Mr. Eno about that. Surely someone with your power and connections will be able to find some answers…

  5. BigSteve

    Is the pause in Cream’s White Room the longest ever?

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Good question, BigSteve. We’ll have to think about that!

  7. mockcarr

    There’s that pause Rain by the Beatles so they can make the guitars go backwards.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Does the point when “that long lunar note” of Mr. Zoot Horn Rollo builds to in “Big-Eyed Beans From Venus” count as a pause? That takes a while to develop and get the song back on track.

  9. Final Solution by Pere Ubu has a great pause in it. The line leading into it is “guitars gonna sound like a nuclear destruction” and then instead of emphasizing it with a big cacophony, there’s just silence (or maybe the sound of a little bit of wind blowing). Very cool effect.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    YES, that’s a great one, cdm. It’s like they suck the air out of the song before coming back in and finishing strong.

  11. BigSteve asks “Is the pause in Cream’s White Room the longest ever?” How about Led Zep’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine? Possibly the only 3 musicians who can come in harder than Baker/Bruce/Clapton would have to be Bonzo, Page and Jones.

    I always thought this was called a false stop. Pauses are ordinary places of silence in the music (kinda like the start/stop/start guitar riff in the Zep tune) and rests are part of musical notation.

  12. Treat Me Like Dirt by Simply Saucer before it comes back into the verses. They’re really harsh (and you can hear a pin drop during them) for such a sweet song.

  13. bostonhistorian

    I’m currently reading that book ladymiss, and have been impressed so far.

  14. bostonhistorian

    One of my favorite pauses comes in the song “My Ex-Lover’s Address” by a band called The Bedflowers. You can download it here: The pause is just one beat of silence about 1:44 in, then all hell breaks loose with the guitar. It might be the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard from a band that only officially released two songs in its lifetime, one on a compilation tape, one on a compilation CD. The full compilation CD is here:

  15. bostonhistorian

    Corrected URL for the song: – my ex-lovers address.mp3 sorry, those spaces are killers

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    Bostonhistorian, thanks for the links; looking forward to hearing that song.

    I’ll be interested in what you think of the rest of the book. I was very impressed by it, and the chapter I referenced in this post was a novel way (no pun intended) of addressing some issues/themes of the book.

    In the book, pauses are considered a reference to the end of the song, to the end, and to death. Whoa! Heavy stuff, but is that why pauses increase the drama?

  17. The pause in Crock O’ Shit’s “I Still Drive My Mother’s Car”, right after, “Junior, is that alcohol I smell on your breath” and the resulting howl of, “Ohhh, MOOOOOOOM!!!!”. Chills.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    I was just thinking about that song this morning, bobbybittman. That was a true winner in a fine event we put together.

    I’m trying to eke out some time to count the number of seconds between pauses in “White Room,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Final Solution.”

    White Room – There’s no complete stop, is there? They hold that one chord for about 5 seconds before the solo comes charging in.

    Nobody’s Fault – There’s a pause of about 3.5 seconds before the solo a little after 4 minutes into the song. That’s the longest pause, right?

    Final Solution – Also about 3.5-4 seconds for the big pause.

    Big-Eyed Beans from Venus – Zoot Horn Rollo’s long lunar note holds for about 12 seconds, but like “White Room,” it’s not a full stop.

    Is there a song with a full stop lasting longer than 4 seconds for the band returns (trick fade-ins excluded)?

  19. bostonhistorian

    The longest ones I’ve found are around three seconds.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    Likewise, bostonhistorian. I think the next Townsperson who writes a song needs to include a substantial pause of 5 to 6 seconds to break new ground. Think about it, songwriters, but we’ll really need to deliver coming out of that much dead air.

  21. junkintheyard

    A great example of effective pause is Short Skirt/ Long Jacket by CAKE. It is probably 4 but is sounds more like 5

    I cannot condone the following song in any way shape or form but it has one hell of a pause

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    I clocked the pause in “Real Life” by Tones on Tail at about 5 seconds.

    And good call about Cake…

  23. BigSteve

    I thought of another interesting one, though it’s not very long.

    I love the Pete Townshend/Ronnie Lane Rough Mix album. This song is basically Pete solo acoustic with strings doing a lot of fancy schmancy Bartok/Stravinsky type chords and stuff. But I like the pause at around 5:00 where he does the audible short intake of breath as if something scary is about to happen. And then it doesn’t.

  24. A part of the side one suite called “Born Cross Eyed” from Anthem of the Sun by the Grateful Dead has some very abrupt pauses. The VH1 classic album show that discussed Anthem and American Beauty had a very funny story of the group demanding that Dave Hassinger, the engineer, make the silence sound like “thick air”!

  25. ladymisskirroyale

    Thick air, eh? I’ll remember that the next time I hear a good pause. It sounds like the engineer was going for a sound without a sound. Different than Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” when you can hear him snicker in the background of the pause.

  26. Mr. Moderator

    Driving home from the shore tonight I heard one of the most dramatic pauses in my collection, the kind of full pause that’s not a fake fade out but would have made me hit PAUSE too quickly if making someone a mix tape: Talking Heads’ “No Compassion.” I didn’t get to time the pause, but it seems long!

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    Good one, Mod. One of my favorite THs songs, too, for pause-worthiness and professional relatedness.

  28. ladymisskirroyale

    I just heard another great pause: in Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” A long pause, clocked about 5-6 seconds. Thematically appropriate too…”I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait.”

  29. BigSteve

    I too came a cross another famous, albeit not very long, pause: Monday Monday by the Mamas & Papas (2:35).

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