You can’t beat a good coda. That point in the song by which everyone is swaying and drinking it in. You’re just sort of basking in the setting of the sun (regardless of how elaborate that may be). Pop music has a great history of codas – of evoking just that ‘again! again!’ feeling that can grab people when they hear such a dynamite passage.
The Who’s Tommy ends with the best material on the entire album, with the “Listening to You” section that spurred a thousand fist pumps. The coda to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” is the ultimate stuff of standing arm in arm and belting it out, dominating a majority of the song and employing a 2-minute-plus-long fadeout. When The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” gets to “sending out an S.O.S.”, you wonder to yourself ‘why isn’t this the chorus?’
It seems sometimes that artists tend to hang onto the best stuff to make it the last thing you remember when you’re done the song. Partially, it’s the mantra-like repetition for what is usually a pretty short phrase that works fantastically on its own, but provides a very solid frame work for everything to ramp up around it. Given that, here five great examples of fantastic finishes:
The codas have the greatest impact if they come at the end of the songs, of course, but I have earmarked the approximate times they start if you just want to hear them by themselves.
1) Dirty Ghosts – Ropes That Way (2:53)
Yeah, sometimes it’s just a chorus. Throughout most of the song, you get one or two repetitions of the chorus, sparsely accompanied before heading back into the too-cool-for-school delivery of Allyson Baker of the verses. It’s at the end, however, where you get to glory in the chorus as that little bit of overlap between repetitions amps you up and you get that sense of incredible forward momentum. Beginning with the bass and drums, the synths lay a speedy pattern down, and the electric guitar comes thundering to life underneath as they crash headlong into the end of the song.
2) Yes – Starship Trooper (5:35)
One of Yes’ signature tunes, it is, of course, ten minutes long with three distinct (named) sections, the coda comprises the entirety of section three (“Wurm”), and a good chunk of the song. It begins with Steve Howe playing the an incredible descending chord progression on his flanged guitar, while the rest of the band slowly wakes up around him, alternately playing with him and then against him rhythmically, with Bill Bruford changing emphases constantly and Tony Kaye intermittently introducing some atmosphere on the organ. The final minute is where Howe finally lets go of playing the chords himself and gets into a tasteful solo, which the track fades out on. It’s remarkable to see how they play within and around the basic guitar track while building the the energy up, but this one really comes down to the fact that I could listen to that progression for days.
3) Dream Theater – Learning to Live (10:30)
Another long entry, this was the final track on Images & Words and a showpiece track that runs quite the gamut of musical passages through its 11:30 length. It all leads up to to the coda, however. With exactly one minute left to go in this song, John Petrucci unleashes this unreal, uplifting riff on his guitar that just seems to climb furiously higher and higher with every iteration, as a chorus of voices come in around it, the keyboards handle the chords and another electric guitar rips loose underneath. The works fabulously as a cathartic, unifying moment for a song that feels like it goes kind of all over the place in its preceding ten minutes, and brings everything into a sharp focus for the grand finale.
4) David Bowie – Memory of a Free Festival (3:30)
From way back on Space Oddity, this album closer is based around chords emanating from a child’s electric chord organ as Bowie recalls his experience at a music festival he performed at (notably that he “kissed a lot of people that day”). At pretty much the exact halfway mark, he’s done with his remembrances and gets everyone ready to have some fun as he repeats over and over that “the sun machine is coming down/and we’re gonna have a party!”, in a perfect sort of groovy mantra for the era. The instrumentation expands as Mick Ronson launches into a jazzy solo filling up the corners of the song over handclaps and a multitude of voices, as the chords get emphasized with more guitar and big cymbal crashes from Woody Woodmansey. By the end, you’re left so pumped for a party that, if you can’t be at theirs, you’re gonna have to start one of your own.
5) Elbow – One Day Like This (3:30)
Pure, unadulterated and honest saccharine, Guy Garvey recounts with clear fondness the experience of waking up beside the person you love. So much so that an orchestra needs to be employed with a repeated chorus that will refuse to let the smile on your face do anything but widen. Over chords already established earlier in the song, Garvey adopts a slow chants of “throw those curtains wide/one day like this a year would see me right” on top of multitude of backing vocals singing the same and a string section playing sweet octaves. After not too long, he reasserts the song’s main chorus of “Holy cow/I love your eyes!” on top of everything else, creating the best of possible vibes everywhere you turn.