The 20 Greatest Codas In Popular Music: The Song Goes From Average To Anthem
SONGS are composed of various different structures: the chorus, verse, bridge, etc. If they’re put together right, it sounds like one cohesive unit. Today, we’re looking at one section in particular – that last piece, the coda. It’s basically a separate section which brings an end to a song. In popular music, it’s sometimes referred to as an “outro”; the opposite of an intro.
It’s not necessarily long- for instance, “cold outros” as in “What I Like About You” by the Romantics end abruptly (and are a DJ’s worst nightmare). I’m speaking more of the “fade-out coda.” The most well-known example in popular music is probably the “Na Na Na” ending of “Hey Jude”.
This is a subject that desperately deserves a list (after all, isn’t that what the Internet is for?). So, here are 20 of the greatest. But let’s be clear: we’re not talking about the quality of the entire song – I’m only looking at this last bit. Lastly, please point out any glaring omissions in the comment section. Enjoy.
20. The End – The Beatles
The trouble with these music lists is that they always become over-Beatled. Nothing kills the diversity of a good list better than The Beatles. Indeed, get ready for a few more before this list is through. But how can you leave out the closing couplet of “The End”- the last words of the last song on the last record by the greatest band of all time? Can you think of a better denouement? A guitar solo just wouldn’t do. Yelling “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” would’ve been good for a laugh, but Paul ended things properly.
19. Ashes to Ashes – David Bowie
“My mother said, to get things done, you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” Haunting.
18. Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ – Journey
The coda is where the song goes from average to anthem
17. Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
A beer-guzzling, shit-kicking coda straight from the backwoods of Georgia. Its frenetic dueling guitars make the ending of “Hotel California” seem quaint.
16. All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
It’s awesome in its own right, but made even better by a reference to an earlier song (“She Loves You”), which seemed oh, so very distant even though it had only been a few years. Artists referencing previous songs is another topic deserving of a list (Sting’s frequent use of “It’s a big enough umbrella but it’s always me that ends up getting wet” comes instantly to mind.)
15. I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home) – Grand Funk Railroad
The coda is so long, that it’s arguably not a coda at all – just a second movement. But, as far as I know, no standardized ratio has been set to disqualify it; so it stays. The same principle applies to another great coda that starts halfway through – Pulp’s sonic explosion that ends “Sunrise”.
Also note that you won’t see “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Stairway to Heaven” or Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” on this list due to disqualification. Their “outros” technically don’t end the songs; the very last part resumes the earlier verse. Suffice it to say, what is and what isn’t a coda can get hazy; it’s probably best not to analyze too closely.
14. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
Short, but chilling – especially when you know the song’s topic.
13. Star Collector – The Monkees
One of the earliest uses of the moog; don’t let the band’s unbridled cheesiness detract from this psychedelic coda masterpiece.
12. I Am the Walrus – The Beatles
The King Lear quotes among the cacophony and “Joob, joob, joob” make for a mind bending audio sendoff like no other. The Strawberry Fields outro is equally trippy, but not as dense, regardless of the much analyzed Cranberry Sauce/I Buried Paul bit.
11. Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson was ashamed of his moog jam and wished it hadn’t been included. But once you hear its ominous drones, there’s no denying this coda kicks ass.
10. November Rain – Guns N’ Roses
The song is a yawnfest until Slash’s guitar solo, then it launches into a coda so sweeping and titanic it’s almost as if guitars were invented just so this could be made.
9. Atlantis – Donovan
“Way down below the ocean. Where I wanna be. She may be.” As with most codas, their strength is not in the lyrics, but rather the climactic send-off, and this one does as well as any other.
8. Indication – The Zombies
A typical boppy tune until it hits the 1:46 mark and things go off a psychedelic cliff. The hypnotic minor key riff, the drums pounding harder and harder, the vocalese following the keyboard line… quite a trip.
7. Moonage Daydream – David Bowie
“Epic” is an overused word, but nothing else will do. This is a triumphant bone-chilling guitar solo meant to be played in front of millions of adoring fans.
6. Head Over Heels – Tears for Fears
“… and this is my foooour leaf cloooover…” Who doesn’t love that? Those that don’t are not to be trusted.
5. Layla – Derek & the Dominoes
Jim Gordon’s piano coda accompanied by a Clapton guitar solo outro alongside Allman’s slide guitar…. I think “sublime” is the word.
4. Aquarius – The 5th Dimension
Hearing the ecstatic hippie refrain “Let the sunshine in” almost has me leaving my cubicle, growing my hair long, and going to live in a marijuana patch. Almost.
3. Baba O’Reilly – The Who
The violin solo in the coda is based on Indian classical music as homage to Meher Baba, the Indian mystic who inspired this song.
2. (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long – Chicago
The whole song is basically a build up to the coda. It’s slow and drippy, your mind wanders, you take a sip from your drink, check your watch… then it kicks in and your mind is blown.
1. Hey Jude – The Beatles
This fade-out coda is so brilliant; it’s the coda by which all codas are judged. I would happily listen to these “na-nas” for the rest of my life (and into eternity if the man upstairs will let me). It’s about as close as a coda can get to pure hypnotic euphoria.