Didn’t See THAT Coming! 5 Popular Songs with Twist Endings

You wouldn’t think you’d have to preface an article about music with a spoiler alert. But throughout the years, many artists have written songs that go one direction most of the way, and then sneak in a little twist at the end that completely turns everything you’ve already heard on its head. In some cases, they do so in such a subtle way that it would be easy to miss it on first listen. And other times, they just spill it right there out in the open for maximum impact. In any case, here are five memorable tracks where it’s all about the twist (and we don’t mean the dance move).

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1. Does He Love You?” by Rilo Kiley (from the album More Adventurous, 2004)

Written by Rilo Kiley guitarist Blake Sennett and singer Jenny Lewis, this track is set up as one friend confiding to another about her life, all while also revealing what’s going on in her friend’s life, as well. At first, it seems like it’s a tale about choices. The narrator has moved out to California and is having an affair, while the friend stayed put, settled down with a husband, and is due to have a baby. Lewis leaves subtle hints about the dissatisfaction that both are feeling with their decisions. As the drama of the music mounts, it’s revealed that the distant friend’s husband is the one having the affair with the narrator, a bit of melodrama that gives “Does He Love You?” an entirely different feel the next time you hear it.

2. “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes (from the album Partners in Crime, 1979)

Perhaps the most well-known of the twist-ending songs (and most popular, as it was a multiple-week No. 1 hit for Holmes), it sets up as a simple tale of marital dissatisfaction. The narrator feels like he’s in a rut with his wife, and thus he decides to answer a classified ad from a woman who seems to want the same kind of adventurous relationship . When he arrives for their clandestine meeting, he finds it’s his wife who has placed the ad. Whether this marriage is doomed or reinvigorated is left for the listener to decide, but the sticky surprise of “Escape” certainly caught the public’s imagination.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes]

3. “Black Diamond Bay” by Bob Dylan (from the album Desire, 1976)

Dylan had placed a minor twist into his story song “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” just a year previous to when this song was released. With the help of co-writer Jacques Levy, he went all-in on pulling the rug out from under us on “Black Diamond Bay.”

For the song’s first six verses, Dylan is the omniscient narrator, weaving a tale of doomed souls who are so wrapped in their drama that they completely miss the signs of the natural disaster about to engulf them all. But in the final voicing, the narrator suddenly knows nothing about any of this, instead simply mentioning Walter Cronkite’s reportage of an island-destroying earthquake that has left nothing behind but some of the key items mentioned in the previous tale. It’s a sly commentary about the worlds outside our own inner drama that we never even consider.

4. “Diary” by Bread (from the album Baby I’m-a Want You, 1972)

This twist has to be one of the biggest gut punches in music history. David Gates of Bread begins the tale by singing about the discovery of a lover’s diary, one which surprises him because it expresses sentiments this girl has never been able to say to his face. Because of Bread’s reputation for syrupy love songs, we anticipate a sweet resolution. Yet instead, the song turns on a dime when the guy realizes that the feelings in the diary are actually reserved for another man. Which makes the refrain a true killer the last time we hear it: Wouldn’t you know it?/ She wouldn’t show it.

5. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” by The Beatles (from the album Rubber Soul, 1965)

Leave it to the Fab Four to give us one of the first, and still most effective, twists in pop music history. On its surface, the song tells of a matter-of-fact one-night stand. John Lennon cleverly gives us only bits and pieces of information, although he does make sure to mention how proud the girl is about the Norwegian wood décor in her bedroom. After a slight disagreement at the end of the night about sleeping arrangements, the narrator wakes in the morning to find that this bird has flown. What does he decide to do? So, I lit a fire / Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?

A c’est la vie moment where Lennon shrugs his shoulders that the girl is gone and lights a cozy fire to enjoy until her return? No, said Paul McCartney years later. The intention of the lyric is that the narrator was miffed and decided to burn his lady’s flat down. The gentle, hypnotic nature of the music in no way prepares us for the arson waiting at the end.

Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

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