Gimme a great coda: Tom Hogan explains the importance of ending a song well

The musical polymath Tom Hogan knows a thing or two about songcraft. Read on as he reminds us that a coda might just make or break a song.

This may be the music academic in me talking, but I’m obsessed with structure, and how it can make or break a song. And my favourite structural trick is a good coda; new material at the end of the song, that becomes the most memorable hook.

The hard part is to make sure the audience has a reason to listen all the way through before the really good part starts. And when they’re there, you can repeat one phrase until it takes on new meaning, or remould the song into a new sound as a big cathartic release.

So here are 10 of my favourites, and one of my own.

Tom Hogan

I tried to set myself some rules here; The big one is that I didn’t want to have any songs where the coda was mostly a guitar solo. That did rule out some epic and flawless songs though (apologies to The Chain by Fleetwood Mac) and perhaps I’ll never live that down. Just be happy knowing that I’m lying awake somewhere right now, tormented over that decision.

Phoebe Bridgers – I Know The End

A stunning closer for her Punisher album – this album may have been the only good thing that happened in 2020. It also feels like it was about 2020 as well.

alt-j – Breezeblocks

For this song to have an ending this good shows amazing restraint. This song’s coda is so catchy, and so memorable, that it’s amazing they didn’t use this as the opening hook, or write the whole song around it as a chorus.

Courtney Barnett – Sunday Roast

This is the perfect Courtney Barnett song, capturing her sound, and relatability. Show this to anyone you know who isn’t converted to her. If you’re ever feeling homesick, this is the track that makes you realise it’s not the places you want to go back to, it’s the people.

Car Seat Headrest – Drugs With Friends

I don’t know how someone can write a lyric as good as “Last Friday, I took acid and mushrooms — I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit in a stupid looking jacket” and somehow have that not be the best part of the song.

Nine Inch Nails – All The Love In The World

This was a turning point for Nine Inch Nails – I’m sure plenty of old school fans hated this. All I know is I couldn’t get enough of it. Weird that it’s the only song on here that feels electronic. Maybe codas are designed for folky rock songs, but this is a real exception to the rule.

Foo Fighters – New Way Home

This deserves a place on here, just for (I think) being the first time I’d ever even noticed a coda at all. I was 15 and I’d just learned my third song on guitar (Filter’s Take A Picture, Matchbox 20’s 3 am, and The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon). So, really, this whole album by the Foo Fighters has a whole lot to answer for. I can barely stand listening to them anymore, which I think says more about me than it does about them.

The Beatles – Hey Jude

Arguably the best and most famous coda of all time. Well, this, and The Chain by Fleetwood Mac. This song wins out, purely because I love hearing Paul McCartney say “fucking hell” in the background, at 2m 58s when he gets a chord wrong on the piano. Hey actually, can I just do a whole article on my favourite accidents that made it to the final version?

Hundred Waters – Blanket Me

Perhaps this isn’t strictly a coda, but it sure feels like it. Or maybe this song has a coda laced through the entire song, then has the gall to add an epilogue as well. Hearing the singer Nicole Miglis sing the words “blanket me” so much, running out of breath, and twisting this song structure inside out is almost a religious experience for me.

Low – When I Go Deaf

This is one of my favourite songs ever. The lyrics are heartbreaking. Feel free to turn it up; this song puts you in such a state of confident comfort, that the ending is ready to destroy your speakers. And still, it’s never loud enough.

Julia Jacklin – Body

The exceptional thing is that this song gets to a coda without relying on a build-up or an explosion – it gets you there by just having a good story, told exceptionally well. Watch the film clip for the quiet cathartic frolic underlying this song.

Tom Hogan – Darling I Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye

So then, I tried one myself. Honestly, my dream is to one day write a song that makes someone do another drive around the block just to avoid turning the radio off, so they can belt out the lyrics in their car.