Thursday, November 17, 2005

MUSIC: Epic Outros

Okay, so I've been thinking about rock songs that are renowned as much for their extended instrumental conclusions as for the remainder of the song. The beginning of the songs may be great on their own, but the epic outros (as my weird little mind likes to think of them) crank the tunes up that one extra notch to truly legendary.

The best example of this is probably "Layla," by Derek & the Dominos. Kick-ass electrifying rocker of an opening half to the song; it would surely be immortal for that alone. But then comes that abrupt transition into the piano instrumental, turning the song completely on its head. It's practically a whole new song. It's totally jarring, and it's unforgettable. Of course, it's even more powerful if you've seen Goodfellas. Scorsese has always been terrific at using music in his films, but the way he uses only that lovely instrumental ending to "Layla" to orchestrate some very unlovely business in Goodfellas is one of the best uses of a song in any film ever.

Another great example would be Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." It's a good enough song to begin with, but I think it, as opposed to "Layla," wouldn't be quite so cherished without that epic outro. The front portion is a little tame, a little mellow, but then right at the close of the lyrics it starts to kick into gear, with the vocals building and soaring and finally exploding into that fierce guitar-driven ending that seems to last five times as long as the lyrical beginning did. I had a friend who liked to mock the song's seemingly eternal ending; at a bar one night, with this song on the jukebox, he turned to me and said, "We are now entering the 3rd hour of 'Free Bird.' Please kill me." I say bring on hour four!

"Hotel California" by the Eagles is another. It would still be a classic without that outro, but it wouldn't be nearly as good. As Don Henley's vocals conclude, with the protagonist of the song spinning into madness and horror, the guitars take over, and continue the disorienting journey. I mean, come on, how many guitars are there? Three, four? Twelve? It's dizzying to listen to them harmonize and contend with each other for that extra two or three minutes.

A Beatles song that almost fits the bill is "Hey Jude," which continues for several minutes after the main portion of the song is over. But it doesn't quite make the cut, because the chorus continues. "Na na na na, hey Jude" is repeated so often that it almost fades into the background, melding with the music to become another instrument (not counting the bit where Paul busts out with "Hey Judy Judy Judy Judy Judy WOW!!")... but lyrics are lyrics, so it's disqualified.

Another Beatles song that could take its place is "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." I love the ending of that song. It builds and builds into an oppressive repetition, droning and pounding relentlessly, as what sounds like a monster storm threatens to tear your stereo apart, until you think you just can't take it for one more second and then -- with no warning or reason it ends, and sudden blissful silence hits you like a bucket of cold water. This song isn't quite in the legendary category of the others I mentioned -- but hey, it's the Beatles.

There are some others I could name. "Comfortably Numb," by Pink Floyd. "One," by Metallica (which is so awesomely rocking it's got my head banging just thinking about it). The Who's "Baba O'Riley." All great songs, made even better by their outros, though perhaps not quite so memorable as those mentioned above.

Am I leaving any out? Did I foolishly omit an incredibly obvious one? Or do you have a personal favorite you'd like to suggest?

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