Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rock Songs of Epic Length

There are songs that get radio airplay because they are justifiably awesome. And there are songs that are just as awesome, but rarely get played on the radio because they are of freaking immense length. Here are some of those songs that you'll never hear before 11 PM, will never be released as a single, but are inarguably totally rad.

(Note: Because there are some bands that do these long songs really, really well (coughPROGROCK/cough), I have a few with tons and tons of examples of this. For brevity's sake, I'll highlight just one song per band, then include the other long songs underneath.)

(Note II: For my purposes, a "long" song is something over seven minutes' duration. I will break this rule several times, but if it's close to the edge, I'll allow it. Hyuk hyuk.)

(Note III: Some of these songs do, in fact, get radio play. Dressing it up just allows me to feel like I'm fighting The Man in some way, the notion of which is of course essential to rock music.)

Let's Kick This Pig!

In (more or less) increasing order of time:

Iron Maiden, "Phantom of the Opera", 7:06
Not as well known as "The Trooper" or "Run to the Hills", this song still features an incredible guitar solo to open things up, and the rest of the song keeps up the pace. Well worth a listen.

Nightwish, "Meadows of Heaven", 7:10
The conclusion to semi-concept album Dark Passion Play, "Meadows of Heaven" starts out slow but builds irresistably to an inspired, and rather heartbreaking, finish. The sound of new-to-Nightwish singer Annette Olzen belting out the title over a choir, guitars and a male singer at the end is really striking; one suspects that they wanted to show off her vocal range and let fans know that it was comparable, if not equal, to ex-singer Tarja Turunen's. Other long songs from Nightwish include "7 Days to the Wolves" (7:10), "The Poet and the Pendulum", a 13:55 rock epic that opens DPP, and the incomparable "Ghost Love Score" (10:02) that highlights their album Once. (+12 Lord of the Rings bonus on that last link!)

Kansas, "Hopelessly Human", 7:18
"Hopelessly Human", along with "Closet Chronicles" (6:32), came off of Point of Know Return, my favorite Kansas album and also the only one I know at all. Actually, you know what, how about this. "Human" is a bonus song, but if you only listen to one of these, pick "Closet Chronicles." In fact, here you go.
There. Listen to that. It's fantastic. I would go so far as to call that song one of the best stories ever told through rock music. That final "I heard the king was dying! I heard the king was dead!" is just incomparable.

King Crimson, "21st Century Schizoid Man", 7:27
If there is such a thing as postmodern rock, "21st Century Schizoid Man" is probably what it sounds like. With very few lyrics (and those almost impossible to understand) and most of the piece taken up by a fat instrumental in the middle (coupled with a fantastic bass line), the song is basically one long dystopian scream at whatever poor bastard might have irritated the band on that particular day. This ain't exactly music to fall asleep to; listen at your peril.

We're going to skip over Genesis and come back at "Supper's Ready", so in the meantime...

Metallica, "The Call of Ktulu", 8:53
The last track on Metallica's best album, Ride the Lightning, "The Call of Ktulu" is also one of their very few instrumentals. Slow, ominous and menacing are the watchwords of this song, and damn if the band doesn't deliver on them. Also worth checking out from Metallica are "Fade to Black" (6:57), "One" (7:27), of course "Master of Puppets" (8:35) and the always disorienting "Orion" (8:28). Note: If you go and find the music video for "One", prepare to be creeped the fuck out. You've been warned.

Guns'n'Roses, "November Rain", 8:57
As far as I'm concerned, "November Rain" marks the ultimate sad power ballad in rock. Everyone else can give up and go home. It's over after this.
Same goes for the following video, "You Could Be Mine" (5:44, yes I'm breaking my own rule on account of awesome). Terminator 2: Judgment Day meets Guns 'n' Roses?! How can you possibly hope to top that? By the way, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually appears in the video for this song, the only time (to my knowledge) that a Hollywood star has descended to the level of music videos.
Other notables include "Civil War" (7:42) and their cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" (7:36).

Ayreon, "The New Migrator", 8:17 
I write something about "The New Migrator" pretty much any time I write anything related to music, at all, ever, so a lot of description probably isn't necessary. Suffice to say that you don't have to follow the Ayreon mythology (of which there is PLENTY) to enjoy this song. The entire song is one of Arjen Lucassen's absolute best. It flummoxes me every time I hear it. If you like prog rock, you've found some of the best with this song.
Other Ayreon songs include "The Garden of Emotions" (9:41) and "Amazing Flight" (10:15) off Into the Electric Castle. And if you really must (sigh), go ahead and look up "The Fifth Extinction" (10:29) or even "The Sixth Extinction" (12:19) off of 01011001.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird", 9:06
Yeah, you know this one.

Yes, "Yours Is No Disgrace", 9:41
The masters of the prog-rock epic, Yes's The Yes Album produced technically stunning songs like this, as well as "Starship Trooper" (9:25), "Perpetual Change" (8:54) and "I've Seen All Good People" (6:57). The list of excellent long songs they wrote is impossible to tabulate, so I'll just leave you with "Roundabout" (8:29) and their sweeping "Close to the Edge: The Solid Time of Change/Total Mass Retain/I Get Up", a song that is even longer than its title at a massive 18:41. It's so long, in fact, that that was only part 1; part 2 must be sought out here.

Ensiferum, "Victory Song", 10:42
I don't go in for Norse Viking metal. Okay, well not that much. Okay, well...
Regardless of that, however, you have to admit that "Victory Song" is the epitome of triumphant Norse metal.
Ensiferum has also put out songs like "Lai Lai Hei" (7:15) and the hilariously subversive "Stone Cold Metal" (7:25), a song so wacky that I wrote an entire note about it back in the day (Read: The Bronze Age, aka last semester).

Rush, "Xanadu", 11:05
For some reason I can't get the stupid video to embed itself in the page. So, having embedded my computer in the wall, I now invite you to listen to the studio recording of the song here. A freaky video but a wonderful song, "Xanadu" is second only to "Closet Chronicles" in telling a compelling story through a rock song, and takes a back seat to nobody when it comes to instrumentation. Here is the live version.
This is off of what I consider to be Rush's best album, A Farewell to Kings. Also coming from that album was the rather creepy "Cygnus X-1" (10:25), which is about a ship getting sucked into a black hole. Setting this song as an alarm to wake up to in the morning produced a hilariously surreal experience. Don't try it.

Genesis, "Supper's Ready", 22:53
The giant of long songs, Genesis produced this gem at the end of Foxtrot. I was only able to find this (full) video on YouTube, which also includes the introduction that Peter Gabriel would give before shows. Yes, it's weird. Yes, the song is phenomenally weird, as well as divided into seven parts so it's really more of a musical suite. Yes, it's absolutely worth your attention, if you've got forever or so to listen.
Genesis were absolute masters of the great long song. Along with "Supper's Ready", Foxtrot alone produced "Get 'Em Out by Friday" (8:37) and "Watcher of the Skies" (7:23). Nursery Cryme gave us "The Musical Box" (10:32), the hilarious "Return of the Giant Hogweed" (8:12) and "The Fountain of Salmacis" (7:35), while Selling England By the Pound had "Firth of Fifth" (9:38) and "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" (8:04). Other songs, of which there are many, included Trespass's "The Knife" (8:56).

Whew! Like that didn't take a couple of hours to put together. I hope you enjoyed at least some of these songs, which are guaranteed to cross the lines of musical taste (as well as good taste)! I'll now be off for food-taste.



 These lovely ladies are known as Värttinä.

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