Jukebox Bargains: Rock’s 10 Best Long Songs
There’s a lot to be said for the impact of a nice, short rock song. But sometimes we want the hard-earned money we put into the jukebox at our favorite bar to last a long time — and protect us from our fellow patrons’ sometimes questionable musical tastes. Thankfully, there are plenty of great long rock songs that are well in excess of the standard radio-friendly three or four-minute mark. These tracks all clock in at for at least ten minutes, are not multi-part suites, and are so good they make it feel like half that. So sit back, take your time, and enjoy Ultimate Classic Rock’s list of Rock’s Best Long Songs:
What started off, according to Jim Morrison, as a simple Doors breakup song evolved into one of the darkest and weirdest songs of the ’60s. The song’s lengthy middle section, in addition to boasting a hypnotic performance by the rest of the Doors, is a modern retelling of the Oedipal dramas of ancient Greek and Shakespearean times. Coming as it does at the end of an album of comparatively straightforward pop/rock songs, ‘The End’ likely contributed as much as any other Doors song to their image as a dark and dangerous band.
Back in the old days of vinyl, the placement of the Who‘s ‘Underture’ was significant. Because it ended the first ‘Tommy’ LP it served as both an outstanding musical summation of the songs that came before it, and as a palate cleanser for the second disc. It’s also one of the few Who instrumentals around and, though the track is not a particularly high-octane moment, it’s still thoroughly engaging. In fact, for those who take issue with the convoluted “plot” of ‘Tommy,’ it’s a true bright spot and respite.
‘The Musical Box’
Genesis took a few tentative stabs at longer compositions on their previous album, 1970’s ‘Trespass.’ But it was on ‘The Musical Box,’ opening song on the next year’s ‘Nursery Cryme,’ that the scope of their ambition and talent became clear. With new bandmates Phil Collins and Steve Hackett in the fold, ‘The Musical Box’ alternates between delicate beauty and primal force — and sets the template for the band for years to come. This is considered to be one of the essential songs of progressive rock, and for good reason.
‘Station to Station’
It was on this song, Bowie‘s longest, that he introduced the persona of the Thin White Duke. The first half is a droning, hypnotic affair with clear influences from popular contemporary krautrock acts like Kraftwerk and Neu!, while the second is a decidedly more funky and uptempo affair. Combined, the effect is powerful.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’
For its first few three minutes or so, CCR‘s extended take on this Motown classic is a fairly spot-on adaption of the song made famous by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and made legendary by Marvin Gaye. But just then, John Fogerty and crew turn it into one of the greatest recorded jams in rock history. Driven by Fogerty’s guitar playing and Doug Clifford’s drumming, the Creedence version of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ occupies nearly a quarter of the running time on the group’s multi-platinum ‘Cosmo’s Factory.’
‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’
Originally conceived as two separate songs, Elton John‘s ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ merged mainly because they ended and began with the same key. Regardless of why, however, the two are now linked forever as perhaps the most towering testament to John’s songwriting and performing talent. The instrumental first half was written as the music John would want played at his own funeral. Its classical-tinged structure segues perfectly into the more traditional rock approach of ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ one of the greatest breakup tunes ever.
‘Heart of the Sunrise’
Arriving as it does at the conclusion of a Yes album already containing great tracks like ‘Long-Distance Runaround’ and ‘Roundabout,’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ doesn’t always get its just due. And yet it’s perhaps the song that best balances Yes’s sprawling songwriting tendencies with their uncanny pop sensibilities. Every member of Yes makes their mark on this track, which quickly became a fan favorite and a staple of live Yes shows.
‘Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage’
While ‘2112’ saved Rush‘s career and is viewed as the pinnacle of their ’70s output, ‘Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage’ is everything great about the band in a much more concise package. The sci-fi lyrics, about an interstellar explorer being sucked into a black hole, are as frightful as they are fanciful. The music, meanwhile, is as aggressive as any the band ever recorded. When Geddy Lee wails “Sound and fury drown my heart; every nerve is torn apart,” you would swear you were on board the Rocinante as it was pulled into oblivion.
Immediately following the gentle acoustic opener ‘Pigs on the Wing, Part 1′ comes the snarling savagery of ‘Dogs.’ Over the course of 17 sprawling minutes, every member of Pink Floyd earns a turn in the spotlight, but it’s David Gilmour who shines brightest. Set against some of Roger Waters‘ most caustic lyrics ever are a series of guitar solos that are among his best and fiercest ever.
‘Achilles Last Stand’
What makes ‘Achilles Last Stand’ such a triumph for Led Zeppelin is not that it’s their longest studio song — it’s actually No. 3 on that list — but that they manage to maintain such ferocity for nearly the entire running time. Gone was the band’s trademark blend of hard rock and blues, and in its place was a masterpiece of heavy metal that has inspired countless musicians since. Just don’t ask us to make much sense of Robert Plant‘s lyrics on this one.