“Coast to Coast” is kind of unexpected as the first song on the album From a Basement on the Hill that was originally intended to be his next release after Figure 8. Released in 2004, it ended up becoming a posthumous album, after he died from a stab wounds to the heart.
“Coast to Coast” is a straight ahead rock song. It has got big fuzzy, distorted guitars – and of course the multi-layered vocals which were one of his trademarks. Smith also had his friend Nelson Gary recite some poetry explaining to Under the Radar in 2003:
“I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”
The song begins softly with what appears to sound like a distorted orchestra – something that would have been suited to a latter-day Beatles’ song. And then the actual music kicks in, and the central riff pulls in you. It’s chunky and distorted – confusing the listener, a theme which also appears in the lyrics.
Smith was known for his love of the Fab Four, even claiming that The White Album was the reason that he started making music in the first place. Even the repeated non-verbal “ahhhhs” beginning at the 2:38 mark are very Lennon-esque. The song even ends with piano gently playing while numerous voices speak over each other in the beginning – linking together a standard “rock” song with avant-garde effects. It’s as if Smith was trying to combine the things that he loved about the Beatles in one song – the conventional song, the open heart lyrics, and the experimental.