The Rock Epic List

As a faded, out-of-touch 25-year-old music fan who still thinks any band under the genre “emo” reminds her of the Sesame Street character Elmo by association, I didn’t appreciate any of the lists in Spin’s “Ultimate List Issue,” so I decided to rebel and make my own list, The Best Rock Epics (that I’ve heard).

Perhaps before getting down to business, I should say a few words about the Rock Epic. Or perhaps, I should say a few words about what gives me the idea that I can formulate a list of the Best Rock Epics. Or perhaps, using “perhaps” for the third straight sentence, I should break with the hesitation already. Unlike my writing style or the Rock Epic itself, this list will not be long-winded.

Lists are short, to the point, and economical. Justifying items on lists is not necessary, so if anyone has the gall to ask you why a particular item is on your list, you can just say, “It’s a list. Just respect the list.” Simplicity. If you can’t do it, just fake it. That’s what works for me (actually, keep telling yourself that, Delia. Try as you might, you can’t just put songs on a list, naked, without explanation for being there. That would be like wallflowering your 6th grade dance when you know there was MC Hammer playing).

With that said, I’m going to try to be as simple as possible in my definition of a Rock Epic. It’s like the epic play, but it’s a rock song, not a play. But it feels more like a performance than a recording, not onstage, because the action happens in your ears. Rock Epics are not trying to entertain. They’re not trying to get you to dance. They’re trying to tell you something. And you may never know what that is. That’s why they’re proportionally epic. Because you know what? You have the rest of your life to figure it out. Before I write another sentence further oversimplifying things, some guidelines to becoming a Rock Epic:

1. Song lyrically explores concept nobody understands.
2. Song doesn’t want to end.
3. Song doesn’t want you to stop listening to it.
4. Song is larger than life.
5. Song contains at least one lyric that makes you ponder upon first listen.
6. Song contains at least one guitar solo, or at the very least, a place in the song where a guitar solo might work, but for one reason or another, the musicians decided that it didn’t serve the song.
7. Song exceeds 5 minutes in duration.
8. Song really goes for broke at the end.

Speaking of broke, you might be asking yourself what makes me, Delia True the reality TV transcriber, such a Rock Epic expert? Well, if I had a claim to fame, I would be a huge Rock Epic fan. But I have never seen such a list to commemorate the genre. It may be overblown, self-indulgent, and ambiguous, but I love the Rock Epic because it aspires to be more than just a song. It requires a more dedicated attention span. Nestled behind the showmanship of hit singles and the delicacy of acoustic ditties, Rock Epics tend to hang out inconspicuously towards the end of the album. Why? Well, I’ve always thought it was because most music fans aren’t sure what to make of the Rock Epic, but despite that, it’s out there. And you’ll notice that many of the songs listed here have received a lot of fanfare and folklore despite being overlong and unexpected.

I could do some hardcore rock journalist research as to why other music fans have embraced the Rock Epic, or I could just own up to the fact that I’m not a real rock journalist and probably never will be. Why don’t you ask the experts over at, and I’ll just sit here, pimp my list, and tell you that these songs all kick some serious Rock Epic ass? I thought it sounded like a good idea, but I can’t hear you. Oh, you’re listening to these songs on high volume, waking up your neighbors? Sweet! Glad to hear I’ve already been a good influence.

And now, without further ado, The Best Rock Epics (that I’ve heard)

1. Band: Love / Song: “You Set the Scene” / Album: Forever Changes

This Rock Epic takes the cake, eats it, wonders how the cake was made, and makes grand allusions about the cake’s ultimate place in the universe. It’s a two-part existential monster that employs orchestral instruments, hard charging acoustic guitars, and some mad genius lyrics that make you rethink your path in life every time. It’s disturbing, confusing, and beautiful all at once, in my opinion, the best rock song to come out of the Summer of Love.

Key Lyric: "There’s a chicken in my nest and she won’t lay until I’ve given her my best. At her request she asks for nothing. You get nothing in return. If you want she’ll bring you water. If you don’t then you will burn."

Key Lyric Part II: "There are people wearing frowns who'll screw you up but they would rather screw you down."

2. Band: Radiohead / Song: “Paranoid Android” / Album: OK Computer

Most rock fans I know would nod enthusiastically in unison to this selection. However, “Paranoid Android” is the most controversial Rock Epic because it pretty much succeeds in mocking this whole list. One of my old college friends once likened the structure of “Paranoid Android” to the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” I bought it at the time because I had probably just taken a bong hit, but now I’m not so sure because the lyrics don’t really jive. “When I hold you in my arms, and feel my finger on your trigger, I know that nobody can do me no harm” to “The panic, the vomit, God loves his children”? But my college friend (still high) claimed that the basic idea for pasting three songs together was inspired by “Happiness,” and that only freaks like me look too far into the lyrics. I love compliments.

Key Lyric: “Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest. From all the unborn chicken voices inside my head.”

3. Band: Modest Mouse / Song: “The Stars Are Projectors” / Album: The Moon and Antarctica

How did little Modest Mouse get on this list full of great big rock giants? Have you listened to this song? It’s otherworldly and it messes with your head. It leaves you right before the violin-laced outtro with the question, “Where do circles begin?” And just when you think you’ve got the answer, some DJ starts scratching. On an indie rock song? What?

Key Lyric: “And the stars are projectors, yeah. Projectin’ our lives down to this planet earth. And the stars are projectors, yeah. Projectin’ our minds down to this planet Earth.”

4. Band: Television / Song: “Marquee Moon” / Album: Marquee Moon

Two words. Guitar solo.

Key Lyric: “I spoke to a man down at the tracks. I asked him how he don't go mad. He said, ‘Look here, Junior, don't you be so happy. And for heaven's sake, don't you be so sad.’”

5. Band: The Velvet Underground / Song: “Heroin” / Album: The Velvet Underground & Nico

The closest a musician has ever come to putting the listener under the spell of smack. If that’s not an epic journey, I don’t know what is.

Key lyric: “Heroin. It’s my life; it’s my wife.”

6. Band: Smashing Pumpkins / Song: “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” / Album: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness

Billy Corgan, where the fuck have you been? Yeah, you made me use the word ‘fuck’ for the first time since I allowed my parents back on the subscriber list. But seriously, I don’t have to have a few glasses of wine in me to tell you that I miss your whiny, over-sentimental musings about God and failed relationships. Why have you digressed to bad poetry? There’s no music, only words. I gotta tell you straight up, former teenage fan to aged ‘90s post-grunge legend, I miss the music. Speaking of your love life, “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” is probably the best rock epic your tormented soul has ever written, overproduced and wrought with wistful, aimless desperation. Classic Corgan at the height of his game.

Key lyric: “If you spin your love around the secrets of your dreams, you may find you love is gone and is not quite what it seems. To appear to disappear beneath all your darkest fears.”

7. Band: The Jimi Hendix Experience / Song: “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” / Album: Electric Ladyland

This song was made possible by a heavy carton of sunshine acid and whoever spun the rumor that there is such a thing as mer-people. Although Daryl Hannah’s Madison character in Splash was a convincing argument, I stopped believing the moment Ariel chose to be with Prince Eric, but Jimi always makes me take a leap of faith, apocalyptic as ever. The world is ending, let’s dive in! It’s possible. Or is it? If Jimi were still alive, God-willing (see key lyric below) we’d all be under the sea (but not in an Octopus’ Garden).

Key lyric: “Well it’s too bad, that our friends can be with us today. The machines that we built will never save us, that’s what they say. And they also say it’s impossible for a man to live and breathe underwater, forever was a main complaint, and they also threw this in my face, they said, anyway, you know good and well, it would be beyond the will of God, and the grace of the king…”

8. Band: The Doors / Song: “L.A. Woman” / Album: L.A. Woman

Jim Morrison lets it all hang out for the first time since unzipping his pants in Florida and for the last time before he passed out in a Paris bathtub, proving he wasn’t just a wild-eyed failed film student, drug-addled poet, and shirtless adolescent pinup picture.

Key Lyric: “Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Lights? Or just another lost angel?”

9. Band: Red Hot Chili Peppers / Song: “Venice Queen” / Album: By the Way

A tribute to one of Anthony Kiedis’ drug addiction survivor friends, this memorial song floods with guilt-ridden sentiment. Driven past sadness into introspect by guitarist John Frusciante's eerie two-part guitar arrangement, its epic journey remembers what a beloved, solitary life meant to this world in such a stormy way that it always gives me the lonely chills much worse than “Under the Bridge.”

Key Lyric (think drug addiction recovery context): “Come again just to start afresh and, once again to find a home. Where you come from? Where you going?”

10. Band: Blur / Song: “This is a Low” / Album: Parklife

Who knew this tour de force was waiting at the end of an album full of quirky little British songs about bank holidays and annoying Americans? A sign of things to come, I’m sure (forthcoming Blur albums would venture beyond the Oasis war and into a bit more introspective territory), but still, this knocks you out. A true hidden Rock Epic. You heard it first here. Unless you’re British or hipster freshness. Either way, have a listen if you enjoy spacey guitar solos that aim to defy what it's actually like to be in space.

Key lyric: “This is a low, but it won’t hurt you. When you’re alone, it will be there with you, finding ways to stay solo.”

12. Artist: Patti Smith / Song: “Gloria” / Album: Horses

Wow. Unless I’m singing along, I’m speechless. This is one hell of an angry, beautiful poem. It’s Beat Generation stream of consciousness yet so rock and roll it’s scary.

Key Lyric: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”

12. Band: Built to Spill / Song: “Carry the Zero” / Album: Keep It Like a Secret

Lyrically intense, I always feel like I’m intruding on a bitter exchange whenever I listen to “Carry the Zero,” but once I start eavesdropping, I just can't stop, since I always end up hearing a spellbinding guitar solo. This solo is so good, I almost forgive the song for reminding me of all the times I forgot to carry the zero. Elementary school mathematical frustrations aside, “Carry the Zero” is a Rock Epic that really makes an art out of going for broke.

Key Lyric: “And you've become what you thought was dumb. A fraction of the sum, the middle and the front.”


As I listen to "Carry the Zero" fade away, it gives me hope that the Rock Epic song genre is still alive and kicking. I’ll keep looking out, turning the volume up a notch, and continuing to rock epic out if you do the same.


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