Tuesday, March 05, 2002

One thing I really miss in modern popular music is the "satisfying ending". The rise of radio as a lucrative transmission medium brought about the extinction of most song endings. Radio stations try to limit or remove all dead air from their broadcasts, so most employ the practice of fading in a new song as the old one fades out. Fewer modern arrangers use endings at all now, since they'll most likely never be heard on the radio.

Songs that stop but don't end tend to fall into two major categories. The first type concludes on a neverending vamp which gradually fades into obscurity, as if the writers knew they had something catchy but couldn't figure out a clever way to end (think KISS and "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night"). The second type just picks a random spot and stops, most often on an unstable metric beat or at the end of an antecedent phrase, leaving the listener "hanging". These songs can hide behind "artistic expression" as their reason for a stupid ending.

Type one songs can (and often do) mutate into type two songs when the band is lucky enough to be popular and go on tour. Obviously when live, the band can't just fade out (although there are some band that probably should, permanently), so by necessity they just have to stop somewhere. My guess is that the lead singer chooses the stopping point for his own benefit, so he can shout that first line once more and look "cool".

Of course, there are tons of examples of music from the past fifty years that have solid endings, like much of the work by Kansas, Tower of Power, and Dave Matthews. Many of the more modern examples of endings tend to be by groups inspired in part by jazz and the big bands. It seems that groups with a stronger instrumental drive choose to end more than singers with backup bands.

I could be a theoretical musicologist, except they're probably not allowed to use the word 'stupid' in a thesis.

A story from the "Absurdity in Airport Security" file

Tourist: "How do I get to Natural Airport?"
DC Resident: "Excuse me, do you mean 'National Airport'?"
Tourist: "Uh, I thought it was 'Natural,' like it was just natural -- you know, they didn't have to build anything."

- recounted in Bob Levey's Washington

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