1. One song per artist, per category. Otherwise Bruce would fairly easily have two in each, and Butch and Jimmy would both stand a fairly good shot at grabbing two of the slots in the album closer section.
2. The album in question has to be at least a year old, and I have to have been listening to it for at least a year as well. You never know what's going to stand the test of time.
3. Intros or outros don't count. A closer is a closer, even if there's an epilogue afterwords (though I will never understand the band who tacks on a lame outro track). Hidden tracks, if they were featured on the actual CD do count, however. Why? Because I want them to.
1. Bruce Springsteen - "Thunder Road" from Born to Run (1975)
I don't know how many times I've gone on about how perfect a song and how perfect an opener this masterpiece is, but rest assured, I could go on for much longer. From the chilling piano/harmonica intro to the deeply poetic lyrics (especially the first verse), there's nothing about this song I would change. I'm not sure Bruce has ever sounded better than he does here, and I still get chills when I hear him sing "show a little faith, there's magic in the night." The song just builds and builds, eschewing the normal verse/chorus dynamic of most pop and rock songs, and just flowing in a way that I still can't describe, even after I've listened to it hundreds of times and played it myself on countless occasions. No album has ever opened with a more powerful or inspirational song: it sets the scene for what is to follow, gathering steam as it goes, with Bruce's vocal line getting higher and the band closing in, until it all collapses, in a cascade of piano keys, into Clarence Clemons repeating sax solo. I don't think there could possibly a more fitting introduction to the greatest album of all time.
2. U2 - "Where the Streets Have No Name" from The Joshua Tree (1987)
3. The Wallflowers - "One Headlight" from Bringing Down The Horse (1996)
4. Bob Dylan - "Like a Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
5. Matthew Ryan - "Return to Me" from Regret Over The Wires (2003)
What can I say about the song that has probably landed itself on more of my mixtapes and playlists than perhaps any other in my collection? This slow burning track, juxtaposing a lurching electronic drum beat with a gentle acoustic swell to create an atmosphere that is both hopeful and relaxing, and Ryan's low, soothing vocals sound rich and warm from beginning to end. In my collection, I don't think there's a single song that I've returned to (no pun intended) for comfort, time and time again, like I have this one. In turns, it's been a lullaby, a soundtrack for thoughtful drives, a farewell to important things in my life, and even a victory anthem, and for that reason, it's become one of the most played songs and best kept secrets in my collection. I love it today as much or more than I did the first time I ever heard it, and while I think it would have worked just as well as a closer as it does an opener, it remains one of my all time favorite songs, and therefore deserves a slot on this list.
6. Chad Perrone - "Blinded" from Wake (2008)
Honorable Mentions: The Who - "Baba O' Riley" from Who's Next (1971)
Counting Crows - "Round Here" from August And Everything After (1993)
But how can I have an opener list without at least mentioning Augustana ("Hey Now"), The Beach Boys ("Wouldn't It Be Nice?"), Beck ("The Golden Age"), Black Lab ("Mine Again"), Butch ("The Weight of Her"), Cary Brothers ("Ghost Town"), The Damnwells ("Soundtrack"), Dashboard ("Hands Down" or "The Brilliant Dance"), Bowie ("Five Years"), The Fucking Eagles, Man! ("Hotel Calfornia"), Elton John ("Tiny Dancer"), Fastball ("The Way"), The Gaslight Anthem (a wash between "American Slang" and "Great Expectations"), Goo Goo Dolls ("Big Machine"), any of the Jack's Mannequin openers, most of the Jimmy Eat World ones (especially "Futures"), Lennon ("Imagine"), Jon McLaughlin ("Industry"), Josh Ritter ("Girl in the War"), The Killers ("Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"), Lydia ("This is Twice Now"), any Marvelous 3, Mat Kearney ("All I Have" or "Undeniable"), Matt Nathanson ("Car Crash"), Oasis ("Hello"), Pete Yorn ("Life on a Chain"), Ryan Adams ("New York, New York"), Ryan Bingham ("Southside of Heaven"), Safetysuit ("Someone Like You"), Sister Hazel ("Your Mistake"), either Something Corporate opener, Switchfoot ("Needle in Haystack Life"), Third Eye Blind ("Faster"), Valencia ("Better Be Prepared"), Will Hoge ("Hard to Love"), William Fitzsimmons ("It's Not True"), 1969 ("Why the Suspense"/"Wreck Me"), or extra Springsteen ("Badlands"), U2 ("Sunday Bloody Sunday"), Wallflowers ("Days of Wonder"), Dylan ("Tangled Up In Blue"), Chad Perrone ("OK") and Counting Crows ("Hard Candy").
1. Bruce Springsteen - "Jungleland" from Born to Run (1975)
2. Jimmy Eat World - "23" from Futures (2004)
3. Butch Walker - "Stateline" from Letters (2004)
4. "Cigarette Lighter Love Song" from Readysexgo! (2000)
5. The Dangerous Summer - "Never Feel Alone" from Reach for the Sun (2009)
6. The Killers - "Why Do I Keep Counting?" from Sam's Town (2006)
(one) Honorable Mention: Green Day - "Whatsername" from American Idiot (2004)
The "they don't quite count in the ways I want them to, but are still killer ways to close an album" category
Third Eye Blind - The last three songs on Third Eye Blind (1998)
Dashboard Confessional - "Dusk & Summer" and "Heaven Here" from Dusk & Summer (2006)
I could go on all night listing honorable mentions for closing tracks. More often than not, the closer ends up being the peak of the album (or at least one of them), and there are so many songs that could have made it onto this list easily. Springsteen has more great closers than I could ever have fit on here, even if I had allowed for more than one per artist. "Darkness on the Edge of Town," all of side two from The Wild, The Innocent ("Incident," "Rosalita," and "New York City Serenade" could have easily made it into that last category), "Valentines Day," or certainly "My City of Ruins." As I said, every Jimmy album sports a great closer, same for Butch (including the Marvelous 3 material). I love closers that reprise bits and pieces of their albums' earlier songs, like Chad Perrone's "Keep Us Around" (all of his closers are incredible, including "Goodnight, Goodbye" from his old band Averi), or Valencia's "Free," and could have easily swapped them in for that fifth slot. And even then there's Will Hoge ("This Highway's Home"), The Gaslight Anthem ("The Backseat"), Anberlin ("*Fin"), Arcade Fire ("Sprawl II"), The Beatles ("A Day in the Life," the Abbey Road Medley, "Twist & Shout"), Ben Folds ("The Luckiest"), Billy Joel ("Everybody Has A Dream" OR "Miami 2017"), Black Lab ("Circus Lights"), Bloc Party ("Ion Square"), Bon Iver ("Re-Stacks"), Counting Crows ("Walkaways," "A Murder of One"), David Bowie ("Rock 'n' Roll Suicide") Death Cab For Cutie ("A Lack of Color"), Doves ("Caught by the River"), Fastball ("Whatever Gets You On"), The Format ("If Work Permits"), Guster ("Parachute"), Idlewild ("In Remote Pt. 1/Scottish Fiction"), ANY of the Iron & Wine closers, The Injured List ("Wait"), Jack's Mannequin ("Into The Airwaves" or "Caves"), Jesse Malin ("Aftermath"), Lifehouse ("Everything"), Matchbox Twenty ("The Difference"), Michael McDermott ("Carry Your Cross"), Motion City Soundtrack ("Hold Me Down" OR "Even If It Kills Me"), The New Frontiers ("Who Will Give Us Love?"), Oasis ("Champagne Supernova"), Peter Gabriel (the iconic "In Your Eyes," thanks to ANOTHER John Cusack movie), Radford ("How Does It Feel"), Ryan Bingham ("For What It's Worth"), Safetysuit ("Life Left To Go"), Something Corporate ("Miss America"), more Third Eye Blind ("Good Man") Van Morrison ("Slim Slow Slider"), The Who ("Won't Get Fooled Again") and Yellowcard ("Back Home").
Even with that exhaustive list, I'm certain I've missed more than a few of my favorites, and if you asked me the same question next week, any of the above could jump up even higher in the conversation. This list was also made, in accordance with rule number two, by completely ignoring 2011, which took more than a few terrific songs out of the conversation on both sides. Ultimately though, these songs represent some of the greatest, most emotionally moving, and most lasting music in the world, at least to me, and really, what else even matters?