The opening track on an album is intended to get the listener’s attention, and to make them want to listen more. The closing track should insure they finish satisfied, although, as many albums this year showed, artists often cop out when it comes to delivering the finale. Satisfying opening and closing tracks never seem to be celebrated enough, so here are the best of 2012.
I am counting these on a track basis, rather than a song basis. If an album has a great opening song but features an intro right before it, like “Thinkin’ Bout You” on Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange,” I didn’t count it. The same goes for if a great final song is followed by an outro, like “Forrest Gump” on Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.”
Five best opening tracks of 2012:
1. Leonard Cohen: “Going Home” from “Old Ideas”
“I love to speak with Leonard,” Cohen begins, “he’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit.” With that, Cohen opens his best song, and album, in over twenty years.
2. Azealia Banks: “1991” from “1991”
Even though it’s not “212,” the best song of last year, “1991” manages to be its own kind of masterwork by going for subtleness, rather than trying to top her masterpiece.
3. Bob Dylan: “Duquesne Whistle” from “Tempest”
As if the potential for another “Love and Theft” or “Modern Times” didn’t make “Tempest” disappointing enough, they had to release the best song on the album first. If only his 14-minute song about the Titanic featured nearly as much substance as this one does in its six minutes.
4. The Mountain Goats: “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” from
The Mountain Goats’ best song since “Woke Up New” in 2006, “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” is also 2012’s second most inspirational rock anthem, Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built” is easily the first.
“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive, do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away. Let people call you crazy for the choices you make. Climb limits past the limits, jump in front of trains all day, and stay alive.”
5. Cloud Nothings: “No Future/No Past” from “Attack on Memory”
“No Future/No Past” is a killer opener, and one of the four songs on “Attack on Memory” that grew on me. The other four tracks, sadly, still seem very overrated.
Five best closing tracks of 2012:
1. Burial: “Ashtray Wasp” from “Kindred”
My favorite instrumental of the year, “Ashtray Wasp” is nearly
twelve minutes of artsy dubstep; Atmospheric, gorgeous and almost perfect.
2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: “God Save the Queen” from “Americana”
The idea of ending an album made up mostly of American folk songs with the British national anthem seems incredibly cynical. One of my favorite personal music moments of the year was the feeling of delight I got the first time I heard this.
3. Loudon Wainwright III: “Something’s Out to Get Me” from “Older Than My Old Man Now”
As the final song on an album that looks at death and mortality in a variety of different ways, “Something’s Out to Get Me” could have gone in many directions. That’s why it’s so fascinating that it’s one of the only moments on the album where Wainwright seems legitimately terrified of death.
4. Fiona Apple: “Hot Knife” from “The Idler Wheel…”
“The Idler Wheel…” continued Fiona Apple’s winning streak, and holds quite a few of her best songs ever. “Hot Knife,” the album’s final song, is possibly the most memorable, due to its experimental vocal work and catchy refrain.
5. Imperial Teen: “Overtaken” from “Feel the Sound”
Albums tend to get less memorable in the last couple songs, which is why the closing tracks list was harder to compile than the one for opening tracks. I chose “Overtaken,” mainly because it stands as one of the best songs on a very good record. It’s definitely not among the very best songs of the year, though.