Back in the far distant late 1980’s when I was still a teenager I entered the sixth form at Larkmead School to undertake my A Levels. There were many new things to understand and get to grips with. New levels of personal responsibility in studying for one which, to be fair, I more than struggled with. A lot of that was to do with the other distractions that being a sixth form student entailed. No school uniform for a start which meant time spent in the morning sorting out the mullet to perfection, making sure I wore the right stone washed double denim outfit and that my rock band tee-shirt was spot on. Perhaps, however, the greatest distraction was the sixth form common room. Comfy chairs, a well stocked tuck shop, decorated with band posters and, in one corner, a tape deck. Yes, children of the 21st century, a tape deck, one of those antiquated machines that plays C30’s, C60’s and C90’s on which us students (oh how naughty of us) had home taped our favourite songs. Each Monday we’d bring our tapes in and line them up in front of the machine with the strict rule that each person was allowed two songs before the tape was changed.
Now many of my sixth form contemporaries used this as an opportunity to show off how utterly cool they were. There were the goths who’d play Echo and The Bunnymen’s version of People Are Strange thinking they were like Keifer Sutherland in Lost Boys. You had the white middle class boys playing Public Enemy, Ice T or NWA desperately trying to be from the hood with their jeans hanging off their backsides (it’s not a new thing kids, we had it in the 80’s). And then you had the music snobs with their superior tastes and knowledge being displayed despite everyone else knowing they didn’t really like Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto in B whatever…no 16 years old liked that really.
And then you had the seriously uncool kids who just liked good music regardless of how others perceived it. Those of us who played progressive rock and heavy metal despite the ridicule from others who couldn’t understand that it was good and hated it when ever our tapes got to the front of the queue. But we had a secret weapon. A really sneaky and snide secret weapon. A secret weapon that was guaranteed to wind up the rest of the kids who didn’t like our uncool choice. And that secret weapon? Songs that were stupidly long! It just needed someone with the gumption and, yes, bravery, to create the ultimate long song tape and have the balls to put it down in the queue. A role I took on with some level of perverse pleasure one weekend when creating a four track compilation tape that was put in the queue the following Monday morning.
What songs were there on this tape then? Well, I started with the biggie! There was a small gaggle of us at Larkmead who were hugely into a band from just up the road in Aylesbury and who played in Oxford a lot giving us the opportunity to see them regularly. That band was Marillion who had a song, Grendel, that was both mythical in it’s live performances (maybe more so as we were all too young to have actually seen it performed live) and in it’s quite mammoth proportions weighing in at around 18 minutes long. Grendel, the B Side on the 12 inch version of Market Square heroes, had everything you wanted from an overblown slice of progressive rock brilliance. From Steve Rothery’s baroque guitar intro via the falsetto’d poetry of lead singer Fish that gently led into the explosion that came with Mick Pointer’s drum rolls and fills Grendel was, and always be a near 20 minute perfect moment for us Marillion fans. And the spark for groans from the rest of the common room as they realised that this breaktime, and perhaps some of the next, would be soundtracked by this masterpiece accompanied by a small group of mulleted misfits air drumming all the rolls and reciting along with Fish every spoken and sung word…’mother nature’s bastard child.’
On the first play of the tape the rest of the sixth common room would have been wondering what was going to be next on the tape. Was it going to be another long Marillion song? Fugazi perhaps, Forgotton Sons or Script For A Jester’s Tear? Or was I going to be kind and have recorded a shorter track next, one of Marillion’s singles maybe? No, of course not. That would be too easy! The whole point of a mix tape is that it has to be a mix, albeit, in this case, one with a theme and one by artists working in the progressive rock genre. The choice I made? Well, it is the song with the greatest introduction of all time. 8 and a half minutes of interplay between Richard Wright’s keyboards and the most remarkable guitar genius of David Gilmour; the song is of course Pink Floyd’s tribute to former leader and founder, Syd Barrett, the 13 plus minutes of Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1 to 5. The introduction, created by David Gilmour initially from hitting a wrong note, has an ebb and flow that soars to false crescendo’s with the introduction of Nick Mason’s drums and Roger Water’s bass, interspersed with keyboard and guitar solos that tear at the soul and the heart before eventually that opening line ‘remember when you were young, you shone like the sun…’ Just sublime.
Of course, this was only the half of it…there was still side two of the tape which meant that when Floyd had finished and somebody had, with great relief, ejected the tape I’d sit with my pencil happily winding the tape on so that he could be returned to the end of the queue ready for side B’s turn.
A band that truly resonated with me as a teenager was Iron Maiden. Not only because they were loud and guaranteed to drive my parents up the wall when playing them on a Sunday morning at the top volume my old Pye system could muster but also because they sang about unusual subjects for musicians it seemed. In a world when most pop acts were singing about love and such stuff which a spotty teenager wasn’t getting Iron Maiden sang about history, war and mythology. They used horror in their imagery and stage shows that really grabbed my interest; from the moment I heard their debut album I was hooked with each album being ones that I bought as soon as they were released. And they were not afraid, either, to create epic songs in length which served my long tape purposes beautifully. In 1984 they released the Powerslave album with the last track being a 13 minute 45 second masterpiece based around Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner; it just had to go on the tape.
And for the piece de resistance of Jez’s Long Song tape? There is only really one band I could go to and one that I’d been introduced to by my love of the first band on the tape, Marillion. Back when Marillion first came on the scene they were often criticised, most unfairly in my view, with Peter Gabriel era Genesis. After all, Marillion sprung out of the post punk years that has supposedly killed off all the self-indulgent and overblown excesses of public school boy pretentious sub-classical prog. But for me, a band as good as Marillion being described as a Genesis rip off act only meant that I wanted to find out more about this mythical outfit that had so influenced my heroes. And I was not to be disappointed as I delved into great albums such as Nursery Crymes, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Foxtrot from which the fourth track, Supper’s Ready, was taken for my tape. Standing in at a touch over a mighty 23 minutes this is peak Genesis with Gabriel’s showmanship ably supported by the other members of the band, but most importantly for me Steve Hackett’s glorious electric guitar playing. To be fair, Supper’s Ready is really seven separate songs brought together into a suite making up 95% of side 2 of the Foxtrot album; a point that was made by a variety of other students fed up by my long song tape by now. I did, though, get my way and made sure it was played in it’s entirety.
That’s my four tape long song compilation. I hope you enjoyed the tales and reasons behind why I created it. And if you did enjoy it why not give the songs a listen along with six more great long songs on the attached Spotify Playlist? https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6IRdjvVESdWD8jLeHKSkAK?si=ktIa2K4JRZ-4SgIsqLQTBQ There are some awesome tracks on here, all of them 8 or so minutes long at least from Dire Straits, Yes, Led Zeppelin and Fairport Convention that should keep you occupied for the next couple of hours or so! What are your favourites? Feel free to comment with any songs you think should be included.
1. Grendel – Marillion
2. Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 1-5 – Pink Floyd
3. Rime Of The Ancient Mariner – Iron Maiden
4. Supper’s Ready – Genesis
5. Telegraph Road – Dire Straits
6. The Revealing Science Of God – Yes
7. The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson
8. When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
9. Hurricane – Bob Dylan
10. Sloth – Fairport Convention