In an era of digital downloads and short attention spans there’s something to be said for an artist who can hold a fan’s attention for prolonged periods of time. In addition, there’s the handicap of an entity like iTunes not selling 10+ minute songs individually, only as part of an album block. There’s a big difference between 99¢ for a single and $9.99 for an entire album that you may or may not want.
Rules specifically for this list: the original has to be over 10 minutes long, no remixes, no live sets, no double jazz album sets (even though Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew is amazing), and nothing from the Grateful Dead (where 8 minutes seems like 3o minutes in your Great Uncle’s acid flashbacks).
10. Marrow – Yob (2014)
You’ve never heard of Yob? Well Rolling Stone magazine named Marrow “the best metal song of the year, one that uses low notes to play uplifting melodies.” Clocking in at nearly 19 minutes, the song is a mesmerizing blend of doom with haunting vocals. As a matter of fact, the album Clearing the Path to Ascend is a 4 song, hour long journey into the dark unknown. This song is an incredible testament to focus as the Oregon trio holds a melody together just the right amount of time to tell the story they want to tell.
9. Coma – Guns and Roses (1991)
And on the other end of the metal spectrum, Coma is an unfocused, meandering effort that balloons just past the 10 minute mark. It’s a bloated song on a bloated double album that doesn’t belong on this list, at least, up until the 8 minute mark, that is. Then something magical happens as pain and frustration pours from Rose’s soul. Match that with an amazing guitar bed, you want to listen to the song again and again. 8 minutes of anticipation for 2 ½ minutes of pure, unadulterated genius. If the G’n’R management team would have just trimmed the first 5 or 6, or even 7 or 8 minutes off, I’m convinced that the Coma edit would have been a hit. Doesn’t matter, Use Your Illusion I & II yielded 13 other singles for the band as Coma closed an Illusion I album that sold over 7 million copies and ran for over 75 minutes.
With current events being such as they are, it is interesting to note that in 1991, Wal-Mart executives balked at Guns and Roses and said “(we) feel that revenue realized from the sales of a record with objectionable lyrics would be more than offset by the discontent it might cause customers for making such product available to children.” Then the band put a warning label of their own on the album, if you don’t like the words then you can “f@#k off and go buy something from the new age section.” Eventually management capitulated to Wal-Mart and the chain got the single Use Your Illusion disc with the least objectionable 12 songs from Use Your Illusions I & II on it, Coma not included.
8. Trapped in the Drive-Thru – “Weird” Al Yankovic (2006)
Off of Yankovic’s Poodle Hat album, Trapped in the Drive-Thru was a parody of the song Trapped in the Closet by R. Kelly. Yankovic’s skills as a parodist are amazing as he takes kind of a bizarre story by Kelly and makes it as “banal and mundane” as humanly possible. The clever concept of going contrarian earned Yankovic the #77 spot on the Rolling Stone Top 100 songs of 2006. A year later the video came out and despite the 11 minute running time, notched well over 5 million views on YouTube.
Though known for his parodies, starting in 1989 Yankovic began experimenting with long, story based songs. Besides Trapped, Yankovic also has these lengthy cuts: The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota(6:50), Albuquerque (11:23), Genius in France (8:58), and Jackson Park Express (9:05).
7. The Diamond Sea – Sonic Youth (1995)
The album version of the Diamond Sea is a 20 minute ode to the indulgences of feedback in the era of grunge. The 7 minute single is a beautiful alternative classic, arguably one of the most beloved of the 90’s. Even though the Washing Machine album only topped out at #58 on the album charts, it was still Sonic Youth’s 3rd most popular in terms of U.S. sales. More of a cult underground band for most if its 30 year existence, the band ceased to exist with the divorce of founding members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.
Personally, my favorite Sonic Youth long song is Titanium Exposé (only 6 ½ minutes), but when researching this article, I found this review on Stereogum. This reviewer really, really liked the Diamond Sea: “an awe-inspiring masterpiece of improvisation, The Diamond Sea is a moiré of atonal scrambling and harmonic scree that feels far too short at 19 ½ minutes. “
6. Welcome to the Pleasuredome- Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)
The album Welcome to the Pleasuredome sold a million copies, pre-order. Stop and think about that fact for a second, in a modern era where albums rarely notch the million sales mark, Pleasuredome started with a million copy head start. The title track was the 4th single, but had to be trimmed down from its 13+ minute running time. Thirteen minutes of glorious reveling in musical debauchery. Now the lyrics are loosely based on the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but if you’re familiar with the Frankie Goes to Hollywood gang, I don’t think they shared the same visions of debauchery as Coleridge.
The song peaked at #2 in the UK and spawned literally dozens of remixes, singles, and 7” versions, some as short as 3 minutes, but some remixes actually made Pleasuredome LONGER.
5. Third Eye – Tool (1996)
The closing track on 1996’s album Ænima, Third Eye’s lyrics are a reference to accepting one’s gifts of extrasensory perception. Okay, that’s strictly my interpretation. The elusive Tool members allow the audience to translate their lyrics with interpretations as varied as LSD hallucinations to the opening of the male phallus. Ænima was the rare album that spawned multiple singles, yet still was a multi-million unit seller and critically acclaimed all at the same time. With memorable videos for nearly every song, Third Eye opens with a memorable quote from the late comedian Bill Hicks. At 14 minutes, Third Eye pushed the total running time of Ænima to nearly 80 minutes.
On the live version of Third Eye, drug-guru Timothy Leary extols the audience with these words “to think for yourself, you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable, open-mindedness; chaotic, confused, vulnerability to inform yourself.” The true meaning of Third Eye is hidden in the words of Leary.
4. Maggot Brain – Funkadelic (1971)
In Cleveland Ohio, everyone knows Maggot Brain. For nearly 40 years, some station in the area would play the song between midnight and 2 am on every single Saturday night. Unbeknownst to me, this was not a nationwide occurrence. Well that’s not my fault that the rest of the nation is so out of the loop. George Clinton himself opens the song with a short spoken word segment, and then it’s off to never, never land with 10 more minutes of what is essentially an Eddie Hazel guitar solo. Despite many theories of what’s the meaning of Maggot Brain, Clinton himself answered the question in a 2013 interview with the equally open ended answer “all the bulls@!t that we feed our mind.”
Despite being in his mid-seventies, Clinton still conducts the Funk-Train as he leads a version of the Funkadelic-Parliament on tour to this very day. (Tour is scheduled through 2015, though Clinton is open to touring more.) Over a 100 members have gone through the revolving door that is the Funkadelic-Parliament machine, but it is Maggot Brain that almost single-handedly put Eddie Hazel on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list. Hazel never received that honor, or the honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he died of liver failure in 1992.
3. 3 Days – Jane’s Addiction (1990)
This song is seemingly more well known for the banned cover art that graces the Ritual de lo Habitual album than the masterfully crafted 10 minutes opus inspired by a drug fueled threesome experienced by lead singer Perry Ferrell. The cover artwork is a visual representation of every song on the album, with 3 Days as the focus. By focusing the art on 3 Days primarily, the Jane’s Addiction boys found themselves in the cross hairs of Wal-Mart. The controversy forced band management to go with an alternate cover, then the band came back with an alternative black and white cover with the First Amendment as the artwork and this message on the back “Hitler’s syphilis-ridden dreams almost came true. How could it happen? By taking control of the media. An entire country was led by a lunatic…We must protect our First Amendment before sick dreams become law. Nobody made fun of Hitler??!”
As for the song itself, Ferrell crafts the erotic, yet blasphemous, story, while Dave Navarro counters with blazing guitar solos that almost turn 3 Days into a duet between singer and guitar. Tensions between band members would cause Jane’s Addiction to blow apart after Ritual de lo Habitual, but Jane’s Addiction would reunite in 1997, and 2001, and 2008. The band is currently on hiatus.
2. Shine on You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd (1975)
Dedicated to Syd Barrett, who ironically popped in from self-imposed exile to hear some of the recording session, Shine On (Parts I- V) is a 13 minute exercise in perseverance which imposes its will on most of the Wish You Were Here album. Shine On also has an accompanying Shine On (Parts VI-IX) which is an additional 12 minutes. As a founding member of Pink Floyd, Barrett only led the band for the recording of 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Erratic behavior and extreme drug use drove Barrett from the band in 1968, 6 years after meeting Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright and performing under different incarnations of Pink Floyd.
Coming off of the legendary Dark Side of the Moon effort, Shine On You Crazy Diamond was never released as a single, but garners almost constant airplay on Classic Rock radio formats. How is a 13 minute song in constant rotation? When the opening track on your album sells 15 million copies, that’s how.
1. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree – Arlo Guthrie (1967)
Another radio favorite, I always hear this song on Thanksgiving Day. Partially because of tradition, but also because the producer of every radio station in the United States wants an 18 minute break while getting stuck working on Thanksgiving. Now, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree is the lead single on Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant album. Not to be confused with the Alice’s Restaurant movie made 2 years later which also starred Alro Guthrie. Not surprisingly, Guthrie is most associated with his 1967 release, which is essentially a long, clever story about littering and the effects of which impaired his ability to be drafted into the Vietnam War. All the while, Guthrie plays the same musical loop on his acoustic guitar. After listening to it yet again with a more critical ear, the most astounding thing is how well Guthrie captures the essence of the 60’s.