Well, bub, no matter how good the song is, it eventually has to end.
The question, then, is: How’s it going to end? A studio fade giving the illusion of a sing-along chorus going on forever in some imaginary world populated by elves? A repeated turnaround? An abrupt, punk-rock-style halt? An unsuspected, off-key chord?
It’s possible, of course, that the end could wind up being a transcendent moment in itself.
Such is the case with the 10 gems below.
10. “Frankenstein,” Edgar Winter
It’s not so much the virtuosity of the synchronized synth and guitar arpeggios that got this one on the list but, rather, the fact it lends itself well to puns about monsters and rock ’n’ roll. (We won’t bother getting started.) It then dawns on us how language and wordplay makes us human. Mighty profound for an instrumental.
09. “Roll with the Changes,” REO Speedwagon
The chorus is repeated so many times toward the end of the song that it becomes a mantra of sorts, meant to hammer home the Zen philosophy expressed in the title of this stadium anthem by an immensely popular band from the Eighties. Thankfully, Gary Richrath’s string bending and tremolo picking bring the listener back from the arena-rock astral plane into the real world.
08. “Let's Go Crazy,” Prince
The Purp goes crazy as this ultimate party tune winds down, showing off his wah-wah-laced Hendrixisms. Judging by the ecstatic state of his solo, he doesn’t want the party to die. But the realization finally hits home that the party must end. Then what? The giant comedown known as Under the Cherry Moon.
07. “21st Century Schizoid Man,” King Crimson
The end homes in on the most addictive part of the riff—Robert Fripp’s chromatic power-chord progression—and accelerates until it becomes a blur of tones, symbolic, perhaps, of human addiction patterns, obsessive behavior, and mental illness. I mean, can you down a bag of potato chips once it’s open? That’s what this riff is like. Do the research.
06. “Shy Boy,” David Lee Roth
Vai, Sheehan. Sheehan, Vai. When David Lee Roth combined the talents of these two stringmen, he unleashed the shred equivalent of a nuclear fission reaction. The furious four-handed tapping makes one realize the importance of science to our daily lives.
05. “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses
Rarely has an ending been so uncanny. Axl F. Rose’s repeated pleas for someone to take him home express a young man’s basic yearning for stability and warmth. Slash just wants to play faster and faster. This conflict foreshadows what would for the band grow into an appetite for self-destruction.
04. “Metal Head,” Blotto
This obscure group, in a parody of ’80s heavy metal, takes the ever-loving piss out of the drawn-out rock ’n’ roll ending by practically turning it into its own movement. Obviously, they espouse the philosophy that life is a joke. Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma vouches for Blotto, though, by playing lead guitar on the track.
03. “Hot for Teacher,” Van Halen
Eddie uses his space-age finger slides and tremolo picking to sound like a laser weapon battle from a late-Seventies sci-fi flick, while brother Alex runs in place on his double bass pedals and David Lee Roth howls till his heart’s content. You don’t have to be Freud to figure out what pubescent fantasy an ending of this magnitude symbolizes. Orgasm. Oh, my gawd.
02. “Highway to Hell,” AC/DC
Whether or not this song is truly about Hell doesn’t matter. How the Young brothers wind it out—furiously strumming their chords, whittling away at the pentatonic scale, and battering up against Bon Scott’s wails—evokes a descent into an underworld of Wagnerian proportions.
01. “Won't Get Fooled Again,” The Who
The tension of the synth interlude and the subsequent release—by way of Pete Townshend’s gargantuan power chords and Roger Daltrey’s vocal-chord-shredding scream—at the time encapsulated what we now refer to as “going postal.”