When I flew back from Australia the other day I was skipping through the in-house listening – moving through some classical and jazz and then on to the “classic albums” section; I selected Sticky Fingers (a favourite) and when I realised I wasn’t going to have enough time to listen to the album right through I started jettisoning tracks, I timed the final run perfectly, we hit the runway to touch down just as Moonlight Mile was fading down and out. A beautiful song, a magnificent album closer on a record that doesn’t really make a mistake.
And so that got me to thinking about how The Rolling Stones know how to end an album. Each album has a great final track – some are just sublime. Think of the four albums people regularly gush about when it comes to the Stones: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street – killer last songs in each case. Great opening songs and supporting material too but they drive it on home with the final track.
The final piece on any Stones album feels like – correctly – the last song. It’s been chosen to sum up the album. It might be the strongest track but if that’s not the case it’s a compelling piece, often a wistful way to end. The early records featured strong-enough songs to close but I first noticed this with one of my favourite (under-rated) Stones albums: Their Satanic Majesties Request.
That album, which has just turned 50 years old, is our starting point today. It seems a good (even if odd) choice for starting a themed-playlist.
I have this idea that The Rolling Stones have the best run of album-closing tracks. I’ll leave a few out – because, frankly there are a few (like Goats Head Soup’s Star Star) that aren’t all that great. And certainly aren’t the best choice to close the album. Goat’s Head Soup would have been superb if it closed with Winter.
Anyway, here are a bunch of great Stones album-closers:
From Satanic Majesties: On With The Show
From Beggars Banquet: Salt Of The Earth
From Let It Bleed: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
From Sticky Fingers: Moonlight Mile
From Exile On Main Street: Soul Survivor
(Skip Goats Head Soup)
From It’s Only Rock’n’Roll: Fingerprint File
(Skip Black And Blue)
(Skip Some Girls)
From Emotional Rescue: All About You
From Tattoo You: Waiting On A Friend
From Undercover: It Must Be Hell
From Dirty Work: Sleep Tonight
From Steel Wheels: Slipping Away
(Skip Voodoo Lounge)
From Bridges To Babylon: How Can I Stop
From A Bigger Bang: Infamy
A baker’s dozen of decent songs there. Interesting that somewhere along the line they worked out that things worked best if Keef got to sign off. Or did that come from burying his vocal-track near the end? I like that Emotional Rescue, Dirty Work and Bridges To Babylon, three of the most maligned Stones albums – records that, in many cases, the fans don’t like at all – feature three very strong closing tracks. The best songs on the respective albums. You could even say (either positively or negatively) that it is in fact Keith rewriting the same song (perhaps without realising that he got it right when he called it Slipping Away, the Steel Wheels closer).
I’d make a case for Emotional Rescue as an album in a weak moment maybe but Bridges To Babylon is the nadir for me; the band’s worst album. Any fondness for Dirty Work comes from hearing it when I was growing up, still discovering the Stones’ music; hearing it for the first time when it was released and going on to hear all of the other magic from the back-catalogue after.