Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: when we talk about ‘album closers’, we’re not just talking about great songs that happen to be the last track on the album. A true closer is a very specific song; it is the blaze of glory that leaves a lasting impression. While a closer doesn’t always have to be a riotous crescendo, it undeniably has to be the magician’s last “Tada”. In short, it has to be a song that crops up on shuffle, and you still realise that it closes a record without any prior knowledge of tracklisting.
First impressions are easy, you just have to welcome them in through the door but kicking them out with a smile on their face at the end of the night is the tricky part. Even a few classic albums have let themselves down by the time of the finale, but when it is crafted to perfection there is scarcely a greater achievement in music.
We’ve all been there, aimlessly letting a record play out before realising that the crescendo of the pop masterpiece is appearing on the horizon. Like all goodbyes, they are tinged with a certain regret but, as with real life farewells, they are usually imbued with heartfelt emotion and a longing for more.
Below we’re looking at the greatest closers of them all, from the hair-raising crystallisation of youth on Arctic Monkeys debut record to the hauntingly beautiful exit of Nick Drake, each great closer offers up something new, but they are always bound by being ineffably stirring with a solid dose of last act profundity.
The ten greatest album closers of all time:
‘Voodoo Chid (Slight Return)’ by Jimi Hendrix
Electric Ladyland is a study of what the guitar is capable of, and ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ is its closing statement in the court of musical achievement. There is no point in technical proficiency if it doesn’t sound good or offer a glimpse of soul, and with this iconic riff, Jimi Hendrix shines through with more style and skill than a Vorsprung Durch Technik reinvention of Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Alas, if you were in any doubt what we meant by asserting that a closer is a specific song, then this track should clear that up. A more languid take on the riff features earlier in the album with ‘Voodoo Chile’, but when it is time to say farewell, all experimentation must be sequestered and, in its place, Hendrix disappears in a puff of smoke.
‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’ by Talking Heads
There is no doubting Talking Heads singular approach to music. Their worldview is coloured by art school obsessions with Dadaism and a search for spiritualism or science in the everyday aspects of life. The closer to their album Speaking in Tongues is a perfect example of this. ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’ is a love song in spite of itself in the same way that Byrne seems to be a rockstar in spite of himself.
The same can be said of all the creative wizardry deployed throughout the Talking Heads’ back catalogue. Every quirk and oddity is done with such sincerity that it is always fun and never alienating. The band swapped instruments for this song, and whilst from the outside looking in, this may seem frivolous, it’s hard to argue with the result. It’s a move that sings of the profuse creative heart behind the band, and in the process, they crafted a love song that juices life right down to the bittersweet and blissful pith. This is simply one of the greatest pop songs ever written, never mind the fact it perfectly closes the show.
‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’’ by The Velvet Underground
While the Velvet Underground might be renowned for subverting cliches, the closer to their masterpiece, Loaded, is the quintessence of a scintillating album swansong. The guitar work is a searing crescendo that offers up the same sort of exultant glory as a last-minute winner smashed in from 30 yards.
Befittingly in a track about the inequities of society, the finale reaches a sort of ecstatic delirium that epitomised the band’s view on rock ‘n’ roll as the art form for the masses where euphoric escapism and a cognisance of the state of play go hand in hand. Rarely has that combo ever sounded as good as this neck-snapping riot of a sonic last laugh.
‘A Certain Romance’ by Arctic Monkeys
The measure of ‘A Certain Romance’ as an album closer is that if you were to ask any Tom, Dick or Harriet who came of age around the mid-two-thousands to name a closing track, then this one would be it. It is a song that is now branded on the sensibilities of a generation.
Aside from closing the album in style, it has escaped the clutches of the vinyl it was pressed on and permeated society as a whole, serving as the closer for many a night out. In a maelstrom of euphonic guitars, a blitzkrieg of pounding drums and a poetic tale that seems to capture the spirit of the age, the track sutures the album with a perfectly realised aplomb.
‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ by David Bowie
More than an album closer, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ was the last line of an entire back catalogue. And that wasn’t a matter of happenstance either; David Bowie was well aware that this track would be his last, and, in the most Bowie way possible, he made art out of death and parted with a sparkling statement.
With refrains from his career gone by he wrote his own epitaph. It sums up his life and works with courageous finality, however, as the title of the track suggests, there is still restless creativity despite the comfort of the now, he was always spiritually seeking out ‘A New Career in a New Town’.
‘Riders on the Storm’ by The Doors
Atmosphere is often the indefinable missing ingredient that makes a good song a great one – ‘Riders on the Storm’ has enough of it to sustain life on the surface of its grooves. With depth and daring scope, The Doors closed L.A. Woman with an unforgettable crescendo.
The track encapsulates the band’s dark, brooding ways with tales of murderers, apocalyptic allegories, and literary landscapes in a roaming saunter. If there is an argument that sometimes The Doors could go on a bit, this track is gorgeously refined while remaining suitably verbose.
‘Champagne Supernova’ by Oasis
Like them or loathe them, there is no denying the crafted brilliance of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory’s searing last hurrah. The ultimate middle finger from the band is that with this record, they etched every word into the mind of anyone who ever listened to it, and that includes the few contrarians that weren’t swept up in the Britpop storm. ‘Champagne Supernova’ is the glistening jewel in that all-conquering crown.
The song is an epic that sequesters the billy-big-bollocks bravura of some of their hits and instead captured the bittersweet sound of reminiscing both sonically and lyrically. This is a textbook closer of embarrassing arm-in-arm eyes-closed singalong proportion that should never see the sober light of regretful morning, but after the party of the album, this Breaking Bad-esque death or glory finale could not be more befitting. Fin.
‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan
When Bob Dylan first arrived on the scene in 1962, if you wanted to be played on the radio, then, generally speaking, your songs would have to be three minutes or less. Dylan didn’t go in for that sort of thing and ‘Desolation Row’ sees him reaping the rewards as he whisks through a short novel set on skid row.
As John Cooper Clarke wrote in his memoir, I Wanna Be Yours, “I love Bob Dylan, but I hold him responsible for two bad ideas: a) the extended running time of the popular song and b) the lyric sheet.” He goes on to say that both are fine for Bob, who interestingly occupies the time, and ‘Desolation Row’ stands as a testament to his sui generis exception to the rule. The song is a rolling epic that takes you on a walk down the most interesting street in America.
‘A Day In The Life’ by The Beatles
The Beatles epic finale ‘A Day in The Life’ is a menagerie of interwoven news articles. The song functions as a front to back rock opera of a slow news day, with John Lennon perusing current events of varying degrees of importance and transposing them into song while McCartney provided a more conventional middle section. The song shows perfectly how the Fab Four made the ordinary interesting and spun out the jejune black and white of the past in a kaleidoscopic splurge of the future.
The first story to take Lennon’s interest in the chronology of the lyrics is hilariously played up by The Beatles with melodramatic intent. The following extract from the very article that Lennon may well have read is terrifically banal, and it is this seemingly overblown triviality that endeared the story to John in a creative sense: “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300,000 in London.” Not many people seize upon something as banal as that to close an album; even fewer could make it work.
‘Saturday Sun’ by Nick Drake
If Nick Drake’s songs were any more ethereal, then they could never have been etched into something as bulky as vinyl. The sanguine sound of ‘Saturday Sun’ floats on towards a silken conclusion like a fleeting British summer day. If you could guarantee just one Saturday morning a year as sweet as this sonic depiction, then you wouldn’t have to worry about making the most of your free time ever again.
It is a track that you want to live in, and it yearns for you to turn the album over and listen all the way through once more. With its azure blue poetry, breezy production and a cacophonous bird song of musical flourishes, making music has never sounded so effortless, and its ability to harness the joys of summer is what beer commercials have trying to copy ever since. There is a simple air of perfection to this song, and it never tries other than itself, whatever dreamy moment of pure contentment that happens to be.