A friend put me onto an incredible documentary called Keep Me In Your Heart - the story of Warren Zevon making his final album. Watching as he recorded the final song that he would record before he passed away, aged just 56, got me thinking about the best last songs released by artists.
There are some that I am disappointed to leave out, such as Janis Joplin's classic Mercedes Benz, John Lennon's Just Like Starting Over, or Nirvana's About A Girl, but that's the fun of doing a Top 5!
So coming in at number...
5. Keep Me In Your Heart – Warren Zevon
An admittedly offbeat pick. It was an album cut that hit the charts as a single, but an incredible song, and the one that inspired me to start this list.
Warren Zevon was diagnosed with cancer and given only a short time to live. He had a documentary crew follow him for the last part of his life, and included an appearance as the sole guest on The Late Show with David Letterman, and the recording of his final album, The Wind. That album featured friends and fans including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Billy Bob Thornton, Don Henley, Tom Petty and many others.
Speaking about Keep Me In Your Heart Zevon said “I don’t think anybody knows quite what to do when they get the diagnosis. I picked up the guitar and found myself writing this kind of farewell. Instantly I realized I’d found what to do with myself. On reflection it might be a little bit of a ‘woe is me’ song, but it made me realize what I was going to do with the rest of the time."
His final song, on his final album.
4. Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
The wistful whistling at the end of this song takes on a more morbid tone when you realise why it's there. Otis Redding recorded this only 3 days before he died in a plane crash, and hadn’t finished the song. He whistled the last verse until he came up with the right lyrics, but never got that chance.
Steve Cropper (from Booker T and the MGs) finished the production of the song, Stax released it, and it became the first posthumous number one single on the Billboard Charts, as well as winning two Grammy awards in 1968.
One of the great soul artists taken too soon and leaving us asking what might have been.
3. Riders on the Storm - The Doors
The Doors were part band and part reminder that nobody remembers the 70s quite as they were. Massive hit songs, run ins with the police, drugs, mysticism, and an enigmatic front man. They had it all.
The were in the studio jamming over the Stan Jones' Ghost Riders in the Sky when they hit on this riff. The lyrics were partly inspired by a serial killer, partly by a philosopher, and it is all brought together with Jim Morrison's whispers echoing the lyrics to create that ethereal overlay and Ray Manzarek on electric piano to give the rainfall effect.
At the age of 27 in a hotel room in Paris Jim Morrison left us, and the last song he recorded with The Doors was one that summed up his story. Like a dog without a bone, an actor out on loan - The Doors
2. Long and Winding Road - The Beatles
The last single The Beatles released, the last US number one, the end of a long and winding road for this legendary band. Written by Paul McCartney, produced by Phil Spector, John played bass, and George and Ringo got left off the track entirely!
When Paul first heard this track he demanded the harp be removed and the other orchestration toned down. It wasn't. Paul left the group, with this interference cited as one of the reasons for doing so.
Many years later it was remixed for Let It Be… Naked and you can hear Paul’s original vision HERE
I still love the original.
1. The Show Must Go On - Queen
Brian May wrote this track about Freddie’s struggle to perform due to severe illness near the end of his life. He recalled in Rolling Stone Magazine that Freddie could hardly walk when the 1990 recording session took place. "I said, 'Fred, I don't know if this is going to be possible to sing', and he went, 'I'll f***ing do it, darling' — vodka down — and went in and killed it, completely lacerated that vocal."
I could write more but this song, and Freddie's performance of it, speaks for itself. It was the last song on Queen’s 1991 album Innuendo, and serves as a fitting epitaph to one of the greatest performers the world has seen. I face it with a grin, I’m never giving in… on with the show!
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