The End Is Near: 11 Great Second-To-Last Songs
I'm not a linguist but I'll confess that I'm fascinated by jargon. Ever heard the phrase the 11 O'Clock Number? It's theatrical shorthand for the big show stopping musical number late in act two. If your musical starts at 8:30 p.m. and you want the crowd awake for the finale then you better have a great song hit at 11:00 p.m. If you do a really good job they'll be singing that song as they leave the theater.
Photo By Jon Jordan. A good penultimate track will wake him from his slumber.
Most albums do not have an 11 o'clock number. Music writers will talk all day about their favorite opening and closing tracks but rarely does anyone give the penultimate track its due. It's a track that has to be different enough from the closing track to stand out without being jarring in the process. They might serve as the emotional highpoint of the album or may just be an interesting sonic experiment, but it's important that they lead in to the next song just right. Put the wrong song here and you could blow the landing to a great album completely.
It's a thankless job, but fortunately for us there are a few brave tracks that rise above simply being just another track on the album. Take a look at this list of tracks that put the ultimate in penultimate.
Talking Heads - "Psycho Killer"
If that bassline doesn't get your attention you should be concerned. This quirky look at the mind of a serial killer actually became a minor hit for the band when it was released as a single, which goes to show that bad guys always get the great songs. Although the song would eventually be refined in to the awesome version that opens Stop Making Sense, the original remains a fun listen. And yes, that is French in bridge.
The Cars - "Moving In Stereo"
While the song will forever be associated with Phoebe Cates and her red bikini, it first appeared as the penultimate track on the bands self-titled debut album. The song is instantly catchy yet mysterious, and stands out against the more "rock" based tracks that precede it on the album. Its transition in to "All Mixed Up" is flawless, making it one of the best final track pairings in rock history.
Kanye West - "Blame Game"
Like most Kanye tracks this low key epic is an intriguing mash up of different elements. From the Aphex Twin piano sample that the song is based around, to the Chloe Mitchell poem that makes up the third verse, to the great Chris Rock guest appearance, the song is a meditation on how his relationship fell apart. Those feelings of regret serve as the perfect base for lyrics of confusion in "Lost In The World."