Back in 1968 a bunch of long-haired dudes from California jamming in their garage meshed a plodding bass line to the overloaded droning of a Hammond B-3 organ and said “Hey, let’s just keep playing this for 17 minutes” and thus Iron Butterfly invented “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, the song either your father, or maybe your grandfather by this point, listed to a lot while bumming around with their friends.
Other bands were sure to try the same trick, and that they did. In that classic rook boom-time of the ‘70s, four equally hairy guys from the U.K. added some recorders and a lot of magical poetic nonsense and thus begat “Stairway to Heaven,” that other mystical rock totem of record, one that stood out from other long songs of the era like Yes’s “Roundabout” or all 20-some minutes of Rush’s “2112” because “Stairway” was just so totally….well, “duuuude”.
But let it not be said that my generation didn’t try to get all “meaningful and stuff” either, which is why I bring to you, from a 1992 Journal Gazette, this entertainment page item with Guns N Roses accepting their (ahem) “Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award” no doubt due to the popularity of their 1992 single and video for the nine-minute Elton John-meets-Queen-meets-Zeppelin epic “November Rain,” a song which I carried with me deep in my melodramatic 13-year-old heart even though I was more into dweeby College Rock like R.E.M. and Toad the Wet Sprocket at the time.
After all those horror movies, I needed another challenge to occupy my November. I looked out my window, started the sentence “Thirty days of…” and for whatever reason ended it with “November Rain.” Initially I thought it would be a great idea to pull the old “If I start with one penny and double it for 30 days straight trick” by listening to the song once on the first, twice on the second, three times on the third, four on the fourth and so on and so on…until…I realized that by the time I got to the 30th, this plan would result in a nearly 270-minute commitment.
Would you believe that just listening to the song once a day proved difficult? Night one sure was fun though; plugging in my set of high-end headphones and listening to it straight off the very same “Use Your Illusion I” CD I bought from the long defunct “Music Exchange” over on 19th Street. What a song.
“November Rain” came out right at that early ‘90s sweet spot of my adolescence, just as I was transitioning from the interests of a kid to the interests of a teenager, and as such my music tastes were moving from the pop slop I was hearing on the “Pepsi Top Five at Nine” on WLRW-FM to the “real” stuff. And by “real” I mean the music your older brother was listening to. And as I was an only child, my “older brother” was whatever MTV I could glom off of friends who lived in town and had cable, or whatever music videos would trickle their way down to broadcast TV music video programs like “Friday Night Videos” , helpfully located after Late Night with David Letterman.
And trust me, for those who might not quite be in this age demographic, the music video for “November Rain” was a nine-minute blast of every ‘80s bad-boy Sunset Strip L.A. rock band fantasy combined with the paranoid success and supermodel relationship fever dreams of their temperamental Midwestern-born lead singer, all mashed together into a one million dollar package. Even the teenager that I was who preferred jangly music from button-up-wearing grad students who never pressed down hard enough on their frets had to admit it was cool in the same way that all that stuff from my dad’s classic rock generation of long pretentious songs was cool.
Just for bookkeeping purposes and the list-obsessed, I have also included the 1992 Billboard Singles charts, the one with “November Rain” at the highest charting position I could find, wedged just between the silky R&B of TLC’s “Baby Baby Baby” and the Madonna song from “A League of Their Own” that was getting confused with her song from “With Honors.” Hey it was the ‘90s -- Madonna had a lot of songs in movies back then. And speaking of soundtracks, this list in total comprises a pretty good soundtrack for me trying on husky jeans at Meis’s back-to-school sale that year. And look, there’s my old buddies Toad the Wet Sprocket at number 17. Hi guys!
Such a shame I forgot to listen to “November Rain” for about five days straight, forcing me to sit here at my desk, fire up my now-retro iPod Classic, and listen to it five time straight to catch up. Now repeat this process about four more times as I kept forgetting and you’ve got the gist of how this challenge went.
Quite why I decided to go ahead and try listening to the song 30 times on Thursday, I don’t know. For the record, I started listening to it at 9:15 a.m., and (in-between, you know…work) finished out at 3:26 p.m., listening to it the last time at home on an actual sound system at around 8 p.m. while playing a game of backgammon against myself. Challenge completed. Maybe next year I should do something off “Use Your Illusion II”. Hey, “Estranged” is also nine minutes long. And that video was four million dollars!
For those who stopped listening to new music around the time Lou Gramm left Foreigner, you might be surprised to know that there’s plenty of long rock songs still being made by new bands who respect the ways and means of that same Classic Rock you up grew up with, nearly all of whom have fantastically awesome band names like “The Sword,” “Coheed and Cambria,” “Oneida” or my personal favorite, (ahem) “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” with their snappy 20-minute ditty “We Drift Like Worried Fire.” Just goes to show that, like all 540 minutes spent this month listening to “November Rain”, if you let a song play long enough, it’ll end up right back where it started. Duuuuuddde.