Top 10 Album-Closing Tracks
An album’s closing track is almost as essential as the opening one. Where a record’s first song plays as both introduction and gateway to the rest of the LP, the closing cut sums up the past 45 or so minutes. Sometimes the last song reprises an album’s lyrical or musical theme; sometimes it points to the future, a taste of what to expect on the next record. All of the songs on our list of the Top 10 Album-Closing Tracks have one thing in common: Their albums wouldn’t be complete without them.
Technically, ‘The End’ isn’t the last song on ‘Abbey Road'; the 23-second goof ‘Her Majesty’ closes the record. But that’s more like an afterthought, a brief hidden track before artists started putting things like that on their albums. ‘The End’ not only caps the greatest sidelong medley ever made, it’s the final song on the last album the Beatles recorded together (‘Let It Be,’ which was released eight months later, was recorded a few months before ‘Abbey Road’). It was also the last song the band recorded as a group. It’s a glorious, poignant and fitting sign-off.
Dylan caps his best album with a rambling, 11-minute travelogue featuring appearances by literary figures, Bible characters, historical people and some folks Dylan made up. It’s a dizzying performance, with just two acoustic guitars and bass along for the ride. More importantly, it ends ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ on the apocalyptic note that many songs hint at.
The closing track on Lynyrd’s Skynyrd’s debut album just sounds like a closing track, with its massive guitar battle marching to victory after nine monumental minutes. The live version from ‘One More From the Road’ is more epic, but the quiet-anthem tone of the studio version fits the context of the mournful debut LP better.
Don’t confuse this song with the other ‘The End’ (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Album-Closing Tracks). The Doors’ 12-minute epic is way heavier than the Beatles number. As the rest of the band pounds away at some jazz-rock improv thing, Jim Morrison whips out a long, poetic doomsday rant about killing his dad and banging his mom. An appropriate closer to the band’s strong debut.
The gargantuan drums that signal the start of the final song on Led Zeppelin’s best album sure don’t sound like a Mississippi blues holler. But the roots are there — from the wailing harmonica to lyrics adapted from Memphis Minnie’s 1929 song of the same name. The band’s fourth album has plenty of rock ‘n’ roll thunder, as well as some hippie-dippy spiritualism; ‘When the Levee Breaks’ ends it all with a monster blues crusher, just so you remember who Zeppelin came from.
One of the longest songs in the Stones catalog is also their best album closer, an overload of brass, sass and choir that seems perfectly fitting within the LP’s structural context. ‘Let It Bleed’ begins with a hostile storm blowing in ‘Gimme Shelter.’ By the time the seven-plus-minute ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ washes away, it sounds like salvation.
Like many songs on our list of the Top 10 Album-Closing Tracks, the Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is epic in every way: length (eight and a half minutes), concept (same idea as ‘Animal Farm’) and performance (from Pete Townshend‘s opening synths to Roger Daltrey‘s closing scream). The Who have other great album closers (particularly ‘Quadrophenia”s ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’), but this is their best.
In a way, ‘Eclipse’ serves as a coda to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon”s penultimate track, ‘Brain Damage.’ But it wraps up the 43-minute trip with such finality that it certainly stands on its own as one of the finest album-closing tracks ever recorded. The kicker comes in the form of a faint voice speaking over the fading heartbeat: “There is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”
Springsteen wanted his third album to play like a mini-opera, from the slamming doors of the opening ‘Thunder Road’ to the symphonic sweep on the closing ‘Jungleland,’ a nine-minute story about city streets and dying dreams. It’s a bleak, desolate portrait that erases the tiny shreds of hope that drift in and out of ‘Born to Run.’ But it really wasn’t going to end any other way. ‘Jungleland’ is rock tragedy at its grandest.
It’s fitting that the Beatles would have two songs on our list of the Top 10 Album-Closing Tracks. They pretty much were responsible for LPs becoming something other than a flimsy collections of singles, covers and filler. And there isn’t a more striking ending in rock history than ‘A Day in the Life”s final crashing chord, which resonates for 40 deep-thought seconds. It’s an abrasive end to ‘Sgt. Pepper”s candy-colored fantasyland, a kick back into reality that holds out for one last grasp at life.