Friday, May 9, 2014

My Favorite Album-Closing Songs

A friend on Facebook has been actually using the stupid site in a clever and socially mature way; instead of hammering it with political beliefs and baby pictures, he has instead chosen to use it to interact with others and invoke discussion and debate, mostly about music. In a world of snap judgements and one line opinions, this is refreshing to an old soul like me. (After all, my motto is why use 10 words when you can write a novel and subtly beat someone over the head with prose?)

His most recent question posed was to list your five favorite "ending tracks to an album." A seemingly impossible task. I mean, off the top of my head I can list 10 without thinking too much, and then how do I take those 10 and cut it in half? And why?

At least that's what I asked myself, and since I have this blog that three or four people read, I figured I would include my entire list of album closers that I feel are stellar...hopefully this will at least introduce a few people to some new music and get people talking. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments below. These are offered with no order in mind...

Burn Down the Mission 
Tumbleweed Connection - Elton John

I realize that Elton John has become our generation's Liberace, but with that label comes the talent (seriously take a second, and, ignore everything you think you know about Liberace and just appreciate this:

Back in the 70s, pre-disney songs and electric drum beats, Elton John knew how to write a song. If you don't believe me, please check out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,  and Madman Across the Water. All fantastic albums with the songs you've probably heard a million times on the radio. But there's a reason you've heard them that many times on the radio, right? Because they're classics.

But one of my favorites, and it comes off another great Elton John album, The Tumbleweed Connection, is Burn Down the Mission. Starting off simply, it packs the emotional punch you want in an album closer, as a way to cleanse your palate of what you just went through with the album.

Wilderness Heart - Black Mountain

Sadie takes us to  the crossroads of hope and sadness. There are few better ways to end an album than with the open endedness of this song. Stoner rock from up north. Not as popular as they should be.

Vs. - Pearl Jam

I think Vs. is the album that proved that Pearl Jam not only was around for the long haul, but that they had more to offer than the dreaded "alternative" rock. Indifference is a great introduction to the expanded universe that Pearl Jam went on to create.

Gimme the Car
Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes

Enjoy the ride this song offers. As a Violent Femmes song you know it's going to have weird sexual references and probably be about pain, but still, this song can throw just about anyone for a loop as it almost kinda sorta juxtaposes the sexual story of trying to hook up with the story of a kid standing up to the authoritative figure of his father. So there's that. I assume few people make it to the end of this album however, as they last right up until the "Why Can't I get just one Fuck" song before passing out.

Waiting on a Friend
Tattoo You - The Rolling Stones

Usually described as the best bar band in rock and roll, The Rolling Stones also knew how to write a nice song. Though this album is mostly made up of outtakes, which suggests there wasn't too much thought about the order or flow of music, I still like this "comedown" song after a night a heavy boozing, no? Feels like a great soundtrack ender to walk off into the sunset with.

Slapped Actress
Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

We are all performing for one another like actors on a grand stage. This final reveal couldn't come at a better time than at the end of the record, regardless of how uneven the record is. One of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady sing a lot about what it means to age.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
So Far - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Possibly one of the greatest songs ever recorded. And CSN&Y simply drop it off at the end of their classic album, So Far. While not a huge fan of these guys all together (I'll take my Neil Young in a tumbler, neat) the harmonies here are hard to hate.

Heaven 90210
Saturation - Urge Overkill

A great forgotten album (and band) of the 90s, Urge Overkill had a unique delivery and a fun take on music. That they could easily mix great musicianship with sardonic, pop culture infused musings, only hurts more that they aren't known by more people. Again, lumped into the "alternative" scene simply because rock critics and journalists of the nineties apparently weren't very descriptive, Urge Overkill sang like we were all in on the joke. And even when trying some sincerity, they couldn't completely ignore what got them to the dance.

Rock and Roll Suicide
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie

There are few songs better to close an album about the end of the world than Rock and Roll Suicide. Maybe that stupid REM song, but I don't know if that was at the end of the album it was on because I'm not an REM fan and there's no way that song is better than this one at signifying the end of the world and if you thought that or thought that I thought that then you're stupid. If you have never listened to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in its entirety, I ask that you please do, right now, if possible.

Ruby Vroom - Soul Coughing

Soul Coughing will always hold a special place in my heart. Chaotic music that still somehow held a melody together, Ruby Vroom is a cacophony of difficult music to listen to most of the time, until we get to the final track... a simple love song "duet" between Mike Doughty and someone on an answering machine. I like to think this entire album is what heroin feels like, and this is the whimsical come down period. It hurts so much when Mike Doughty denounces Soul Coughing as something he never wanted to do and was basically forced to, since this album had a profound impact on me when it came out. Difficult for many, sublime for some, it's last moment is such a fist-in-the-face of sweetness after a steady diet of unorganized despair that I still am never ready for it and I've listened to the album hundreds of times.

B-Boy Bouillabaisse 
Paul's Boutique - Beastie Boys

What better way to end an album than with, basically another entire album. Paul's Boutique, littered with "New York-ness" ends with this opus, which pretty much encapsulates, in nine parts, how the Beastie Boys came to be. 9 parts!

(Sorry, couldn't find it on Youtube, here's a link to it on Spotify. But seriously just jam the whole album. I know you have it. I KNOW YOU HAVE IT. It's required to own this album if you ever want to discuss music. Sorry. Those are the rules.)

Muswell Hillbilly
Muswell Hillbillies - The Kinks

Nothing changes; it all stays the same. The poor stay poor; the rich get richer.

How Many More Times
Led Zeppelin I - Led Zeppelin

There aren't too many albums that stay as consistently awesome as Led Zeppelin I. How Many More Times isn't an end; it's simply a bash on the head to tell you what is still yet to come.

In the Court of the Crimson King
In Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson

One of the greatest songs by one of the greatest prog rock bands. That it showed up in Children of Men only makes it better and that movie better.

Heart of the Sunrise
Fragile - Yes

More prog rock. If you need a good example of what prog rock is, Heart of the Sunrise is as good an example as any. Odd timing structures, sweeping genre changes, bizarre imagery. I know people make fun of Yes (and they deserve a lot of it) but they were strong musicians and probably offered more to music in general than we give them credit for. Fragile was one of the first CDs I owned, so it holds a special place in my heart. Heart of the Sunrise isn't my favorite track off the album, but it is a perfect way to close the insanity that precedes it, taking all the pieces that were laid out and bringing them back together to build something new.

Supper's Ready 
Foxtrot - Genesis

And you thought Heart of the Sunrise was the pinnacle of prog rock pretentiousness. I'll go out on a limb and suggest Genesis may have found the apex with Supper's Ready, the 22+ minute magnum. Again, it's like closing an album with another album. But I love it, and I won't apologize.

Brother John
Four - Blues Traveler

I make no apologies for enjoying Blues Traveler either, and enjoying this song. Yes, there's a lot of harmonica in Blues Traveler music and it can get a little weary after awhile; this song will remind you of what it can offer when executed well.

Glory Box
Dummy - Portishead

Blood spilling from your veins...pooling on the floor. Committing a murder. Planning a murder. Witnessing a murder. All things I would use to describe this song (and Portishead in general) if I were writing for Pitchfork.

Dither - moe.

A straightforward drug trip song. It's probably tougher to pull off than you think. But this is a great song to end an album with, or a late night, or a bad trip. It's got the highs and lows you will need to come down.

A Little Bit Ugly
Devil's Night Out - Mighty Mighty Bosstones

After a full album of skunking, you need a slight reprieve. That this song could be considered a reprieve, should tell you all you need to know about the Bosstones. (Related: if you're unfamiliar with the Bosstones, I implore your to listen to Hope I Never Lose My Wallet.)

Southtown Girls
Boys and Girls in America - The Hold Steady

A tired, world weary hush falls over the singer. Pushed forth by guitar, drums and keys, he grasps the strength...the strength to remember, the strength to feel it all over again, and to share the tale.

It's entering the middle ages at its finest.

Muffin Man
Bongo Fury - Frank Zappa et al

There's not much you can say about Frank Zappa, other than you know the last song he plays is the last as he wasn't a fan of encores. This "album" is a mix of studio and live tracks and might not even be considered a proper album, but whatever. Muffin Man is awesome.

Knights of Cydonia
Black Holes and Revelations - Muse

How do you end an epic album you've pushed to create pop music supremacy? You write the modern day version of an epic western. This is simply just a spoonful of crazy to end your meal of Muse.

Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
Band on the Run - Wings

Full disclosure: I'm a Paul guy, and that includes his post Beatles catalog. And I believe the Band on the Run album is a classic.

Bold As Love
Axis: Bold As Love - Jimi Hendrix

It's probably easy to say that any Hendrix song at the end of an album would qualify for this list, but Bold As Love somehow seems somehow more appropriate. Less about the guitar work, it starts as a full fledged song with Hendrix sing-speaking verses, before diving into an instrumental crescendo, allowing us one more toe dip into what made the album so fantastic, and letting us go (and most likely starting the album all over again from the beginning).

Steal the Crumbs
Anodyne - Uncle Tupelo

Just a pretty song from Uncle Tupelo. Sure, their break up gave us Wilco and Son Volt, but can you imagine a world where they could have gotten along and kept the band together?

(Couldn't find it on youtube: Here's the Spotify link.)

Pigs on the Wing (Part 2)
Animals - Pink Floyd

The second bookend that holds together my favorite Pink Floyd album. There's not much better music that establishes and then holds a mood than the music on Animals.

Killer Parties 
Almost Killed Me - The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady again. I don't know, this song feels like a wrap up to me; a look back of the events of a stupid life that someone managed to somehow survive. There's no better placement than the end.

Cowgirl in the Sand
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - Neil Young and Crazyhorse

Sure, everyone knows Down by the River, but did you know that wasn't the best song on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? Mr, Young saved the best for last, a sprawling, messy song about love and possibly sexual liberation, and how the two can be mistakenly intertwined. At least that's my interpretation.

Midnite Vultures - Beck

The whole album is a one spastic fuck fest, with electronic beats and beeps subbing in for thrusts and moans, leading up to the ultimate proposal song, done only as Beck can do. I feel Beck's discography fits in perfectly with a person of my generation, and could be a soundtrack to our lives. The awkwardness of finding and going for the beauty found everywhere this song portrays only strengthens that belief.

Tomorrow Never Knows
Revolver - The Beatles

How a song can both immediately close the door and possibly one of the best albums out there, and open the door to music that changed the game forever is something that will probably never happen again. This is one more reason why I believe the Beatles are underrated still.

A Day in the Life
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

Perfectly encapsulating what the Beatles were are and will be with one song.

How A Resurrection Really Feels
Separation Sunday - The Hold Steady

What better way to end an album filled with biblical allusions and references than with a song about Hallelujah (the kids call her Holly) coming back from...well something I guess.


Sean Murphy said...

Nice list Chris. I'll definitely have to go back and revisit and discover a few of these off your mentions. I still have my copy of that Urge Overkill album and honestly haven't listened to it in years. Time to dust it off? I guess so. Good to see your Kinks inclusion, one of these days they will be seen in the same light as some of the constantly mentioned best bands of all time. Also, a huge fan of the Band on the Run album. Well, I'm gonna go listen to some more music. You only live once.

gdr said...

Agreed on: Bold As Love, Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five, Cowgirl, Heart of the Sunrise, Indifference, Waiting/Friend

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes leads off CSN's self-titled debut(So Far is a compilation!); I am partial to 49 Bye-Byes finishing off CSN.

Others from the start of the alphabet log...
Slit Skirts (Townshend - Allthebestcowboyshavechineseeyes)
Whipping Post (ABB - ABB)
Descending (Black Crowes-Amorica)
Wind Up (Tull - Aqualung... just ok on its own, but perfect to close this album)
Salt of the Earth (Stones-B/Banquet... Keith sings, how much better can it get?)
Do What You Like (Blind Faith self-titled)
Buckets of Rain (Blood On The Tracks... I dare you to find anything wrong with this album)
It's All Over Now Baby Blue (more Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home)
I'm Your Captain (GFR - Closer to Home album)
Four Strong Winds (NY... Comes A Time album)
Long As I Can See The Light (Cosmo's Factory)
Warehouse (Rugby Road - Different Degrees)
Would? (Alice In Chains - Dirt)
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) - JM Hendrix, Electric Ladyland

That's a start...