The beloved 213-song discography of The Beatles has inspired many a barstool argument. Who was the better songwriter, John or Paul? Which of the group’s albums best captured them at the peak of their talent and creativity — Rubber Soul, Revolver or Sgt. Pepper? What was their best single? Their most underrated song? The most obscure? And so on.
A relatively rare topic of Beatles debate, as measured by Google/Bing search results, is that of their song endings. Those who, like me, battled their acne listening to Top 40 Radio will recall that most 1960s pop songs ended either by: (a) repeating the chorus and fading out, or (b) building to a climactic finale on the home key. The Beatles mostly adhered to this formula in their early years, but their creative restlessness led them to explore other ways to end their songs — some for better, some not. Since you asked, I here offer my take on the nine most regrettable and the nine strongest song endings by the Fab Four.
In the spirit of Fair Use, I have included a sample of each ending to serve as a memory jog. And for the sake of shorter page-load time, I have split this article into two parts, the first of which (below) deals with the unhappy endings.
9 Most Regrettable Beatles Song Endings
A regrettable ending to a Beatles song is one that detracts from or is discordant with an otherwise respectable work. While one could argue that their “bad” songs, by definition, must have “bad” endings, I prefer to make a cleaner distinction. So this list is mostly a chronicle of dashed expectations in Beatles songs when one compares their beginnings to their ends.
9 • Revolution 9
Revolution 9, from the White Album, is not one of my better-liked Beatles tracks, not by a long shot. But its ending is on my regrettable list because — even after one accepts Rev 9 as the Lennon/Ono indulgence that it is — its endlessly-repeated-to-fade “block that kick” (with stereo panning no less) is just so boring and anticlimactic after the eight minutes of chaos that preceded it.
I think John and Yoko lost interest in the song and just ended it this way in a drug haze, thinking it was great. By that time, producer George Martin was not in a mood to argue.
8 • Long, Long, Long
George Harrison’s Long, Long, Long, one of the last tracks recorded for the White Album, was another example of an unconventional song paired with an odd ending. Recalling that ending, George Martin’s assistant Chris Thomas said: “There’s a sound near the end of the song which is a bottle of … wine rattling away on top of a Leslie speaker cabinet. It just happened. Paul hit a certain note and the bottle started vibrating. We thought it was so good that we set the mikes up and did it again.”
Okay, a vibrating bottle might qualify as “found music” but the bizarre sonic melding of locomotive effects and siren-like moans in the final 30 seconds all but destroyed the mood that Long, Long, Long had laboriously tried to establish. No figuring this one.
7 • Dig It
In which the Beatles no longer take making good music seriously. Hard to imagine that the ending of this John-led jam (from the 1969 Let It Be sessions) could possibly be worse than the crap that preceded it, but the Beatles were just great enough to pull that feat off. Hearing this one always makes me cringe.
Regarding endings, the Let It Be album was overall a lousy way to end their career. I have the 2009 box set, and the only time I have played the Let It Be disc was to record this clip.
6 • Her Majesty
It’s not so much the ending of this song — “an A-natural on the second beat of the final measure” according to Alan W. Pollack — that I dislike, but the fact that a solo snippet of Paul’s would conclude the Abbey Road album and, as such, the group’s recording career.
Besides, everything about this ditty — including the ending — is too cute by half.
5 • Another Girl
Another Girl, a McCartney song from the 1965 Help! album, served as a pleasant-enough addition to the film’s soundtrack, in spite of Paul’s all-too-intrusive lead-guitar noodling. The dashed-expectations part, and the reason this ending makes this list, is Paul’s insisting on noodling along aimlessly well after the others have stopped playing. Sure, it’s different, but it wrongly puts emphasis on the weakest part of the song.
4 • I’m A Loser
I’m very partial to I’m A Loser, recorded in August 1964 and released on Beatles for Sale, especially its opening vocal and the driving chorus. John’s refrain “…and I’m not what I appear to be…” presaged his later introspective works Help! and Nowhere Man. But a song of such strength deserved a better ending. Its relatively weak instrumental bridge, with harmonica wails and country guitar stylings, was simply carried over to the fade-out. A lost opportunity in retrospect.
Plus: George Harrison hits a note (B-flat) in his solo that, in its musical context (G major), just doesn’t work. It always sounds jarring and amateurish to me, like something I would have played in college. I suppose, being that I’m A Loser was recorded in 1964 and George was 21 at the time, maybe I should cut the guy a break.
3 • Tomorrow Never Knows
The old-timey piano part that closes Tomorrow Never Knows (from Revolver, 1966) just doesn’t belong. Nowhere in the song until the very end does a piano part appear. And the style of the playing — well, maybe if the piano had been played backwards? Overall, this was a slapdash way to end such a work, maybe the first example of the Beatles effectively declaring, “Don’t take anything you’ve just heard seriously.”
2 • Within You, Without You
If the Tomorrow Never Knows ending was the first example of the Beatles undermining their own work, then the canned laughter that concluded Within You, Without You (from Sgt. Pepper) was clearly the next. As to the laughter, I never bought into the explanation that George Harrison offered Hunter Davies: “Well, after all that long Indian stuff, you want some light relief. You haven’t got to take it all that seriously.” My guess is that the group was, at that time, more interested in avoiding pretension than allowing their songs to be what they were.
1 • Glass Onion
The most regrettable Beatles song ending, based on my stark disappointment in how the song grabs you but then drops you like a rock, is the death-march string section tacked onto Glass Onion. I still find it hard to swallow this act of sabotage. You ask, how else could they have ended it? Well, they were The Beatles. They could have and should have thought of something… else.
So those are my nominees for The Beatles nine worst song endings. I’ll share my choices for their best endings in the next few days. Stay tuned — and in the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts.