Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ben's Top 10 Favorite "Really, Really Long" Songs

I recently realized that a lot of my favorite songs are really over ten minutes long. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of my top ten favorite songs that are ten minutes long or longer. The only other stipulation was that they could not be live versions of songs; because a lot of bands turn 5 minute songs into long jams on stage. So, the songs had to be studio recordings that are officially 10 minutes long or longer.

10) Animal Collective - "Alvin Row" from Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (12:39)

The final song off the Animal Collective's first album is one of their crowning acheivements. Over the course of 12 and a half minutes, this song contorts itself through at least 3 different parts, and, eventually blooms into a beautifully formed climax. Paradoxically, the song begins on a rather abrasive, dissonant note and ends as one of their most uplifting and harmonious songs (the last 4-5 minutes are reminiscent of the Arcade Fire's "Tunnels").

9) Sleater-Kinney - "Let's Call It Love" from The Woods (11:01)

Equal parts My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" and Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", this song begins like a boxer rearing to fight. Hell, you can even hear the sound of a bell being rung at the beginning of each verse - as if to siginify the next round. Listening to Corin and Carrie gasp and howl over the ragged crunch of their interlocking guitars is like being blown through a wind tunnel. After 11 minutes, you're left bloody and sweating, wondering where the fuck that came from. Yes, this is the same band that wrote "Little Babies."

8) Sigur Ros - "Viðrar vel til loftárása" from Ágætis Byrjun (10:17)

Since all of Sigur Ros' songs are very long, it was kinda hard to pick just one, but, this is my favorite song of theirs. From day one, Sigur Ros' music has struck me as being both "classical" and "rock" - and that is one of reasons this song has carved a place in my heart. It feels absolutely epic and timeless. The song fades in with a sublime piano line that Beethoven would have used. The song builds up and around the elegiac piano melody until it bursts into a tidal wave of jubilation. All respect to Brian Wilson, but, this truly is a symphony to God.

7) Kraftwerk - "Autobahn" from Autobahn (22:43)

In my opinion, Autobahn is Kraftwerk's single finest moment. Even at almost 23 minutes, it never feels too long, and, perfectly simulates the feeling of speeding down an infinite pastoral highway. With it's warm, evolving melody and vocal harmonies, Autobahn almost approximates the Beach Boys being played by robots. The propulsive motorik rhythm of this song also makes it the perfect soundtrack for commuting on the "L".

6) Led Zeppelin - "In My Time of Dying" from Physical Graffiti (11:05)

This is one of my favorite songs off my favorite Zeppelin album. This song finds Zeppelin returning from the Delta with greasy slide-guitar blues. This is a shining example of the grandeur of Robert Plant's banshee wail and Jimmy Page's ripcord slide work. Honestly, you have to hear these breakneck slide-guitar solos to believe them - all the ink spilt praising Jimmy Page is well spent. Is it just me, or does anyone else find themselves dancing like Ian Curtis while listening to Zeppelin?

5) David Bowie - "Station To Station" from Station To Station (10:14)

To my knowledge, this is Bowie's longest song and one of his best. A sweeping epic informed by Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" and performed with gospel fervor. Heralding in the "return of the thin white duke," the song is divided into 3 distinct parts - eventually culminating in a headrush of a finale. The driving rhythm maintained throughout the song is frequently punctuated by Carlos Alomar's superbly gnarled guitarwork. Those who think Bowie didn't begin his exploration into electronic and avant-garde music until Low need to start here.

4) Bob Dylan - "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" from Blonde On Blonde (11:20)

This is one of Dylan's most heartfelt love songs - written for his first wife Sara. More than any other song on Blonde On Blonde, this song best exemplifies the "wild, thin mercury sound" that Dylan was trying to create for this album. The words and music are just that - fluid and mercurial - rolling into the triumphant chorus again and again. The band (it literally was The Band) provided a dense, careening sound for Dylan and those aqueous organ riffs just sound like autumn. The best compliment I've ever heard about this song was that "it will burn into the retina of your ear forever."

3) Television - "Marquee Moon" from Marquee Moon (10:47)

This song is Television's apex and a song permanently lodged in rock's Valhalla. You want a guitar god? This band had TWO. Hearing Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd lock horns will make you rethink your stance on "jamming." Very few bands have been able to capture the grace and majesty of Television's guitar interplay. During the song's long instrumental middle section, you don't hear chords. You hear whirlwinds whipping, worlds colliding, raindrops falling, and bluebirds singing.

2) Bob Dylan - "Desolation Row" from Highway 61 Revisited (11:20)

This song is like a living, breathing world all on its own. It is also ardent proof that Dylan was a master storyteller and songwriter in a league all by himself. The circuitous melody running through this song will stay in your head the rest of your life. Dylan sings and strums righteously as Mike Bloomfield accompanies him with a spellbinding flamenco guitar figure. If you want to hear a song that will change your life, spend a night on desolation row.

1) Velvet Underground - "Sister Ray" from White Light/White Heat (17:27)

Listening to this song from begining to end will take a physical toll on you. It is a hypnotic black hole that will suck you deep into its world. The Velvet Underground basically decided to play this song until their recording tape ran out - hence the 17 minute length. Those 17 minutes become a literal war between the feuding band founders, Lou Reed and John Cale, as they claw and struggle to be heard over everyone else. Lou strangles feedback-laced riffs and hooks from his Gretsch guitar and John continually pumps the pedal to raise the volume on his electric organ - creating a cacophony of glorious white noise. Christ, if wild band improv and noise could ever be beautiful, it was here on this song.


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