In my last post, I listed the nine most regrettable endings of the 200-plus songs recorded by The Beatles. Because, as even their most devout fan must admit, Beatles song endings were not all Good Day Sunshine — some of them were sheer Misery.
But now I’ll flip the record and play the A-side, the Getting Better side. Let’s turn to the Fab Four’s nine best song endings, the ones that served to define their sound and deliver their message. And yes, I think the Beatles had a message, though the band often insisted otherwise. In their best years, their message was hopeful and affirming — the Secret that you and I desperately wanted to know.
Again, in the name of Fair Use, I offer a sample of each song ending to refresh memories. Some of these samples last a minute or more, out of necessity.
The 9 Quintessential Beatles Song Endings
A quintessential ending to a Beatles song is one that not only adds something special to the work but marks it as their own, a signature of sorts. So here is my list of the songs whose endings best typify the band, their talents and their times. (Album titles and recording dates are in parentheses.)
9 • Lovely Rita (Sgt. Pepper, March 1967)
You know, it didn’t come easy deciding which Beatles song ending deserved the No. 9 spot. But, in the end, after considering the psychedelic coda to Flying and the animal stampede rounding up Good Morning Good Morning, I selected the echoey ending to Lovely Rita. What I like about this ending is the nearly-seamless transition from a mostly major-chord song body to the ominous minor-key piano wanderings. Maybe the band overdid it a little with the Zappa-esque moans and groans, but it did give the album some of its character.
8 • Cry Baby Cry (White Album,September 1968)
Two elegant things about this ending. First, the ambiguous E-minor-fourth chord (with Paul singing a high minor-third) that accompanies the final “cry“, immediately followed by a barely-audible E-flat piano note… this casts a sad, mysterious spin on what preceded. Then, after a short pause, the untitled 28-second clip of Paul’s Can You Take Me Back? with John and Ringo adding percussion. I’ve heard it so often that I’ve lost perspective, but this ending just seems to fit Cry Baby Cry as if the song had been written this way.
My only regret is that this ending leads to the tedious and badly-focused Revolution9.
7 • Hey Bulldog (Yellow Submarine, February 1968)
My favorite thing about the ending to Hey Bulldog (an extended clip was necessary here) is the fun the Beatles seemed to have while making it. Catch the promo video if you can. John and Paul appear to play off/encourage each other, for perhaps the last time.
The Beatles Bible provides context for the state of affairs when Hey Bulldog was recorded, just before the band made their transformative visit to India : “[Hey Bulldog was] cited by The Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick as one of their final true group efforts, with equal contributions from all… Following their Indian jaunt, The Beatles’ sense of togetherness began to sour; they tended to work separately, with increasingly frequent disagreements which eventually led to their split.”
So, I list this ending because, in retrospect, it feels like the end of The Beatles’ second act.
6 • Dear Prudence (White Album, August 1968)
The highlights of this ending — starting with the final refrain — are (1) Paul’s (not Ringo’s) inspired, syncopated drumming, (2) the two piano chords that fill a musical hole after the final “Dear Prudence” and (3) the gentle, circular guitar stylings that close the song the same way it began. Very stirring, very moving, very pretty. I had always thought this was Ringo’s most inventive drumming until I learned who actually played that part and why.
5 • I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road, August 1969)
I’m not doing justice to I Want You by sampling only the last 30 seconds of the ending, as the power of its abrupt finish comes from being immersed in it so long that one loses track of time. The five-measure chord progression is cut short on its 15th repetition, if anyone is counting — and I had to count twice because I wasn’t sure I got it right the first time.
I’m disappointed that recent remixes of this song seem to have upped the volume of the synthesizer whooshing. It sounds much more prominent now than I remembered from the vinyl days. (Or it could be that it was always this way and my turntable just sucked.)
4 • I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour, September 1967)
I sampled the ending of I Am The Walrus in its totality, as most radio stations of the day refused to play much of it, if they dared play the song at all. Hello Goodbye was the safe, commercial side — only “underground” radio played Walrus, the flip side. Any song that broke as many rules as I Am The Walrus did was an automatic favorite of mine. And there weren’t many of those in 1967. (That was the year of Daydream Believer, Georgy Girl, Happy Together and Somethin’ Stupid.)
But about that ending. While it was fun picking out the musical and vocal tidbits in that free-for-all, what I really enjoyed were the intriguing chords: the band and the orchestra played the progression A — G — F — E7 — D9 — C#11 — Em/B three-plus times, one octave higher each time. The violins started out on A3 (the A below middle C) and ended on D7 as the song faded to silence — this represents 90% of the violin’s playable range.
The chords were fun for me to reverse engineer and bang out on the piano way back when. Although, I played it in the key of C instead of A because it was easier.
My only complaint about the ending is that, to my ears, Ringo seems to wander off the beat for 7-8 seconds around the 4:00 mark of the song (about halfway through my clip). Maybe that was Paul!
3 • Hey Jude (Hey Jude / Revolution single, August 1968)
The ending that was a song in itself. Although the flip side of the single was Revolution, Hey Jude was a revolution of its own, clocking in at 7:11 when most songs on Top 40 Radio were in the 2:40 to 3:00 range. (That said, MacArthur Park, sung by Richard Harris, was released as a single four months earlier and was 9 seconds longer. Just for the record.)
I remember the night that Hey Jude / Revolution was first played on the radio in the U.S. My buddies and I were doing a sleep-over in my basement, and we had the radio tuned to one of the Chicago stations (WCFL, I think) that we could pull in late at night. The station had promised to debut the single at midnight — which meant we had to wait until 1 AM Eastern Time. Anyway, after we heard it, the three of us went out and strolled the dark empty streets of the neighborhood for an hour or so singing the “la-la-la” ending. And no, we weren’t high on anything other than The Beatles and our youth.
The sample clip features the musical parts of the ending that I always anticipate: the drum crescendo and the hey-hey-hey vocal part.
2 • Rain (Paperback Writer / Rain single, April 1966)
The ending The Beatles devised for Rain firmly established the band as experimentalists (even Peter, Paul and Mary paid tribute to their backwards clips) and it paved the way for further boundary-pushing in songs such as Strawberry Fields Forever and Helter Skelter. (Which is why those two songs didn’t make my list, but Rain did.) What I appreciate most about Rain‘s ending is how clean the guitar, how cool the drums. It was like The Beatles vs. The Byrds, except one of these bands had John and Ringo and George Martin.
For a fun create-your-own experience, I suggest you drive into an automatic car-wash and cue up Rain on your sound system. The swirling brushes and pulsating water will attend to your metallic hull, while the music cleanses and refreshes what’s within.
1 • She Loves You (She Loves You / I’ll Get You single, July 1963)
Sometimes you just can’t beat a climactic finish, and She Loves You has one of the best of all time. Gen Xers and Millennials won’t remember that The Beatles were first (and often derisively) known for their Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! rather than the backwards instruments and mystic messages. New York Times columnists of the era were generally apoplectic about the popularity of the band and used “Yeah Yeah Yeah” as a dismissive insult. On the other hand, when Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in October 1964, she was greeted with signs that read, “We Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!”
But what an ending. The band instinctively focuses all of their energy and emotions into a laser-like sound beam aimed straight for the heart. The sound of jubiliation is addictive — we want that kind of joy! So we listen, over and over again. We buy more Beatles records. The Beatles build on this success, leading them to create more artistic and intricate works. Which, decades later, still inspires articles like this. It is a once-in-a-lifetime story.
The Beatles were more than a phenomenon, because they were phenomenal. The End.
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.