Bad last songs

About 18 months ago, I did a piece on final songs,

In that post, I kicked around the difference between an album that’s a collection of great songs, and an album that’s a great collection of songs. Extrapolating from that, I argued there’s more to a great final song than just a good song stuck on the end of an album’s tracklisting. A great final song is born out of its relationship with the rest of the record.It seems to finish the album in a way no other song could, tying it all together, reinforcing themes or moods. Maybe it offers hope and redemption at the end of something cathartic or challenging. Maybe it does the opposite, dragging the record down into the very depths, where it was headed all along.

A Day in the Life is the most obvious example of the great final track in rock’n’roll, but you might equally pick Caroline No, Gold Dust Woman, Time of the Season, Thank You for Talking to Me Africa or All Apologies. With Mercy Mercy Me and Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye managed two great final songs on one album, one for each side of the vinyl disc.

But not everyone gets it right. There’s something perversely lovable about finishing a record with something ill judged, bathetic or just plain goofy (yes, Hippie Boy from The Gilded Palace of Sin, I’m looking at you) – something that seems to be doing its best to undermine all the good work of the rest of the record.

My favourite example of a band who clearly found it hard to get it over the line is the Byrds, who made something of a habit of head-scratching final tracks: 2-4-2 Foxtrot (The Lear Jet Song) and Space Odyssey are just the most notable. Then there’s Joni Mitchell, who has ended even some of her very finest albums on a regrettable joke (Twisted), or over-serious attempts at writing something grand that instead come off po-faced and lumbering. The Silky Veils of Ardor, Judgement of the Moon and Stars, The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song) – the titles alone tell you you’re going to be in for a long five, six, seven minutes.

Speaking of long, I can’t be the only one who finds Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands a 10-minute punishment, or perhaps a provocation. Or who’s not at all convinced that You Can’t Always Get What You Want merits its endless intro and outro. A special class of “long final track” is the endless instrumental; Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga is a blot on the otherwise perfect Fred Neil, while the third disc of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is given over entirely to jams, of which Thanks For All the Pepperoni is not the worst, but as the last is the least welcome. Then there’s Revelation, the less-than-revelatory 20-minute jam that takes up all of side two of Love’s Da Capo.

Those are just some off the top of my head. If you’ve got any more, comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Bad last songs

  1. Pedro Quaresma

    An entire blog post could probably be written about King Crimson’s careful choices for closing albums. I could probably talk and talk about “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Fracture”, etc but I’m going to mention how “Starless”, to me one of the best rock songs ever written, closed the influential Red album. Wetton composed it, the band rejected it, Bruford modified it so when the lineup was only Wetton+Bruford+Fripp, it finally made it to Red in 1974.
    It was a fitting end for an outstanding lineup – King Crimson would become starless for 7 years and then reignite with a different lineup in 1981.

    Reply

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