Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Great Albums with Weak Last Songs

If there's anything worse than a great album with a weak first song, it's a great album with a weak last song. I mean, you're hitting the home stretch, you're flying along on the glory of one terrific tune after another, you're just waiting for that last song to finish it off in style, and you get there, and then it's just a letdown. It's not the worst crime in the world but it's annoying. Here's my list of great albums with disappointing last songs:

"Caroline No" - Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys)

So here we are, listening to supposedly the "Greatest Album of All Time," it's better than Sgt. Pepper, etc., and we get to the end and...it's this? Yeah, I know all the rock critics say that this is the beautiful, emotional finale to Pet Sounds where Brian Wilson expresses his disillusionment with love or something along those lines, but to me it sounds like he wrote it in fifteen minutes and spend about a half an hour recording it. "God Only Knows" I understand. Even "Sloop John B." But "Caroline No"? How about "Caroline No Thanks"?

"Good Night" - The White Album (The Beatles)

Not that there was any reasonable way to close the White Album, of course. But on an album where I like almost all of the songs that other people tend to call throwaways, I would actually call this one a throwaway. Fine, so John wanted to write a song for his son (instead of actually bothering to raise him), and they had Ringo sing it passively, and they had George Martin do an over-the-top orchestral arrangement...I can see what they were going for, but in the end I can take it or leave it. I suspect most people do the latter, given that the song is stranded behind the "How much sound collage am I in the mood for today" endurance test that is "Revolution No.9." The Beatles were pretty much the undisputed masters of the last song, but not this time.

"Hippie Boy" - The Gilded Palace of Sin (Flying Burrito Brothers)

Back when I first got a copy of the Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers CD, and noticed that it included all but two of the songs from their first album, I thought, "Well why didn't they just put the other two songs on there?" When I finally heard "Hippie Boy," however, I understood why. Basically it's just Gram Parsons rambling for five minutes about a bunch of loosely-connected topical references. He starts outs saying he met a hippie boy on the street, and then he says the hippie boy showed him a box, and apparently there was a dead kid in the box who got killed at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and you keep following the story expecting it to coalesce at some point, but instead it just ends with an improptu singalong of "Peace In The Valley." Why couldn't he just write another song?

"Oh Yoko" - Imagine (John Lennon)

Let me guess: John and Yoko had probably gotten into a nasty fight over whether they were going to take a vacation to New York or to Miami, and then the next day John decided to make up for it by recording a song he'd written about Yoko three years earlier, and then for an afternoon everything was probably OK, until they started arguing about who was going to take Yoko shopping. Granted, Imagine had no conceptual unity anyway, but it was pretty uniformly strong and relatively Yoko-free. Until the last song. And even if Wes Anderson used it in Rushmore, I still don't care.

"Turn That Heartbeat Around" - Can't Buy A Thrill (Steely Dan)

Not a bad song, per se, but definitely one of my least favorites on an otherwise very strong album. Also, you've got to take into account that they'd already written a lot of the songs they would record later, and I wish they'd used one of their other ones instead.

"Soul Survivor" - Exile On Main Street (The Rolling Stones)

Again, it's not bad, but come on: if "Shine A Light" wasn't the most obvious closing song you could possibly write, then why the hell did they write it? Of course, the last three Stones albums had all followed the formula of putting the most heartfelt, touching song at the end (to make up for all the callous, nasty sentiments of the rest of the album), and so maybe the Stones wanted to switch up their formula a bit. But...couldn't they have just waited and switched it up on the next album?

"Rock and Roll Suicide" - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)

When Lester Bangs gleefully called Bowie one of the worst lyricists ever, he cited the line "Time takes a cigarette/And puts it in your mouth." The over-the-top lyrics don't bother me so much as the general poopiness of the song, though. Look, he should have just ended the album with "Ziggy Stardust." Come to think of it, he should have started the album with "Ziggy Stardust" and ended the album with "Ziggy Stardust." He should have just played "Ziggy Stardust" 11 times in a row and called it a day.

"Music for Money" - Pure Pop For Now People (Nick Lowe)

The album's so schizophrenic anyway that it didn't really matter, but "Music For Money" always struck me as an anti-climactic note to go out on. The British version actually ends with "Roller Show," which was a much better choice. But the British version also features "Music For Money" as the opening track! Mp3's to the rescue!

"The Overload" - Remain In Light (Talking Heads)

Again, it isn't bad, but when the rest of the album was that good, they should have come up with something better. As someone on a recent message board said in regards to this song, "Too much Eno, not enough Heads."

"Meat Is Murder" - Meat Is Murder (The Smiths)

Just to prove that they were not an "album band," apparently the Smiths decided to take their best album and put the lamest possible piece of shit they could think of at the end. I assume that even though Morrissey was the lead singer, the four bandmembers all had a collective vote in what went on the album and what didn't. The other three should have taken a stand on this one. The problem isn't so much the song's preachiness (although that doesn't help) as it is the fact that a) it didn't fit with the vibe of the rest of the album - at all - and b) it sucks. Couldn't they at least not have named the album Meat Is Murder?

I can't think of too many recent albums with disappointing last songs, which could mean either one of two things: either the artists have been pretty good at picking last songs, or there haven't been very many great albums lately. You decide.


yoggoth said...

I cry when I listen to Caroline, No.

Little Earl said...

I cry when I listen to Gouge Away