How time flies! It was about 18 months ago now that we collected an epic selection of our favorite opening lines in music, and we’ve been meaning to get around to closing lines ever since. There are plenty of candidates for such honors as far as films and books go, but surprisingly few for music — it’s a more difficult exercise than it looks, perhaps because heaps of songs end with multiple renditions of the chorus rather than a punchy parting shot. Still, we’ve put together a bumper selection: 50 of the best. We’d also love to hear the lines you reckon also merit inclusion, so let us know your nominations in the comments section. (For these purposes, we’re generally discounting hanging final choruses, or the list would be a whole lot shorter.)
“Planet Earth is blue/ And there’s nothing I can do” — David Bowie, “Space Oddity” So, as we noted, we’re generally skipping trailing choruses here — but then, part of the genius of “Space Oddity” is how the meaning of its chorus changes with each iteration. The first time Major Tom’s staring in wonder at the world; the second, he’s staring in horror as he drifts away from it.
“How strange it is/ To be anything at all” — Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” Has anyone ever summed up the glorious absurdity of existence better in a short sentence than this?
“OK, that’s a take!” — Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, “Silver and Gold” An aside to the engineer, and sadly also the last words we’d ever hear Joe Strummer utter on record — he died before the album was completed.
“If she’s passin’ back this way, I’m not that hard to find/ Tell her she can look me up if she’s got the time” — Bob Dylan, “If You Say Her, Say Hello” This pretty much defines “poignant,” doesn’t it? And just a wee bit bitter, too?
“If you see him, say hi” — Tori Amos, “Baker Baker” And we’ve always rather enjoyed the way Tori Amos inverts Dylan’s line with this song.
“Who’d want to be men of the people/ When there’s people like you?” — Arctic Monkeys, “Teddy Picker” Alex Turner has a way with a one-liner, and this is one of his best.
“I might as well be dead/ But I could kill you instead” — PJ Harvey, “Legs” That’d be much more fun, eh?
“So the moral of this story is: Who are you to judge?/ There’s only one true judge, and that’s God/ So chill, and let my Father do his job” — Salt ‘N’ Pepa, “None of Your Business” We’re not so big on the whole God aspect, but the message — that no one has any business judging anyone else — well, we’re all for that.
“Why should I care?/ Cheap perfume all over those burgundy stockings/ The ones I tied you up with/ I should have just left ’em there” — Prince, “Wasted Kisses” Only Prince could adorn a rather catty dismissal of a lover with a reference to tying said lover up with her stockings.
“Get off now, baby/ It won’t be long/ ‘Til you’ll be lyin’ limp in your own hands” — Fiona Apple, “Limp” Ouch.
“I’m just a little bit heiress, a little bit Irish/ A little bit Tower of Pisa/ Whenever I see ya/ So please be kind if I’m a mess” — Rufus Wainwright, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” We have a big ol’ soft spot for Rufus, especially when he’s being dramatic and theatrical like this.
“You can check out any time you like/ But you can never leave” — The Eagles, “Hotel California” We’ve not exactly been big advocates for The Eagles in the past, but credit where it’s due — the denouement to their Song That’s Actually Good (If Totally Overplayed) is one of ’70s soft rock’s better lyrical moments.
“It’s a town full of losers/ And I’m pulling out of here to win” — Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road” And while we’re on dramatic ’70s moments, Springsteen’s rarely expressed his entire fleeing-small-town-for-city-lights mythology more succinctly than he did here.
“She got hit by a truck!” — Anthrax, “NFB” Aw, shit. The acronym stands for “Nice Fucking Ballad,” and it really is nice — until the end, that is.
“Any way the wind blows” — Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” And then the gong.
“I could make you pay and pay/ But I could never make you stay” — The Magnetic Fields, “All My Little Words” Just the right combination of ruefulness and bitterness.
“There’s nothing I wanna see/ There’s nowhere I wanna go” — Manic Street Preachers, “Condemned to Rock ‘N’ Roll” Just the right combination of ruefulness and existential despair.
“We’ll be good I promise/ We’ll be so good” — The Weeknd, “High for This” No! No you won’t! Run, girl, run!
“Great grandmother lived on the prairie/ Nothin’ and nothin’ and nothin’ and nothin’/ I got the same feeling inside of me/ Nothin’ and nothin’ and nothin’ and nothin'” — EMA, “The Grey Ship” More existential despair, and a haunting conclusion to the first song from one of our favorite records of the last few years.
“I’m tired of being down/ I got no fight” — Elliott Smith, “Twilight” Although as far as despair goes, though, the final word goes to Elliott Smith and the impossibly sad “Twilight.”
“Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss” — The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” Hey, it’s election year!
“The revolution will be… live” — Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” We love how the entire song builds up to this conclusion, and the way Scott-Heron draws it out even further by repeating “will not be televised” before finally delivering the killer final line.
“It’s part not giving in/ And part trusting your friends/ You do it all again/ You don’t stop trying” — Gossip, “Standing in the Way of Control” Words to live by, eh?
“You better stay home/ And do as you’re told/ Get out of the road if you want to grow old” — Pink Floyd, “Sheep” Roger Waters has penned many a fine closing line, often at the end of entire records — The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall both end on particularly dramatic notes — but we’ve always liked this bleakly cynical conclusion to Animals‘ narrative, a warning to the titular sheep that even though their canine oppressors are dead, nothing is going to change for the better.
“Lover, you should’ve come over/ It’s not too late” — Jeff Buckley, “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” It’s the crucial “It’s not too late” that transforms this from a sad lament into a… well, a sad song of hope, we suppose.
“There’s no measuring of it as nothing else is love” — The Shins, “Saint Simon” We’ve always vaguely wondered if this was a rejoinder to The Beatles’ insufferably trite “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Either way, it’s a great line.
“I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe/ I do, I do, I do” — Bikini Kill, “I Like Fucking” Hey, so do we!
“Immerse your soul in love” — Radiohead, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” Anyone who derides Thom Yorke as an irredeemable cynic would do well to listen to this, which is home to some of his most poetic lyrics and also this beautiful coda, which ends The Bends on a surprisingly upbeat note.
“I’m afraid I told a lie” — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “The Mercy Seat” We are generally all for songs with twists, and this is a great one — after spending the song proclaiming his innocence, Cave’s death-row narrator shows his true colors with the song’s very last line.
“I’ll be eligible for parole/ Come Valentine’s Day” — Tom Waits, “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” The titular Christmas card is rendered all the more sad and poignant by the fact that it’s only the last line of this song that reveals the optimistic claims of its verses are all false.
“I only went with her/ ‘Cos she looks like you/ My god!” — Pulp, “Babies” Jarvis Cocker announced at Pulp’s Radio City Music Hall show last year that only he knows how much of this song is true — but whether it’s fact or fiction, this gloriously tawdry tale of voyeurism is rendered all the more squalid by its killer payoff.
“Come to think about, his name was… it was you. Damn!” — Eminem, “Stan” When Eminem was good, he was really good.
“I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man/ And so’s Lola” — The Kinks, “Lola” And the best twist of all: she’s a man!
“You’re constantly updating your hit parade of your ten biggest wanks/ She’s a waitress and she’s got style/ Sunday bathtime could take a while” — Belle & Sebastian, “The Boy With the Arab Strap” This also qualifies as “gloriously tawdry.”
“Only the good die young/ Except for when they don’t/ It’s not exactly fair” — Future of the Left, “Stand By Your Manatee” The inimitable Andy Falkous’s take on the nature of life.
“Think of death as a medium-sized yellow robot/ That should help” — mclusky, “Support Systems” OK, so we’re generally only doing one line per band — we’ll stretch the rules for Andy Falkous, though, because this is all kinds of genius. And anyway, mclusky and Future of the Lefts are different bands!
“This is the worst vacation ever!/ I am going to cut open your forehead/ With a roofing shingle!” — Xiu Xiu, “I Broke Up” Oh, Jamie Stewart. Where would music be without you?
“I mean, fuck else I gotta say?/ Best rapper alive/ Everyone else died today” — Los, “6 Foot 7” Braggadocio, thy name is…
Lots of naughty words
“I’ma ruin you, cunt!” — Azealia Banks, “212” She looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, either.
“They say he had his dick in his mouth/ Eddie Murphy told me that back in the house” — Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Got Your Money” Frankly we’re not quite sure what’s actually going on here — whose dick? Whose mouth? And what’s Eddie got to do with it all? (A Delirious reference, maybe?) But anyway, this line always makes us giggle like naughty schoolchildren.
“Use your right to protest on the street/ Yeah, use your right, but don’t imagine that it’s heard” — Jarvis Cocker, “Running the World” The ending to the last verse is bitter enough, but Jarvis follows up by repeating the chorus — “Cunts are still running the world” — again and again as the song fades to silence.
“If I be the psychologist/ Who will be the psychologist’s psychologist?” — Jens Lekman, “Psychogirl” Anyone’s who’s ever been in a relationship with someone who’s, um, emotionally unstable has felt this way at some point.
“So, across the years and miles and through/ On a good day you can feel my love for you/ Will you leave me be so that we can stay true/ To the path that you have chosen?” — Joanna Newsom, “On a Good Day” And equally, anyone who’s ever come out of such a relationship will be able to relate to this: still loving a person, but accepting that the relationship has ended — in this case, apparently because of a failed pregnancy and/or general loss of faith on the part of Newsom’s lover (who may well have been Bill Callahan of Smog). Impossibly sad.
“She’ll mend his tattered clothes/ And they’ll kiss as if they know/ A baby sleeps in all our bones/ So scared to be alone” — Iron & Wine, “Passing Afternoon” The flip side — there’s a curious peacefulness in Sam Beam’s depiction of a couple who’ve come to some sort of understanding that it’s better to be together than alone, even if there’s something sinister about the baby metaphor.
“At least a song won’t cheat/ At least a song won’t leave” — Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, “Half Ghost” Being cheated on, and finding some sort of solace in your record collection.
The generally and uncategorizably awesome
“When they pull out their plugs and they snort up their drugs/ Their throats are filled with…” — Pavement, “Fillmore Jive” More songs should do this — end by leaving the lyric hanging, rather than coming to a definite conclusion. It’s an effective technique in literature, and works nicely here (especially since this is the last song on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which means the whole album ends on a question mark).
“Sincerely, L. Cohen” — Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat” Part of Cohen’s skill as a songwriter comes from the fact that you’re never quite sure how much of his songs are autobiographical and how much are poetic abstraction/literary allusion/general highbrow cleverness. But this line makes it clear that as far as “Famous Blue Raincoat” goes, at least, it’s the man himself narrating a very personal first-person lyric.
“Grab the keys to the five, call my niggas on the cell/ Bring some weed I got a story to tell” — The Notorious BIG, “I Got a Story to Tell” We’ve always liked the idea of this song’s circular narrative — the song is the story, which means that it ends where it begins. (The fact that the lady involved in this song was apparently former New York Knicks guard John Starks’s wife is a fine bit of music trivia, too.)
“Scrabble, bitch! Scrabble, biatch! Hey, why’d you hit me?” — Jean Grae, “Casebasket” True fact: hip hop needs more extended outros about Scrabble (and, yes, MARZIPAN would be killer on a triple world score!)
“A deniaaaaaaaaalllllll” — Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” And then the ’90s started.