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“On the Border”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 15, 2014

Last night, I read this article about the fading art of the fade out on Slate.  I was surprised to learn that a) the fade out in popular music really is something of an art form, technically speaking, and b) that artists don’t use fade outs all that much anymore.

I know I really don’t listen to that much current Pop music; most of my radio listening is Classic Rock.  Come to think of it, most of my musical consumption in general is Classic Rock.  Or what gets classified as “Adult Alternative” (read: well-written, intelligent, witty, and emotional music recorded by and aimed at adults).  And a lot of those artists do use fade outs.  Classic Rock is rife with them.

Mostly, fade outs are the chorus repeated over and over, constantly getting softer until you can’t hear anything.  (There’s more to it than that in terms of how it gets recorded and mixed, but you can read that in the article for yourself.)  It’s a way to end the song without having to come up with a distinct conclusion.  Sometimes, a performer cuts loose and has a little fun in the fade out.  The article mentions a number of notable and wonderful fade outs.  The most famous of them is probably “Hey Jude,” which I believe is still officially the longest fade out in Rock history.  Paul McCartney  really gets in touch with his inner screamer in that song.

What didn’t surprise me at all about the Slate article is that it failed to mention the Eagles, whom I consider the kings of the fade out.  I know that for a lot of people, the Eagles are just the most egregious example slick, corporate music and excessive douchiness. So they don’t get credit for the things they do well.  They don’t cut loose and get wild.  In some ways, their fade outs aren’t really meandering conclusions, they’re extra verses–the stray bits and pieces where the character tells you what he’s really feeling.  There’s a lot of pathos in some of them (“New Kid in Town” is great for that).  But my personal favorite is the snippy political anger in “On the Border.”

It’s weird how both dated and relevant this song is.  Written about Nixon-era scandal and surveillance, “On the Border” actually takes on an even more sinister edge in this era of the NSA and the PATRIOT act.  Younger listeners might not catch the Nixon stuff; “Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order” is a direct reference to Nixon’s stance as a law and order president–a stance that was obliterated when his role in the Watergate cover-up was revealed.  The album On the Border was released in 1974, and most of the songs were probably written at about the same time.  The title single was certainly recorded as the Watergate scandal was winding down.  Nixon was on his way out, whether or not the resignation was official when the Eagles were in the studio.  You can hear it in the smiling voices (Glenn Frey and Don Felder, maybe?) in the fade out: “Say goodnight, Dick.”

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