Closing on a Good Note

Glorious List-making

Last week on National Public Radio’s highly addictive rock and roll talk show “Sound Opinions” pop writers Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune) and Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun Times) discussed and listed their favorite album openers of all time. The two music geeks bantered over the importance of a solid opening track and put together an impressive short list of their personal picks–a diverse collection ranging from Aretha Franklin’s “Think” to N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton.” When the hour-long broadcast reached its close I started putting together my own mental list of songs that were ignored (for those curious The Rolling Stone’s “Rocks Off,” “Debaser” by The Pixies, Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue,” U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same,” and The Smith’s “The Headmaster Ritual” came to mind). Then I began pondering over an equally important roster of tracks; album closers.

The beautiful thing about a truly great album has always been the way it opens and closes. Similar to a great film or riveting literature, the best albums are the ones with opening tracks that draw you in and breathtaking final acts that reward you for your time and keep you yearning for more. Great closing tracks should in many ways sum up the albums meaning or bring closure to overall themes, the song should resonate with the listener long after its over warranting the albums revisit, and above all the album’s climax should blow the listener away.

Bruce Springsteen has long been revered as one of rock’s masterful storytellers and Born To Run conveyed the feelings of youth angst and romanticized life on the streets of the American city with a grandiose level of detail and perfection rarely heard on records today. The Boss’ “opera out on the turnpike” comes to an end with the magnificent “Jungleland,” a lush and evocative look at gang violence. The track is one of the greatest moments in rock history because it closes the record with an epic bang and showed us that after three albums Springsteen had finally found his niche as a socially conscious, everyman’s raconteur.

I’ve also noticed that some album closers serve as a mysterious peek into another side of an artist’s gamut. Nirvana’s Nevermind closes with the somber and haunting “Something in the Way,” a song that showed that Cobain could just as easily exorcize his inner demons with grace rather than rage. On Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, fiery blues-punk singer/songwriter P J Harvey broke away from her previous styles, introducing a new softer but equally poetic side. The album’s dreamy closer “We Float” is a ballad that isn’t afraid to showcase Harvey’s beautiful vocal range, which was absent on previous records that played up the raw side of this versatile artist.

Sometimes album closers serve as a window into a band’s future, giving us a taste of what’s to come or what else the band is capable of. In my personal experience this is often the case with breakthrough debut albums.

I’ll always remember the first time I heard Weezer’s breakthrough self-titled album (Blue) when I was just beginning to truly explore the world of music. Here’s a disc that even today remains a perfect album. It opens with the bang that is “My Name is Jonas” and finishes with the slow building epic “Only In Dreams,” a song that was such a complete 180 of the album’s previous straight pop cuts that it showed not only the band’s musical range but also the possibility that its follow up album may just be a horse of a different color (sure enough 1996’s equally masterful Pinkerton showed even more diversity in sound).

It’s become a bit cliché to say that in the day of digital music “the album is dead” and frankly this statement just is not true. Sure the way we listen to music has changed but the art of a solid album is still alive and well. Like you my iPod has a slew of random playlists and my car is littered with old mix CDs, however nothing beats the feeling I get after I’ve absorbed a carefully crafty and brilliant album. It’s through these riveting records that one can truly be transported into the artists world, even if just for 70-minutes.

Other notable closing tracks:
“Release”—Pearl Jam (Ten)
“Oh Yoko!”—John Lennon (Imagine)
“Subterraneans”—David Bowie (Low)
“Hurt”—Nine Inch Nails (Downward Spiral)
“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”—Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill)
“A Day in the Life”—The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
“Moonlight Mile”—The Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers)
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”—Radiohead (The Bends)
“Here Comes a Regular”—The Replacements (Tim)
“Havolina”—The Pixies (Bossanova)
“In The Back Seat”—Arcade Fire (Funeral)
“Africa”—D’Angelo (Voodoo)
“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”—Talking Heads (Speaking In Tongues)
“I Am the Resurrection”—The Stone Roses (The Stone Roses)
“Adore”—Prince (Sign of the Times)
“Reservations”—Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
“Reoccurring Dreams”—Hüsker Dü (Zen Arcade)
“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”—Stevie Wonder (Talking Book)