When I was in High School a million years ago, there was one song that was always played as the "last dance" song. That song was "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. As soon as the solo guitar intro started, you knew you had better grab your best bet for the end of the dance, and it better be someone you liked, because at a whopping seven minutes, fifty eight seconds, it was a pretty serious commitment of time in close proximity. On the other hand, if you didn't have anyone to dance with on the downbeat, you could spend an extra 30-60 seconds finding an acceptable dance partner and still have plenty of cling time.
But as perfect as a last-song slow-dance-song that it was, there was always this one section where nobody ever quite knew what to do. About three-quarters of the way through the song, it gets loud and bangy and upbeat until the very end, when it slows down one last time. Thus the dilemma: was it a slow dance song or a fast dance song? What was a teenager to do?
If you really liked your dance partner, you ignored the musical demands to break away and "fast dance" and instead you would cling like expensive Saran wrap until the bitter end. If you didn't like them as much, you might fast dance a bit, or laugh and act moronic (which we all did most of the time anyway) until it slowed down again. It offered a moment of levity, which was handy when necessary.
I don't know if there is a "last dance" song these days like there were in the days of yore. I don't even know if there is any hit song today that could come close to the length and slow dance tempo of "Stairway to Heaven." Even "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" pales at a measly six minutes, fourteen seconds. And who wants to dance to a song about a shipwreck (NOTE: Celine Dion's messy "My Heart Will Go On" does NOT count as a shipwreck song).
Despite its off-kilter moments of tempo and gusto, I always remember "Stairway to Heaven" as a sure thing in the unsure world of a teenager. And although my high school days are long gone, I just may find myself a copy of Stairway to Heaven and play it at about 11:52pm on New Year's Eve. It seems an appropriate ending to another year. Something long, slow and familiar to cling to, with a little bit of a kick thrown in towards the end to shake things up a bit. After all, life is never the same tempo. Last songs shouldn't be either.