LONG MAY YOU ROLL:
Five songs over 15 minutes long and what each has to do with Neil Young
by Peter Gorman
1. "Revelation" by Love -- "Revelation" is perhaps the original rock epic, a 20-minute opus that took up an entire side of an LP when it was first released in 1966. The song was spliced together from many sessions, and not surprisingly it's a pretentious mess. The producer selected for the song was local L.A. rocker Neil Young, but he was unable to do it. Neil was also asked to produce Love's next album (what would become the classic Forever Changes), but he backed out.
2. "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground -- This 17-minute orgy of sound improves on "Revelation" by having a single driving beat that propels it forward. Sure, it would probably be a better song if it were only 10 minutes long, or even 13, but there's a bootleg from a Cleveland concert in 1968 in which the song goes on for over 40 minutes, so count your blessings. Over the past few years Lou and Neil have been rumored to be considering a collaboration, which while fascinating to think about still seems unlikely due to a clash of styles. "I'm Waiting for my Llama"? "Sister Neil"?
3a. "Love to Love You Baby" by Donna Summer -- "Love to Love You Baby" was a massive hit in 1975 for Donna Summer. For 17 minutes Donna moans the title, and sets the stage for future disco hits that will maintain a steady dance floor beat at less than half the length. Most disco hits will improve on this song, which left the genre nowhere to go but up. And though I've struggled mightily, I still haven't managed to find a connection to Neil Young.
3b. "Summertime in England" and "When Heart is Open" by Van Morrison -- Two songs over 15 minutes long on the same album (Common One, 1980)? You're not serious, Van. But he is (he's always very serious), and while "Summertime in England" is occasionally fun with such treats as references to Wordsworth and Coleridge getting high, "When Heart is Open" is a 15-minute song that feels like an hour. Van makes the serious mistake of having no rhythm at all in "When Heart is Open," and any song that shatters the 15 minute barrier had better have something moving it along. The Neil Connection: Both Van Morrison and Neil Young played at the Band's final concert in 1976, titled The Last Waltz and captured on film. References to Neil getting high during the show were removed by the film editors who were careful to keep the final cut free of any shots that showed a certain stimulant dripping out of Neil's nose. Ah, those were the days. Is it any wonder Cheech and Chong were big stars in the '70s?
4. "Diamond Sea" by Sonic Youth -- "Diamond Sea" is the final song on Sonic Youth's 1995 album Washing Machine. The song is something a departure for Sonic Youth, and unfortunately it just goes on without any driving rhythm or purpose, marring an otherwise excellent album. Sonic Youth have cited Neil Young as an influence, have played their guitars in homage to Neil's sound and have opened for Neil on his tours. Is Neil to blame for "Diamond Sea"? No, but the Grateful Dead may be.
5. "Highlands" by Bob Dylan -- Bob makes this 16-minute long, strange trip worthwhile because he finds a killer groove and never lets it go. Somewhere in this trip Dylan mentions that he's listening to Neil Young, and he's "gotta turn up the sound/Someone's always yelling `turn it down'." Neil stays away from taking his songs beyond 15 minutes on record, but in concert he will go to 20 or 25 minutes on one song if it suits him. And oh yes, he will turn up the sound.