Curtain Calls and Final Thoughts

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December 10, 2013 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

They say that first impressions are everything and that you only have one chance at it.  But, it is goodbyes that by nature are the more powerful gesture.  Unlike introductions, which can be renewed or reset, goodbyes are the ending to something, and no matter what there is only one end.  You can get the wrong impression of someone at first glance and then find out that they are totally different from that initial meeting.  First impressions are intrinsically skin deep, because to know someone is to dig deeper than the surface.  Endings are finite, in that they only happen once.  The last time you do something or see someone not only creates a sense of nostalgia, but it also tries to create closure.  And if there’s one thing people lust for more than a new beginning, it’s closure.

It’s for these reasons that the final track on an album is usually, or at least ideally should be, the most lingering and important track.  It’s the taste that remains in your mouth when the album ends, the lasting impression of how the artist wanted you to remember that specific piece of work.  Opening tracks are supposed to get you hyped up in anticipation of what is to come, but closing tracks are supposed to leave you breathless and pondering what comes next.  Every album’s last song is a cliffhanger that should leave us on the edge of our seat eagerly awaiting the continuation of a career.  An album that tips its cards on the very first track gives it up way too soon.  As listeners, an album should make us work for it, slowly but surely letting us unearth the hidden gems.

At its best, an album should take you on a journey; as a listener you should feel transported, as if you’re with the band on an excursion through the multiple tracks.  Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones is the perfect example of such an album because it serves as a brief, but all encompassing narrative of the tumultuousness that griped the late 60s.  From the brooding oncoming storm of “Gimme Shelter” up through the final cut “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, which serves as the light at the end of the tunnel, Let It Bleed seizes you and makes you believe that it is the only thing that matters right now.  Like the ending of Fantasia, to get to the new dawn that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” implies is waiting for us, but we still have to wade through the hell and high waters that is “Gimme Shelter”.  Better yet much like Pandora’s Box, the final track serves as hope, the only silver lining in a world filled with despair, grievances, and chaos.  Things suck (“Gimme Shelter”) but they can get better (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”).

The final track on an album is how you’re supposed to remember the album itself; it should summarize and characterize what the album, as a work of art, stands for.  The biggest complaint I have with Use Your Illusion II is how the album ends.  It ends with the shitty, shitty “My World” which consists of Axl Rose making sex sounds over a drum machine.  “My World” is the worst way that someone could possibly end an album with.  Not only does the final song on an amazing album suck, but so does the penultimate song “Don’t Cry (Alt. lyrics)”.  We had a “Don’t Cry” on Use Your Illusion I, we don’t need another one.  Ideally, the album should have only been 12 tracks, with “Estranged” serving as the final cut instead of “You Could Be Mine”, but I understand the need to end the album on “You Could Be Mine”.  “Estranged” is the climax of the Illusion twin albums, and it’s for this reason that “You Could Be Mine” could have been the last song on II.  It would have served as the perfect denouement, the chance for us to recollect after being mesmerized by “Estranged”.  It would have given us a buffer to process the penultimate track instead of abruptly ending, if “Estranged” were to be the last track.  “Estranged” captured perfectly what those two records were about and by putting it as the 11th of 14 tracks on the album does the song a disservice because it should have been the last or penultimate song we heard from Guns N’ Roses.  But by having the two shit tracks after “You Could Be Mine” the sense of awe is lost and the climax of the albums is diluted by filler tracks.  Use Your Illusion II should have ended either pensively (“Estranged”) or familiarly, as an encore of sorts (“You Could Be Mine”), instead we got to listen to Axl have sex with himself for a minute and a half.

Some albums, as a whole, don’t mean anything.[1]  While certainly excellent albums in some cases, they have no intrinsic value other than the fact that it’s just the next piece of work in a discography.  In these cases one track is just as good as the next and the closing track isn’t as important because the parent album is devoid of any particular emotion or motive.  This is why the Smashing Pumpkins could end their first three albums with what is essentially the same song with it diminishing the overall value of the parent album.  For a closing track to matter, the album itself has to matter, or convey a sense of purpose to it.

Below is a list of my personal favorite closing tracks condensed to fit one album.  I tried to steer away from personal preference and chose songs that I think perfectly end their album in a way that fittingly captures what the album is about, while leaving us awaiting eagerly for more.

1)      “Train in Vain” (The Clash/London Calling) 2)      “Gold Dust Woman” (Fleetwood Mac/Rumours)
3)      “Rocket Queen” (Guns N’ Roses/Appetite for Destruction) 4)      “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (Bruce Springsteen/Darkness on the Edge of Town
5)      “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Rolling Stones/Let It Bleed) 6)      “Sick Again” (Led Zeppelin/Physical Graffiti)
7)      “Bound 2” (Kanye West/Yeezus) 8)      “Coma” (Guns N’ Roses/Use Your Illusion I)
9)      “Love, Reign O’er Me” (The Who/Quadrophenia) 10)  “The Wanderer” (U2/Zooropa)
11)  “Soul Survivor” (The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. 12)  “Road Trippin’” (Red Hot Chili Peppers/Californication)
13)  “Waiting on a Friend” (The Rolling Stones/Tattoo You) 14)  “Love is Blindness” (U2/Achtung Baby)
15)  “All Good Things (Come to an End) (Nelly Furtado/Loose) 16)  “Shattered” (The Rolling Stones/Some Girls)

It’s the ultimate, the final that is always more important.  The omega will always eclipse the alpha.  We save the best for last for a reason.  It’s for this reason that a person’s last words are more important that their first.  It’s the same reason why a comedian saves their best jokes for last.  And it’s why, ideally, an artist would save their best song for the last track on an album to serve as the culmination for the entire process and ordeal that went into making the album in the first place.  Because it’s how you’re remembered that matters more than how you were introduced.  It’s where you finish not where you start, and these songs serve as the final stop on albums that seem more like expeditions.  With these endings there were no regrets, and those are the best kind of endings.


[1] Every Metallica and Aerosmith album.

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