Not everybody loves a surprise, but when it comes to The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock movies, Stephen King novels, and certain pop and rock songs, it’s utterly impossible to resist a great twist ending.
The following ten chart hits each stand as interesting and entertaining compositions on their own, but it’s their sudden, unexpected lyrical payoffs that’s elevated each to unique classic status.
So brace yourself for spoilers and see if you can predict where these numbers are going. Join us in counting down a particularly twisted Top 10 songs that culminate in amazingly rocking reveals.
“We Gotta Get You a Woman” – Todd Rundgren (1970)
The Song: A witty, piano and light-percussion-driven toe-tapper, “We Gotta Get You a Woman” hit #20 on the pop chart, and received enormous support from FM rock radio. It’s a single from Todd Rundgren’s breakthrough, Runt—which technically wasn’t his solo debut (Runt was also the band’s name), but which has since come to be considered as such. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” continues to turn up on classic rock outlets.
The Set-Up: In tune with the whimsical music, a studly dude narrator talks a big game about setting up his lonely friend, Leroy, with a hot female number. “Got to get you together with a woman who has been around/One who knows better than to let you down/Let’s hope there’s still one left in this whole town.”
The Big Reveal: Mr. Studly Dude is a bigger, lonelier schmuck than even poor Leroy, as is charmingly revealed in the song’s funnily sheepish punchline: “We gotta get you a woman/and when we’re through with you… we’ll get me one, too….”
“Timothy” – The Buoys (1971)
The Song: The only chart appearance by one-hit wonders the Buoys, “Timothy” was written by Rupert Holmes (he comes up again later in this list) and it peaked at #17. Some radio stations banned “Timothy” due to its decidedly twisted twist ending, and that was the intention of all involved from the get-go. The band hoped the controversy would generate sales. To a point, it did (plus, here we are discussing it four decades later).
The Set-Up: Three coal miners—the narrator, Joe, and Timothy—get trapped by a cave-in. Underground, there’s only enough water for two of them and, “Hungry as hell/no food to eat/Joe said that he would sell his soul/For just a piece of meat.”
The Big Reveal: Only two miners get rescued from the wreck, with the narrator ghoulishly revealing, “Timothy, Timothy/Joe was looking at you/Timothy, Timothy/God, what did we do?/I must have blacked out just around then/’Cause the very next thing that I could see/Was the light of the day again/My stomach was full as it could be/And nobody ever got around/To finding Timothy.”
“All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” – Heart (1990)
The Song: A #2 smash power ballad written by super-producer Mutt Lange, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson loved Mutt and his composition, but the sisters never felt at ease with the lyrics’ larger implications about conniving women. A few years later, while rehearsing “All I Wanna Do” for a concert that evening, Ann stopped playing it and announced, “You know what? This song gives me the creeps!” Nancy and the rest of the band laughingly agreed, and it was dropped on the spot from Heart’s live set.
The Set-Up: While driving in a storm, a woman picks up a roadside traveler, implies she’s gone ga-ga for him, and floors it to the nearest hotel. “I didn’t ask him his name, this lonely boy in the rain/Fate tell me it’s right, is this love at first sight/Please don’t make it wrong, just stay for the night/All I want to do is make love to you/Say you will you want me too.”
The Big Reveal: Come daybreak, the driver splits, but she leaves the guy a message: “And in the morning when he woke, all I left him was a note/I told him I am the flower, you are the seed/We walked in the garden, we planted a tree/Don’t try to find me, please don’t you dare/Just live in my memory, you’ll always be there.”
Years later, the driver’s got a kid and she drops the big one on the traveler: “Then it happened one day, we came round the same way/You can imagine his surprise when he saw his own eyes/I said please, please understand/I’m in love with another man/And what he couldn’t give me was the one little thing that you can.”
The Wilsons were right: that’s even grosser than what happens in “Timothy.”
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” – Vicki Lawrence (1973)
The Song: After both Liza Minelli and Cher both passed on recording the spooky country-pop story-song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, Carol Burnett Show co-star Vicki Lawrence scored a #1 hit with it.
The Set-Up: A Southern Gothic mini-opera, “Lights” is narrated by a female singer who spins a yarn of a sucker named Brother getting set up for murder and subsequently arrested, tried, and executed all in the course of one long, hot night. Behind the dastardly plot is a double-crosser named Andy who was cheating with Brother’s wife, a “big-bellied sheriff,” “a backwoods Southern lawyer,” and a slimy judge who sentences Brother to hang before adding, with a smile, “Supper’s waiting at home and I got to get to it.”
The Big Reveal: The narrator did it! As Vicki Lawrence sings in the song’s denouement: They hung my brother before I could say/The tracks he saw while on his way/To Andy’s house and back that night were mine/And his cheatin’ wife had never left town/And that’s one body that’ll never be found/You see little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun.”
“A Boy Named Sue” – Johnny Cash (1969)
The Song: Written by poet, cartoonist, and children’s author Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree), Johnny Cash’s hit version of “A Boy Named Sue,” recorded live at San Quentin State Prison, spend three weeks at #2.
The Set-Up: Sue himself narrates “A Boy Named Sue.” Now a grown man, Sue laments how his absentee dad afflicted him with a name normally associated with females. Years later, father and son reunite. Sue is steaming and immediately erupts into fisticuffs with the old man, but after Dad explains his thinking. As the father puts it: “Now you just fought one hell of a fight/And I know you hate me, and you got the right/To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do/ But ya ought to thank me, before I die/For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye/’Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you Sue!”
The Big Reveal: Sue’s heart melts—but his brain doesn’t: “I got all choked up and I threw down my gun/and I called him my paw, and he called me his son/ and I came away with a different point of view/And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him… Bill or George! Any-damn-thing but Sue! I hate that name!”
“Cat’s in the Cradle” – Harry Chapin (1974)
The Song: “Cat’s in the Cradle” quickly hit #1 in 1974, establishing Harry Chapin as a major folk-rock star and becoming a popular standard that movingly endures to this day.
The Set-Up: Time and again, work and life distractions get in the way of a father connecting with his son as the boy grows up. Dad repeatedly promises to make time for the son, but it never happens. Regardless, the boy loves and looks up to his old man: “My my son turned ten just the other day/Said, ‘Thanks for the ball, dad, come on and let’s play/Can you teach me to throw?’ I said, ‘Not today/I got a lot to do;’ he said, ‘That’s okay’/And he walked away but his smile never dimmed/Said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah/You know, I’m gonna be like him.”
The Big Reveal: The tables start to turn when junior comes home from college: “‘Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?’/He shook his head and he said with a smile/‘What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys/See you later/Can I have them please?’”
At the song’s end, Dad and Junior have, heartbreakingly, traded their original roles: “Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away/Called him up just the other day/I said, ‘I’d like to see you if you don’t mind’/He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time…/And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me/He’d grown up just like me… My boy was just like me.”
“Fool in the Rain” – Led Zeppelin (1979)
The Song: The big-bottomed, Latin-tinged, dramatic-but-energetic “Fool in the Rain” from Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door turned out to be the band’s final official single before they broke up in the wake of drummer John Bonham’s 1980 death. It remains a rock radio staple, with a huge beat and a fun, rip-roaring, out-of-nowhere carnivale breakdown in the middle that makes it one of the most fun Zep songs to which you can dance.
The Set-Up: A hopeful lothario stands on a street corner during a downpour, anxiously awaiting the lovely with whom he is enamored to come join him. She doesn’t show. The longer he waits, the sadder he gets: “Now I will stand in the rain on the corner/I watch the people go shuffling downtown/Another ten minutes no longer/and then I’m turning around ’round/ And the clock on the wall’s moving slower/Oh my heart, it sinks to the ground/And the storm that I thought would blow over/Clouds the light of the love that I found, found.”
The Big Reveal: Borrowing the punchline from the Rays’ 1957 doo-wop hit “Silhouettes,” the soaked Romeo finally puts together an important factor of his unhappy situation—he’s been waiting on the incorrect street: “Ooh now my body is starting to quiver/And the palms of my hands getting wet oh/I got no reason to doubt you baby/It’s all a terrible mess/And I’ll run in the rain till I’m breathless/ When I’m breathless I’ll run till I drop, hey!/And the thoughts of a fool’s gotta count/I’m just a fool waiting on the wrong block!”
“Memphis, Tennessee” – Chuck Berry (1959)
The Song: One of Chuck Berry’s best loved and most frequently covered songs, “Memphis, Tennessee” was initially released as the B-side to Chuck’s #37 hit, “Back in the U.S.A.” It has long since eclipsed that A-Side in ongoing popularity.
The Set-Up: The narrator is frantically trying to place a phone call to Marie in Memphis. She didn’t leave her digits but, given the way the singer pleads with the operator, we can only assume that Marie is one hot number, presumably his ex: “Help me, information, more than that I cannot add/Only that I miss her and all the fun we had/But we were pulled apart because her mom did not agree/And tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennessee.”
The Big Reveal: The singer is actually a divorced dad and Marie is his daughter to whom he most movingly wishes to speak: “Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me goodbye/With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye/ Marie is only six years old, information please/Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee.”
“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – Rupert Holmes (1979)
The Song: The very last #1 song of the 1970s, Rupert Holmes’ biggest hit was initially titled simply “Escape.” The singer-songwriter reluctantly agreed to add a parenthetical title after radio listeners stormed record stores looking for the single by asking for “The Piña Colada Song.” Previously, Holmes wrote the aforementioned “Timothy” by the Buoys, and he later found great acclaim as a Broadway playwright and composer (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains, The First Wives’ Club).
The Set-Up: A very ’70s dude laments the state of his relationship with his lady, scans the newspaper personal ads, and scopes out a female prospect who grooves to his same very ’70s roster of turn-ons: “If you like piña coladas/and taking walks in the rain/if you’re not into yoga/if you have half a brain/if you like making love at midnight/on the dunes of the cape/I’m the love that you’ve looked for/write to me and escape!”
Mr. Cool Daddy ’70s responds that he’s digs all the points she listed plus, “I’m not much into health food/I… am… into… champagne!/I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape/at a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape!”
The Big Reveal: Turns out the hot prospect who placed the personal ad is the dude’s very own Lady: “So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place/I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face/It was my own lovely lady, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s you”/And we laughed for a moment, and I said, ‘I never knew/That you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain…’”
Only in the ’70s, folks. Only in the ’70s.
“Lola” – The Kinks (1970)
The Song: “Lola” stands as arguably the signature song above all others by the mighty Kinks. It charted at #9, but immediately became and remains an iconic rock anthem. Various stories surround its origin. One involves a Kinks manager getting drunk enough to not care that the hottie he spent the night with was a cross-dresser. Another claims that a Kinks publicist inviting the group to join him at secret transvestite clubs. Still a third claims it came from Kinks frontman Ray Davies going to dinner with celebrity drag queen Candy Darling (who definitely does turn up—and on—in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”). All or none might be true: the end result is one of rock’s greatest songs—and its greatest twist ending.
The Set-Up: An uptight virgin hooks up with Lola, a strong powerful femme fatale who asks him to dance, squeezes him so tight it nearly breaks his spine, picks him up, sits him on her knee, and takes him back to her place. Big things happen there: “Well, I left home just a week before/and I’d never ever kissed a woman before/but Lola smiled and took me by the hand/and said, ‘Dear boy, I’m gonna make you a man!’”
The Big Reveal: Lola proves to be more than enough woman to get the job done: “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man/but I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man/and so is Lola, L-L-Lola, L-L-Lola/ Lola, L-L-Lola, L-L-Lola….”