FT5: Long Songs Worth Your Time
Admit it: you have the attention span of a coked out squirrel. You don’t want to hear jam bands, experimental noise bands, or ambitious concept albums. You’re a 21st Century, internet-streaming, iPod-shuffling, next-button-pressing, son of a bitch.
I forgive you. Yet I must insist that you occasionally look to songs stretching beyond that holy 3 minute mark to satisfy your fickle rock and roll urges. Here are 5 Long Songs Worth Your Time. Follow the jump for the full list.
5. The Doors – The End
Running time: 11:41. On paper this shouldn’t work. Drugged out pseudo-poetry. An agonizingly slow build of instrumental noodling. A weird Freudian nightmare ending. It seems like a recipe for the worst kind of pretentious crap. But God help me, the song works. I’m not convinced this track was recorded in a studio: more likely it was channeled in a sweat lodge. The lyrics are borderline nonsensical (“The killer awoke at dawn/ he put his boots on/ he took a face from the ancient gallery/ and he walked on down the hall”), but somehow Morrison’s weird cadence is effective. The otherworldly quality of the music pulls you in, but the track doesn’t really kick it to high gear until almost 9 minutes in when there is finally a tempo change and all out druggie freak out. Somehow, it’s worth the wait. RIDE THE SNAKE.
4. James Brown – The Payback
Running time: 7:39. Though this James Brown classic tells a revenge story, its real strength comes in maintaining a seemingly simple groove. So how can a groove possibly be compelling for over 7 minutes? Because James Brown was the funkiest motherfucker to ever live, that’s why. Crank up your stereo, roll down your windows, and let the man take you for a ride. Also, this song contains perhaps the greatest lyric ever written: “I don’t know karate, but I know crazy.” It’s the way that James Brown makes “karate” rhyme with “crazy” that really sells it: “I don’t know car-awh-tee, but I know car-ray-zee!” I believe you James Brown. You did know crazy sir. R.I.P.
3. Radiohead – Paranoid Android
Running time: 6:24. At this point in their career, Radiohead could release an album of fart noises to rave revues. So it’s difficult to remember how strange and compelling Paranoid Android was when it was released. What’s that you say Thom Yorke? Unborn chicken voices in your head? Gosh you sound purty. Sing whatever the hell you want. The track works by constantly shifting gears: there’s a finger-picking-good intro (I too have chicken voices in my head), escalating guitar crescendos, a dreamy slowed down bridge, and finally a spastic space guitar mind fuck to end the track. There’s just no time to get bored. Real good stuff.
2. Television – Marquee Moon
Running time: 10:40. If you find a jukebox with Television’s 1977 album Marquee Moon in it, make sure you get your money’s worth and play the title track. On first listen, the song seems to be little more than a repetitive riff over some funky warbled lyrics. Exactly the kind of track I normally would have no patience for, especially given that half the song is an instrumental interlude. What an interlude though. 5 minutes of, what essentially is a guitar solo, would be indulgent and boring in less capable hands. Instead, the solo actually sustains the song by keeping it moving forward. And then, when the interlude is over, the song comes full circle by picking up exactly how it started. Neat trick. Ten minutes long and the song just flies by.
1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Running time: 6:00. Three important points:
1.) It is okay to admit that you didn’t know of this song’s existence until its 1992 Wayne’s World revival.
2.) It is okay if you know nothing about the rest of Queen’s body of work (though I think you would agree: fat bottomed girls DO make the rocking world go round).
3.) It is not okay to dislike Bohemian Rhapsody.
You would think it would be hard to encapsulate the breadth of all human experience in 6 minutes, but Queen manages to do it here. Why those 6 minutes are so magical. . . now that’s hard to explain. The song is divided into movements that somehow, taken as a whole, are greater than the sum of their parts. The piano-side melodrama, the strange operatic harmonizing, and let’s not forget the rocking. . . my God the rocking! This song is so good it almost makes me want to listen to opera. Nah, fuck that. Who’s got time for that?