Spine chills

July 30, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Just walked out of the listening room after having auditioned two mix versions of a new song for Octave Records.

Wow. Chills up my spine.

I wonder what it is that connects us to music and story in such a visceral way.

When it occurs I cannot control it. And in its absence, I cannot create it.

There’s something magical about the connections music affords us. It makes me want to grab someone and sit them down in the listening seat and with them share that experience.

That joy. That magic.

Chills up my spine. (the track, if you’re interested, is called “Things worth remembering”

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35 comments on “Spine chills”

  1. Quite often the ‘planets must align’ to experience that ‘OH WOW’ spine chill.
    Mood & comfort zone are two big considerations; recently discussed on this forum.
    (A little ‘doobie’ can also bring on that OMG factor) 🙂

    Things worth remembering?
    Our glory days.

  2. Sometimes you gotta just switch off, chill out and drink it all in. 😉

    Well done, Paul. We are all right there with you and truly get what you’ve experienced.

    The connection lately that I’ve been experiencing with music is more in line with ‘the warrior spirit’ and self motivation.
    Lots of Rock and Metal for me these days. I need it!!! 🙂

  3. It happened to me recently when streaming a demo track from the 50th anniversary of Deja Vu. Where Graham Nash accompanied Neil Young on “Birds”. I then played the song for my older brother a week later and he had the same reaction. He had played in a band for ten years and said the classic statement it sounds like they are in front of us. Another question is, why is it still satisfying to receive validation for our set up when our home systems are chosen for our own subjective and often solitary purposes?

  4. Gday, I had a similar reaction, when I saw Annie Lennox sing, I put a spell on you, on the Ellen show.
    Made the hair on my arms, stand up, chills etc….

  5. Of things felt worth remembering, my list is truly long
    From moments of my childhood, to that last good book or song
    The first things that I found I liked, and those liked not so well
    My first attempts at trying things, the many times I failed

    My first view of an ocean, and climbing my first tree
    The little boy that lived next door, always teasing me
    The first time I saw Santa, that first bright Christmas tree
    The joy I felt to look beneath, and find a gift for me

    The first day spent away at school, it seemed so far from home
    Learning how to write my name, and reading my first poem
    My first new box of crayons, and all the things I drew
    The smile I put on mommy’s face, when saying ‘IT’S FOR YOU! ‘

    The first time that I fell in love, the girl I took to prom
    Meeting friends from other lands, and learning where they’re from
    My many, many questions, always asking why
    I always thought it seemed unfair, that people couldn’t fly

    Then my childhood ended, I went away to war
    The wonders of my happy life, replaced by fears and horror
    I lost my hope and freedom, when they told me I must go
    To take up arms, and hate a man, I didn’t even know

    No more simple answers, to my simple question ‘why? ‘
    For who can answer simply, why another man should die?
    Why should I, who have no cause, to hate this foreign man
    Think that I might have that right, when I invade his land

    So yes I will remember, for I have earned that right
    And I will always question, when we send our boys to fight
    Who are these men who start these wars, and what’s their reasons why
    And why are they not right up front, when bullets start to fly?

    My list will still continue, for I am blessed with life
    Valuing the simple things, remembering the strife
    And when I am complaining, of something I have lost
    I’ll think, and pause, to say a prayer, for those who paid the cost

    Ken Asher

  6. Thanks so much for that!

    I remember a time when we could go places to listen or “tune into” where there was the greatest oppotrunity for these wonderful moments of musical discovery and experience being shared.

    I remember going to my favorite record shop and looking for “that something sound” that simply captivated my listening. My favorite shops always had new discoveries to share and play on their in store system… There were new treasures upon hearing provided that synergy that only well crafted and produced music can provide. It’s what got me to buy and share. Memories of the first time I heard it. Had to have a copy to listen to over and over and share.

    I remember those few radio stations where the DJs brought newly discovered musical gold usually late at night…a guide to take you musical places and tickle your spirit.

    I remember that audio store that always had the most fantastic systems and even more that salesman who had new rich music that elevated my senses to a higher level.

    That friend who had a system and a collection of newly discovered gems that simply spoke to the inner reaches of where only music can go.

    With all the musical content out there and the availability of it all I find a lack of “musical shaman” who are almost magical in finding and sharing music that captivates my listening ears. Music that dazzles and provides that special feeling sense and pleasure only it can provide.

    I remember the first time the needle dropped for me on so many great tunes the first pops and crackles as it finds the groove and that musical magic is revealed and the emotion and physical responses it gave…

    We need some new vehicles new shaman…

  7. Didn’t J Gordon Holt talk about something similar decades ago? Hairs on the back of his neck or arms standing up? There must be a scientific explanation for the sensation. Similar to a scary movie or thrill park ride.

    I got it during Anne Heart’s tribute performance of “Stairway To Heaven” at the Zeps’ Kennedy Honors. And that was from my TV!

  8. Any of you listeners fortunate enough to own the stellar Chesky recording ‘New York Reunion’ by the McCoy Tyner Quartet specifically the Cymbal work by Al Foster?

    Several years before this recording was released I was at a nightclub in NYC called Fat Tuesdays where Al was the Drummer playing with The Freddie Hubbard Quartet and I was sitting right in front of the Drums. Not10 feet away, not 5 feet away but 3 feet away at most. Still wondering why I didn’t get deaf.

    I can’t remember which brand of Cymbals Al used but the way the Chesky recording captured the crashes was far more than spine tingling, they sounded identical to my live experience. I could literally hear and feel the entire Cymbal not just the attack, decay and shimmer… and it was so much more than palpable that I can’t come up with the proper words to describe their sound but I can say that I have never heard anything like this in my entire listening history. Really glad I made this CD purchase. I’m not that much into binaural listening on speakers but this recording is the exception because you have to hear it on two channel stereo without headphones to feel this visceral sound.

    If any of you own this recording I’d love to hear your response.

    1. This is an all time favorite audiophile but also musicphile recording for me since it came out. Not necessary to tell I have both LP versions as well as the 2 hires/SACD versions.

      It’s the best example where great music of a top artist published by one of the best sounding labels (almost the best) come together.

      As you say it’s a reference recording for cymbal work and the usual airy transparency of Chesky, but also for a strong, direct sax tone on some tracks. An absolute must have.

      1. The only unfortunate part of Chesky recordings is that they have a lot of difficulty reproducing the piano properly because of their microphone technique. There have been many discussions online about this issue but the piano still sounds reasonably good just not like the other instruments especially the saxophone and Bass.

        1. That’s true and maybe a main difference between live and recording generally: that a recording never gets all instruments right (if they are of quite different kind and playing within a recorded ensemble)

          But you’re also right, the airy Chesky sound often isn’t very direct and dynamic, which gets most obvious with piano.

    2. I’ve had that Chesky CD since it came out and it’s terrific. I spent many great nights at Fat Tuesday and Sweet Basils, both long gone. Fat Tuesday had that famous hologram in the window of Dizzy Gillespie blowing a kiss.

      1. So many great jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. Sweet Basil was a nice club and so was 7th Avenue South besides Fat Tuesday’s. And of course the Village Vanguard the standard by which Jazz Clubs should try and approach. When I was younger my cousin lived two blocks away from the Vanguard and he became close friends with Max Gordon. So every time we went into the club Max would call us over to sit with him and we heard so many great stories about all of the Jazz greats who played there during the time that Max was alive.

  9. So I guess I’m not the only one? Seriously, I think there are many people who go through their whole lives never experiencing this “shiver” from a piece of music. I have tried to self-analyze what prompts these chills most often for me – the choice of an alternate chord to support a melody or phrase, a deceptive cadence at the end of a song, a key change (one that’s not cliche), building for a long time toward a musical climax, that perfect combination of elements that makes something really swing, and more in keeping with this site, the perfect capture / reproduction of an instrument, voice, or ensemble.

  10. [Paul…I wonder what it is that connects us to music and story in such a visceral way.

    When it occurs I cannot control it. And in its absence, I cannot create it.]

    At certain times, there are listening sessions where body chills, breathtaking seconds and tearful moments swell up in me as I connect “Emotionally” with the music’s feelings and artistic beauty. It can happen unexpectedly and once I’m there, it usually can last through all genres and hours of intimate and focused listening!

    Disclaimer: No drugs or alcohol needed! 😉

  11. When I have quests over only one person can sit in the sweet spot and nobody ever seems to care to do it. Many people don’t understand there’s a huge difference in where you sit. Luckily all of my speakers sound good off axis but still never as good as in the sweet spot. If I was at someones house who had a great system I would sit in the sweet spot when available to hear the sound stage as best as possible. Even people I know with decent systems don’t have their system positioned for the sweet spot or even realize how important speaker positioning is. They think they are listening to a DJ’s system at someones wedding and don’t understand what a difference correct speaker positioning makes in a hi end system….lol. There are times I want to rearrange their room to show them how much better it would sound. They would probably think I am nuts if I offered to mess with their system and furniture arrangement.

    1. Joe,
      Those that know ‘the sweet-spot’ know it & those that don’t….
      Nobody could successfully explain 3D soundstaging to me; I had to hear it for myself.
      Personally I don’t believe that you can get the sweet-spot phenomenon all over the room, with only a modest budget.
      Maybe Paul can with his IRSVs, but that’s a lot of moola to achieve it.

      1. Yep you have to actually hear the soundstage for the first time to care about it. It’s like the first time you had an orgasm. Most people don’t give a damn about soundstage. They just want to hear the music. People will love the sound of my system or their own system and not even realize it gets a whole lot better in the sweet spot and when the speakers are properly set up in the room. And this is true of speaker’s that excel at sounding good regardless of where you sit. The omni directional Ohm Walsh for example. Nobody wants head in vise speakers. There needs to be some tolerance and they need to sound decent even when you’re not in the sweet spot.

  12. Hi Paul! Your comments today, reminded me of why I sent you a composite CD of Eva Cassidy’s music. Though not spine tingling, it evokes emotions that at times bring me to tears particularly her rendition of FIELDS OF GOLD (compare that to stings version), and AUTUMN LEAVES. I hope you got a chance to listen. These songs were done 10 months before her death. Thanks for all you do. The CD was sent about 6 weeks ago.

  13. I am fortunate enough to have a pretty good stereo system that gives me plenty of spin chills. The funny thing is that what I really remember most is the spine chills I got when I was a teenager from music played on very ordinary stereo systems. I still remember when I first heard “Meet The Beatles”. It was a few weeks before they were on The Ed Sullivan Show. I still remember when I first heard the opening guitar licks to “Satisfaction”. If it isn’t in the music I do not think you get spine chills no matter how good the gear is.

  14. Do you get this spine-chilling sensation at a live concert or recital? I can’t say I do. So is it just the thrill of the stereo system?

    1. Steven, On occasion, maybe once every couple of years, I get a spine chill at a rock concert. I am not sure that a rock concert is what you mean by a live concert.

      I do remember once when I was an undergrad I went to hear a folk singer at the very small chapel on the university campus. The folk singer turned out to be Judy Collins, who I was clueless about at the time. Everything was acoustic: her voice, her guitar and she had a dude with her who also played an acoustic guitar. I was totally unfamiliar her music, but her voice was just mesmerizing ( I was seated on the center isle about 10 feet in front of her ). Definitely spine chill.

      1. As my primary interest is ballet and contemporary dance, the moments tend to happen there. They are more heart-stopping that spine-chilling. They also tend to be at the Royal Opera House, I must have been there hundreds of times, but almost every one is a thrill.

    2. When I hear live music I feel really up, excited and sometimes even euphoric but I don’t get chills. Listening at home gives me occasional chills like the new release that I just received today of Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller. It was even written up in the New York Times.
      Hargrove died way too young and listening to him playing at live venues is a real spine chiller.

  15. This is the answer to why musicians are cursed to play music.
    They need the direct spine chill.
    The lucky ones are the ones who can just sit, dance, sing or relax and enjoy the music.

  16. This whole “spine chill” “goose bump” “hair on neck standing up” has never once happened to me in my lifetime. Whether it be a recording or live event. Excitement, anticipation, enjoyment, yes.

    I occasionally feel emotion when the music brings back a memory, but usually it’s one of more of a happy euphoria.

    So if an emotional connection is needed then I should switch forms of entertainment. Until then I’ll just enjoy without the deep internal emotional movement.

    Does the “chill” happen every time you listen a chilling recording? Of is it a fleeting feeling after the 3rd or 4th listening experience of that recording?

    1. My experience has been that PA systems kill the emotional communication from performances. One singer playing an acoustic guitar in the living room can give me chills. Good luck finding a symphony orchestra today that doesn’t employ some form of “sound reinforcement.”
      It’s unfortunate that we are drowning today’s music in technology. This may be why record sales are far lower than they once were. We talk about “high fidelity” but the problem is fidelity to what?

      The good news is that there is a huge opportunity to demonstrate musical chills once again.

      1. Bob, Of course PA speakers are terrible for music, they meant for speech not music. Record sales are down due to streaming, no physical media. However, vinyl sales remain strong. Technology is not killing music, the jackass suits who run the labels are killing music.

  17. Music is indeed spiritual and uplifting, transcending our normal senses. Background music has been used in evangelistic and worship gatherings for centuries to build the emotions of the crowd, get the tears flowing, spines tingling, and in some venues even whole body shaking and involuntary frenzy. Without live music, most houses of worship would have to close their doors.

    1. Before PA systems, music was the only way you could communicate with a lot of people at once! It was NOT background muzak like we have today.

      1. Right you are. Even today, most church music is not background music. I was initially thinking of mood music strategically being played in the background when a preacher or minister is closing on his sermon, praying or giving an invitation. And then my thoughts moved on to the more lively praise music that in some churches gets the people up on their feet, swaying and boogying, feeling the spirit. Depending on the denomination, there are so many styles and genres of musical performance in churches today. Traditional, contemporary, country western, rock, etc…to appeal to different congregations and age groups. Pipe organs have virtually disappeared in most churches. Having not been in a church in quite a while, I am surprised, even shocked, at how musical programs have changed in recent years.

  18. Quite true. In life the chill threshold varies from person to person. For some the threshold is very low and for some very high. Also, there is a very strong psychological overlay in the form of personal involvement. So the only way to judge is to listen for yourself. Enjoy. Regards.

  19. I mentioned it once before here, but every time I listen to
    Elton John & Bernie Taupin’s – ‘Indian Sunset’ (1972),
    I get ‘the chills’; it’s a totally involuntary reaction.
    However I think that said chills are more the
    result of Taupin’s lyrics that Elton’s music.

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