Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne

In syndication since 1986, and now in our 30th year — Over 3,000 questions answered
Most recent column here — 18 years of archived ones are linked below


FOR THE WEEK OF DECEMBER 5, 2016

DEAR JERRY: Last year, you wrote about when the recording studios introduced the gimmick of ending a track by fading out the music.

Other than the obvious — having control over the running time — what are some other reasons?

Was the year-end Top 10 ever exclusively fade-out tunes?
—Sonny Guerrero, Douglas, Ariz.

DEAR SONNY: Two excellent questions, let's do it.

Other than being able to shave a few seconds, thus pleasing dee jays who generally favored records in the 2:00 to 2:30 range, here are other reasons to choose a fade-out over an abrupt, or "cold" ending.

Studio time is very expensive, especially when there are many musicians involved. So if someone flubs their part near the intended ending, a fade-out to silence, before the mistake, can provide a flawless master and eliminate a costly re-do.

But not every fade-out is based on track length, or glitch repair. Some are intentional, and create an even more appropriate ending than a sudden stop.

Three well-known songs in this category are: Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans"; Mitch Miller's "The Yellow Rose of Texas"; and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."

The fades on the first two continue the image of the troops marching onward, even after the listener hears the last of their diminished sounds.

And after Otis sits on the dock for a spell, the 15 second fade conjures up the image of him getting up and walking away, whistling as he goes.

Truth is, we never knew if he was headed for shore, or to make a splash off the other end of the dock. Ironically, that would be a cold ending following a fade out.

An abrupt ending to songs like those could subconsciously tell the listener, that's all folks, time to move on to the next tune.

Also, if a song has a catchy hook, hearing it repeated endlessly can be an effective tool.

Surely George Martin and his four famous friends knew this when they added three minutes and 45 seconds of "na na na na hey jude" to "Hey Jude," thus creating the world's longest earworm.

Similarly, the last words we hear from Roy Orbison in "Ride Away" are "tonight I'll ride away," with a subsequent fade that perfectly evokes the image of him on his BMW, with its distinctive air-cooled, horizontally opposed pistons, roaring down some lonely highway.

A less common, yet equally effective, variation is the fake fade-out.

Here the volume fades just enough to make one think the song is ending, but then it increases again, back to the normal level.

You really didn't want it to end, and it didn't.

The feeling here is much like an entertainer leaving the stage, then, to thundering applause, returns to continue the performance.

Two brilliant examples of the fade-out, fade-back-in gimmick are "Shout - Part 2," by the Isley Brothers (1959), and Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" (1969).

But unlike live versions by these artists, that always end cold, both of these recordings fade again at the end.

I suspect you ask only about the number of fade-outs in the year-end Top 10, because you know there were many years in the 1940s and early '50s when there were none.

Beginning in 1959, the fade-outs began occupying on average about half the annual Top 10.

Then came 1985, when for the first time every position in the Top 10 was held by a fade-out, as were songs No. 11 and No. 12.

This is Billboard's Top 12 for 1985:

1. "Careless Whisper" (Wham! Featuring George Michael)
2. "Like a Virgin" (Madonna)
3. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (Wham!)
4. "I Want To Know What Love Is" (Foreigner)
5. "I Feel for You" (Chaka Khan)
6. "Out of Touch" (Daryl Hall & John Oates)
7. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (Tears for Fears)
8. "Money for Nothing" (Dire Straits)
9. "Crazy for You" (Madonna)
10. "Take on Me" (a-ha)
11. "Everytime You Go Away" (Paul Young) 12. "Easy Lover" (Philip Bailey & Phil Collins)

The Chinese calendar wouldn't have agreed, but 1985 was definitely the Year of the Fade-Out. Just look at rest of the Top 30. No. 13 is "Can't Fight This Feeling" (REO Speedwagon), with a cold finish, then 16 of the next 17 are fade-outs:

14. "We Built This City" (Starship)
15. "The Power of Love" (Huey Lewis and the News)
16. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" Simple Minds
17. "Cherish" (Kool and the Gang)
18. "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" (John Parr)
19. "The Heat Is On" (Glenn Frey)
20. "We Are the World" (USA for Africa)
21. "Shout" (Tears for Fears)
22. "Part-Time Lover" (Stevie Wonder)
23. "Saving All My Love for You" (Whitney Houston)
24. "Heaven" (Bryan Adams)
25. "Everything She Wants" (Wham!)
26. "Cool It Now" (New Edition)
28. "Loverboy" (Billy Ocean)
29. "Lovergirl" (Teena Marie)
30. "You Belong to the City" (Glenn Frey)

As for the cold ending at No. 27, it is "Miami Vice Theme," by Jan Hammer.

IZ ZAT SO? Twice in the 20th century, two versions of the same song reached No. 1 back-to-back, with one fading out and one ending cold.

It first happened in 1947, with "Open the Door, Richard!," by Count Basie, featuring Harry Edison and Bill Johnson. This one fades out.

It was followed immediately with "Open the Door, Richard," (no exclamation) by the Three Flames, featuring "Tiger" Haynes, and it ends cold.

In 1957, "Young Love" by Sonny James, with a fade-out, topped the charts. One week later Tab Hunter's "Young Love" took over No. 1, and it has a cold ending.

Finally, when the topic is endings that do or don't fade, someone asks about "Not Fade Away." Whether by Buddy Holly (1957), or the Rolling Stones (1964), "Not Fade Away" does indeed fade away.

As do I for another week.

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