One maxim of story telling is that the best endings feel both inevitable and surprising. By feeling inevitable, they present something that resembles the workings of the world. Through surprise, they leap ahead of our expectations.
Song is a narrative form, and sometimes a song takes a final leap that feels like an escape through a magic portal.
The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” makes such a leap. Three and a half minutes into the track, right when we think the song has finished smashing its way through fields of “teenage wasteland,” the song takes a left turn and never comes back. In this extended coda, the horizon is wider, the ride is faster and smoother, suggestive of an approach to a shoreline (much like the end of The 400 Blows).
Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand” also takes a surprising leap at the end.
Just as we begin the third chorus, the song drops into a groove with a funkier edge, and the lyrical refrain “Stand” shifts from a tone of encouragement and affirmation to one of defiant celebration. Notice how crucial the timing of this shift is. The radical nature of this coda is partly informed by the sense that it arrived before we were ready.
It’s worth noting that the success of both endings lie in the fact that while they both feel surprising, they also feel inevitable. Somehow we feel as if we were headed to these endings all along.
Thank you for reading.