Typically, songs run under the 5-minute mark. In fact, songs that pushed the boundaries of the 5-minute mark back in the radio days were something taboo in previous decades, forcing special “extended versions” to exist but only in Album Land; songs like the original 8-minute American Pie were shunned by radio unless a shortened version could be churned out.
Sometimes, people lose patience for long, meandering, arguably pretentious lengthy songs. But then again, sometimes 4 minutes is simply not enough time for a song to get across a mood, a tone, or what it exactly NEEDS to be successful. That few extra minutes makes a huge difference to the point where 8 minutes is simply not enough. Here are some of my personal favourites…
Wilco – Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Wilco are masters of the 5-minute-plus song, so it was tough to choose which to include on this list, so I opted for songs that were much longer than 5 minutes, or as much as Wilco tends to veer from the standard song length. Among those is the 10-minute head banger, “Spiders” which boasts a quick-paced driving beat, long, drawn-out epic guitar solos that course through your veins, bursts of lyrical energy from Jeff Tweedy as the song chaotically bursts from an undercurrent of quiet, to an explosion of lawless energy.
Ryan Adams – Nobody Girl
There are so many utterly, jaw-droppingly beautiful songs by Mr. Adams but among them is the 9-minute “Nobody Girl”, a slow jam with an epic journey of a guitar solo just before the song’s dramatic closure. Adams is no stranger to designing songs – he has a back catalogue of unreleased material that is unmatched – and so it’s no surprise he crafted a sad, lonely ballad about a sad, lonely person and managed to completely fill such a huge space with a song I simply cannot ever get enough of.
Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone
“Like a Rolling Stone” is the ultimate, quintessential long song. In fact, radio stations were reluctant to play a song that was 6 minutes long and not until DJs and clubs themselves managed to take hold of the song and release it out into the world, did it become a massive worldwide hit and essentially resurrected and changed the course of Dylan’s entire career. The song doesn’t require any reason from me why it’s on this list. It’s forceful, socially conscious, interesting, amazing, awesome, intense, and one of the greatest songs of all time in the history of popular music.
Wilco – One Sunday Morning
The yin to “Spiders”’ yang, “One Sunday Morning” runs over 12 minutes of soft-spoken piano pop and a hard-to-follow but deeply affecting storyline which is, as the brackets state, for Jane Smiley’s boyfriend. The melody, though it is primitive and repetitive, is absolutely intoxicating and pulls at heartstrings like nearly anything Wilco has done in the past, to the point where the lyrics are merely important background noise to a beautiful standalone composition.
The Beatles – Hey Jude
Na, na, na, na na na naaaaaa…… a McCartney piano ballad turns, with just sing-along-style na na na’s laden under McCartney’s impassioned rock n’ roll wailing, into a real and true moment; where time and space evaporate and all you can hear is just the music that surrounds you and you feel it, deeply and truly as it seeps oh-so deeply inside your soul and you never forget it. Having been lucky enough to see Paul McCartney this past November, hearing tens of thousands of fans na na na-ing along with McCartney was only a ridiculously memorable reiteration of what it means to be lost in a song.
Neil Young – On the Beach
The blues-infused title track on Young’s most underrated record is a deep, dark questioning of fame and Hollywood and life itself along with typical Neil Young guitar work that does a number on the song’s black mood. While the title of the record suggests something more lighthearted and upbeat, the image of the ‘beach’ is turned on its head by Young into a lonely, desolate place of soul-searching where he solemnly sings, “Now I’m livin’ out here on the beach/But those seagulls are still out of reach.”
Oasis – Champagne Supernova
Often-criticized for their musical inconsistencies and bad boy behaviour, the Gallagher Brothers have, in spite of their differences and in spite of some spotty work in the latter part of their career as ‘Oasis’, produced some of the finest songs of the last 30 years. One of those is the sprawling, soul-feeding psychedelic trip-out, “Champagne Supernova”; Noel Gallagher once had a conversation where he asked what on earth was meant by “slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball” to which he replied: “I don’t fucking know. But are you telling me, when you’ve got 60,000 people singing it, they don’t know what it means? It means something different to every one of them.”
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Day
Kurt Vile and his bleak stoner alt-rock are always awesome and surprising, and I develop a stronger relationship with his songs each time I listen to them. This track, from Kurt’s most recent record, is an opener that boasts a full 9 minutes of sheer start-to-finish beauty and sadness. A line like “The phone is ringing off the shelf/I guess it wanted to kill itself” are clever firstly, and then depressing, and then you look in your own heart to peel apart the layers of meaning in a huge song like this one. Kurt cites Neil Young as an influence on his work and you can hear “On the Beach” in every pore of “Walkin’ on a Pretty Day.”
The Rolling Stones – Moonlight Mile
This is one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs for so many reasons, but particularly the song’s epic closure where a reasonably constructed acoustic-riffed blues ballad takes a turn for Richards/Jagger grit and piercing pandemonium. “Moonlight Mile” is one of the shorter songs on this list but whenever I listen to it, I never feel fully nourished when it’s over; even a couple of extra minutes wouldn’t have hurt the best song on “Sticky Fingers”.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
On Van Morrison’s best record are merely 9 songs, most of them clocking well over 5 minutes; it’s the title track though, that summarizes the record’s true mood and feel; that burst of young love and its spiritual properties of rebirth and rejuvenation. Of all the songs on this list, it’s one of the only ones that made me cry the first time I heard it. It’s a song that needs no introduction. It’s typical Van Morrison material: Fearless, gorgeous, a start-to-finish sonic adventure of twists and turns and surprises. And most fascinating of all about this song is, it was recorded in just one take.
Boston – Foreplay/Long Time
Huge stadium rock groups like Boston are no strangers to the lengthy song. Boston’s best is Foreplay/Long Time, a song separated out into two parts: the first, an intro that boasts earsplitting electric hefty mass of crazy sounds, the second one of the most badass falsetto/guitar solo-laden/drum-happy rock songs of the late 1970s.
Manfred Mann – Blinded by the Light
Originally recorded by the Boss himself, I believe this song was perfected by Manfred Mann. Their version is an essential track, the kind you need to have with you on a deserted island, the song you need to listen to every once in a while because you miss it a little and it is more life-confirming than checking your pulse with two fingers. It’s a master class in production, arrangement, instrumentation. It utilizes the organ better than almost any song in history. The bridge, featuring an outbreak of “Chopsticks”, is a classic gimmick. If you like road trips, this is your song.
The Velvet Underground – Oh Sweet Nuthin’
A cool blues rocker if there ever was one, the 7 and a half-minute “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” is a true gem in a back catalogue of pure gems. One of a few songs on this list that closes the record, “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” comes straight out of the anthemic playbook: an ode to an underdog, a repetitive statement of driving force, a CRAZY – and I mean CRAZY – shredding guitar solo, and distinctive soft-hearted vocals, this time from Doug Yule. I came upon this song by accident proving some accidents are fated.