Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No. 2 – Tarkus

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriters: Keith Emerson, Greg Lake
Original Release: Tarkus
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends … Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1974.

I once wrote that Tarkus might be the greatest heavy-metal song ever written, as well as the longest. Yes, I’m well aware that ELP is a synth band that represents everything bloated, lifeless and pretentious there is about prog rock, but I stand by my statement from 15 years ago. I defy anyone after listening particularly to the version on Welcome Back … to tell me this song isn’t at least as heavy as anything Metallica or the like has ever done (minus the buzzy guitar shredding).

In fact, I would say that the final five minutes of Tarkus from Welcome Back … is my favorite of any rock song. It’s symphonic and explosive—and played at break-neck speed. As I drove home the back way from Wabash to Professor Herzog’s house, I’d have my car stereo turned up to 11 to enjoy this opus at maximum effect. It just makes me feel alive.

Well, in this, the last day of the first half-century of my life, we have to talk a bit about the music, don’t we? I mean making an ass of myself wasn’t the entire purpose of this here blog. After all, the posts were marked by song, not calendar, which Im sure made things a bit difficult to follow at times.

In keeping with my love of collating and analyzing data—so why am I not a researcher, you ask—I’ve made a number of lists pertinent to the discussion. I don’t know what they say that probably isn’t obvious at this point, but I present them nonetheless.

Let’s start with the top 10 performers with the most songs on this here blog:

Rush – 51
Pearl Jam – 45
Genesis – 42
The Who – 40
Led Zeppelin – 26
Smashing Pumpkins – 25
Jimi Hendrix (including the Experience) – 24
Neil Young – 23
Tool – 20
Peter Gabriel – 18
U2 – 18

It’s a pretty good collection from all eras of rock, except the Fifties, which weren’t represented at all. The surprises here, as far as I’m concerned, are Smashing Pumpkins finishing sixth and U2 finishing ahead of, say Pink Floyd or the guys who unleashed Tarkus, bands that at one time or another were my favorite bands. U2 never was one of my favorite bands, but they’ve had a long career and, obviously, did a lot of things I liked (and I think a lot of people would agree, although perhaps not on the same songs).

By the way, if we were to apply a strict definition to “number of songs” that broke down into tracks as listed on the actual album, it would change the top of the list but not the ultimate No. 1:

Rush – 51
Genesis – 49
Pearl Jam – 45
The Who – 45
Led Zeppelin – 26

In all, 224 performers made this here list. That the top 10 made up 30 percent of the list shouldn’t be all that surprising. Everyone has their favorites who they listen to more than anyone else. Everyone also has the bands that they despise or, at least, don’t connect with. I’m no different.

Aside from the giants of the Fifties—the folks who INVENTED rock music—here are the five biggest performers that didn’t make my list at all:

Bob Dylan

For the record, Michael Jackson makes it as part of the Jackson 5—twice. I make no apologies.

If you were to make a “family tree” of songs, in which performers who are related through solo careers or band membership are combined, here’s how the list would look:

The Pearl Jam Family – 81
The Genesis Family – 67
The Led Zeppelin Family – 46
The Who Family – 44
The CSNY Family – 41

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that the Pearl Jam Family tree, which includes Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, beat out Genesis. I would have expected the latter, which includes the band, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, to have come out on top. Even if you decide—and I might agree—that AIC doesn’t belong in the Pearl Jam family tree, it still beats out the Genesis tree: 71-67.

Looking at my top 10 performers, who do you think wins out for most actual music, with respect to total time? Accepting the fact that Rush recorded its share of long songs, I still would’ve expected Genesis to come out on top. It’s close, but they didn’t:

Rush – 5:14
Genesis – 4:54

That’s hours and minutes, of course. Collectively, they left the other two at the top of the list in the dust:

The Who – 3:43
Pearl Jam – 3:15

Led Zeppelin, perhaps unsurprisingly comes in at fifth at 2:44. Here, special mention goes to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Although the number of ELP songs I have on this here list was surprisingly short—only 12—the kings of testing a rock fan’s patience still clocked in at 2:34, nearly 13 minutes per song. That’s what uncorking 27-minute alleged heavy-metal songs will do.

Now, given what you know about the lists above and given that in Rush, of course, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson write all the music and Neil Peart writes all the lyrics, you’d expect a three-way tie atop the list for songwriting, right? It didn’t work out that way, thanks to a few instrumentals slipping in and—most important—Geddy’s solo album. The final tally:

Geddy – 50
Alex – 48
Neil – 47
Eddie Vedder – 42
Robert Plant – 41

In case you were wondering, Pete Townshend got the most solo songwriting credits of anyone on this list by a mile – 40. Unsurprisingly, Neil Young was second, with 26. Surprisingly, Billy Corgan was third, with 25. Jimi Hendrix was the only other one above 20, with 21.

One more list: If I were to do this whole thing over now—and I most definitely won’t—I would have to make room for the following songs, which weren’t included on the original list of favorite 1,000 songs. A few of these I mentioned as A/B selections. This is in reverse order:

What Happens Now – Porcupine Tree
Black-Hearted Woman – The Allman Brothers Band
The Body Electric – Rush
Sound of Muzak – Porcupine Tree
Drown With Me – Porcupine Tree
Blackest Eye – Porcupine Tree
Way Out of Here – Porcupine Tree
Sentimental – Porcupine Tree
When the Sun Meets the Sky – Eric Johnson
Even Less – Porcupine Tree

Any guesses as to what I’ve been listening to the most lately, aside from the songs on this here list? All of these songs would be in the bottom 500, probably, with the exception of the last two, the bottom 250. In the top 500 would be:

Silverado – The Marshall Tucker Band
Anesthetize – Porcupine Tree
Halo Effect – Rush
If It’s In My Mind, It’s On My Face – Seal
Fear of a Blank Planet – Porcupine Tree

Halo Effect is moving up the list, with a bullet, as they say. And, yes, even though it’s been only three months, I still think Fear of a Blank Planet belongs in the top 100.

Minutia, I admit, but it’s my minutia. One song to go. I’m on the ladder of the Eagle about to take that final giant leap. Steady … steadddddyyyyyyy …

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