Ok, so last week I wrote about great songs that opened albums. Beatles producer George Martin is oft quoted that an album needs to start with what he called a good “potboiler.” But how does one finish an album? I would think songs that finish an album have to have two things – 1) leave your audience wanting more for the next album. The listener’s reaction should not “meh”; 2) have a song that can’t possibly be followed by any other on a given album. I haven’t found nearly as many closing songs as I have opening songs, hence a much shorter list.
The End [The Doors, The Doors, 1967] – The surviving Doors themselves will play any song except this one. Remember, this was the mid-1960s, and songs like this were just starting to be accepted as something to be listened to. This was the era when music was getting away from the very tight 3-minute format and has to have a good beat you can dance to. How does one dance to a “kill the father, fuck the mother” story, especially an entrancing 11-minute epic like this one? This got the Doors fired from the Whiskey A Go-Go, but it also got them a recording contract. After 45 years it’s still amazing music.
Whipping Post [Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band, 1969] – Gregg Allman is mistreated by a woman and boy is he pissed about it. This song follows Dreams, the slow 7-minute spellbinding glimpse into Gregg Allman’s Southern Gothic visions. Berry Oakley’s thunderous bass intro sets the ominous tone, the drummers are relentless, Duane and Dickey are blistering. Gregg is channeling bluesmen from years past to give a vocal performance that belies his 22 years. How could such a young guy be so world-weary?
Won't Get Fooled Again [The Who, Who's Next, 1971] – Who’s Next was quite an album. It has their best opening song [Baba O’Riley] and their best closing song [Won’t Get Fooled Again]. There’s a lot of good stuff in-between as well. The live version from The Kids Are Alright is even better because of John Entwistle.
Hallowed Be Thy Name [Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast, 1982] – Iron Maiden’s best song and it’s a beauty. It opens with an atmosphere of doom as the song’s protagonist is waiting in a jail cell to be hanged. There are quite a few tempo changes throughout, and Bruce Dickinson sings his butt off. This is a master class in progressive metal. Their version from Rock in Rio is even better.
Desolation Row [Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, 1965] – “They’re selling postcards of the hanging…” Eleven minutes with a lot of singing – how does Dylan [or anyone else] remember all the words?
Truckin' [Grateful Dead, American Beauty, 1970] – “Living on reds, Vitamin C and cocaine, all a friend can say is ‘ain’t it a shame’….” What a long strange trip indeed.
A Day in the Life [The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967] – The Beatles had lots of great songs to start albums, but not a lot to finish them. There’s A Day in the Life and Tomorrow Never Knows, both of which can’t possibly be followed by another song on their respective albums. I chose this one with the flip of a coin.
When the Levee Breaks [Led Zeppelin, LZ IV, 1971] – Two words – John Bonham. Undoubtedly the best drum sound he ever got on any Led Zeppelin recording was recorded in a spiral staircase at Headley Grange. The bass drum sounds like a cannon shot. The rest of the band doesn’t sound too bad either.
Brain Damage/Eclipse [Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973] – Technically these are two songs, but like ZZ Tops’ Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago, you never hear one without the other. On most of Pink Floyd’s albums, the last song was an anti-climax, but this is a great climax. There’s no dark side of the moon really…matter of fact it’s all dark…
Moonlight Mile [Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, 1971] – This is one of the best ballads the Stones ever recorded. It’s about life as a coked-up rock star keeping up appearances on the road that gently closes Sticky Fingers. It’s an oriental-sounding piece with a string section courtesy of Paul Buckmaster. There’s no Keith in sight on this one – there doesn’t need to be as both Micks have the musical end covered very well.
Voodoo Child [Slight Return] [Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland, 1968] – At first I thought Are You Experienced? would be the Hendrix song, but something in the back of my mind said there was something better, and I remembered this song [Doh!]. Hendrix’s best album ends with a one-two punch of All Along the Watchtower and Voodoo Child [Slight Return]. How could I forget?
Redemption Song [Bob Marley, Uprising, 1980] – This is the last song from Bob Marley’s last album to be released in his lifetime. It’s just him and an acoustic guitar – very un-reggae. There is an electric band version, but it doesn’t convey the power of the message as the solo acoustic version. The lines "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds" come from a speech by Marcus Garvey. Political anthems don’t get much more enduring than this.
Keep Me In Your Heart [Warren Zevon, The Wind, 2003] – Warren Zevon knew he was dying when he made this. The song says “goodbye” in a very poignant, tender way. This song kept running through my head at my brother-in-law’s funeral.
The Show Must Go On [Queen, Innuendo, 1991] – Freddie Mercury knew he was dying when he made this. A most dramatic way to end a career – how typical of Freddie.
Let It Rain [Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970] – The first time I saw Eric Clapton was at Red Rocks in 1983. We had good weather until this song. When Clapton sang “Let It Rain…,” we got rain. He really is God! J That being said, this song, and the solo that goes with it, is really the first shot of Eric Clapton’s solo career.
The Thrill Is Gone [BB King, Completely Well, 1969] – BB King’s most famous song. BB wrings a lot of emotion out of Lucille. He’s finally away from a possessive woman, but he sounds more relieved than happy about the situation. Originally, BB didn’t want the strings on the song, but after he slept on it he thought they were ok. At the time, this was a departure for him. This is one of the best “kiss-off” songs of all time. An absolute necessity for any blues fan.