Seeking songs with a "reveal"
March 10, 2021 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I love songs that have a big "reveal" in the middle where the song changes dramatically - help me find more of them!

One of my favorite songs is Nine Inch Nails "Right Where It Belongs" - it has a big reveal in the middle that totally changes the song and always gives me the tinglies. I have yet to stumble across any other songs that do this so dramatically, but I'm sure they exist. What are some other songs like this?
posted by _DB_ to Media & Arts (68 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I've always loved the shift in Liz Phair's Divorce Song
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:03 PM on March 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm positive you've experienced it before, but this happens in bohemian rhapsody like 4 times.

I also consider this to happen in domo origato mr roboto though the reveal is rather early.
posted by bbqturtle at 1:05 PM on March 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

How about Dance Yrself Clean ? It shifts dramatically at the 2.5 or 3 minute mark.
posted by Leontine at 1:12 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

My favorite is the dawning reveal (for the singer mainly, but we can't help but go with him) in Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. I'm a sucker for the gentle humor in it. Ooh and how about Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee?

But maybe songs like Harry Chapin's Cat's In the Cradle or even the Eagles' Hotel California do something closer to what you're looking for. They definitely have the "chills" factor.
posted by MiraK at 1:12 PM on March 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

The twist has long since been spoiled, but the song "Goodbye Earl" from the Chicks (f/k/a Dixie Chicks) starts out like it'll be one of those hard-luck-woman-leaves-her-no-good-man type of songs, and then take a sharp turn after the first verse.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 1:14 PM on March 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

From two different genres:
DJ Spooky - Galactic Funk (90s trip-hop)
Terry Allen - The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma (70s art-country)
posted by niicholas at 1:14 PM on March 10, 2021

Not sure if this exactly fits your criteria, but there's a famous "drum break" toward the end of the Phil Collins song, "In the Air Tonight". From the Wikipedia article I linked to:
"In the Air Tonight" remains one of Collins' best-known hits... and is especially famous for its drum break towards the end, which has been described as "the sleekest, most melodramatic drum break in history" and one of the "101 Greatest Drumming Moments".
posted by JD Sockinger at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Pina Colada song
posted by AugustWest at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2021 [10 favorites]

Hallelujah by Stephen Lynch (not the same song as the oft-covered Leonard Cohen song by the same name.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2021

I don't quite get what you mean by a "reveal". Is this something in the lyrics which changes your perception of what the song was about or is it something in the music like the abrupt changes in Bohemian Rhapsody? In Right Where it Belongs (which is a great song) is it the during the line "While you're hiding in the trees" where the music changes a bit and the crowd noise comes in or is it something else?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

John Darnielle's ability to turn audience sympathies on a dime in the middle of "The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton" was what first drew my attention to the Mountain Goats.

There's also a twist in the last verse of Suzanne Vega's "The Queen and the Soldier" which is pretty dramatic.
posted by praemunire at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

That song reminds me of Layla by Eric Clapton, the long version where it switches to a piano ballad. Not sure if that's what you are going for.

I'd also suggest:
Soundgarden - Rusty Cage

Secrets by Mission of Burma it's like 2 songs built into one, or a really long intro

Secular Rockulidge by Lemonheads -an instrumental or two

Vampire Weekend does it a lot -
Vampire Weekend - Sympathy
Vampire Weekend - Fingerback - spoken word break
Vampire Weekend - Ladies of Cambridge - the middle break turns to a killer's thoughts

Game Theory - The Waist and The Knees - switches tempo, vocal style, level of seriousness, everything in the middle

Game Theory - Dead Center - starts with an interview, then musical break, then the actual song

Chomsky -Gravitate a snippet of the middle section was regularly used in the HGTV show House Hunters in the 2010s.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2021

Come Sail Away by Styx changes both musical style and subject matter about halfway through.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:35 PM on March 10, 2021 [9 favorites]

I'm also not entirely sure if these are examples of what you mean when you say a "reveal" but they might fit:

No More Shall We Part by Nick Cave

The Adversary by Crime and the City Solution

Lived in Bars by Cat Power
posted by gauche at 1:37 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hell, All These Things That I've Done by The Killers, maybe?
posted by gauche at 1:39 PM on March 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I like the three speeds of Billy Joel's "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
posted by chavenet at 1:40 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

"Come Sail Away" is probably the best example of this I can think of. Another good one is "Contact" by Daft Punk, where the style changes pretty suddenly and dramatically when the percussion kicks in.

I can think of other songs that have long, distinct intros or outros, or that develop dramatically and progressively from start to finish, but it seems what you're looking for is a lot more specific than that?
posted by teraflop at 1:47 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Much like Layla, I Think of You by J. Roddy Walston has a dramatic change in tempo and style but no lyrics during the second part.
posted by lyssabee at 1:53 PM on March 10, 2021

I immediately thought of a day in the life by the beetles who merged two of their songs together to make this song, and apparently they’ve done it other times, too.
posted by sillysally at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

This is America might fit the bill.
posted by beccaj at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Independence Day by Martina McBride

The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia by Reba McEntire
posted by stormyteal at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

The High Road by Broken Bells does this 2/3 of the way through.
posted by sol at 2:01 PM on March 10, 2021

Pray for You by Jaron and the Long Road to Love

Maybe Ol' Red by Blake Shelton
posted by stormyteal at 2:06 PM on March 10, 2021

Brand New Girlfriend by Steve Holy though the reveal happens early in the song.
posted by shoesietart at 2:06 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Kicked it in the Sun by Built to Spill

Night Shift by Lucy Dacus
posted by MundaneNoodle at 2:06 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

more Styx! they love doing that. Madame Blue at about 3:40 just blows my mind. Stairway to Heaven turns fast as well. The Damned, smash it up parts 1 and 2?

I love music that shifts as well, for me the heart of it is something like Gorecki's Symphony no. 3, which slowly builds the layers up until it blossoms into the vocals about 14 minutes in...a lot of songs from The National also slowly build up like that, and Lamb's song Gorecki most definitely follows that pattern.
posted by th3ph17 at 2:09 PM on March 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Los Campesinos! - Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time completely changes at the 2 minute mark.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 2:09 PM on March 10, 2021

This is my "stoner" playlist. I made it mostly for extended solo/jam vibes, but there's definitely some good breaks in there.

Deer Tick, Mange
Outlaws, Green Grass and High Tides
Black Keys, Little Black Submarine
John Mayer, Covered in Rain
Clutch, Electric Worry
Dire Straits, Telegraph Road
Spiderbait, Tonite
Spock's Beard, The Doorway
Porcupine Tree, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
posted by wwartorff at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2021

Golddigger by Kanye.
posted by wwax at 2:27 PM on March 10, 2021

B.F. Shelton - Pretty Polly (1927). This one is from The Bristol Sessions, one of the earliest country records. There are many versions out there, it's some old old folk song sort of thing.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:33 PM on March 10, 2021

Primus, Groundhog's Day

Phish, Punch You In The Eye has a few changes in it.
posted by bondcliff at 2:35 PM on March 10, 2021

Wrong 'Em Boyo, the Clash—the only reveal that matters.
posted by theredpen at 2:36 PM on March 10, 2021

That Was a Crazy Game of Poker, by O.A.R. It's so weird it's kind of riveting.
posted by holborne at 2:40 PM on March 10, 2021

A Better Son/Daughter and The Good That Won't Come Out - Rilo Kiley
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:41 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

If the reveal is along the lines of "You thought I meant this, but really I meant this!" then Weird Al has a number of examples: "One More Minute", "I Remember Larry", "Foil" and probably a number of others I'm not recalling immediately.
posted by subocoyne at 2:50 PM on March 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ooh, I also love when this happens in music. Supper's Ready by Genesis (back during the awesome weirdo days when Peter Gabriel was in the band) is an absolutely epic example of multiple drastic style shifts within the same composition.

Also, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue has loads of changeups throughout the piece. In fact, "rhapsody" comes from ancient Greek and loosely translates to "songs stitched together". I learned this only last year and it kind of blew my mind, given it never occurred to me that Bohemian Rhapsody was called that because of how it was structured. o_0 So a lot of things with "Rhapsody" in the name likely fit the bill!
posted by aecorwin at 2:51 PM on March 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Eminem's Darkness is one of my favorite reveals in terms of "what this song is actually about".
posted by ToddBurson at 3:10 PM on March 10, 2021

I love songs like this, and all of these suggestions.

I agree with Liz Phair in general, not only is Divorce Song a great example, I also think Ant In Alaska does this well.

Probably my absolute favorite is Lemon Jelly's Space Walk

I also love what happens in Sunday Candy
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 3:23 PM on March 10, 2021

Up the Junction by Squeeze.
posted by parm at 3:31 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also came here to recommend 'Supper's Ready' but since aecorwin beat me to it how about a similarly-lengthy prog-rock masterpiece from Procol Harum, 'In Held 'Twas In I'? (Linked with old movie clips into this awesome video by Munroe).
posted by Rash at 3:40 PM on March 10, 2021

Elvis Costello doing Leon Payne’s “Psycho.”

For something very obscure and with perhaps the darkest narrative turn I know in any song ever written, Fiddlin’ Frenchie Burke’s “Mama’s Picture” is hard to beat.

And hard to listen to. Major major trigger warning. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.

First time I heard it, live at a gig where I was playing with Frenchie, I almost threw up. I guarantee you’ll at least gasp when the big reveal happens, if you don’t guess it from the hints.
posted by spitbull at 3:41 PM on March 10, 2021

Radiohead does big mood/tonal shifts a lot in their studio albums (see e.g. the way "All I Need" blooms @2:45), but my favorite is from a B-side, specifically how "The Daily Mail" abruptly morphs from a gorgeously sad piano ballad to an explosive big band number about 2/3rds of the way through.

Also, I love how the Alabama Shakes "Gimme All Your Love" effortlessly switches back and forth from delicate love song to an almost villainous hysteria.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:47 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

guess who i saw today, carmen mcrae
miss otis regrets, ethel waters
song of joy, nick cave (i think o'malley's bar also has a bit of a surprise, but you have to wade through a lot of bloody hyperbole to get there)
content warning
posted by 20 year lurk at 3:52 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

oh, i might have misunderstood. the foregoing examples have reveal but no significant musical changes. on the other side of the spectrum, opeth's deliverance goes through some significant changes -- i have no idea whether there is any big reveal -- and slint's good morning captain does changes and maybe reveal.
posted by 20 year lurk at 4:15 PM on March 10, 2021

Rocket's Tail, Kate Bush
posted by flabdablet at 4:21 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Chain by Fleetwood Mac?
posted by plonkee at 4:47 PM on March 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Bobby Gentry's Ode to Billy Joe. The music doesn't change but the lyrics definitely go in an unexpected direction towards the end. It's a marvelous song and the cool part is that the "reveal" is actually more of suspicion which makes it that much better.
posted by ashbury at 5:00 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Shakespeare’s Sister - Stay. It changes both lyrically and musically.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:28 PM on March 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Paul Simon's He was My Brother.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:42 PM on March 10, 2021

Eminem - stan

Definitely takes a dark turn and has a big reveal partway through.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Musically, 'The Chain' goes from a breakup song to the Formula 1 theme.

Lyrically? I was listening to a full play of The Sundays' first album on BBC 6 Music, and was struck by how a lot of its songs -- and they're all so good -- end with a distinct outro and/or a lyrical twist from aloofness to openness. The most obvious is 'A Certain Someone', which flips about half-way through. But I have the softest spot for how the final 'You're not the only one that I know / And I'm far too proud to talk to you anyway' leads to "But if you do / don't you know / that I won't mind."
posted by holgate at 6:45 PM on March 10, 2021

Paradise by the Dashboard Light, by Meat Loaf.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:29 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Pa’lante
posted by sepviva at 7:50 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Phoebe Bridgers, "I Know the End"
posted by babelfish at 8:51 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Roxy Music - In Every Dream Home a Heartache
It still cracks me up that they chose to perform this song at their Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction instead of the smooth pop hits from later in their career.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:58 PM on March 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Elis Regina and Marcos Valle - Terra de Ninguém
Cesar Mariano & Cia, - Futebol De Bar
posted by hydrophonic at 9:20 PM on March 10, 2021

Pete Atkin's 'Canoe'. (N.B. Linked video is spoilery for the twist/reveal/shift in the visuals - best listened to with audio only the first time.)
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 4:00 AM on March 11, 2021

Fairytale of New York
by The Pogues
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:00 AM on March 11, 2021

It's Oh So Quiet by Björk (cover of this song, which is itself a cover of a German song).
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 8:48 AM on March 11, 2021

If it's the music you're talking about, in music theory terms it's tossed around as "thematic evolution" or "thematic development" or "thematic transformation" with varying levels of quibble about the wording. In plain English I'd term it "songs that evolve."

It's a big prog-rock feature. Some of my favorites that do that and haven't already been mentioned:

New Pornographers, Bleeding Heart Show
Elton John, Burn Down the Mission
Yes, Starship Trooper
CSN, Suite Judy Blue Eyes
and you know, Stairway to Heaven. There are so many.
posted by Miko at 9:36 AM on March 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in kickass Eastern European music, here is a fantastic mashup of a Darkwood Dub song (a Serbian group) and the Pixies' Wave of Mutilation. It crescendos to a great wall of sound in the middle as it transitions from one song to another: Vrtlog Vira + Wave of Mutilation
posted by SinAesthetic at 9:54 AM on March 11, 2021

Coming Home by The Scorpions
(Music change, not lyric change)
posted by wittgenstein at 4:23 PM on March 11, 2021

Radiohead’s b-side Polyethylene Parts 1&2 is, as you might guess from the title, has a pretty big shift in Part 2
posted by dismas at 9:44 PM on March 11, 2021

Another prog item, but Xanadu by Rush (the Exit... Stage Left (Snagglepuss reference) version is better than the album, but that album version is great in being recorded in *one take*) has both interesting musical variations and a great lyrical twist on the idea of actually finding Coleridge's Xanadu.
posted by indexy at 11:21 PM on March 11, 2021

Re: the musical reveal, Paul McCartney does this constantly. Doesn't work every time, but since he's written so many songs by now there's a lot of good ones out there. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is one of the most obvious examples from his hits, or the screeching halt into the intentionally goofy bridge of Live and Let Die.
posted by Polycarp at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not sure this is what you meant, but In a Crowd of Thousands from the musical Anastasia maybe?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2021

Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know starts off being sung by the male protagonist whining about his girlfriend leaving him, and then halfway through the woman comes in and offers a very different perspective. Especially stunning because she starts the first line of her verse similar to his, but says something very different!
posted by radioamy at 11:58 AM on March 13, 2021

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