Song 365: Boyz II Men, “End of the Road” (1992)

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I struggled for a while to find a song about endings. I could think of many good candidates, but they were mostly by artists I’ve already written about; I’ve come this far without repeating an artist, and I wasn’t about to start on the last post. Then it came to me. Of course the right choice is “End of the Road.” It always was.

We all know this song, even if we don’t think we do. I actually didn’t think I knew it all too well, but when I listened to it the other day, everything came back to me: the bittersweet lyrics, the catchy melody, the melisma. I’m an unabashed Boyz II Men fan—”Motown Philly” was one of my first introductions to contemporary pop music—but I didn’t think I liked “End of the Road” very much. I was wrong. Of course I was.

Here’s what always set Boyz II Men apart from their genre counterparts: talent. Even detractors of BIIM (did I just make that up? I hope so) have to admit that these dudes can sing. And they can sing the hell out of a song like “End of the Road,” which sounds tailormade for their brand of modern soul. Sure, the spoken intro is maybe the corniest thing in the world (“I have no time for you to be playing with my heart like this”), but then we’re off to the races: “How could you love me and leave me and never say goodbye?” is sung with such passion and conviction that I ask myself the same question. How, you terrible person, how??

One more thing about this song: the inclusion of the word “unnatural” in the chorus (the chorus!) is a very strange choice, but it totally works. The way they sing the phrase—”isss un-natch-ur-ahl”—is, um, unnatural, but it somehow makes the thing more honest. If these guys were bullshitting about wanting you back, wouldn’t they have scripted this so they pronounced the word correctly? This is a spontaneous exclamation. A radio-friendly, immaculately produced spontaneous exclamation.

Songs about endings are probably hard to write, but the guys who wrote “End of the Road”—Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and Daryl Simmons—did it exactly right. We all mourn this breakup, even though we don’t know anybody involved. That’s pretty impressive.

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