The Ten-Year Hook: The Rolling Stones, “Rocks Off” (1972)

As the poetically inevitable result of my complaint about The Trouble with Horns, Matt Smith made me a mix of great horn parts in rock (posted now in Mixes).

When “Rocks Off” by the Rolling Stones came on, I wondered forgetfully what the great horn thing would be—I mean, we already have “Honky Tonk Women” and “Bitch” to consider, and anyway, I prefer to keep my distance from Exile on Main Street. But then it happened, and I remembered: the horn event is great because it turns the nondescript buzz of an Exile track into a true song with a chorus. It’s the big stone that lets you cross the creek. It’s the blaring high note first heard at 1:12:

My reunion with this hook was indeed happy, although I don’t want to hear it again anytime soon. Maybe ten years from now would be about right. (I exaggerate, for the sake of my title.)

This raises the question, Can there really be hooks on ten-year cycles – that is, elements of songs that you love hearing again, but only at super-long intervals? Does this go against the whole idea of loving something?

The parallel question may be more important: do you have dear friends you’d prefer to see only once every ten years?

Well, ten years is too long, but with both hooks and friends there are clearly different rhythms of love. You’d probably like your very favorites to be daily fare but others more like weekly or monthly or, in some cases, yes, just annually. How could there be a longer interval than that with enough loving consciousness to qualify its object as a hook, and not just a pleasant surprise?

Listening to “Rocks Off,” I realize how this sometimes works. The song seems to me mumbly and murky and only potentially a song until its horn hook redeems it. If I listened to it every day I’d be increasingly conscious of everything in it that rubs me the wrong way. (And whose fault is the wrong-rubbing?) So it is with my long-cycle friends as well. They’ve got that great sound I need to hear again – once in a while. It can be part of the hook to be aware of, even committed to, that long-cycle, high-school-reunion rhythm of exposure.

Here’s another great horn hook that I need NOT to hear every day, the explosion of free blowing in the last three minutes of “The National Anthem” by Radiohead, starting at 2:54:


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Time and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ten-Year Hook: The Rolling Stones, “Rocks Off” (1972)

  1. recon77 says:

    Definitely a strange blog this time but I as a non-horn lover can see what you meant. I remember Jim Horn, I think it was, had a great song, nice to make a friend on a rainy day, and then I actually never liked Chicago or Blood Sweat and Tears and yet of late have loved horns once again if Andes mountain types and joyful. So, last weekend I had the super band that ought to win a Grammy at my house, their first USA short tour, and virtually unknown over here band :, and guess what? I love their horns/flutes/etc. which are the center point of this Dutch band that pretty much eschews the electrics but blows one away either live or canned and makes Grammy award winners in need of going back to the drawing board with their world music/mixed genre singing in English/Spanish/French/Zulu, etc.

  2. recon77 says:

    Thought I would add that Van Morrison has the knack of perfect use of horns…

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