Killer Rock Outros
An outro, by definition, is a passage, instrumental or otherwise, that concludes a piece of music. It can also refer to a track that closes an album, typically a concept record, which is meant to be listened to in its entirety. While verses and choruses are considered the meat of a song, elements like bridges, intros, and outros are the seasoning that give it its signature flavor. A good ending enhances your enjoyment and appreciation of a song. It can make your hair stand on end, and suspend you in a state of rapture. Outros are a song's exclamation point.
While many songs end memorably, some outros are truly unforgettable. The following examples may not be the choices that immediately spring to mind when you think epic rock outros, but maybe they're ones you might not have otherwise considered. Give them a listen and see how they size up in your estimation. And in case you want to jump straight into the outro without all the buildup, I've included approximate minute markers, backing up a few steps to give you a good running leap. "A Day in the Life,"
The Beatles (3:43)
This monumental track brings The Beatles' legendary Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
to its dramatic close. One of the most complex and ambitious of the Lennon-McCartney compositions, "A Day in the Life" was cobbled together by two discrete song fragments—one primarily by John Lennon, the other by Paul McCartney—that are separated by a dissonant 24-bar orchestral bridge, which is reprised after the song's last verse. The massive crescendo that ends the song is ultimately punctuated with one of the most famous final chords in music history.
Initially, the Beatles weren't sure how to fill the transition between Lennon's dreamier verse and McCartney's jaunty little segment. They recorded the song before the bridge had been written, using a simple repeated piano chord and production assistant Mal Evans counting out the bars to mark the time. McCartney then had the idea of bringing in a full orchestra to fill the gap. Producer George Martin improvised a score for the classically-trained musicians that was a long, growing glissando, beginning with the lowest possible note for each instrument and ending, 24 bars later, with the highest note nearest an E major chord. He then drew squiggly lines right through the bars with reference points to give the musicians a rough estimate of what note they should have reached during each bar.
"A Day in the Life's" final orchestral crescendo winds itself so tight that it feels like it's about to blow with each successive note. And then it does, reaching a climax with what might be the most famous finale in all of rock—a momentous, echoing piano chord. Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Evans shared three different pianos, with Martin on the harmonium, and all played an E-major chord simultaneously. The final chord was sustained for almost a minute by increasing the microphone pick up to compensate for the vibration fade out, prolonging the sensation. Eventually you can hear extraneous studio noise in addition to the last remnants of the chord itself. The ending was unusual, had tremendous impact, and gave the Beatles the sense of tragic inevitability they were seeking. "Do You Feel Like We Do,"
Peter Frampton (8:00)
Peter Frampton first released "Do You Feel Like We Do" in 1973 with his group Frampton's Camel. The song was included on the band's self-titled album, but wasn't released as a single and subsequently went nowhere. "Do You Feel Like We Do" became a monster hit in 1976, however, when Frampton included a considerably longer and much embellished version on his double-live set, Frampton Comes Alive
, the record that shot him to stardom and became the best-selling live album ever at the time.
As the album's most iconic track, "Do You Feel Like We Do" showcased Frampton at his most virtuosic. The song featured a number of instrumental solos woven through verses and the chorus, including an extended one in the midsection where Frampton demonstrates Messianic crowd-control when he hushes the throng with his use of the talk box, an effects pedal that redirects a guitar's sound through a tube into the performer's mouth, allowing the guitar to mimic human speech.
This rather sedate solo lulls us for a time, holds us back even, as it circles the outro, building in anticipation, until the payoff with the final note shouted through the talk box and then boom! Frampton cracks the song wide open. The crowd erupts as an exhilarating stadium-show finish is unleashed. The heavens seem to part for Frampton as he delivers an explosive guitar solo on his three-pickup Les Paul. You can't help but crank up the volume full tilt for this outro, grab your air guitar and join in the fun."The Chain,"
Fleetwood Mac (3:02)
"The Chain" is a song from Fleetwood Mac's best-selling album Rumours
. It has become the band's anthem, speaking not only to the end of the love affair between bandmates Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but also to the sense of unity among the band members. "The Chain" is unique among Mac songs as it is the only track credited to all five members of their fabled 1977 lineup, each of whom contributed a piece to the whole.
The song itself has a basic rock structure, although it has two distinct portions: the main verse and chorus, and the outro. According to interviews on the making of Rumours
, "The Chain" was actually written backwards from the outro. The song began as a Christine McVie number called "Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)," which is available on the expanded edition of Rumours
. The beginning of the track wasn't working, but the band loved John McVie and Mick Fleetwood's ending, which began with a bass progression. So they counted back from the bass line, using the kick-drum as a metronome. Stevie and Christine did some reworking to create the first section of the tune. Stevie wrote the lyrics for the verses, while Lindsey and Christine wrote the music and the chorus lyrics. Lindsey added the guitar over the ending and recycled the intro from an earlier Buckingham/Nicks song called "Lola (My Love)," and voilà. "The Chain" as we know and love it was born.
The song starts off as a relatively toned down number with Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine harmonizing on the verses and chorus. As the tune progresses toward mid-song, the rhythm drops off save for Mick's drumming before that world-famous bass line kicks in, a little creepy and menacing, setting up the wicked combination of a hard-driving rhythm coupled with Buckingham's blistering guitar that follows. The flood gates are blown wide open as the entire band pushes "The Chain" to its limits, delivering a dynamic end to one of Fleetwood Mac's finest. "November Rain,"
Guns N' Roses (6:29)
Guns N' Roses had several major hits on their first couple albums, but “November Rain,” from 1991s Use Your Illusion I
, was something entirely different for the band. Part ballad with a sweeping orchestral backing, part rock song with the top-hatted Slash, written partly in a major key, partly in minor, and clocking in at a hefty 8:57—most of which is consumed by the ballad—"November Rain" is Guns N’ Roses’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
“November Rain” is pretty easy listening throughout much of the song. The lyrics were inspired by the short story "Without You" by Del James, which concerns a rock star grieving the death of his on-and-off-again girlfriend, who had committed suicide. Two early solos by Slash are melodic and easily assimilated into the ballad. Everything moves along effortlessly, rather calmly in fact, until around the seven-minute mark, when things takes a dramatic turn.
With a slide of strings, the ballad portion of "November Rain" is officially over and the outro begins to build. In the song's video, watching Slash mount the piano as purposefully as he does, you know you're in for something big. And can I just say the man delivers. What follows next is an incendiary guitar solo, a searing, screaming ending played to the accompaniment of vocal chants. The juxtaposition between the two parts of "November Rain" is startling in that you don't know what you're missing until it kicks you in the gut. The minute Slash starts jamming, "November Rain" transforms before our ears from a rock ballad into a bona fide Guns N’ Roses song."Moonage Daydream,"
David Bowie (2:53)
David Bowie had already caught our ear (and eye) with albums like Space Oddity
and Hunky Dory
when he caused a sensation in 1972 with the release of the flamboyant concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
. "Moonage Daydream," the third song on the record, tells the story of an alien messiah who is born to save the world from impending disaster.
Bowie drew a diagram for guitarist Mick Ronson, one of the Spiders from Mars, showing how he wanted Ronson’s guitar solo to sound—it started out as a flat line, grew to form “a fat megaphone-type shape, and ended in sprays of disassociated and broken lines,” recalled Bowie years later. Ronson looked at the chart, went off somewhere (he often wrote arrangements in the bathroom), came back and nailed the exact solo Bowie had in his head.
Ronson’s muscular guitar work on "Moonage Daydream's" extended outro constitutes one of glam rock’s definitive moments. The song's otherworldly sustain-drenched solo, with its thrilling slides and bends, swoops and soars towards the heavens. Ronson's outro sends "Moonage Daydream" spinning into outer space. Many consider it to be his finest solo on record.
There are so many great outros in rock music (the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin Man," Pink Floyd's "Eclipse," Alice in Chains' "Nutshell," Pearl Jam's "Alive," The Who's "Baba O'Riley," just to name a few more.) I wish there were the time and the space here to continue on. What outros are your favorites?