Friday, 15 May 2009

News, Views and Music Issue 31 (Top Five): Longest AAA Songs

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: which of the AAA album tracks are the longest? Well, after trawling through our collection meticulously, you won’t be at all surprised to learn that we have a top five full of Pink Floyd and Neil Young recordings. So, as a result, we’ve cut down this list so that only an artist’s longest songs would be counted, we’ve discounted spin-off solo projects if we’ve already quoted an artists’ parent band (otherwise Pink Floyd would be second followed by Roger Waters in 3rd and David Gilmour slugging it out for 5th place), we’ve not counted live versions (The Who’s 14-minute ‘Live at Leeds’ version of ‘My Generation’ would be in the list somewhere if we did) and finally we’ve also discounted remixes or extended versions of songs (otherwise there’s a fair few Paul McCartney songs that would have found their way onto this list) Oh and we’ve also missed out AAA-associates but not artists proper from this list (or Jethro Tull would have walked away with the competition, being possessors of a 42-minute track called ‘Thick As A Brick’). So who came out top?

1) Amsterdam (25: 10) (John Lennon and Yoko Ono, from the LP ‘Wedding Album’ 1969). Well, technically, this piece of audio verite doesn’t count as a song, but as there’s nothing else like it in the world I couldn’t exactly leave it out of the list either. Most people forget about it too, with even the biggest Beatlemaniacs afraid to stomach it after hearing the 22 minute opus ‘John: Yoko’ on the other side (all together now: ‘John…Yoko…John!... Yoko!...John?...Yoko?...John!!%&E$&*%(^()!!!...Yoko!!££&^%*(&)*(!!!...’ yes, that really is it folks, for 22 whole minutes!) ‘Amsterdam’ was taped at the couple’s honeymoon bedside after the couple flew to the Netherlands following their marriage in Gibraltar. And what a weird honeymoon it was: three whole days of lying in bed, growing your hair and talking about peace to amused reporters. This side-long track captures the feel of the period quite well, with John and Yoko’s frequently hilarious rebuttals to reporters one of the pair’s more listenable avent garde efforts (alas, though, much of this track is poorly recorded and is tantalisingly out of earshot). Like the photograph of the wedding cake, included with original vinyl pressings of the record, the trick is to make the listener feel part of the action whilst giving them something to laugh at too. This was the third and last audio verite record from the Ono Lennons – personally I prefer the darker and edgy ‘Life With The Lyons’, but it’s a huge improvement on the nmess that is ‘Two Virgins’.

2) Echoes (23:31) (Pink Floyd, from the album ‘Meddle’ 1971). Well, that wasn’t really surprising was it? Pink Floyd are masters of the long tonal symphony, making the most of their spaces and moments of silence and stringing whole pieces together out of bits of nothing. We’ve already dealt with ‘Echoes’ elsewhere on this site (its parent album is number 50 on the list) – so let’s just underline again briefly how unusual this track was for the 1970s. The Floyd were, I think, the first group ever to stick one traditional sounding ‘song’ on one whole side of a record, albeit they did it with the inferior ‘Atom Heart Mother’ in 1970 before striking gold here. The way this track builds up through ‘ripples’ - several obviously related but not at all similar pieces of music - is very very unusual, even now, and the closing 10 minutes when the track keeps chipping away at the song’s central riff until it finally explodes and gets back to base is one of the best moments in the Floyd’s canon. A masterpiece, from it’s first sonar ‘pings’ to it’s closing reflective lyrics about the connections between people.

3) Change Your Mind (14:39) (Neil Young, from the album ‘Sleeps With Angels’ 1993). A late-period addition to this list (all the other examples come from the 1970s), this is the longest of several long songs Neil has recorded over the years. Although to be fair Neil’s tried just about everything in his career, he does seem to have a special affinity with songs like this one that are based on a simple hook and chorus but leave lots of space for guitar improvisation. This song has hardly any lyrics (or at least it has no more than the four and five minute songs throughout the rest of the album), but what lyrics it does have suit it well, with the theme of stubbornness and refusing to change your stance on something because of habits learnt over time. Like the rest of ‘Sleeps With Angels’, this song is dark and unsettling, even though the listener can never quite put their finger on why – the lyrics are nothing like as menacing as challenging as this spooky song makes them sound. Like the best Crazy horse epics, there’s very little going on in this song and yet it oversteps the mark or seem to go too long.

4) Weather Report Suite (12:42) (Grateful Dead, ‘Wake Of the Flood’ 1973). This song too has already been discussed (see review no 59) – let’s just add that there had to be a Grateful Dead song here given how long their average track is (an average that I’m betting would be higher than even the average Neil Young or Pink Floyd song even). This epic gets away with its length via three important factors. The first and most helpful is that it is very very beautiful – so much so that you’dn willingly let this song run another 10 minutes if you could. The second is that it’s divided into slow and fast sections – the first a lovely lilting folk-like ballad, the second a strident paranoiac horn-drenched rocker titled ‘Let It Grow’. The third is that, tying this disparate sections together are some lovely ruminations about mother nature and how long our planet has been around, with some excellent lyrics that make full use of their length, showing us the planet’s past and possible future. Bob Weir’s finest moment with the Dead and one of the best long songs around.

5) Feel The Benefit (11:28) (10cc, ‘Desperate Bends’ 1976). What do you do when half of your successful quartet up and leave just four albums into a career so full of invention that it seemed to be able to run forever? You record an 11-minute magnum opus of course, loosely based on the structure for ‘A Day In the Life’ (the fabs’ third longest song, incidentally, after ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ and ‘Revolution Number Nine’). Eric Stewart’s warm and passionate tones tell us to go out with our coat on otherwise we won’t ‘feel the benefit’, using his parents’ advice to his younger self as a metaphor for how we have to learn from our experiences throughout our lives otherwise we won’t feel the benefit’ and instead we’ll just get wet and look silly. Graham Gouldmann chimes in with a middle eight about drinking a lot of coffee in Brazil (‘but the bill’s a gonna make a you ill!’) that shouldn’t fit but somehow does – perhaps by showing up the frivolities that distract us in everyday life (it’s no accident that this song fades down to nothing to let the rest of the song – the longer bit that runs throughout our lives – be heard once more). Fan reaction to this song has always been mixed but I’ve always been quite impressed by it – the dreamy orchestral accompaniment and the ever-perfect 10cc band performance more than compensate for anything lacking in the song. Not quite 10 out of 10 for 10cc but near enough.

So there you have it. For the completists among you (let’s face it, what is there better to be than a completist? No, don’t answer that!) just bubbling under the top five were The Beach Boys’ disco version of ‘Here Comes The Night’ (10:58, from the ‘LA Light Album’ 1979) and Paul McCartney’s ode to his ‘Secret Friend’ (10:30, B-side to the ‘Temporary Secretary’ single, 1980). That’s all for this week, see you next time for some more album archiving!        

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