It’s never easy to end something. Be it a story, a shower or a love affair, knowing when and how to finish it up is a challenge. But when it comes time to cut those chords in music, a big finish is that reminder: it’s done. This song is over. Sadly, the fadeout is another option.
I came across a post at the Invisible Oranges music blog the other day with a collection of metal’s most memorable fade-out riffs. This got me to thinking about the fadeout, and how it ever became part of music.
Popular wisdom has it that the song fadeout comes from radio in the 1950s. A DJ used the end of one song to segue into another. All the better to fit advertising in, goes the theory. As it turns out, there are many theories as to why some songs fade out and others have a clear final sound. There really is no definitive answer.
I discovered on Wikipedia that "Neptune," part of the orchestral suite The Planets, written by Gustav Holst between 1914 and 1916, was the first piece of music to have a fade-out ending. Interestingly, however, the fadeout in this case was used to create the illusion that a chorus of women’s voices was disappearing into another room. The audience was said to be enchanted.
I can’t say I feel overly enchanted by a song that just seems to keep going until someone in a studio decides to turn down the volume. Really, if you can’t decide on a final verse, make sure the chorus has been chanted enough times to become a popular karaoke pick, then end with a nice final note.
Over at Urban Dictionary, the “fade out” is described as a way to get out of a relationship without actually ending it. In other words, the cop out.
Five songs that fade out (and maybe shouldn’t):
1. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys
Most Beach Boys songs fade out. Sad, really. A good pop song deserves a strong beginning and ending. That said, I don’t usually put much stock in YouTube comments, but I’ll trust globalmonkey007: “The greatest song fade-out in music history.”
2. “Echoes,” Pink Floyd.
This song has the rare mid-song fadeout. But at 23 minutes, that’s almost like a track ending. Still, why harsh my mellow? I can only guess how much this freaked out those under the influence of performance-enhancing substances the first time they heard it.
3. “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” Radiohead.
Oddly enough, this song does not fade out.
4. “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight,” Cutting Crew.
If you’re dead, well, just die. Don’t draw this out.
5. “Tubthumping,” Chumbawamba.
Yup, this rousing club anthem just fades away like the dreams of one-hit wonders.
You Ask, We Answer: Why Do Some Songs Fade Out At The End?