‘Epic’ is a word that is probably overused these days, much like ‘epiphany’ or ‘Pitchfork.’ But there are some songs, composed by artists constantly looking to break new creative boundaries, that fit this category perfectly. These colossal behemoths that are the musical equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, no matter how many times one has listened to them, always incite a feeling of awe and wonder. Usually fairly lengthy, epic songs are usually shaped by slow build-ups and the gradual additions of extra instruments. So here are a few tracks that fit these criteria. I’d recommend taking breaks between songs though, just to catch your breath.
Hoppipolla by Sigur Rós
Was there ever a more uplifting, inspiring song? I played this song once at home and immediately two of my sisters were fighting over who would walk down the aisle to this tune. It really is the perfect song for a movie trailer, would the group let any films other than nature documentaries use it.
Lover, You Should’ve Come Over by Jeff Buckley
One element of a song that determines where it sits on the epic scale is how much emotion is conveyed. While there are some who believe Jeff Buckley’s widespread fame and adoration to be unfounded, (I’m thinking of the claim on The Chaser’s War on Everything that his music had more wailing than Japan) there can be no denying that he possessed the innate ability to convey despair perhaps more skillfully than any other. This grandiose track perfectly demonstrates this.
Since I’ve Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to see the band that composed Stairway to Heaven on this list. Since I’ve Been Loving You, like 99.9% of all other music, is a lesser-known song, but manages to match the monumental Stairway through guitarist Jimmy Page’s flawless display, perhaps the most emotional guitarwork the world has ever seen.
Paranoid Android by Radiohead
Here is the background to this track. Radiohead fused together three seperate songs that three band members had been working on, later claiming they felt like ‘irresponsible schoolboys who were doing this … naughty thing.’ They used Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen as a reference point.
Surely this is enough to tell you that this song is nothing if not epic.
Knights of Cydonia by Muse
Yes, Muse can be over-the-top. Yes this can mean that their albums can be over-the-top (I’m thinking The Resistance here). But they don’t just settle for safe options. And Knights of Cydonia is certainly not safe. The first two minutes establish a frantic pace, and when eventually the vocals kick in, the chorus does not disappoint, ‘No one’s going to take me alive / The time has come to make things right / You and I must fight for our rights / You and I must fight to survive.’ And when that riff begins at 4:10, you won’t be able to sit still.
Wake Up by Arcade Fire
Wake Up was made for stadiums. It’s almost as if Arcade Fire foresaw the overwhelming popularity they would attain when writing Funeral, and realised they needed a song that had it all. A slow-burning build-up at the beginning, leading into the breathtaking sing-along chant, the amazing, shouted line, ‘I guess we’ll just have to adjust,’ that turns into the chant, and then the brilliant change of tempo, that almost turns the song into a completely new track. Except it’s not. It’s still Wake Up, and it’s still massive, to which indie auteur Spike Jonze can attest.
Spanish Sahara by Foals
This is the song that inspired me to make this post as I listened to it today. Featuring a classic ‘soft, gradually loud, suddenly soft’ build-up, the crescendo, marked by desperate, driving drums, is possibly unrivalled by any other music created since the turn of the century. The title even connotes vast, epic images, as all I can think of when I try to visualise the song is the capacious expanse of the Sahara Desert.