Vinyl record collection by Samuel Regan-Asante
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The 18 Ways of Beginning and Ending an Album

Whether by chance or by careful planning, there is an observable pattern to intros and outros in albums. PopMatters breaks down 18 of them.

Types of Outro Songs

Many of the outro song categories are similar or identical to the categories of intro songs they just worked out that way.

1. The “Outro” Outro

The “Outro” Outro is a song whose sole purpose is to downshift from the previous song to provide a proper closing to the album. You know, these are the ones sometimes titled “Outro” or some variation thereof and are short instrumentals or bits of dialogue that sum up the spirit of the album. Sometimes, the “Outro” Outro is a song with a marked “goodbye” tone in the lyrics and music, such as the Beatles’ “Good Night”. “Outro” Outros are much less common than “Intro” Intros but don’t tend to overwhelmingly dwell in one particular genre, appearing on everything from the FugeesThe Score to Brad Paisley’s Time Well Wasted.

2. The Bookend

Corresponding to the “Part 1″, the Bookend concludes some conceptual conceits or motifs that threaded their way throughout the album. In hip-hop albums, for example, this could mean ending the series of connected skits that broke up the record. More often, however, the Bookend ends up being more of a reprise of or sequel to a previous song on the album. Recently, on Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, “The Suburbs (Continued)” reworks the melody and lyrics from the title track, and ends the album on a haunting, regretful note. Essentially, the Bookend is a more specific version of the “Outro” Outro, ending the album in much the same way but having a more direct connection to the preceding songs in some fashion.

3. The Culmination

Often found on concept albums, the Culmination is a song that brings the themes explored on the album to a conclusion, either explicitly (for instance, The Wall‘s “Outside the Wall”) or by implying that the artist has leaned some sort of lesson or reached some sort of breaking point. The Culmination is often characterized by a distinct shift in mood or tone from the previous songs. On Sea Change, Beck mainly spends the album dissecting his recent breakup, asking questions without getting answers. Yet, he finishes things off with “Side of the Road,” which seems to end things with a positive sense of closure. Similarly, Bruce Springsteen’s characters languish in pessimism and desperation on Nebraska, but the Boss raises the curtain for “Reason to Believe”, where he admires the tenacity of those downtrodden folks who still look to the future with hope.

4. The Pipsqueak

The Pipsqueak is a short, often lighthearted outro song that has enough of its own identity not to be considered an “Outro” Outro. Think of how Abbey Road ends with the miniature folk vignette “Her Majesty” or how the off-the-cuff singalong “Cripple Creek Ferry” closes out Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.

5. The Triumph

The Triumph is analogous to the Pump-Up, a brighter, more anthemic song meant to bring the album to an exciting or satisfying close. “Brighter” doesn’t necessarily equal “optimistic”: Metallica’s eponymous record—the so-called Black Album—races to the finish with “The Struggle Within,” which thrashes faster than much of what precedes it. On the other hand, the Triumph is rarely sullen and is often hopeful or playful: Animal Collective decided to disrupt Merriweather Post Pavilion‘s aquatic flow with the ecstatic rave-up “Brother Sport”, in which Panda Bear encourages his brother to move forward after their father’s death.

6. The Sigh

Finishing an album with a somber, ruminating song results in the Sigh. Unlike the Lullaby, the Sigh doesn’t necessarily have to provide an immediate contrast to the previous tracks, sometimes just acting as a quiet, charming coda to the record. The Shins, for instance, have used this approach on all of their records to date—”A Comet Appears,” the track that ends Wincing The Night Away, is a gentler Shins track than most. Sighs don’t have to be precious, hopeful tracks though: Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures concludes with “I Remember Nothing”, which is just as cheery as any other Joy Division song and twice as slow.

7. The Monty Python

“And now for something completely different.” The Monty Python is an outro song very different in style or tone than much or all of the preceding album. Since it waits until to the end to challenge their audience’s expectations, the Monty Python is far more common than the Red Herring, which has the potential to alienate listeners from the get-go. Sometimes Pythons are intended as a more profound artistic statement, like Revolver‘s groundbreaking “Tomorrow Never Knows”. (I’ve been trying to mix it up, so sorry to keep using the Beatles—they’re just responsible for some of the most well-known examples.) Yet, sometimes an artist uses a Monty Python to add diversity to their album. In 2011, Bon Iver divided critical and popular opinion when it chose to end its self-titled record with “Beth/Rest”, a Phil Collins-esque stab at adult contemporary that only had tenuous connections to the rest of the record.

8. The Big Daddy

Identical to the intro song category, the Big Daddy is simply an outro song that is noticeably longer than the rest of the tracks on the album. They are occasionally cast as major statements or album centerpieces but are most often used as ways to close out the record in grand fashion. The Doors notoriously closed out their eponymous debut album with the apocalyptic 12-minute “The End”, while Sonic Youth ended Washing Machine with one of their longest and most impressive noise-jams, “The Diamond Sea”.

9. The Big Single

Also identical to its intro song counterpart, the Big Single approach simply places a released or planned single as the final song on an album. It’s a handy tool, once again primarily used by pop musicians, to end a record with a surplus of momentum. While it wasn’t the biggest song on the album, Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul finished with “Ain’t No Way”, a later single that was a minor hit in the late 1960s. Lately, though, album outros have yielded some incredibly successful pop singles: Lady Gaga’s Born This Way finished with “The Edge of Glory”, while Adele’s 21 ended with “Someone Like You“.

This article was originally published on 28 July 2014.