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The Era Of ‘Rinse And Repeat:’ Why Modern Pop Music Has A Problem With Succinct Endings

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Listen to these last thirty seconds of the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini.

Or the tail end of Count Basie’s “Splanky.”

Or the last bit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who:

Now: Have a listen to the recent #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart:

”Lovin On Me” by Jack Harlow.

Listen to how it ends:

And check out the last few seconds of this week’s #1 song, Beyonce’s “Texas Hold ‘Em.”

What do you notice?

Rossini, Basie, and The Who wrote endings. Half the songs in the current Top Ten don’t have endings. 

They just stop.

I used to not like songs that faded out:

Thinking that the only reason for the fade was they couldn’t think of a good ending. I was wrong, of course. Some songs fade out for artistic reasons.

The fade out of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” is famous for its long fade out. The fade is longer than some of their early songs. 

Others songs fade out because they end with an improvised outro and perhaps the improvised ending wasn’t good. Maybe someone made a mistake near the end.

Another reason for the fade out is the radio DJs used to like talking over the intros and outros of records. Give a DJ something to talk over, and he might be more likely to play your song.

Radio isn’t as important now in the streaming age. But that can’t be the only explanation for songs just stopping. It’s definitely part of it, though. I’ll get to that.

My assumption, possibly incorrectly again, was that most music is recorded in digital audio workstations, or “DAWS.”

These are software programs that allow musicians and producers to copy and paste snippets of sound. My feeling was that a drum pattern, which was probably sampled or created with a drum machine, is pasted in for as many times as it takes for the length of the song.

There probably isn’t a recorded ending- so it just stops at the end of the pattern.

That seems like lazy songwriting. So maybe there are other reasons for the lack of written endings in many current Pop songs. Trends evolve in both production techniques and audience preferences. Pop music is always changing, and maybe people, especially young people, actually like random endings.

While radio isn’t what it used to be, it’s still important for hopeful Pop Stars.

  • They have to produce music in a radio-friendly format and radio stations often prefer songs that fit neatly into specific time slots. 

Disk jockeys no longer spin discs. They punch up a playlist on a computer. Songs of an exact length without a fade out are easier to program into a set that will end just in time for the news at the top of the hour.

  • If songs need to be precise lengths, artists are more likely to cut off the music abruptly, rather than write lengthy or elaborate endings. Concise endings can easily transition to the next track.
  • With the rise of streaming platforms, listeners have access to vast libraries of music and can quickly skip to the next track. They might not even make it to the end of the song.

As attention spans diminish in the digital age, songs may try to maintain listener engagement by keeping them short and to the point.

  • Sudden endings might contribute to a sense of immediacy and allow listeners to seamlessly move on to the next song in their playlist.

Instead of worrying about endings, contemporary Pop songs prioritize catchy hooks and memorable choruses.

These leave a longer-lasting impression on listeners. After all, you might hum a melody. You won’t whistle an ending. 

So: songwriters and producers allocate time and attention to crafting compelling verses and choruses:

Perhaps at the expense of developing elaborate endings that the listeners may not even get to.

That “Skip” button is so shiny and tempting. The focus is often on creating a strong impact throughout the song. The ending is an afterthought.

Plus, we’re in the age of remix culture and electronic dance music (EDM.)

Many Pop songs are remixed and reinterpreted by DJs and producers for clubs, parties, and other dance venues. These DJs, not to be confused with radio DJs who have a different set of priorities, like songs with open-ended or repetitive structures because they provide flexibility for mixing and blending with other tracks.

In the Disco of the 70s and 80s, club DJs used variable speed turntables so they needed long outros to sync up the next record and switch from one to the other. Most DJs today use laptops.

That’s not to say there’s no talent involved. It takes computer skills and a good ear to keep a crowd dancing, but long outros aren’t necessary. The software will make the syncing easy.

Having said all that, it’s worth noting:

There are still plenty of pop songs with traditional endings or outros.

More so in genres outside the mainstream or in songs that prioritize artistic expression over commercial considerations.

But, (and may reveal me to be an old fogey,) to have a rollicking Pop tune like, say…

Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” end on the minor 2nd – makes it feel incomplete:

Ending on a minor 2nd is perfectly fine, of course.

And it would be great in a mysterious Jazz or Goth song.

But “Shake It Off” is a major key Pop song that only ends on the minor 2nd because… that’s the first chord of the pattern.

Swift and producers Max Martin and Shellback decided to simply end it there. They could have just as easily ended on the previous chord or the next one, just by deleting part of the pasted in pattern.

Surely our best songwriters can write endings.

Let’s have some bombast in Pop again.

And not just endings built by

copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and
copying and pasting and copying and pasting and copying and pasting and

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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 7:44 am

Interesting to think about. For certain songs, I think the abrupt non-ending works. But I agree it’s a rather sad trend to have overall.

It’s bad enough that pop songs have grown more repetitive and less dynamic, and less complex in terms of lyrics, melody, and timbre (Parmer et al., 2019).

But now there’s barely an end.

mt58
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March 1, 2024 7:56 am

Invoking a callback to a point that you illustrated in your excellent article from Thursday:

What do Louis Armstrong, my father, and probably 85% of casual music fans have in common?

They all bemoan the fact that “this new stuff is junk. In my day, we had real melody, great song craft and lyrics, and interesting recordings to listen to“.

I really, really try like hell to have an open mind about what’s happening in current pop music. I feel like I owe it to the younger people to not be knee-jerk dismissive. It’s not a nice thing to do.

We had our fun, they should have theirs. But that said, I really just can’t get my head around fare like “WAP.” it feels Like it’s shocking for the sole purpose,to be shocking, and I honestly can’t see the art beyond what feels like contrived and somewhat pandering novelty.

And I’m willing to admit that that might be my problem. I’ll get back to you all.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 9:05 am
Reply to  mt58

I know what you mean. I am always open for new music to enjoy, and make an effort to get into new sounds (though they tend to be on the indie side).

And yet, those trends over time are real, at least at the broad level. Increasing homogeneity and deceasing complexity doesn’t mean any given new song will be bad, but it does explain why I feel like not as many songs stand out overall.

I like WAP as a song, though I find the broader trend of blunt sexuality in pop as rather numbing and unimaginative. I agree it’s an easy form of pandering. But it’s not even that novel given the trends in pop and rap since the 80s: Prince, 2 Live Crew, Lil Kim, R. Kelly, etc. Still, on its own, solid song.

mt58
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mt58
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March 1, 2024 10:06 am

Talking to myself here:
It’s important to remember that every generation has its own version of “that dirty record.“.
While WAP is a little over-the-top for yours truly, let’s not pretend that we didn’t have our own thing going on in 1971:

Absolutely, positively, “stop making those noises in my Spanish class, or you’re going down to the principal’s office” level of scandalous at the time.

https://youtu.be/mp-NIC6X0GQ?si=718DTx9GEgSZcVRR

LinkCrawford
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March 1, 2024 10:16 am
Reply to  mt58

Since the beginnings of time, I’m sure. There’s a story about that Spanish class there waiting to be told…

mt58
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March 1, 2024 10:41 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

It involves me, my lack of impulse control, trying and failing whilst attempting to show off and impress Gina Fannacocci, and a phone call from the principal to my mother.

Who was convinced that I was going to be expelled.

Mercifully, cooler heads prevailed.

rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 11:38 am
Reply to  mt58

In the passing references you’ve made to grammar school, I get the distinct feeling that just about everyone you went to school with was Italian. I could be very wrong.

mt58
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March 1, 2024 11:57 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

I’d say 80%, anyway. It was just a neighborhood circumstance thing.

Or maybe an illegal yet unspoken redlining thing. Hard to say.

rollerboogie
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rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 12:35 pm
Reply to  mt58

Now you’re speaking Chicago.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 10:16 am
Reply to  mt58

Hey, this was recorded in 1935 (Link, stay away!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln4MPdvnkC0

LinkCrawford
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March 1, 2024 10:19 am

Indeed. I’ve heard of this one.

Here’s a collection on Archeophone Records called “Actionable Offenses” of recordings from the late 1800s. They’re mostly spoken word, I think, but just shows how they’ve been around forever.

I do not own this album 🙂

https://www.archeophone.com/catalogue/actionable-offenses/

mt58
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March 1, 2024 10:46 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

{ BTW, tech note FYI: I know that sometimes an upvote is not accessible on desktop when links or quoted text are displayed.

Workaround: change the browser size from 100% to something smaller, like 80% (ctrl-mousescroll), and you can upvote, and then return to 100%. I will work on proper fix when I’m able.}

Last edited 4 months ago by mt58
rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 1:29 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I was a music teacher in the Catholic schools briefly in the late 80s and early 90s, and once, a bunch of 8th grade boys wanted to play a song for me during music class, when the girls for some reason weren’t present. It was The Humpty Dance by Digital Underground. I allowed it all the way up until the “once got busy in a Burger King bathroom” line and then abruptly got up and shut it off and said, “yeah that’s about enough of that” and we proceeded to have a frank conversation about premarital sex. Interesting day.

cappiethedog
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March 5, 2024 4:26 pm
Reply to  mt58

Holy cow. “Jungle Fever” charted? #8. In a way, it’s hornier than “Erotic City”. Those Belgian producers, I think inspired Melvin Van Peebles. I’m looking at Wikipedia. The Chakachas recorded “Jungle Fever” in 1970. Van Peebles was living in France around this time. “Jungle Fever” precedes Sweet Sweetback Baadasssss Song by a year. I can’t think of a film with naked black ladies before the advent of these grindhouse movies. That woman on the cover art could pass as a crude rendering of Pam Grier.

LinkCrawford
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March 1, 2024 9:58 am
Reply to  mt58

Surprisingly, I also can’t get into “WAP”. And I’m not giving it any more chances. 😛

rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 1:41 pm
Reply to  mt58

My daughter was only 11 when WAP came out, but was well aware of it and knew it was not for kids without having to be told. She referred to it as Waffles and Pancakes. We joked that Kidz Bop would eventually get around to recording a kid friendly version by that title, because it was a known fact in our household that Kidz Bop had no shame.

Last edited 4 months ago by rollerboogie
LinkCrawford
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March 1, 2024 10:02 am

This is a fun article! My theory is that random, abrupt endings are just what’s in now. Artists have been doing it for a while now, and it just sounds normal, so when producing a song, it’s the default. Sometimes it is ok, but I agree, sometimes it does feel lazy and distracts from the feel of the song.

The end of “Shake It Off” does kind of bug me. It always reminds me of Eagles’ “Take It Easy”, a fun, major key song that inexplicably ends on a minor chord. I really don’t like that ending. (Also see The Associations’ “Cherish”).

LinkCrawford
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March 1, 2024 10:09 am

I will disagree somewhat with the statement “You won’t whistle an ending”. There are some songs that I think are very average, but the ending is SO GOOD, that it skews my entire opinion of a song in a positive direction. I’ll happily listen to the entire song so that I can hear the ending. The only example that is coming to mind right now is Mr. Acker Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore”, an ok easy listening song, but with an ending that just makes me melt. I love it.

Endings of songs really, really can improve upon a song, sealing the deal, one might say. So I’m with your main point. Random endings, while ok at times as a novelty or fitting the artistic aim of the song, often feel lazy.

By the way, my oldest daughter, a big music listener, frequently skips to the next song once her favorite 10 seconds of a song, or the bridge she likes is over. Skip…skip…skip…skip. I’ll tell her that she can let her whole song play, I don’t mind listening, and she will reply that this is how she always listens to music.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 10:30 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

David Bowie’s “Rock n Roll Suicide” is one example I can think of.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 1, 2024 11:49 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

My daughter, a 12 year old, tends to listen to the whole song. Though rather than lack of attention span that could just be due to the opposite attribute of laziness.

Yeah, pretty sure it’s laziness 😁

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 10:23 am

Alternative title for this piece: “Premature Evacuation.”

Low4
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March 1, 2024 10:38 am

And there I was, thinking copy/paste was my thing. Oh well.

mt58
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March 1, 2024 10:51 am
Reply to  Low4

Maybe they stole it from you!

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 1, 2024 11:37 am

Interesting stuff. Like Link said, these things come and go in phases. I’m sure in a few years things will have moved on some.

I can’t say that I have a problem with it, whereas (with a few honorable exceptions such as Hey Jude where it fits the elongated na na na na) the fade out has always been a bugbear for me. For all the reasons you said I can see why it’s done but it’s just a waste of a few seconds when something more interesting could be going on. Like the next track. They might not be writing an ending now but they’re getting the job done and keeping it moving. It might not be as grandiose but there’s plenty genres and niches to serve everyone’s needs.

It feels like its within the grand tradition that each generation finds fault with what the next generation is listening to. In 20 or 30 years time the Swifties will have something to say about the new fangled pop fads they can’t get their heads around – it wasn’t like this in the 2020s they’ll decry while their kids and grandkids roll their eyes and get on with mainlining songs direct from the artist psychic patch into their brains without the need for anything so antiquated as a smart speaker and Bluetooth.

rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 11:45 am

That last paragraph in particular rings very true.

rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 11:43 am

I have listened to a lot of current pop music in recent years, because of my daughter mostly, and I don’t really have an issue with how songs end. I do remember lamenting when fade-outs became mostly passé. It was like losing a part of my childhood.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 1, 2024 11:55 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

Part of what I love about this place. I’m fine that the fade out… err… faded out but for others it’s an essential part of the formative musical experiences. Everyone brings their own perception and we all get along fine.

mt58
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March 1, 2024 11:59 am

I’m grateful for all of it, and for all of you, everyday.

rollerboogie
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March 1, 2024 12:33 pm
Reply to  mt58

Even after you’ve received 7 edited versions of the same article?
Sorry about that by the way.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 1, 2024 12:34 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

Thought that was only me…

blu_cheez
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March 2, 2024 9:32 pm

One thing long fade-outs gets you is a chance for the singer to vamp a bit – often (looking at you, Hall & Oates & Bob Seger) that can be annoying, but the trills at the end of “Every Breath You Take” and “Dreams” are simply divine.

spacecitymarc
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March 5, 2024 1:13 pm

I hadn’t realized until just now how similar the endings of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and the “William Tell Overture” were. Like, they’re each doing the exact same thing within the confines of their milieu.

I have no problem with fadeouts; just one more tool in the arsenal. You’ve got your fadeout, your hard stop, your slowdown, your sudden cutoff, your direct segue, your fall-apart… Use it smartly — or maybe more to the point, don’t use it dumbly — and I’m in your corner.

As for the sudden shrug-stop that we seem to be talking about here, there’s precedent. Ten whole years ago, we had “Break Free,” in which Ariana Grande and Zedd suddenly shift to an entirely new EDM vibe before suddenly doing whatever the electronic version of a spool of tape falling off the roller is. And of course Janet Jackson abruptly complained “That’s the end?” all the way back in 1989. There are certainly others that I’m not listing here, but this ain’t my article, pallys. Everything old is new again. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out whether it’s having a moment, though. AND THE SEASONS THEY GO ROU

One thing that I find interesting (conceptually, anyway) is when an artist takes a song that fades out on the record and performs it live. Now, there’s intrigue: How are they going to end something that doesn’t, strictly speaking, have an end? Cheap Trick faced this problem a couple of times on At Budokan. For “Surrender,” they added a little tricksy bash-out flourish to take it home. But for “I Want You To Want Me,” they flat-out fixed the song. (To be fair, the entirety of the Budokan “I Want You To Want Me” is a top-to-bottom fixing of the song.) In place of just skipping into the void like the album version, they loop back around to the very start, bookending the thing with the triumphant roar that brought the thing to life at the very start. It’s perfect.

And then there’s the opposite, and for that I share with you Too Much Joy’s “Theme Song.” On record, it’s a shaggy acoustic-with-drums strum that hits a hard stop after a few final choruses. On stage — and sadly, a cursory search turns up precious little video evidence of the ending of the song in question — they expand the whole song to a full band, with huge chords and huge drums. And they end by repeating that chorus ad infinitum, until the band leaves the stage one by one, starting with the singer, until all that’s left is the drums and the audience chanting out the words to the chorus, at which point the drummer gets up and walks off. If everything has gone correctly, the audience continues to chant on their own for a while. They remain one of the only bands I’ve ever seen successfully pull off a live fadeout.

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