The last track

25 January 2008

Oh gaad no. I'm stuck in Nick Hornby world and I'm not sure I can get out. I noticed that Chris Rand picked out some top songs to close out albums after picking up on a thread at the Guardian. And I fell in the hole. In between bursts of real work, I piled through the iTunes collection - a lot of it I've rated over the years so the job was fairly easy.

I tried hard to not bung in good songs that happened to be at the end of an album, but sound as though they were meant to be there as well and that nothing else would do.

The top two are easy. It's a toss-up as to which should come top but I reckon The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again (Who's Next) has to be up there somewhere. I'm surprised more people didn't namecheck it: that's an album closer if ever I heard one.

The masterpiece of structure is The The's Beyond Love on Mind Bomb: a masterpiece of delayed satisfaction. Matt Johnson said it's his favourite song, largely because of the lyrics. In all honesty, they're a bit too heavy handed. But the structure of the song is perfect. Not only do you have to wait for the end of the album for the song, you have to wait for the end of the song for the payoff of the full chorus. That's songwriting.

A bit more obscure is Hotel Womb by The Church from Starfish. Forget Under The Milky Way - the only hit single for the Aussie band (and resurrected in Donnie Darko). This is the real gem on the album: what would you put after this?

Some at the Guardian site put in Teenage Fanclub's Is This Music? But it probably tries a bit too hard to be an album closer. S*T*A*R*C*A*R at the end of Julian Cope's Autogeddon suffers from the same issue.

Also in the trying-too-hard department: It's the Sun by the Polyphonic Spree from The Beginning Stages Of... However, the whole album desperately wants to be liked - but that's its charm. Even if it does make you wonder if you are being surreptitiously brainwashed by some crazy Adventist cult.

Most of the lists tend to swing towards rock rather than anything else. In reality, with the exception of Prince and early Michael Jackson albums, most just shove the best songs up front and let the album fizzle out.

In the electronica and dance department, Orbital arguably has the best offering. Out There Somewhere? is dangerously close to being prog techno and not in a progressive house kind of way. The Girl With The Sun In Her Head is the real star of the album but this one builds and builds and builds to the final minutes making it a damn fine album closer.

Six Six Sixties which finishes the original version of Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats is the fitting finish to this album, with a cover shot at suicide spot Beachy Head.

On a happier note, there's Sensoria by Cabaret Voltaire on Micro-Phonies – the original from the LP rather than the much more famous single version mashed-up with Do Right which now sits at the end of the CD. The single is arguably better but it wouldn't work as the end of the album proper.

In the crazy corner muttering to itself, we have Beast Box from er...Beast Box by Luxuria. Lyrics are nutty as only Howard Devoto can do ("So, I'm in the beast box with my kid brother and there's all these scenes of awful suffering going on") but it's the song you've been waiting for all album. Well, the vinyl version anyway (it took me years to buy a CD player). Unfortunately, the CD adds a sub-par 'bonus' track.

Also in the mad as batshit department is Battle of Britain from Jah Wobble's utterly unhinged first solo album Betrayal. It's got one star in iTunes to make sure it never comes up on an smart playlist. Yet it's the ideal song to close out that album. But the world's wobbliest bassist (and I mean that in a good, 'why is my sternum vibrating' way) gave us Om Nava Shiva at the end of Heaven & Earth. Laaaarvely.

Guns'n'Roses didn't know where to go with Sweet Chile o'Mine on Appetite for Destruction, but they knew how to end the album with another song that's practically two glued together: Rocket Queen.

Motherfucker - Redeemer, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Yanqui UXO. This probably falls foul of the prog-rock test (ie would be half of the album). But the chamber rockers don't really do short numbers.

And the rest...it's a long list (in no particular order and after a little bit of whittling down):

Love & Communication, Cat Power, The Greatest

All The Way, Ladytron, Witching Hour

A Prayer For My Death, Foetus Interruptus, Thaw

I Am The Resurrection, The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

Runners Dial Zero, Beck, Mutations

This Must Be The Place, Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues.

Disappointed, Morrissey, Bona Drag (Worth it just for the crowd's moan when Morrissey changes his mind)

Suffer Little Children, The Smiths, The Smiths

A Song From Under The Floorboards, Magazine, The Correct Use of Soap

Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Primal Scream, Extrmntr

Run Wild, New Order, Get Ready. (But you can't help feeling they kind of lost their edge after Factory went poom.)

OX4, Ride, Going Blank Again

I Can't Sleep Without Music, Modeselektor, Happy Birthday

Here Come The Warm Jets, Brian Eno, Here Come The Warm Jets

Stars Of CCTV, Hard-Fi, Stars Of CCTV

Last Will & Testament, Pere Ubu, Story Of My Life

Seeing Out The Angel, Simple Minds, Sons And Fascination

Chesh, The Black Dog, Spanners

The Secret Life of Arabia, David Bowie, Heroes

Coelocanth, Shriekback, Oil & Gold

Pretending To See The Future, OMD, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

Fisherman's Tale, The House of Love, The House of Love (1988)

The Next Life, Suede, Suede

Just For A Moment, Ultravox, Systems Of Romance.

The Mercy Seat, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Tender Prey. (I'm not sure whether this one counts as it's an alternative version of the opener.)

WXJL Tonight, The Human League, Travelogue

Donimo, Cocteau Twins, Treasure

Stacked Crooked, The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema

Sixty Sixteen, Banco de Gaia, Igizeh. (Not a great album by any stretch: this number helps it punch above its weight by leaving you with a good memory of it. It's not exactly a crowd pleaser, but the Shephard Tone effect that de Gaia conveys in the music sets it apart.)

Antarctica Starts Here, John Cale, Paris 1919

Rhapsody, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Peepshow. (A friend once described this as the perfect hangover album. It starts with warped, unsettled syncopation of Peek-A-Boo, goes through the paranoia of Burn Up and closes out with the haunting Rhapsody.)

Here Comes The Flood, Peter Gabriel (1)

Blue Sky, Fluke, Puppy

Gone, Kosheen, Resist (assuming the album ends here rather than the weak remix edit of Hide U. The album itself suffers from too much of-the-moment drum'n'bass sample trickery that, were it released a year before or a year later wouldn't have been there.)

It Never Rains, Dire Straits, Love Over Gold. (However, if I listen to this one I generally go straight from Telegraph Road to this one. More of a 12in single than an album in that context. And this one doesn't wake up until the bridge two minutes in.)

It's No Game, David Bowie, Scary Monsters.

False Goodbyes, Echo & The Bunnymen, Reverberation (This is the one without Ian McCulloch. Just try not to listen to the words. You won't be able to walk properly for hours if you do.)

When I'm 84, The Beautiful South, 0898.

The Chauffeur, Duran Duran, Rio

A Crack In The Clouds, Julian Cope, Saint Julian

Gouge Away, The Pixies, Doolittle

Sugar Baby, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft

Is This Desire? PJ Harvey

Hail Mary, Ultra Vivid Scene, Ultra Vivid Scene

Fight, The Cure, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

End, The Cure, Wish (no-one does maudlin end-of-album downers like The Cure)

EMI, The Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks (what better way to go out than with a love letter to your last-but-one record label, on the last proper album you'll ever make.)

Automobile Noise, The Blue Nile, A Walk Across The Rooftops

Love And War, Paul Haig, The Warp Of Pure Fun

Hung Up, Paul Weller, Wild Wood

Track 8, Sigur Ros, ()

Decades, Joy Division, Closer

Cutman, Meat Beat Manifesto, Armed Audio Warfare. (This one probably doesn't count as it's really a compilation and Cutman wasn't even on the original pressing. But it's an album's worth of sampling in one hit.)

Question: should there be a special category for uncredited last tracks that are great closers? I offer up Train in Vain by the Clash from London Calling, REM's cover of Superman on Life's Rich Pageant and the Dead Kennedys' Moon Over Marin from Plastic Surgery Disasters - I haven't got a vinyl version to check against but I vaguely recall this one going uncredited.

I'm glad that's over.

5 Comments

I feel suitably humbled. As well as guilty for wasting so much of your time. But "The Chauffeur" (Duran Duran, Rio)? Surely that hasn't even risen to Ironic Guilty Pleasure status yet?

Can you have an ironic guilty pleasure? Or is it not really a pleasure?

I'm serious: it changed my view of Rio as an album, so it had to go on the list. It uses a deceptively simple trick - the end of each phrase switches from G to use a B7/D# (so it kind of shifts into E minor but only for a bar or so). That instantly darkens the mood.

If you can't quite face up to listening to the Duranies, try the Sneaker Pimps' languid cover (although it would benefit from a lot less reverb).

The CD ruined 'close out' tracks for me. I've never liked 'Track 100', no matter how many people cover it...

On a more serious note I was surprised not to see the real crowd pleasers as follows

Death is not the end, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads

The Great Barrier Riff, Monochrome Set, Eligible Bachelors

The Dream's Dream, Television, Adventure

The Band Played Waltzin' Matilda, The Pogues, Rum sodomy and the Lash

Sara, Bob Dylan, Desire

Play Dead, Bjork, Debut

Down in the Sewer, Stranglers, Rattus Norvegicus

Left hand Luke and the Beggar boys, T Rex, Tanx

Remis, Manuel Gottsching, E2-E4

Moving Away from the pulsebeat, Buzzcocks, Another Music in a Different Kitchen

And er, hello, the daddy

When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV


plus loads others - talking of When the Levee Breaks can you think of any other really important songs that have been borrowed from obscure artists with insufficient credit...

Did I forget When the Levee Breaks? Bugger.

I think the credits on LZ IV do at least put Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe down as co-writers - but that may have been a retrospective decision. I haven't got an original, vinyl copy of the album.

I'm sure there are plenty of songs borrowed in a similar way. I vaguely remember something about the Stones retrospectively reworking the credits on some of their earlier numbers to reflect the influence of Robert Johnson and other early blues players. Plus there are all the hits derived from classical melodies (Whiter Shade of Pale, the Stock, Aitken and Waterman back catalogue etc). However, they did all fess up and, as they were all clearly out of copyright, there is the question of what constitutes insufficient credit.

Of course, we could discuss the desperate lengths Noel G went to in writing Champagne Supernova as a definitive last track - ignoring the fact that track four already more than did the job. "Never put your life in the hands of a rock 'n' roll band", indeed, and certainly not a City fan.

Meanwhile, also surprised not to see a nod for Mr Cash's We'll Meet Again on American IV. It just works - in spades.