Last songs on albums are tricky. You want them to be as great as possible, but you don't want them to overshadow the rest of the record. There's not really much else I want to say about this, so here's some of my favorite album closers. Enjoy!
Arcade Fire, My Body is a Cage, Neon Bible
Win's voice comes out, and the sadness is not only palpable, but it's as if his life depends on his getting these emotions out. The whole theme of the album really comes into extremely clear view here too. The choral atmosphere, along with the chamber music and organ really makes the song thick. The explosion following this is also a really big jolt. This song is ripe for use, and to my knowledge, it's been used perfectly twice in regards to other mediums. First, the trailer for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but more importantly, there's a video of this song being used to compliment the film “Once Upon a Time in the West.” I've still never seen the film, but this combination of music and film is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life. It perfectly draws the tension out, and the symbolism in the song, not to mention the dark tone of the film. The key to the power of the song though, is Butler's unique and simply amazing voice, and in the fleeting moments of “Neon Bible,” it's those things that really make the journey of the album worthwhile.
The Beatles, A Day in the Life, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
Everything I researched before making this list proclaimed this as the best last song on an album ever. If I were making a top 10 list, this would quite likely be at or near the top, but even without a top 10 list, the song is still fucking immaculate. It works so well for many reasons. First off, it's the Beatles, so that goes without saying. Next though, is how the song quickly shifts. Lennon's part is quite dark, and the atmosphere painted in the music is pitch perfect in tune with the opening. Next though, we come to Paul's part, which is much more upbeat and quick. Maybe “A Day in the Life” works so well because we'll all had days that switch so quickly, from good to bad or vice versa. Whether or not this way the intention of the band, it's an amazing song, one of the best by the band, and it deserves a spot on any list regarding album closing tunes.
Incubus, Morning View, Aqueous Transmission
This song is so great because it's so unexpected. Just a few years earlier, the band was touring with Korn and Limp Bizkit, and when this album came out, they were suddenly huge, and the music had matured to a pretty good point. I'm not a big Incubus fan these days, but this album is probably their best. Seeing this song performed live, is really great too. The band was smart to have this as the gentle show closer, helping to ease into the conclusion in the same brilliant way it worked in the album. Brandon Boyd's lyrics are also really picturesque, and set a beautiful image of a man slowly “floating down a river” in a beautiful late day sunset that can only be experienced on the water. Good work Incubus, good work.
The National, Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, High Violet
We've talked about the National before, and High Violet is easily my favorite album they've made so far. It's so good, arguably because the last song is one of the best things they've ever written. This is the record where in my eyes, they became the stuff of legends in the making. Everything about this track just kills it. Berninger's voice is his usual soulful depressive falsetto, while the instrumentation is impeccably badass. The usage of imagery is spot on too. The whole album has a great flow to it, and from the first song to this perfect last song, it knocks it out of the park one tune at a time. I imagine a family of broken people, struggling with day to day life, and how, in the end, all they have to remember is the struggle. It's not a perfect gorgeous ending, but it's an ending to a record by the National, so there's never going to be a happy ending.
Nine Inch Nails, Hurt, the Downward Spiral
I'm actually taking a break from listening to this band, but I couldn't not put this on the list. The emotional final punch in this exhaustively personal record, is the also the core of the album. The main character, having gone through hell several times over, finally is at the breaking point where something has to give. The song works because Reznor's voice is incredible, and personable, but it also works because of the context of how we got to this point. Still hearing it, for likely the twenty thousandth time, it still gives me goosebumps, and is still a highlight among the live performances. The album is amazing, and the turmoil this person goes through is totally understandable. It's a incredibly dark album, but “Hurt” stands at not only the crowning achievement of the record, but it serves as a reminder that we have to keep going, whether it be in this world, or the next.
Pink Floyd, Eclipse, Dark Side of the Moon
Another one that is a shoe in for inclusion, the finale of one of the biggest albums of all time is explosive, gorgeous, and layered in only ways that Pink Floyd is capable of. It's quite short, and serves as the last part of a multi -part song. The drums are the first thing we hear, but soon we're overcome by Waters' voice, pianos, and thick guitar playing. Pink Floyd is the real deal, and throughout the album they remind us why. Just in case we forget about how excellent they are though, “Eclipse” is there to drill the nail in one last time.
Pixies, Gouge Away, Doolittle
Man oh man, the Pixies. The song itself is pretty immediate, and it's more of less unlike every song on this list. There's no overreaching theme or plot. Instead we get some shredding and squealing from Frank Black and company. It's probably one of the most in your face songs they have, and it's an instantly cool track, especially since it's the album closer. I'm thrilled they got back together, but let's be honest, the days of them making tight songs like this are long gone.
Tool, Third Eye, Aenima
The quintessential last track. “Third Eye” is so epic that it works just as well as a closing track to an album as it does as a show opener. It spins, whirls around, and takes you places you've never been before. It's fucking long too. Thankfully, you get so quickly immersed in the world that the nearly fourteen minutes whiz by in a haze of Keenan's vocals, the drumming and overreaching theme of waking up and figuring out your purpose in this vast, unsolvable world. This is the moment where you as a listener realize that this isn't just a typical heavy band. The lyrics, and music are so atypical of the rest of the scene they were lumped into at that point that even the decent bands in the genre are completely overshadowed by the perfectness of this band. They've since then become too big for any genre, and the musical direction has expanded so awesomely that they're basically their own entity now. If they hadn't hit this song so perfectly on the head, they may not have made an album as incredible as “Lateralus,” but thankfully they did, and we're left still scratching our head and this composition.
the White Stripes, This Protector, White Blood Cells
This last track from the breakout album, is familiar most likely to big fans of the band. From the first time I heard it, I loved it, and after a decade or more, I'm still jamming out to it. The piano is really great here, and I love that Jack and Meg are singing in a unison for the majority of the song. Again the imagery here sets a very clear picture about the going ons surrounding the song. It's a very appropriate song to end the record, and I wish more people mentioned this song when talking about the bands greatness, because for me there's almost nothing better that's come from the two of these people.
Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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