5 Things: Album Closers

Introducing an occasional new feature where I dissect examples of various pop culture phenomena and, um, basically, it’s a top five list (in no particular order). For years, I’ve also wanted to write about my favorite album closing tracks (because the “side one, track one” thing has been done to death); here’s five out of many I could have chosen.

Sam Phillips, “Where The Colors Don’t Go” (from Cruel Inventions)

At best, a strong album closer encapsulates everything great about the whole record while also feeling like an ending, providing some sense of closure. This track at the end of Phillips’ second secular LP lyrically reads like a career-defining manifesto, while Van Dyke Parks’ stirring string arrangement sweetens what could have risked sounding like a mere diatribe in a plainer setting.

Roxy Music, “Prairie Rose” (from Country Life)

Often, the best album closers are songs you never previously knew existed. Take Roxy Music’s fourth album, whose singles were “All I Want Is You” and “Out of the Blue”–both great tunes, but “Prairie Rose” is better. Everything about it showcases the glam Brits at their peak, from its propulsive, sly groove to Andy McKay’s frenetic sax solos to vocalist Bryan Ferry’s inspired interjections (“you’re TAHN-talizing me!”).

Portishead, “Glory Box” (from Dummy)

Most great album closers seem tailor-made for that slot in the sequence–you couldn’t imagine it placed in any other position (consequently, it runs the risk of sounding really out-of-place on a compilation). This trip-hop primer’s finale is a grand one indeed, slo-o-o-w-l-y fading in until it reveals itself as a declarative anthem in its chorus. Then, it goes even further than that (Beth Gibbons sounds on the brink of a violent death as she loudly sings the line that begins with “THIS IS THE BEGINNING…”) before slowly fading back out into the ether.

Belle and Sebastian, “Stay Loose” (from Dear Catastrophe Waitress)

The last track on an album is often reserved for its most atypical song: it could be an experiment, a deliberate stylistic departure, or simply a weak throwaway (on occasion, it can be all three). This Scottish group’s shiny, happy 2003 album is, in its entirety a departure from their earlier, moodier work and a generally successful one at that; this six-minute closer goes further afield, sporting an acerbic new wave influence never present before, but splendidly executed in service of an excellent melody and gleeful dueling guitar solos.

Sparks, “Suburban Homeboy” (from Lil’ Beethoven)

I mentioned album closers that aptly summed up the songs that preceded them; I also talked about ones that pivoted towards something new. Ladies and gentlemen, this one does both simultaneously and although it serves as an exquisite jumping-off point for this venerable duo’s eccentric melding of operatic/classical embellishments and pop music, it also perfectly caps off an album full of similarly themed and arranged songs with its most outrageous and inspired idea: a Gilbert and Sullivan-like testimonial to white boys who act like they’re black.