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.
We 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!
End 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.
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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…”
“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.”
“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…