The Best Long Songs

Long songs can be awesome, but a lot of the time these contain filler, empty space, and such. This list does not contain those songs.  But before we go about naming some of my favorite really long tracks, I should explain how I came up with this list.  Here are the rules I used to help me build the list:

  1. There isn’t any strict rule as to what “long” constitutes here, but I figured that I should give more leeway to rock songs as they tend to be shorter than electronic compositions.  This rules out something like Hi-Fi Bugs – “Lydian and the Dinosaur” (12:12), which would be quite long for a rock song, but is less impressive for an electronic track.
  2. Multi-part songs are not allowed.  This knocks out stuff like Sonic Youth – “Trilogy” (14:02) and Type O Negative – “Christian Woman” (8:58), which would have been the shortest track on this list anyway.  I also considered Herbie Hancock’s “Sleeping Giant” (24:38), but it’s essentially a five-part piece, so that was ruled out, too.
  3. Only one song per artist.

Here we go, from shortest to longest:

The Smashing Pumpkins – Starla (10:38)

I was a bit surprised that this was the longest proper* Pumpkins song, as they’ve done quite a few epic ones.  Originally released as a B-Side to their first single “I Am One” in 1992, “Starla” is an example of how mature The Smashing Pumpkins were early in their career.  The first half builds into a mass of guitar fuzz and retreats until it’s quiet enough to hear a police siren picked up in the background of the recording (~5:28).  The final five minutes are basically Billy Corgan showing that he is awesome at guitar.  Also of note is The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” – a beautiful, spiraling piece that’s one of my personal favorites.

*”Pastichio Medley” is longer, but as the title suggests, was not eligible.  Also, I’m sure there are demo tracks out there that are longer, but that’s not what this is about.

Global Communication – 14 31 (14:31)

Global Communication only produced two albums, but their 1994 album 76 14 was incredibly influential.  Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton have each done a lot of work separately since – in fact, they reunited for 26th entry in Fabric’s mix disc series, but that was, of course, not original material.  Anyway, “14 31” is quite regulated with the steady deep ticking of a clock acting as a metronome.  Despite this, the track is very organic, growing in bursts of light keyboards and swooshing synthesizers.  The crashing waves-like sound and the sound of a distant aircraft landing work perfectly.  A little game I like to play with this piece is trying to pay enough attention to the clock in order to pick out the moment that it drops out.  It’s not an easy game.

Brian Eno – 1/1 (17:21/16:39)

For anyone trying to Google this, “1/1” is the first track off of the seminal Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1979).  The version I’m listening to now has a length of 17:21, but my CD of it has the length as 16:39, which is why I listed both above.  “1/1” is very minimal, sparse, and repetitive, making even the smallest variations and additions significant.  You can find yourself composing melodies to fill in the blanks, analyzing the piece’s structure, and enjoying every tiny bit Eno is willing to give.  Unlike the other pieces on Music for Airports which sound more like auditory experiments, “1/1” is very elegant and emotionally satisfying.

Space Cat & Elysium – Liquid Dub Connection (19:36)

“Liquid Dub Connection” isn’t a particularly well-known track, but it’s incredible nonetheless.  Most of the track is based around a warbling melody and a piano line reminiscent of The Orb’s “Oxbow Lakes”.  There really aren’t many layers here, but the duo keeps it interesting with clever percussion and effects used to achieve variations.  It’s not minimalism (not even close), but I still think that any more layers would hurt the track more than help it.

Kraftwerk – Autobahn (22:42)

Speaking of variations-on-a-theme, “Autobahn” might be the best example of this.  Kraftwerk stretches and expands their sparse technoscapes to explore every aspect of the song.  The classic electronic sounds sound fresh again as recent “lo-fi” musicians have embraced Kraftwerk’s aesthetic of old school Moogs and contemporaries.  “Autobahn” may capture Kraftwerk at their warmest and most fun.

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells, Part 1 (25:17)

Everyone knows the first four minutes or so of “Tubular Bells”, but the rest is just, well, insane?  I don’t know how to describe it, so just click here if you want a description.  I used to think that the guitar part at about 14 minutes came out of nowhere and was ridiculous, but that’s pretty much every part of this piece.  It all culminates in eccentric Briton Vivian Stanshall introducing instruments as they enter in fugue form.  The entire piece is fantastically random, yet with some sort of method behind it.  If you haven’t heard this before, you owe it to yourself to listen to it all the way through once.  You’ll probably want to listen to it again.

The Orb – Blue Room (39:57)

We couldn’t make it through this without The Orb, could we?  The masters of spinning ambient dub created what many consider their magnum opus with 1992’s “Blue Room”.  Clocking in at just under the UK Charts Company’s 40 minute limit as to what they would consider a “single”, “Blue Room” became the longest single to chart in the UK peaking at #8.  While I don’t think most people can be expected to listen to the track in one sitting, The Orb’s sprawling epic deserves appreciation for its sampling wit, cohesiveness, and overall ambition.

Arbitrary song of the day: Friendly Fires – Paris (Aeroplane Remix)

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