Closing time

As the final days and hours of 2017 tick away, we should take time to pause, reflect and ruminate on our assets and defects, our accomplishments and shortcomings, what went well and what needs improvement.  There’s always a certain sadness and angst during such times, a feeling of time slipping away, frustrations, setbacks, paths not taken.

New-Years-EveWe can, as always, use music to help us sort through all these feelings.  The popular music of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond offer various viewpoints on “the end” and what that may mean in diverse situations and circumstances.

The best part of tallying up our wins and losses of the year just completed is in polishing our dreams and plans for the year to come.  So much promise and potential!  Staying positive, surrounding yourself with true friends and family, and taking each day one at a time is a great prescription for life.

I wish all my readers a healthy and happy New Year!

Here are ten songs about “the end”, with a Spotify playlist at the end to provide audio accompaniment.  Cheers!

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TravWilb1CoverEnd of the Line,” The Traveling Wilburys, 1988

In 1987, ELO’s Jeff Lynne was producing George Harrison’s latest LP (“Cloud Nine”), and they each dreamed of making music with their idols (Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan, respectively).  Tom Petty had been touring with Dylan, and in short order, the fivesome came together in a Malibu studio, each bringing a few songs to the party, and the result was “The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1.”  It was a tongue-in-cheek “supergroup” LP that sold three million copies and spawned two minor hit singles, “Handle With Care,” carried largely by Harrison, and the happy-go-lucky “End of the Line,” which featured primarily Petty.  Orbison died only weeks after the album’s release in late 1988, and the remaining four released a less successful second effort (whimsically entitled “Volume 3”) in 1990, but they never toured, and soon reverted to their solo careers.

51uINqr1iZL“Stoney End,” Barbra Streisand, 1970

Streisand’s forte has always been Broadway show tunes and diva-worthy standards like her award-winning signature song “People.”  But she has dabble successfully in other genres, including disco (“Guilty,” a duet with Barry Gibb) and pop ballads (“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with Neil Diamond) in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  Back in 1970, she collaborated with pop-rock producer Richard Perry on a surprising smorgasbord of songs by contemporary writers like Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot and Randy Newman.  She scored a smash #6 hit with Laura Nyro’s effervescent “Stoney End,” with its enigmatic lyrics of endings and beginnings:  “Going down the Stoney End, I never wanted to go, down the Stoney End, Mama, let me start all over, cradle me, Mama, cradle me again…”  

ELO_Time_expanded_album_cover“From the End of the World,” Electric Light Orchestra, 1981

ELO was known for its use of cellos and other orchrestral instruments in its elaborate arrangements of rock songs, so the concept LP “Time” was a bit of a departure with its techno-electronic leanings.  Jeff Lynne’s song cycle centered on a man from 1981 who traveled through time (or did he just dream it?) to 2095, where he was faced with the dichotomy of technological advancement amid longings for the nostalgia of simpler times.  The lyrics to this track were a letter he sent “from the end of the world” back to his 1981 girlfriend:  “You’re so hard to get to, you don’t want to play, I sent a dream to you last night from the end of the world…”

Achtung_Baby“Until the End of the World,” U2, 1991

Regarded by some as the best track on U2’s popular “Achtung Baby” album, this amazing song features some of The Edge’s most ferocious guitar riffing.  Bono conjured up some of the most searing lyrics in his whole catalog,  three thought-provoking verses about Judas Iscariot and Jesus’s final days, with references to The Last Supper, Judas’s betrayal and subsequent suicide. “We ate the food, we drank the wine, everybody was having a good time except you, you were talking about the end of the world…I reached out for the one I tried to destroy, you said you’d wait,’til the end of the world…”  

maxresdefault-5“The End of the World,” Skeeter Davis, 1962

An archetypal song of sadness and loss, this country tune was an enormous #2 hit on the pop charts in 1962 for Nashville artist Skeeter Davis, and produced by the legendary Chet Atkins.  It typified the early-’60s wholesome music that dominated the airwaves between the early rock ‘n roll pioneers (Elvis) and the arrival of The Beatles.  “The End of the World” — which was re-recorded by many artists over the years, including pop acts like Herman’s Hermits and The Carpenters — wonders why the world goes on after the loss of the singer’s true love:  “Why does my heart go on beating? Why do theses eyes of mine cry?  Don’t they know it’s the end of the world, it ended when you said goodbye…”

maxresdefault-6“End of the Season,” The Kinks, 1968

On the list of most underrated bands that should have been far more successful, The Kinks stand at the top of the heap.  They exploded out of the gates in America with fellow British bands The Beatles and The Stones, but then fell back into a more cult-like minor success, with fiercely loyal followers but rarely at the top of the charts again, even though they endured into the 1990s.  In the 1967 “Summer of Love” period, they released an unheralded masterpiece, “Something Else,” a consistently strong LP that included their classic “Waterloo Sunset” and the charming “End of the Season,” with poetic imagery of endings and death with hope of rebirth:  “Since you’ve been gone, end of the season, winter is here, close of play… I will keep waiting until your return, now you are gone, end of the season…”    

TheDoorsTheDoorsalbumcover“The End,” The Doors, 1967

This 12-minute opus from The Doors’ outstanding debut LP became their signature climax number in nearly every live concert they did.  Spooky, otherworldly, incendiary and nightmarish, “The End” gave Jim Morrison an opportunity to provide a little Greek theater into a rock song, with Oedipal themes of murder and forbidden sex.  It became widely used in films, TV programs and documentaries, most notably at the beginning and end of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 unhinged Vietnam odyssey, “Apocalypse Now.” Morrison was saying that people should embrace death because it brings the end of pain:   “This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end…” 

Don_Henley_-_The_End_of_the_Innocence“The End of the Innocence,” Don Henley, 1989

This brilliant piece, with music written by Bruce Hornsby and incisive lyrics by Henley, does an extraordinary job of evoking a powerful sense of nostalgia for the lost innocence of childhood and perhaps an easier time in our lives.  Henley had been co-founder and co-leader of The Eagles throughout the Seventies, but by this point, he was nearly a decade into his solo career and might have been pining a bit for the heady days of filling arenas and topping the charts.  The group would reunite four years later, but this song captures the uneasiness of uncertainty as to what the future may hold:  “Offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence…”

220px-Beatles_-_Abbey_Road“The End,” The Beatles, 1969

How fitting that the final track on the final album The Beatles recorded was called “The End.”  It concludes not only the astonishing eight-song medley that comprises much of Side Two (remember album sides?) of the “Abbey Road” LP, but also caps their unparalleled eight-year career as recording artists — 14 albums, 22 singles, 216 songs in total,  between June 1962 and August 1969.  “The End” is brief (2:05) but hugely memorable:  It includes Ringo’s one and only drum solo; it features a remarkable 18-bar guitar “solo” that is actually an interchange between McCartney, Harrison and Lennon trading licks, in that order, each three times; and it ends with the vintage line summing up their life philosophy:  “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Tom_Waits_-_Closing_Time-2“Closing Time,” Tom Waits, 1973

There are no words to this hauntingly lovely jazz piano piece that concludes Tom Waits’ remarkable debut LP of the same name from 1973.  And none are needed. The music evokes a feeling of a quiet tavern at 2:00 a.m., maybe in New York City or really anywhere at all.  The bartender has announced “last call” and is wiping down the bar and sweeping the floor, and it’s time for you to head on home.  A great way to conclude this poignant playlist…

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The sky is a hazy shade of winter

This entry concludes my series of four posts examining some of the great songs of the pop music culture celebrating the four seasons.  At this time of the winter solstice, we take a look at songs of winter.

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Spring has its songs of optimism and rebirth; summer serves up tunes about lazy days of fun in the sun; autumn provides music of dazzling colors and shifting emotions.

But winter… The songs that describe the cold, cruel months of winter seem to be riddled 12081616706_727675f990_bwith loneliness and angst, sadness and death.  The songs about winter, for the most part, are telling us that it’s a period to be not enjoyed but endured.  It’s the polar opposite of summer (pun intended), and lyricists have been keen to point that out.

When Joe Walsh was honing his chops in 1969 in Cleveland as guitarist of The James Gang, he wrote a splendid little song called “Collage” for the group’s “Yer Album” LP.  It included this devastating line comparing winter and summer:  “Wintertime is a razor blade that the devil made, it’s the price we pay for the summertime…”

In 1973, when Bruce Springsteen was still a struggling Jersey boy, writing and recording demos of dozens of songs that ended up unreleased, he came up with an extraordinary, quiet dirge called “Winter Song” (available on YouTube), with this brutal chorus:  “Summer’s sweet, and she brings me water, but give me Winter, that old icy whore, while Summer lies meek and follows orders, Winter says “me” and pulls me through the door…”

635861833670816810507191518_6670-perfect-snow-1920x1080-nature-wallpaperI’ve sifted through many dozens of songs about cold weather and surviving the winter months.  (The first song that came to my mind as I started this search was Foreigner’s 1977 hit “Cold as Ice,” but its lyrics are not about winter or cold weather — it’s really about an ice-in-her-veins woman who cruelly leaves her lovers and “will someday pay the price.”)

In any event, I’ve come up with a setlist of 15 tunes that offer a pretty decent smorgasbord of styles, artists and moods.   Feel free to follow along on the Spotify list below as we explore these recordings.  Enjoy!

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Mercuryfalling“The Hounds of Winter,” Sting, 1996

Many of the songs with winter imagery feature lyrics that focus on loneliness, breakups, loss and death, and this track by Sting is a good example.  As he was composing material in 1995 for his next album, his marriage was ending, which naturally became a dominant motif for his lyrics in that period, and the music in this particular song sounds haunting, even harrowing:  “Mercury falling, I rise from my bed, collect my thoughts together, I have to hold my head, it seems that she’s gone, and somehow I am pinned by the hounds of winter, howling in the wind…”

muddywaters1Cold Weather Blues,” Muddy Waters, 1964

Born McKinley Morganfield, the legendary Chicago bluesman better known as Muddy Waters began making records as early as 1941.  Most of the many singles he cut in the ’40s and ’50s showcased his original songs as performed on electric guitar.  In 1964, once his label started concentrating on albums, he recorded “Folk Singer,” which featured Waters on acoustic guitar instead.  This impressive track firmly states his preference for the warmer climes of his youth over the bitter cold of Chicago winters:  “Well, I’m going back down south where the weather suits my clothes… So cold up north, the birds can’t hardly fly, I’m going back south, and let this winter pass on by…”

Steve-Miller-Book-of-DreamsWinter Time,” Steve Miller Band, 1977

Miller was riding the crest of a commercial wave in 1977 when he released “Book of Dreams” following the successes of “The Joker” (1973) and “Fly Like an Eagle” (1976).  He had developed a knack for taking famous riffs or lyrics from other artists’ songs, tweaking them a bit, and making them his own.  In “Winter Time,” he lifted the opening line from The Mamas and Papas hit “California Dreamin'” — “All the leaves are brown” — and inserted it in the first verse.  It worked because it slides by almost unnoticed:  “In the winter time, when all the leaves are brown, and the wind blows so chill, and the birds have all flown for the summer, I’m calling, hear me calling…”

41ESEXDM75LSnowbound,” Genesis, 1978

This track was typical of the fanciful material the group recorded in the first few albums they recorded following the departure of enigmatic leader Peter Gabriel in 1975.  On “And Then There Were Three” (a reference to the recent exit of guitarist Steve Hackett), guitarist Mike Rutherford wrote this quirky yet compelling song that examines the rather existential life of a snowman, built by children for a few hours of fun, and then either torn down or left to sadly melt in the sun:  “Here in a ball that they made from the snow on the ground, see it rolling away, wild eyes to the sky, they’ll never never know, hey, what a snowman, pray for the snowman, ooh what a snowman, they say a snow year’s a good year filled with the love of all who lie so deep…”

1dbb7c7713f95a68d02552bd4ee599a6.600x600x1“Sometimes in Winter,” Blood, Sweat and Tears, 1968

Steve Katz, BS&T’s original guitarist and a former member of The Blues Project, wrote this wistful piece that captures the angst of a past relationship, and the still of a solitary walk on a cold night (“Sometimes in winter, I gaze into the street and walk through snow and city sleet behind your room…”).  It’s a deep track from the Grammy-winning Album of the Year (1969) that spawned three hits (“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die”) and sold seven million copies.

1200x630bb-6Out in the Cold,” Tom Petty & Heartbreakers, 1991

From the Heartbreakers “Into the Great Wide Open” LP that followed Petty’s solo smash “Full Moon Fever,” this song was one of several of that album’s tracks to receive radio attention, especially in L.A., which Petty found amusing, given the lack of cold weather there.  The lyrics give both literal and figurative references to how a broken relationship has left him on the outside feeling alone:  “I’m standing in a doorway, I’m out walking ’round, hands in my pockets, I’m out in the cold, body and soul, there’s nowhere to go…”

album-The-Doors-Waiting-for-the-SunWintertime Love,” Doors, 1968

Barely two minutes long, this unusual little waltz from The Doors’ third LP, “Waiting For the Sun,” shows the group attempting something outside their comfort zone and almost pulling it off.  Carried by Ray Manzarek’s trademark organ and Jim Morrison’s surprisingly delicate vocals, this track amounts to a love song to the singer’s wintertime lover, and although they probably could’ve improved on it with a few more takes, it holds a certain charm.

R-2699268-1297083452.jpegThe Blizzard,” Judy Collins, 1989

Originally a Greenwich Village folk singer next to Joan Baez and Tom Paxton, Collins evolved to include a diverse palette of genres in her repertoire, and she emerged as a fine songwriter in her own right.  Her peak period (1966-1976) long past, she surprised everyone in 1990 with a stunning LP, “Fires of Eden,” which includes the seven-minute story-song “The Blizzard,” which tells the tale of a woman driving alone through the Colorado mountains and having to wait out a snowstorm at a lonely diner with two strangers.  A gorgeous piano melody, coupled with Collins’s magnificent voice, transports the listener to the roadside diner in the mountains.

crstofaknaveDogs in the Midwinter,” Jethro Tull, 1987

On their celebrated comeback album “Crest of a Knave,” Ian Anderson and the boys came up with some particularly strong songs that recalled the band’s peak ’70s period.  Anderson offered a couple of tracks with lyrics that addressed social issues like the environment (“Farm on the Freeway”) and political corruption (“Dogs in the Midwinter”).  The latter draws an analogy between the daily battles we face to get by in a tough world and the desperate nature of wild dogs trying to survive another winter:  “The boss man and the tax man and the moneylenders growl, like dogs in the midwinter, the weaker of the herd can feel their eyes and hear them howl, like dogs in the midwinter…”

Grand_Funk_(album_cover)Winter and My Soul,” Grand Funk Railroad, 1969

As rock and roll was evolving into rock in the late ’60s, bands were beginning to stretch out, taking what had been three-minute pieces and making them into groove jams that went on for six, eight, ten minutes.  Grand Funk was one of these groups, led by guitartist/singer Mark Farner, and this deep track from their “Grand Funk” LP (known as “The Red Album”) sounds like a prototype for grunge bands like Pearl Jam:  “Cold is the snow that will cover the ground, I feel the presence of tears falling down… Winter brings sadness that empties my soul, life is too short for a dog growing old…”

More AxeLong Long Winter,” Bob Marley and The Wailers, 1969/2000

Long before Marley became the international ambassador of reggae music, he was merely a struggling musician in the ghettos of Jamaica, eager to write songs and play with any group who would have him.  One of those was an early version of The Wailers with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, who also did many dozens of collaborative recordings in the late 1960s with The Upsetters from another record label.  Many of these were shelved and never saw the light of day until the 1998-2002 period, twenty years after Marley’s death, when “The Complete Bob Marley” series of Box Sets was released.  Hidden in Part 2, Volume 6 is “Long, Long Winter,” a lament about a lady’s departure as the winter months are beginning:  “That girl is gone from me, left my heart in misery, it’s gonna be a long long winter for me, a long long winter, you’ll see…”

7c57637b2955830c18925fa7a96e4eac.1000x990x1December Snow,” The Moody Blues, 2003

The marvelous Moodies, about to finally be tardily inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this winter, have a stellar catalog of albums from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s but not much since.  Their last work, the 2003 LP “December,” is a Christmas-themed album that includes a few originals among holiday standards.  The best of the bunch is Justin Hayward’s “December Snow,” a lovely track that combines languid guitar solos, dominant piano and Hayward’s smooth voice into a typical Moodies sound.

R-707930-1495439278-7720.jpegA Hazy Shade of Winter,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1966

Famous for his uncannily descriptive lyrics, even in his early years, Simon came up with this catchy, upbeat tune that pinpoints the restless feelings of discontent that comes on a grey winter day when it feels like it’s about to snow:  “Look around, leaves are brown, and the sky is a hazy shade of winter…  Ah, seasons change with the scenery, weaving time in a tapestry, won’t you stop and remember me…”  Simon and Garfunkel’s version peaked at #13 and eventually appeared on their “Bookends” LP in 1968.  Younger listeners may be more familiar with the cover by The Bangles, which reached #2 in 1987.

The_Rolling_Stones_-_Goats_Head_Soup“Winter,” The Rolling Stones, 1973

Following the spectacular four-album run of “Beggar’s Banquet,” “Let It Bleed,” “Stickly Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street,” the Stones were due for a dry patch, and Goat’s Head Soup” was certainly a lesser work than its predecessors.  But there are a few great tracks, including this slow, emotional song that builds into a full production with a fine vocal performance from Mick Jagger.  It’s really about how the singer has somehow survived a tough winter:  “And it’s sure been a cold, cold winter, and the wind ain’t seen blowin’ from the south, it’s sure been a cold, cold winter, and a lot of love is all burned out, and it’s sure been a hard, hard winter, my feet been dragging ‘cross the ground…”  

apostropheDon’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” Frank Zappa, 1974

Zappa was America’s most trailblazing iconoclast, a fiercely independent dude whose repertoire — with his band, The Mothers of Invention, and on his solo albums — broke rules, smashed barriers and tested taboos in both music and lyrics.  On “Apostrophe,” his highest-charting album (#10) during a brief period of commercial success, he offered a bizarrely amusing four-song suite based on a dream he had in which he was an Eskimo named Nanook.  The first part includes a warning from his mother:  “Watch out where the huskies go, don’t you eat that yellow snow…” 

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Honorable Mention:

Snowbound,” Donald Fagen, 1993;  “Cold Rain and Snow,” The Grateful Dead, 1967; “In the Cold, Cold Night,” The White Stripes, 2003;  “Winter Song,” Bruce Springsteen, 1973;  “Trapped Under Ice,” Metallica;  “Snow Outside,” Dave Matthews, 2012;  “Come In From the Cold,” Joni Mitchell, 1990;  “15 Feet of Pure White Snow,” Nick Cave & Bad Seeds, 2001;  “A Long December,” Counting Crows, 1996;  “Winter,” Joshua Radin, 2006;  “Cold Cold Ground,” Tom Waits, 1987;  “Winter Holidays,” America, 2001; “Out in the Cold,” Judas Priest, 1986.