Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Impassioned Defense of the 10-Minute Song.

Now, let's get one thing straight: this is not a defense of Jam Bands. In my mind, Jam Bands are like a persistent STD—omnipresent, difficult to get rid of, born of genuine good intent but then just the absolute worst. Oh, the endless guitar wanking: when someone confesses their love of Phish or the Animal Liberation Orchestra, I have to struggle not to equate it with a love of ritual murder or the Great Lord Xenu. I just want to make this abundantly clear: never will this Blogling ever say positive words about songs that ramble self-indulgently in braindead, hash-fueled "improvisation."

However, there comes a time in many an artist's life when two verses & a bridge just won't cut it, when rock's customary three minutes need expanding—tripling, even—to encompass the depth & breadth of a single stab into the Void. Too many lyrics, too many chords: statements that just can't finish fast, that require some meandering. As a lover of the Dirty, Dirty Rock 'n' Roll, I tend to prefer my music fast & loud; almost all of my favorite songs clock in under average. Still, I feel it's important to salute these musical tomes, ideas too big for single digits—&, on that note, to distinguish these structured, chugging trains of thought from the vague stupidity of Jam. Here, now, is (roughly) 100 minutes of music in 10 songs.

Station to Station—David Bowie.

Well, of course the first one is Bowie. Which is frustrating: by the time I actually finish this mammoth essay of a Bowie entry—which I honestly am writing, steadily steadily, swear to Gawd—I will have already said everything there is to say, spilled out in blips these past few months. Because really, I can't help it; David Bowie just takes up an inordinate amount of my brainspace. Anyhow, on to the song, which is truly divine. If you're at all interested, I recommend picking up a copy of the 33 1/3 series book about the album "Low," which, as a sort of preamble, includes a fascinating, in-depth discussion of this song, explaining facets from its production to its mythic themes. But for now, I'll just say: this song is a prime example of one that just has to run over 10 minutes, shepherding you appropriately from station to station, movement to movement: instrumentals to slow-burn vocals to one of the absolute greatest rock surges in history. (Skip to 5:00, but only if you must; like so much in life, it's better if you wait.)

Cygnet Committee—David Bowie.

Okay, of course the second one is Bowie, too. But allow me the juxtaposition—of phases in his career (the former, coked out & jaded in L.A.; the latter, a young, Dylanesque balladeer), but also of 10-minute-ness: unlike Station to Station, with its distinct series of parts, this is one of those songs that just has too many lyrics, too many ideas. Weaving through them slow, dream-like; never changing or picking up too severely, flowing gently from start to finish—until the very end, crying out loud & hopeless. & oh, those words: I bless you madly, sadly as I tie my shoes...

Bela Lugosi's Dead—Bauhaus.

Though this song has, of course, already been featured hereabouts, it was in an abbreviated, specifically filmic format. Now, I'd like to present it in its glorious 9:34 entirety: full of bizarre, ambient clatters & zooms—like walking through a nighttime haunted house, tripping over synthesizers.

American Pie—Don McLean.

An anthem for a generation, nonsensical chorus & all. I often sing this song to keep time; it's about 8 minutes all told, & the surreal images trip over each other with entertainment to spare, making it perfect for passing iPod-less waits.

Turn Blue—Iggy Pop.

A prime example of the genius that is Iggy's bizarre & beaten brain. He rambles & squeals, caterwauling his way into your heart: Oh, Mama, I shot myself down & up & down & up... The live version on the "Iggy & Ziggy, Cleveland '77" album is particularly excellent, too—different, of course, because you can never trust that man to say the same thing twice. (Also, if you listen close, you can hear Bowie on back-up vocals...)

No Conclusion—Of Montreal.

Poppy & upbeat, with the most morose of lyrics: Morrissey-esque, perhaps—but only if the Smith had taken a few dozen percocet. Trance-like in its length & repetition, but not unpleasantly so; sliding discreetly from movement to movement; a song that doesn't want itself to end, skipping like the broken record of a stale relationship.

Jesus of Suburbia—Green Day.

I mean, I know—it's Green Day, the "punk" rockers that just won't die; persistent & plastic, 40 years old in cheap eyeliner, now on Broadway—& still, though that "Wake me up when September ends" song sits like a great big spike in my temporal lobe, you have to admit: they've survived because, quite simply, they're great. & so is this song.

Paradise By the Dashboard Light—Meatloaf.

I actually can't get enough of Jim Steinman's style: the progressions he picks, his way with lyrics—jaunty & matter-of-fact, but always ballad-worthy. This song is catchy as a catcher's mit, cheeky, hilarious—a must-have, truly. & the drawn-out baseball innuendo is priceless.

Land—Patti Smith.

Patti Smith is distinctly talented at putting words together. That's really the only way I know how to put it; how else to explain lines, like Aw, pretty boy, can't you show me nothin' but surrender? I could listen to her ramble about Rimbaud for days. & speaking of surges, the beginning build-up—that insistent, pounding chant: Horses! Horses! Horses!—is pure bliss, a shoulder-tensing war cry for the ages.

& finally, Today's Headphone Fodder:

Heroin—The Velvet Underground.

How to qualify this song in words? The beauty is in its unraveling: the cannibalism of screeching violins, building, building; the simplicity that cuts (hard, knife-like in accuracy) against addiction; peaks of waves rising & crashing like the endorphin-adrenaline rush before vulgar self-destruction. In form & function, it is simply brilliant—every minute paced perfectly into the next. Shivers, I tell you—every fucking time.

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