For at least 20 years, I’ve made lists of my favorite albums, athletes, movies, directors, and so on. These lists are for no one in particular, except for the small, insecure man buried deep inside me who’s trying to escape and prove that he’s the world’s foremost authority on everything. I try not to psychoanalyze why I spend countless hours debating with myself on who merits a higher place on my albums list for bands named after animals. Should I really rank Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica ahead of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle and Def Leppard’s Pyromania? And should I even bother to include The Beatles?
An ingenious idea for such a list dawned on me recently. It centered around the final songs on albums. It’s easy to step your way through rock or popular music since the 1950’s and pick out all of the amazing, influential, legendary, and head-spinning songs that open an album, but what about the songs that conclude an album? The one track that wraps everything up in a nice, tidy bow and adds an air of finality to the listening experience. In short, what are the greatest album closers of all time?
To really dive deep into this concept, I have to speak a little about the state of the “album” in present day. For all intents and purposes, it’s dead. There are still some artists who seem to respect the art form for what it is and what it can still convey to the listener. But, for the most part, we now have artists who feel the need to fill up as much as the 78 minutes and 59 seconds allotted on a CD (a bit archaic in this day and age, I know, but that’s what I’m using as my time measuring stick). An album should be no more than 45 minutes; roughly 10 to 12 songs. Nowadays, artists seem to stuff every album with a few “hits” and the rest is just filler. 60 minutes of drivel that barely belongs on a B-sides collection.
When albums go beyond 45 minutes, it’s a struggle just to get to the closing song. Therefore, many albums seem to end with a whimper instead of a bang. A closing song should be a top priority when constructing and properly sequencing an album. It is necessary to end the listening experience with the desired effect. When you just throw a bunch of random songs together without consideration for the proper closing song, you struggle to leave a lasting impact. The great ones punctuate the album. They usually leave you wanting more. Think of it like a movie director. What do you want the ending of the story to convey? Happiness, sadness, confusion, rage, sympathy, longing? The closing song is just as important as the first song in many ways.
So, as I perused my music collection for my favorite and most memorable album closing songs, I naturally thought of baseball. Perfectly logical, right? Doesn’t everyone think of America’s pastime when they’re pondering the meaning of the last song on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours? I thought it might be a gas to match some of the great and memorable album closing songs with some of the great and memorable relief pitchers they most closely resemble. All closers, of course.
A couple of ground rules. Each song I chose had to be a song I genuinely enjoyed and met the criteria of a great album closer outlined earlier. I didn’t have any interest in trying to find songs that would match great relievers just for the hell of it. I chose the songs first, then the relievers, not the other way around. Otherwise “Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War would be matched with Willie Hernandez in a heart beat, but I’m sick of that song. So, without further ado, my favorite album closing songs by reliever.
“Tush” by ZZ Top from the 1975 album Fandango
Closers: Bruce Sutter / Rich “Goose” Gossage / Rollie Fingers
These relievers may not have had the chest-length beards of ZZ Top, but they clearly endured the entire decade without a razor coming within 60 feet, 6 inches of their upper lip. ZZ Top was in their prime during the 1970s just like these three relievers. You can keep “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man” from the 1980s, I’ll take “Tush”. Truth be told, I don’t listen to much ZZ Top, but I’ve always had a thing for this song. Maybe because it was in the movie Dazed and Confused, who knows. I do know that the later ZZ Top music doesn’t hold a candle to the cooler, boogie-rock shit from the 1970s. The 1980s and beyond for them has paled in comparison and, as a result, they’re relegated to playing the 70s classics for eternity in state fairs around the country.
Similarly, you can keep Goose the Padre, Rollie the Brewer, and Bruce the Cardinal. They were good, but they were never as cool as Goose the Yankee, Rollie the Athletic, and Bruce the Cub (maybe that’s stretch, but I went with it).
“B-Boy Bouillabaisse” by the Beastie Boys from the 1989 album Paul’s Boutique
Closer: Norm Charlton / Randy Myers / Rob Dibble
It would have been more appropriate to pick someone from the Mets, but we’ll take care of that later. Paul’s Boutique, 21 years later, is still at the top of my list of favorite albums ever. It’s an otherworldly experience and a gift that keeps on giving. I continue to be surprised at the countless samples and lyrical references to this day. “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” may have been the first rap opera (in the loosest sense of the term). It’s over 12 minutes and consists of 9 distinct sections, or mini-songs. Think Side 2 of The Beatles Abbey Road. It’s incredibly ambitious and original, just like the album itself, and its place in music lore is secure. It sounds like no other album ever made.
Another trio, the Nasty Boys, a.k.a. Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble, began their reign with the Cincinnati Reds right around the same time. It culminated with a World Series title in 1990. Together, they had 44 saves that season and pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the World Series against the mighty A’s. Not perfect, but as close as you can get. Just like the Beastie Boys.
“On Fire” by Van Halen from the 1978 album Van Halen
Closer: Mitch Williams / Rod Beck
I guess with Mitch Williams and Rod Beck’s long hair, I could have also picked “Beautiful Girls” from Van Halen II, but I went with the closing song from one of the best hard rock debut albums ever. Seriously, who doesn’t know every song on the first Van Halen album? They’re all killer songs. Alex and Michael sustaining the groove, Eddie shredding on guitar like an alien from another planet, and David Lee Roth, the ultimate front man. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. When Mitch Williams and Rod Beck came into a game, hair flying all over the place, you couldn’t take your eyes off them either. You knew you were going to be entertained.
“Snow Days” by Real Estate from the 2009 album Real Estate
“The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” by Vampire Weekend from the 2008 album Vampire Weekend
Closer: Joakim Soria
I’ve already gone on record to say that I think, in many ways, the “album” format is in serious decline. Thankfully, it hasn’t affected all younger bands. Real Estate, who hasn’t gotten 1/4 of the press and exposure that Vampire Weekend has received, released their debut album late last year. It has continued to grow on me. It’s a solid, cohesive work and I look forward to seeing and hearing how this group progresses. “Snow Days” is a heartwarming song. As for Vampire Weekend, despite the mountains of adoration (and scorn), they still understand the concept of an album. They have no filler and have distilled their work to its essence. “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” is a worthy closer to their debut.
For those not paying to Joakim Soria, and why would you, he’s the current closer for the Kansas City Royals. Here’s what he’s averaged in his first 4 seasons: 38 saves; 2.01 ERA; .197 batting average against. For the Kansas City Royals. He’s more Real Estate than Vampire Weekend now, but soon he may be U2 or Radiohead if he keeps up this pace.
“Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac from the 1976 album Rumours
“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” by Neil Young from the 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps
Closer: Steve Howe
Legend has it that Stevie Nicks, who wrote and sang “Gold Dust Woman”, did so much cocaine in the 1970’s that she burned a dime-sized hole in her nasal membrane.
Legend has it Neil Young’s live performance for the film The Last Waltz had to be meticulously edited by Martin Scorsese to hide a huge coke booger sticking out of his Neil’s nostril.
Legend has it that Steve Howe, who was suspended seven times over the course of his 17-year career for multiple cocaine abuses, had to be physically restrained from snorting up the first base line on a nightly basis. He also shares the same name with the guitarist from Yes and Asia, which should excuse him from 4 of the 7 suspensions if you ask me.
“One Kind of Lullaby” by Space Needle from the 1997 album The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle
Closer: Dave Righetti
This is strictly for one of my childhood friends who was the guitarist for a band called Space Needle. We grew up together in East Northport, NY. Space Needle released two albums with Zero Hour Records and broke up in 1997.
In my life, there have been three major influences on my musical tastes. My father, who helped introduce me to the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Steppenwolf, and WCBS Radio in New York; my cousins from Williamsport, PA who introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and The Sugarhill Gang; and the guitarist from Space Needle who introduced me to more bands than I can even count. He was also an amazing athlete, particularly as a pitcher, and was drafted by the Blue Jays in 1990. I remember going to his house shortly after he was drafted and he took particularly glee in showing me the draft paperwork sent to him from then-GM Pat Gillick.
If I remember correctly, Dave Righetti was one of his favorite pitchers. I don’t know how true this is, but someone told me years later that he played in an exhibition in Yankee Stadium shortly after being drafted. He was sitting in the dugout and carved “Dave Righetti is God” into the bench. I haven’t seen or talked to him in over 15 years, but I still think about him often.
“From the Morning” by Nick Drake from the 1972 album Pink Moon
“E.M.I.” by The Sex Pistols from the 1977 album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Closer: Bobby Thigpen
This may be the only time Nick Drake would ever be paired up with The Sex Pistols. The only point in pairing these two diametrically opposed artists is to make the point that sometimes the greats are here and gone before we even realize what happened. And also to acknowledge these two songs. Hardly anyone knew Drake when he was alive and active. Now, everyone knows his music. You can hear it on every third TV commercial. I will not acknowledge any of The Sex Pistols musical activities in the 1990s and beyond. As far as I’m concerned, they died on a January night in 1978 in San Francisco, right after Johnny Rotten asked the audience if they’ve ever had the feeling they’d been cheated. “E.M.I.” was the final middle finger in an album full of them.
Like Drake and The Pistols, Bobby Thigpen was the Keyser Soze of baseball closers. He had a 4-year period from 1988 to 1991 where he was lights out as a closer, including a then-record 57 saves in 1990. Then, after 1992, poof, he was gone.
“Night Prowler” by AC/DC from the 1979 album Highway to Hell
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon
“When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin from the 1971 album Led Zeppelin IV
“The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin from the 1973 album Houses of the Holy
Closer: Jesse Orosco
One night, when I was a freshman at Ithaca College in 1991, we were hanging out in someone’s dorm room, drinking beers, and listening to Houses of the Holy. “The Ocean” came on after the demonic “No Quarter”. I still remember one guy sitting on someone’s bed with a sudden look of recognition on his face, when he said, with all seriousness, “Hey, they stole this from “She’s Crafty”.
My guess is he wasn’t alone in thinking that the Beastie Boys came up those juicy musical bits on their 1986 album Licensed to Ill all on their own. This was probably one of the first examples where a large percentage of people recognized the sampled version of a song well before knowing the original. It’s much more prevalent now, but it wasn’t in 1986.
A funny story, but it doesn’t change the impact of these two songs, on back-to-back albums, one bit. “When the Levee Breaks” is my favorite song on Led Zeppelin IV. Rick Rubin and the Beasties couldn’t have picked a better drum beat to open their album. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun, upbeat song in the Zeppelin catalog than “The Ocean”.
Jesse Orosco didn’t borrow liberally from Led Zeppelin or sample anyone else’s work. All he did was help lead the Beastie Boys’ beloved New York Mets to its last World Series title in 1986. If there was one musical group in 1986 who acted as crazy and reckless on the road as the New York Mets (read the Jeff Pearlman book about the 1986 Mets called The Bad Guys Won!), it was the Beastie Boys. Who did they take their partying cues from? Led Zeppelin, of course. Just for fun, read the Stephen Davis book about Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods and pretend its all true. It comes full circle.
“One in a Million” by Guns N’ Roses from the 1988 album G N’ R Lies
Closer: John Rocker
This one’s tough. If Axl Rose could just change his lyrics from his anger and vitriol, this would be an amazing song. Musically, it’s a winner, but the lyrics…ouch babe.
Here’s an example of what kills “One in a Million”:
“Police and ni####s, that’s right, get out of my way / Don’t need to buy none of your gold chains today”
Or this gem:
“Immigrants and faggots, they make no sense to me / They come to our country and think they’ll do as they please / Like start some mini-Iran or spread some fucking disease / They talk so many goddamn ways it’s all Greek to me”
Which brings us to the legendary Atlanta Braves closer, John Rocker. This was the easiest match of the group. Here’s John Rocker, in 1999, on the possibility of playing for a New York team:
“I would retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the Number 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”
My guess is that John Rocker was one of the millions who bought this in 1988 and identified with the lyrics without listening to the music.
“Criminally Insane” by Slayer from the 1986 album Reign in Blood
Closers: Ugueth Urtain Urbina / Francisco Rodriguez
If you want full-on speed, rage, and aggression in musical form, there is no one better than Slayer. I rarely listen to Reign in Blood in public for fear of alienating my friends and neighbors. With headphones on, it makes for a perfect workout companion. The speed-metal kings don’t let up for a second. No ballads to be found, not even a hint of one. “Criminally Insane” may be the best song on the album, although, I’ll admit to taking a bit of creative liberty with this one. This is only now the closing song on the more recent editions of Reign in Blood, but this is my list and I say I can break the rule just once.
Lucky for me, we have two closers who embody the spirit of the song. First is Francisco Rodriguez, who holds the record for most saves in a season with 62. In August, K-Rod attacked his girlfriend’s father after he supposedly talked shit about his mama. He was arrested, but continued to pester his girlfriend with text messages. He’s still facing seven counts of criminal contempt.
He has nothing on Ugueth Urtain Urbina. Urbina was the only player in major league history with the initials, U.U.U. That’s not all that makes him unique. Following his 11 seasons and 237 saves with six different teams, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison in his home country of Venezuela for attacking workers on his farm with a machete and trying to burn them with gasoline after accusing them of stealing a gun. I know they used to call relievers “firemen”, but Uggie takes it to another level.
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem from the 2008 album Sound of Silver
Closer: Byung-Hyun Kim
This may be too cruel, but I’m doing it anyhow. LCD Soundsystem, a.k.a. James Murphy has helped warm me to indie dance music over the last few years. Since 2005, he’s progressed from a mixture of hardcore dance, indie-rock, frat-boy music to a pretty damn good David Bowie imitator, circa 1977-1978 in Berlin right after his coke-fueled golden years. “New York, I Love You” is about disappointment in a city that was once great, but has lost its charm with its modern reincarnation. It’s a simple, quiet, powerful song that, looking back, was a perfect lead-in to this year’s excellent This is Happening album.
I wouldn’t say Byung-Hyun Kim is disappointed in New York as much as he avoids any thoughts of it from entering his head for fear of going bat-shit crazy. He will always and forever be known to baseball fans as the poor guy from South Korea, who, on back-to-back nights, gave up two of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history to the Yankees in 2001. In Game 4, he was ahead by 2 runs in the 9th inning with 2 outs. Tino Martinez ties the game with a homer and the Yankees eventually won. The same exact thing happened the next night, except with Scott Brosius supplying the heart-stopping homer this time. As absolute pandemonium and mass hysteria was going on around him in Yankees Stadium, poor Byung-Hyun Kim looked like a 7-year-old boy who just heard that his puppy was run over by a truck. You were watching a guy’s worst nightmare come to life on national TV, live from New York. You couldn’t help but feel for the guy. Lucky for him, his Diamondbacks came back and won Game 7 to take the Series to help relieve some of his pain. For my money, the 2001 World Series was the best, most dramatic, and most suspenseful World Series I’ve ever seen. And I say that even though my team lost.
“Soul Survivor” by The Rolling Stones from the 1972 album Exile on Main Street
Closers: Dennis Eckersley / Brad Lidge
Every year for Christmas, when we were growing up in East Northport, NY, my paren— I mean Santa Claus, used to put our stockings at the foot of our bed late Christmas Eve night. At some point, around 2 or 3 in the morning, my sister, brother and I would quietly get out of bed, gather in my room, and open the stocking gifts before the big gifts later in the morning. The stocking gifts would usually be small toys or candy. One year, we got these little two-inch, miniature vinyl album covers that had gum inside of the package that was shaped like a record. I still remember mine was Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones. My only exposure to The Stones, at the time, was “Start Me Up”. Other than that, I didn’t really know their music. I couldn’t stop staring at that little album cover, though, especially the guy with the three ping-pong balls in his mouth.
I didn’t listen to the actual album until a few years later. My initial impression was that there were no real hits or standout songs. It’s since grown on me immeasurably. In a lot of ways, Exile may be the perfect rock ‘n roll album. It’s hard to come up with another album with as much scope, range, guts, richness, and sustainability as this one. “Soul Survivor” is the perfect capper.
Dennis Eckersley and Brad Lidge, like Mr. Kim, gave up a couple of absolutely legendary dingers in playoff and World Series situations. Eckersley’s hanging slider in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was poked, with one arm, into the right field stands of Dodger Stadium by a hobbled Kirk Gibson to secure his status as a baseball legend (I’ll bet not a day goes by without someone bringing that home run up to Gibson). Lidge also hung a slider to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS, but Pujols did more than poke it. He hit it so far that it almost knocked the wall down beyond left field in Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
Both Eckersley and Lidge came back and helped their teams eventually win a World Series and erase some of the sting from those home runs. Eckersley helped the A’s win in 1989 and Lidge did the same for the Phillies when they won it all in 2008.
“Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan from the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited
“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” by Bob Dylan from the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde
“Highlands” by Bob Dylan from the 1997 album Time Out of Mind
Closer: Trevor Hoffman
I’m racking my brain, but I can’t think of a musical artist who’s remained current and relevant over a longer period of time than Bob Dylan. He’s had his moments, especially through much of the 1980s, where he floundered a bit, but his last 3 or 4 albums, starting with Time Out of Mind in 1997, have all showed that he’s regained his creativity. The Rolling Stones probably come close from a live standpoint, but you wouldn’t consider any of their studio albums since 1981’s Tattoo You to be a musical peak. Honestly, does anyone still listen to Dirty Work, Steel Wheels, or Bridges to Babylon? I didn’t think so. Paul McCartney? No. The Who? No. Led Zeppelin? No. U2? They’re getting there, but they have about 20 years to go.
Dylan has been at or near the top of the artistic and creative heap for almost 50 years now. These 3 songs span the early and late Dylan at his most ambitious and lengthy. The shortest song here is 11 minutes 20 seconds long.
Trevor Hoffman recorded his 1st save in 1993; he recorded his 600th save earlier this year. He’s clearly slowing down, but, like Dylan and his music, Hoffman’s career as a closer has remained relevant for longer than almost anyone else.
“A Day in the Life” by The Beatles from the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix from the 1968 album Electric Ladyland
“Moonlight Mile” by The Rolling Stones from the 1971 album Sticky Fingers
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who from the 1971 album Who’s Next
“Radio, Radio” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions from the 1978 album This Year’s Model
Closer: Mariano Rivera
These are the best 5 album closing songs ever (in my opinion, of course). I can even make a case that these may be the best songs ever for each of the artists listed.
“A Day in the Life” may be the best of the bunch and I don’t know what more I can add to describe its place in music history. It is the definition of an album closing song.
“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” has the best lyric/music combination ever when Jimi Hendrix so coolly says,
“Well, I stand up next to a mountain / And I chop it down with the edge of my hand”.
“Moonlight Mile” may not be as well known as the others, but, to me, it’s the sound of The Rolling Stones stopping and taking a deep breath in the middle of the madness and brilliance of their creative high point. The 4-year span between 1968 and 1972 included many of their greatest and most popular songs. This song usually isn’t included, but it should be.
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a master work with the great howl at the end. Along with “Baba O’Riley”, it perfectly bookends Who’s Next. The Who’s cring-inducing performance of this song at last year’s Super Bowl almost ruined this song for me. As they approached the climatic part, you could see Roger Daltrey getting ready, psyching himself up, and I’m thinking, if he nails this part, he’s a freaking god. And then, when it’s time to scream, he inhales and makes like he’s letting loose, but it’s clear that it’s artificially enhanced and pre-recorded. It looked and sounded like a bad English dub of an old Japanese Godzilla movie. It was painful to watch and listen to, but it still doesn’t change the impact of the studio version.
The rebellious spirit, tempo, attitude, and joy of “Radio, Radio” can cure worldwide depression. When this comes on, you want to grab a drink, start bobbing up and down, yell, and slam into each other. Elvis Costello’s skewering lyrics about the radio industry are even more relevant today than they were back in 1978.
“And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools / Tryin’ to anaesthetize the way that you feel.”
Wonderful radio, marvelous radio.
Mariano Rivera is the best closer ever. There are only a handful of athletes that you can say, almost universally, are the best ever, either in their sport or position. Jerry Rice at wide receiver, Michael Phelps, Wayne Gretzky, Johnny Bench at catcher, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, if he can find his game soon. There are probably a handful of others, but you can lock Rivera in at closer. 559 regular season saves to date, but he’s a freaking witch doctor when it’s postseason time. 8-1 record; 0.74 ERA; 39 saves in 88 appearances. Case closed. He’s got five World Series ring, one for each song here. Maybe, we’ll have to add a 6th song in a few weeks. Nothing like saving the best for last.