Where did the "Rock and Roll Ending" come from?
November 28, 2021 6:52 PM   Subscribe

The song is over. The drummer starts going BAPPITA BAPPITA BAPPITA and the guitarist goes DOODLE DOODLE DO and the bass player goes BWAAAAABABABABA up the neck and the keyboardist plays seemingly random notes on the piano but it's also probably in the correct key and the lights are going nuts and then they all look at the drummer and she hits the crash cymbal as they all land on a quick chord and now the song is really over. Who invented that?

Did it originate with rock and roll, is it a jazz thing or did, like, the orchestras in Mozart's day all start playing crazy stuff at the end of the requiem before some guy blew out all the candles?

It is very important that I find this out.
posted by bondcliff to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Aarrrergh I used to know this one! It’s on the faint edges of memory. I think… no… ah, nuts. I can’t remember. It’s been a long time since I rock n rolled.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:18 PM on November 28, 2021

TV Tropes: Big Rock Ending. Not the answer, but might help?
posted by michaelh at 7:19 PM on November 28, 2021

Some drum forums call it a trash can ending, if that helps someone search.
posted by drezdn at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Structurally it has a lot in common with the cadenza - which started out as a flourish added by singers on the last or second-to-last or third-to-last chord of a piece, and over time became a thing that instrumentalists and other musicians did as well.

The wikipedia article has a pretty good rundown of the concept and history. It goes back at least as far as Baroque vocal music (so 17th Century-ish) and maybe even further?

The things it has in common with the big rock ending:

- A virtuosic flourish just before the end of the piece

- Non-metrical - meaning that the time is free (or at least, it can be) and the regular beat or meter of the preceding piece is put on hold for a while

- The character of a fermata or hold just before the end of the piece, then a dramatic resolution

- Improvised and somewhat chaotic character

Generally speaking, a cadence point is a point of rest or resolution. The end of a piece is (usually or often) the major cadence point of the piece.

If you want to point up this final cadence point and make it more dramatic, the way you do that is make the lead-up to the final resolution more dynamic, more dramatic, and more drawn out.

Holding out the chord right before the last one(s) while you play a lot of loud/fancy/chaotic/disorganized/dissonant/virtuousic stuff - then when you have build to a peak of intensity, resolving it with that final, satisfying chord - is like the textbook stereotypical way to put a big, satisfying conclusion to your musical work.

So it is an idea that has been implemented in different ways as long as there has been music involving cadences, where people thought of a musical phrase as a unit that builds up tension - rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic - until that tension is resolved at the cadence point. The "drive to the cadence" was a fundamental idea in Renaissance music, so the basic idea goes back at least that far.
posted by flug at 8:58 PM on November 28, 2021 [40 favorites]

Best answer: drezdn is on to something: "Let’s take an obvious example of an ending that an audience will respond to every time. It’s called a “trash can ending.” A trash can ending is one where there’s a big wrap-up to a high-energy song. The entire band powers out on the last chord, some members wildly riffing on their instruments, everyone playing with lots of energy, the drummer doing rolls on the drums, and so on, until the cut off. Your audience will know exactly what they’re supposed to do. Applaud! "

"Trainwreck ending" seems to be related.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2021

Best answer: I like the cadenza comparison for classical theory, but its historical roots are definitely in electric blues. Here's Muddy Waters with a great example in a live version of Got My Mojo Workin'. It's not a total trash can ending, but you can hear how it could evolve that way. So I think it makes sense to talk about it in terms of blues and jazz theory too.

In blues and jazz, a lot of songs have what's called a turnaround at the end of each verse: a little sequence of unresolved chords that builds tension and anticipation for the next verse. Having verses that end with an anticipation-builder like this is great when you want to solo for a long time, because it leaves you hungry for the soloist to continue. But then at the end of the song you're left in this state of frustrated anticipation.

Jazz has a bunch of different tactics for being like "ok, nope, I know I just built up some anticipation, but this is all you get, it's over." Tag endings like these are one option. Replace the turnaround of the last verse with one of these and it lets your audience know you're done. It's like holding up a little sign that says "Ok, you can let that energy go now." And there are others, too, but that's jazz and I'm not going down that rabbit hole.

Anyway. Another tactic is to embrace the frustrated energy of the unresolved chord — to leave it unresolved, hold the last chord, milk it for all it's worth, like in that Muddy Waters video. This is what electric blues often did. Where the cute jazz endings say "You can let that energy go now," this style of ending says "Fine, I guess the song's over, but whatever you do, do not let go of that energy." (In flug's terms, this is like ending on a cadenza without ever resolving into a final cadence. In classical music, you just wouldn't do that ever, because it would make your concerto feel unfinished.)

The electric blues of the 50s, and Muddy Waters in particular, were a huge influence on British Invasion blues rock, and from there on hard rock and heavy metal around the world. The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin were all hugely influenced by that era of American blues, and all loved Big Rock Endings. Hendrix was another big vector. Eventually, people decided they liked to end songs that way even when the song didn't end in a turnaround, which is why by the 90s you were hearing it in genres like grunge that didn't rely on blues or jazz harmony at all.

tl;dr: Ending verses in unresolved chords is a way of keeping energy high in blues and jazz tunes. Electric blues ends whole songs that way. British Invasion rock got it from electric blues. The rest of hard rock got it from them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:31 AM on November 29, 2021 [14 favorites]

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