Longsongs #4

by Oliver Rose

10. Station to Station – David Bowie [10:16]

Released as: a track on the album Station to Station [1975].

What’s it about? Bowie moved to Berlin in the mid-1970s. Los Angeles – the cocaine capital of the West – was doing him no favours, professionally or musically. In a transatlantic shift that would ultimately inspire an entire trilogy of highly experimental, well-received records, Bowie exchanged the drug-fuelled hedonism of the West Coast for cold, poetic, post-war Berlin. (Ironically, it was at the time the European epicentre of heroin, but being as this wasn’t Bowie’s choice vice, he apparently avoided using quite comfortably). Before this, however, in his dying moments as the Thin White Duke, Bowie created Station to Station – a record drowning in funk excess and Weimar-esque debauchery. In fact, such were the European artistic influences of the music that Bowie would later describe Station to Station as “a plea to come back to Europe” – not that he could ever remember much of it thanks to the… er… sniff sniff. It’s a pretentious thing, but darkly poetic and itchingly self-aware – lazily, I’m going to suggest you read it for yourself after over-exposure to Otto Dix, and see what _you _make of it.

Length explored: Station to Station is a song in two halves. One is progressive, menacing and erratic – a staggering coke comedown droner, punctuated by loose, dreamlike images of magic and mountains. The other is tightly funky and regretfully joyous, looking backaward as Bowie repeats the phrase ‘it’s too late’, over and over. Being as each section works so well by itself, the medley never gets to _feeling _like a single ten-minute song, and yet the masterful, bridging percussion marries the pieces together quite perfectly.

Is this the best version? Yep – definitely. In fact, there’s actually one edit which you should avoid like the plague: the French 7” single version (it only contains the song’s second half!) Some live versions of the song sprawl out some, or get a bit livelier in the second half, but honestly, the album is where this song belongs and its dynamics. As the LP’s opener; as a long-song; and as a studio effects-laden soundscape (particularly in its opening few minutes), Station to Station is certainly best experienced in this, the original studio version:

11. Leaving LA – Father John Misty [13:13]

Released as: a track on the album, Pure Comedy [2017].

What’s it about? Like a Desolation Row that makes sense, Leaving LA is another story of a musician escaping the West Coast for a better life. Building on the sugary cynicisms of 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, Misty (real name: Josh Tillman) spends much of Pure Comedy turning every dial past 11 – such that the 1970s Elton John production is even bigger, the punches even fatter and the snarky tone that much sharper. Leaving LA is the album’s centrepiece – a sprawling, thirteen-minute diatribe about entertainment excesses, Internet retardation and general regression in the digital, encyclopaedic age. You can almost imagine Tillman piloting a Ford Thunderbird out of the city, in slow motion, analysing the world around him as it blurs into just another filthy memory.

Length explored: Leaving LA is an epic, ten verse construction, sans choruses, despairing at the contemporary American condition and dropping out into nothing with an ellipsis at its finish line. (Such is the self-reflexive, eyebrow-raising cynicism of the thing in fact, that its own enormity gets a critical deconstruction during verse 8.) Set in the past, present and future, its repeated chord progression plays host to a lyric examining the sentiment of departure, but doing so in the round, recalling emotions before and after the history of the self and among those mentioned are Oedipus, Ovid and J. C. Penney Company, Inc. It’s a sad and enormous reflection, and you simply must try it for yourself.

Is this the best version? It’s the only version there is, as the album only just came out in April of this year!

12. Elegia – New Order [17:30]

Released as: a song from the album Low-Life [1985] (in edited form), and as a track on the compilation Retro [2002].

What’s it about? Like many of the songs from this period in New Order’s history, Elegia is a melancholic, minor key composition dedicated to Ian Curtis, their former band leader when the group existed as Joy Division. A totally instrumental work, the track is a post-punk soundscape and exemplary of dark wave tendencies.

Length explored: Like the period track The Perfect Kiss, Elegia appears on the 1985 album Low-Life, and in a hugely edited form that clocks in at a meagre 4:54. The near 18-minute recording was first revealed to exist by drummer Stephen Morris in a 1993 interview, and, around the turn of the century, lo-res MP3s of the track began circulating online. Finally, in 2002, Elegia’s original mix saw official release on the overview compilation, Retro. Recorded in a single day session midway through the completion of its parent LP, Elegia came out of a jam-based writing session, hence its massive, cinematic run-time. Whilst there isn’t anything wrong with the edited version per se, it’s difficult to go back to after hearing the full version – just because of how obvious and choppy the editing sounds. In its, shall we say ‘natural’ form, Elegia is a majestic, sweeping synthesiser masterwork, grounded out of progressive pretention by Peter Hook’s trebly, chorus-swamped six-string bass, Bernard Sumner’s scratchy guitar improvisation throughout the second half, the band’s trademark, squelchy key tones.

Is this the best version? Elegia’s full cut is entirely definitive. Live versions have been attempted over the years, and there is of course the infamous four-minute chop job on Low-Life, but for the song in all its original, theatrical glory, there’s only one place to go…