Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Listmania #3: Epic!

In an effort to return the word 'epic' to its appropriate use, not the 'kids of today' version, whilst recognising some kick-ass music, today's blog is dedicated to some epic songs.

1. Iron Maiden - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (13:34)
Actually this satisfies the 'epic' criteria in not one but two ways - it's both heroically long and it references Coleridge's epic poem of the same name (to the point of borrowing lyrics, in places).  Anyway, this is one of Maiden's greatest moments - both in terms of songwriting and musicianship - taking countless musical and dynamic twists and turns neatly bookended by a similar opening and closing theme.

2. Kyuss - Spaceship Landing (11:15)

Until the reformed line-up put out some new material, this is the final Kyuss song on the final Kyuss album, and I'll be damned if it isn't an absolute ripper.  Way to end it on a high note, boys.  The chorus riff might be the best one they ever wrote, especially when you get John Garcia howling 'Whoa yeah, you're a fucked up man, with a fucked up plan' over the top.  Some great solo work from Josh Homme too.

3. Dream Theater - The Count of Tuscany (19:16)

Frankly, this list would be incomplete without a track by Dream Theater, who deserve special mention as the 'band that most frequently defeats the point of using shuffle on my ipod when I go for a run'.  For god's sake, the AVERAGE song length of Dream Theater songs in my library is eight and a half minutes.  Anyway, this is one of my favourites, the last song from their most recent album (and sadly the last to feature Mike Portnoy but LET'S NOT GO THERE).  Stunning intro and a glorious outro and in-between you get all sorts of typically inventive Dream Theater stuff too.

4. Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant (18:37)

Whether or not this constitutes a song, spoken-word, story-with-guitar or something else entirely (talking blues, according to Wikipedia) is debatable.  But it is a classic.  Based (loosely) on a true story, this was a brilliantly-done satirical protest against the Vietnam War draft cleverly wrapped up as a hilarious tale about littering gone wrong.  And 27 8x10" colour glossy photographs.

5. Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) (13:40) and (Parts VI-IX) (12:31)
Originally intended to be one full song, Floyd split this in two and it opens and closes Wish You Were Here (although there also a couple of edits on Echoes and A Collection of Great Dance Songs which mix and match various parts).  Although they didn't explicitly write it about Syd Barrett, it is a tribute to the former singer who sadly went off the rails.  Bizarrely, during the recording of the album, a near-unrecognisable Barrett wandered in off the street. 

6. Temple of the Dog - Reach Down (11:13)
Temple of the Dog was a supergroup formed from members of Soundgarden and others who would go on to form Pearl Jam, to pay tribute to singer Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone.  Who died of a heroin overdose, which was quite popular in the Seattle scene at the time.  Anyway, this Chris Cornell-penned number is the most rocking and longest track on the album, featuring some cool vocal harmonies and an extended shred-fest from messrs McCready and Gossard.

7. Clutch - Big News I / Big News II (11:12)
Alright, I'm pushing the boat out including this on account of how it's two separate songs.  But those two separate songs are almost always played back-to-back live with an extended jam in between.  And that's how it pans out in the video below, from a Seattle show in 2005.  And frankly, it's kick-ass.  The first part has an insistent rumbling bassline, a great chorus and a whole lot of carry-on about nautical antics and whiskey, whilst the second is more up-tempo.  And even cooler, if you live in NYC you could hear them play said song about drinking and boats whilst drinking, on a boat.

8. Smashing Pumpkins - United States (9:53)
At a meager 9:53, this might be shorter than some of the other songs on the list but it's still thoroughly worthy.  This song singlehandedly justified the release of the otherwise-rubbish alleged-comeback that was Zeitgeist.  The intensity just broods and builds throughout before things really step up just at around 6:30.  And even more impressive is the fact that despite having a complex, busy shuffle beat to it and multiple tempo changes, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin recorded the entire thing near-flawlessly IN ONE TAKE. 

9. Endless Boogie - Jammin' With Top Dollar (10:22)
Another band who could quite happily fill a list like this all by themselves, the aptly-named Endless Boogie have done a number of wandering psychedelic jams but this is one of their best, along with Empty Eye.  It follows the standard Endless Boogie formula of extended groove with gibberish vocals and rambling solos alternating over the top, but it's a little more direct and hard hitting and less meandering.

10. The Mars Volta - Tetragrammaton (16:42)

It's nothing new for the Mars Volta to write long songs.  What's surprising is that they actually wrote a really long song with a minimal amount of random inexplicable bizarre ambient noise to pad it out.  I mean there's a few quiet bits, but they still have actual guitars not random shrieking.  And the usual Mars Volta stuff - sinister yet incomprehensible lyrics, Omar shredding like a madman, and more mood and tempo shifts than an afternoon in a time machine at the asylum. OK yes they're weird, but it does produce some pretty cool results.  Sometimes.

11. Herbie Hancock - Chameleon (15:45)
Let's be fair, jazz guys were playing long, rambling epics LONG before rock musicians were.  So, shouts to this particularly groovy Herbie Hancock number from 1973's Head Hunters which has one of the funkiest basslines of all time (even though it was actually played on a synthesiser).  Period.

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