Five For Friday: How To Close An Album In Two Tracks

FR‘s logical extension of last week.  Don’t worry, we’re off music for a minute after this.

Nathan: Led Zeppelin, IV

On their most beloved album, Led Zeppelin close it out by flexing their biggest strengths. Jimmy Page’s virtuoso guitar is on clear display in “Going to California“.  And then on “When the Levee Breaks” we are treated to John Bonham at his roughest. That song sounds like it could crash through your speaker and tear down your house.

Travis: Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables 

Jello Biafra and company’s twisted surf-punk opus of a debut ranks highly for a number of reasons: it manages to be politically righteous and angry without sacrificing its sense of humor, it is a truly strange musical hybrid marrying hardcore punk fury to California surf-guitar catchiness, and its two closing tracks work together beautifully to sum up what DKs were all about back then, before Jello Biafra became a humorless Green Party advocate and boring spoken word artist and the band sanded off its more interesting edges and turned in a series of increasingly loud and fast albums of diminishing musical return. “Holiday in Cambodia” is a darkly humorous epic laden with atmospheric, reverb-drenched guitar and is one of the most potent punk songs ever recorded, and their cover of “Viva Las Vegas” repurposes an Elvis Presley hit to the band’s own America is doomed message. Fun, funny, and disturbing, all at the same time—these two songs are Dead Kennedys at their best (also, how far have we come that that band name doesn’t even really seem shocking anymore?).

Tyler: Leona Naess, Leona Naess

Fellow FRer Travis and I met when, at the endless insistence of a Wash. U composition professor, I approached my classmate Jess with interest in writing for our university’s student paper–specifically, the entertainment section.  Jess, as exhausted as I with the entreaties of said professor, recognized my potential and invited me to a kegger at her place.  (She doesn’t drink anymore, that lovely lady.)  I was introduced to Travis, editor of said school paper’s entertainment section–Cadenza, baby–somewhat awkwardly, Solo cups in hand, me not much of a drinker at this particular collegiate point.  “So, like, what would you wanna write?”  “I dunno, like, maybe a column, about movies?”  “Yeah, that’s cool, man.”  (Tyler retreats to corner.)

Thus did one of my best friendships begin.  J, T and myself became co-workers, and, more importantly, epic drinking buddies, very much in platonic love with each other, not to mention with the most perfect ever watering hole, St. Louis’s Hi-Pointe (R.I.P.), what with its dirt-cheap pitchers of PBR and its glorious, corner-bar attitude of “come one, come all.”  I was lousy in honoring my eventual “responsibilities” as editor of Cadenza’s film section once it became mine to edit, senior year.  Even before then, though, album reviews always promised, I grabbed more than my share of label-gifted CDs, promised reviews never surfacing, records grabbed selfishly simply because I found some aspect of their premise interesting.  Leona Naess’s third album, self-titled, showed up in the office one day, and I grabbed it with zest, solely due to her at-the-time romance with Ryan Adams.  (Has it become clear that I have some feelings for ol’ Ry-Ry?)  Said self-titled, though, became quickly evident to me as a magnificent record that–as I’ve told more than a small amount of fellow musical nerds–I believe rivals Joni Mitchell’s immaculate Blue in terms of female earnestness, loving desire and brutal romantic honesty.  Its final pair of tracks, “Christmas” and “One Kind Of Love” (no YouTube links available.  Sorry, dear readers, though I advise you that the chump change spent to enjoy them via iTune-download is totally worth it), are the stuff of genuine musical genius, and true, chest-bearing emotion.  They are, in the truest sense of the word, heartfelt.  Leona is taking a break right now, raising a fresh child, the product of some coupling whose conception about which she’s (understandably) coy.  But that’s not what matters.  My girl L’s a romantic.  Never was that romanticism on better, more lovely display than within these two wonderful tunes.

Nathan: Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest

There is one true test when it comes to closing tracks: do they make you want to put the album on again and start from the beginning? Right away?

That’s what happens to me when I hear the last two tracks on Halcyon Digest, which isn’t even close to the album that Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. are.

The biggest and most delightful surprise is that Deerhunter can write a song that makes you want to shake your ass. Don’t believe me? Click this link: “Coronado“. After that tumult, the album lets out perfectly with the glow of “He Would Have Laughed

Travis: The Stooges, Fun House

Every once in a while, rock and roll gets a little stagnant, and it takes a band like the Stooges to come storming in, bleeding all over everything, to put a little energy back into the music. The sloppy sprawl of “1970” and “Fun House” did just that. Not many people listened at the time, but like that old cliché about the Velvet Underground (who championed the Stooges early on), only twenty people might have come to see them play, but every one of those twenty went and started a band.

Tyler: The National, High Violet

A certain somebody, via the instincts of her brother, got me into the Cincinnati-cum-Brooklyn charms of The National.  Some consider Boxer the band’s finest achievement to date, but High Violet hit me like a bullet to the heart, the best kind, when I rather well needed one.  The one-two punch of “England” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” encompasses so many things I consider true about the most important, motivating emotion in my life.  They are exquisite.  They are heartbreaking.  And they are a damn fine way to conclude a wonderful album about how hard it is these days to be young, and to, ever so deeply, as those our age have been built to be, love.

Nathan: The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle 

It hardly seems fair (again) to corner the last two songs on what might be the greatest pop album ever. But, just like last week, I’m gonna do it.

Friends of Mine” is a charming ditty in which Colin Brownstone name-checks a couple friends of his, and relishes in the beauty of their love. It’s a really sweet song that takes on a more bittersweet tone when you learn that most of the couples listed ended up separated or divorced. That’s the beauty of the best pop music: it hides the darkness in all that sugary sweetness.

We’ve all heard “Time of the Season” before. We might even be bored with it to an extent. If that’s your problem, I feel for you. Me, I can’t get over that baseline or the organ solo and bouncing drum part that take over the bridge. Yowza!

I’ve highlighted four songs from this album in the past two weeks. The rest of the album is just as good. If you haven’t yet, buy it.

Travis: Elvis Costello, My Aim is True 

The final two tracks of EC’s debut are like one door closing and another opening. “Waiting for the End of the World” is one of the best of the album’s hard pub rock tunes, an amalgam of the angry young man’s influences, while the reggae-tinged “Watching the Detectives,” besides being one of his best songs, period, points ahead to the genre-bending experimentation and clever songwriting he would further perfect on subsequent releases. The only weakness to either one is that the same songs would be far more vital when performed by the Attractions, the far more adept backing band he’d pick up before his second album, This Year’s Model.

Tyler: The Clash, London Calling

“Train In Vain” is not technically the final track of London Calling; it is a nascent example of what we now call (and won’t for long, as CDs are on their way out) the “hidden track.”  Pair it, though, with the preceding “Revolution Rock,” a Strummerific indulgence of reggae love, and you’ve got one hell of a way to close an LP.  Not to mention that the album is one of the greatest of all time.  Ask Jakob Dylan.

That said, if you wanna rule out “Vain,” “I’m Not Down” into “Rock” is still pretty fuckin’ fantastic.

Nathan: Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway

Some albums need to close out gently. Few do it better than Mark Kozelek, both as Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon.

Ghosts of the Great Highway, like most of Kozelek’s best efforts, moves jarringly between quiet beauties and Crazy Horse crunch. The pattern is lifted without shame from Neil Young, but it never matters because Kozelek is up to the challenge. He’s willing to expand on the format, too. Here he closes out the album first with “Si Paloma“, a breathtaking instrumental with a Spanish guitar; and then “Pancho Villa“, an acoustic counterpart to “Salvador Sanchez”, which comes earlier in the album. These two tracks leave the record with a sense of completeness that few others achieve.

Travis: The Jam, All Mod Cons 

The Jam followed a similar narrative to that of the Clash: group of scrappy British youths heavily indebted to the Who makes a ragged, urgent debut album that hits big, makes a second album that basically retreads the first and is not as big, makes a sprawling third album that is an unqualified artistic success. But while London Calling had a universal appeal, drawing in reggae and some very American forms of music, and was a worldwide hit, the Jam’s All Mod Cons, for its very British-ness, was only a success in its homeland. That’s too bad, because it’s a great record, and its closing tracks are a blistering double-dose of the kind of class-conscious, social realism-injected rock and roll that only the Brits have ever been able to pull off well. “‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street,” with its cowbell beat and stuttering chords, could have been a hit for the Kinks, and “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” is evocative, dynamic. That the band members were only twenty when they released this is, but it’s the only way it could have happened—real grown-ups would have been too self-conscious to write songs like this.

Tyler: The Beatles, Abbey Road

Okay, this is a cheat.  The technical last track of Abbey Road is “Her Majesty,” but, really, who gives a damn about “Her Majesty?”  The cheat derives from the fact that there is no true final track on Abbey Road; the final eight songs are linked as a medley.  I choose to highlight them nonetheless.  The Beatles were falling apart, attempting (successfully) to record one more pristine LP after the professional and personal debacle that was Get Back/Let It Be.  (Not that Let It Be ain’t awesome.  “Two Of Us,” bitch.)  George Martin, the true “fifth Beatle,” had to be enticed back into the fold with a promise from Paul that “we’ll record an album like we used to.”  That didn’t happen.  John insisted upon Yoko’s presence in the studio (not an indefensible stance, as the pair of lovers experienced a horrific car crash during the recording of the album, and Lennon wanted his love at his side.  Even if that involved a bed being moved into the studio so that Ono could be there, offering musical opinions that were irrelevant).  It doesn’t matter.  Starting with “You Never Give Me Your Money,” continuing through “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” (one of my favorite songs of all time), “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End,” the Beatles created one of the finest album-closing artpieces of all time.  They are not two songs, one-two, punching out the album as it comes to a close.  But, in a way, they are one song, a unison of artistry closing one of the greatest albums of all time, crafted by a band that changed our world.  Even as those artists, those friends, fell apart, never truly to be repaired.  Oh yeah!  Alright!  Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight??

Nathan: R.E.M., Automatic for the People

The songs can speak for themselves as far as I’m concerned. “Nightswimming“. “Find the River“.

Lately when I listen to “Find the River”, I’ve found myself fixating on the backing vocals.

Travis: The Who, Who’s Next 

The Who’s studio follow-up to Tommy (the fantastic concert document Live at Leeds surfaced in the interim) was also meant to be a rock opera, a story called Lifehouse set in the future in which a rock and roll concert embodied revolution, or something like that. The concept doesn’t matter, because it was scrapped (at the time, anyway; Pete Townshend later resurrected it as a solo artist—as someone who spent a large portion of life as the biggest Who fanatic in the world I am qualified to say “Don’t bother”) and the best songs were cherry-picked for Who’s Next, easily the band’s best album, despite what revisionist hipster types say about The Who Sell Out. While there isn’t really a bum track on Who’s Next, made in the lean single-record era and clocking in at nine songs, it’s the opening and the closing that makes it special. Three of the band’s most iconic songs handle those roles—“Baba O’Riley” (it’s not called “Teenage Wasteland,” and never will be) opens the disc with a repeating synthesizer figure, and another epic, hard-rocking classic, based on a repeating synth progression overlaid with huge guitars, all-over-the-place Entwistle basslines, and Keith Moon drums, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” closes the album in brash, hippie-demolishing fashion. The lead-in to the final track only adds to its power: the heartfelt and heartbreaking ballad-into-rocker “Behind Blue Eyes” is so perfectly sequenced to lead into the album’s epic closer that it’s impossible to imagine one without the other, no matter what the creators of CSI: David Caruso Wisecracks While Removing His Sunglasses in Between Bumper Shots of Bikini Butts would have you believe.

Tyler: Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker

As noted before, entry #5, and as should be clear to regular readers of FR–and any true friend I’ve ever known–I adore Ryan Adams.  I adore The Beatles, I adore Van Morrison, I adore The Rolling Stones.  But Ryan is my avatar, artistic and otherwise, prolific and mad, a crazy, self-aligned inspiration in the crazy life I lead, and the crazy heart I possess.  The final tracks that conclude his latest album are wonderful.  But it is difficult to top the mastery that is “In My Time Of Need” preceding “Sweet Li’l Gal (23rd/1st.)”  They are emotional songs, quiet, devastated, honest–“Need” a Steinbeck-like narrative of Depression-era difficulty, difficulty in love, in raising a family under economically-tenuous circumstances; “Sweet” an obvious address of a girl (hint: her name’s “Amy”) whom Adams knew, deeply, and with whom he’ll always share a true love.

They are brilliant.  They are heartbreakers.  During one of my handful of visits to New York, my favorite place, the city that inspired so much of my beloved favorite artist’s work, I did, with time on hand, wander over to 23rd and 1st.  It was unremarkable.  Some concrete apartment complex (northeast corner), some non-notable stores and establishments.  But they meant something.  They mean something.  It means something, some pair of numbered avenues.  Thanks to Heartbreaker, that intersection will forever be in my heart.  Always, in my times of need.

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