Celebrating the last song on the record
Given the nature of this Substack, doing an introduction feels odd. That’s because this Substack is all about endings.
Why endings? Endings have always been fascinating to me. How many times have we seen a successful television show not quite land the final episode? The likes of Breaking Bad, The Shield and especially Six Feet Under have excellent last episodes that did a great job. The Sopranos and The Wire were good endings but were certainly considered more diverse at the time. On the other end of the spectrum, Seinfeld’s finale many see as a let-down and if you look at the IMDb scores for the final seasons, never mind the last episodes of Game of Thrones and House of Cards (US), they are considered by fans as near disasters.
So endings on TV can be challenging, but why are they so important? For many people, the journey is important, not where you end up. When it comes to film, we see a similar issue, “The twist at the end ruined the movie” now, that can be true, but it isn’t strange how the last 15 minutes can have such a disproportionate impact on views about the previous 120. A theory that dwells on this subject is known as The peak-end rule. Wikipedia has this to say about it;
a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant.
For those familiar with the work of Barbara Fredrickson, Daniel Kahneman and others, you will know about the examples of recency bias. In an experiment, subjects preferred to have their hand in cold water for longer when the water temperature increased slightly towards the end than the shorter version of the experiment where the temperature was consistent.
Many areas of psychological research have issues with the repeatability of studies and concerns of levels of statistical significance, which are way beyond the scope of this music blog. However, if we take the examinations at face value, they help us establish that finishing a fantastic dessert meal is a good tactic for Come Dine With Me. Vanessa Williams was on to something when she sang of saving the best to last.
So why albums? One of the reasons is I’ve not seen anything really like this aside from the odd clickbait article written online or the odd one-off blog post. I’ve seen threads and polls on I Love Music focusing on one artist’s best LP finishes but never a holistic view to my knowledge. There also hasn’t been an issue of Mojo or Uncut taken up with a top 100 spread over 40 pages, so I felt there was a gap in the market.
The great thing about closing tracks is they have their own rules and sub-genres. Throughout the lifetime of The Run Out Grooves, I’ll be looking at everything from instrumental endings, closers that hold a mirror to the opener, planned farewells and unplanned goodbyes. We will have epics laden with orchestration and hours of studio time to tossed-off afterthoughts. We will go slowly into the night, and we will sometimes not do that. We might end with a defiant middle finger or a soft kiss. They might last for 17 seconds or take up a whole side of the vinyl. Some are too complex to play live, and others have been live stables at the end of an encore for decades.
What albums will be examining? Another element is that some of the best albums do not have great final tracks; many do. Likewise, some albums that aren’t considered the greatest of all time by any stretch of the imagination do have closers that are the best track on the record or sometimes the best thing the artist has ever done. I have my tastes and biases built up over two decades plus of critically listening to music through my filters. I will acknowledge that and not just write about albums, acts, and genres in my blood. To start with, I will be choosing albums from Acclaimed Music’s top 100 and will add my more unique offerings as this project develops. Of course, I will barely be familiar with some of these tracks today as I write this; others have been with me all century long.
I will not be writing about the songs in isolation; how they fit into the artist’s catalogue, the album they are on and the year they came out will also be part of the discourse here. The impact they have as closing tracks and how we can categorise them will be a vital part of this project.
I’d also like to thank the inspiration for this project which has come from time in lockdown listening to Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties and partaking in the People’s Pop Polls run by Tom Ewing (Popular is, of course, another influence)
I will be considering some technicalities, the hidden tracks found on CDs in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and the last listed track. Older unlisted songs like The Clash’s “Train In Vain” and The Beatles’ “The End/Her Majesty” will be discussed. Spoken word outros will probably get ignored for the final song proper on the record, but I recognise that my definition of a proper song may differ from others.
Finally, do not think this is just going to be entries on instrumentals from the seventies; there are US and UK number ones that will feature and songs that I’m not even going to say you’d hope to hear at a wedding, but a few that you’d expect to.
A closing track to an album that gets played at the start of someone’s marriage.
That’s undoubtedly an ending fitting for a beginning.