The Top Ten Songs Over Ten Minutes Long

In last Friday’s edition of the Bob Dylan Rankings, I linked to Led Zeppelin’s version of “In My Time of Dying” from Physical Graffiti, an 11-minute blues rock rendition of the song that somehow doesn’t feel as long as Dylan’s version, which clocks in at just over two and half minutes. This got me thinking about the somewhat lost art of the long rock song. I’m not just talking about long by the standard definition of long—I’m talking about songs that make “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” feel inadequate. Pop songs over 10 minutes have always been rare for the obvious reason that sustaining interest for that long is quite difficult. When a song does manage to maintain an exciting and powerful sound over such lengths, particularly one that steadily evolves, it can result in a totally riveting song. There are actually a surprising number of great, marathon-length songs; putting together a Top 10 list was a surprisingly difficult task. Here are some notable songs that didn’t make the cut:

  • Led Zeppelin, “In My Time of Dying”
  • Pink Floyd, “Echoes”/ “Dogs” / “Pigs (Three Different Kinds)”
  • Nina Simone, “Sinnerman”
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
  • The Sugarhill Gang, “Rapper’s Delight”
  • Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Chile” / “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)”
  • Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant”
  • The Doors, “The End”
  • The Fiery Furnaces, “Quay Cur”
  • Bob Dylan, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”
  • The Velvet Underground, “Sister Ray”

That’s a pretty awesome list, and those are just songs that got left out of the Top 10. Anyway, here are the 10 best songs over 10 minutes long:

*A quick note: Most YouTube videos are under 10 minutes for hosting reasons, so many of these songs are split in two, or necessarily abbreviated.

10) The Doors, “When the Music’s Over” (1967, Strange Days)

 

Including this one over one of the Hendrix options, Nina Simone, or CCR was a tough call and, admittedly, not one I’m 100% sure on. But I’m sticking with my gut, and my gut is a huge fan of The Doors. The spaced-out, creepy vibe of this song is chilling, and Jim Morrison’s vocals are hauntingly effective.

9) Grateful Dead, “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain” (1977, Live at Cornell University, 8 May 1977)

 

Making a list like this without including an epic jam from the Grateful Dead would be a crime. You could literally pick from dozens of performances of dozens of songs and not go wrong with any of them. Truth be told, 10 minutes is probably a bad cut-off for them; the Grateful Dead were just warming up at the 10-minute mark, as this near-half-hour rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain” shows.

8. Sonic Youth, “Trilogy” (1988, Daydream Nation)

 

I feel a little guilty about including this one, since some issues of Daydream Nation break this up into three separate songs. There are pretty clear cut-offs between each of the three parts, but since they are typically included under the same umbrella, “Trilogy” counts. A brilliant closer to the band’s best album, this song works best when the three parts are taken as a whole.

7) Led Zeppelin, “Achilles Last Stand” (1976, Presence)

 

So many songs that crack the 10-minute mark rely heavily on grasping the importance of rise-and-fall. Although this makes sense since you need to pace yourself for that length of time, Led Zeppelin will have none of that. As Barney Stinson would say, this song is “all rise.” This song is a showcase of everything Led Zeppelin does well: depth, speed, rhythm. When you’re that good, you don’t need to fall.

6) Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Cowgirl in the Sand” (1969, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere)

 

At 10:06, this song barely makes the cut, but it’s so good that we can cut it some slack. After a slow build that lasts the first 30 seconds, the song begins its heavy, loaded sound and maintains it for the remainder of the track. This is one of Young’s coolest tracks, employing his distinctive voice to great effect as he delivers the memorable line—“When so many love you, is it the same?”—against the heavy melody.

5) Jerry Garcia Band, “Tangled Up in Blue” (1990, Live at the Shoreline Ampitheatre)

 

Bob Dylan has probably had more artists try to interpret and re-imagine his work than any other modern artist. Sometimes this is great and sometimes it’s awful, but there has been nobody as consistently brilliant at Dylan covers than Jerry Garcia. Whether it was with the Grateful Dead or with his own band, Garcia captures the essence of Dylan’s song with his own musical flare. This song is a perfect example of that, with everything clicking, from the added backing vocals to the keyboard to Garcia’s own guitar playing.

 4) Pink Floyd, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (All Parts)” (1975, Wish You Were Here)

 

You may think that this is cheating, since I’m putting together two tracks that are separated on the album, but it’s not really: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is actually so awesome that both parts are over 10 minutes long on their own. Together, though, “Shine On” is possibly the greatest song that Pink Floyd, the undisputed masters of the over 10-minute song, ever recorded. 

3) Television, “Marquee Moon” (1977, Marquee Moon)

 

The opening guitar riff of this song is one of the best I’ve ever heard, and the song only gets better as it goes on. The song builds beautifully and becomes delightfully complex—so complex, in fact, that they allegedly had to kick Richard Hell out of the band because he couldn’t keep up. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but either way, “Marquee Moon” is a great song.

2) The Allman Brothers Band, “The Whipping Post” (1971, At Fillmore East)

 

This is, quite simply, the greatest recording of a live performance I’ve ever heard. Even at 23 minutes, the song never loses interest, mostly thanks to the stellar guitar work of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts. The stunning dynamic between the two of them overshadows Gregg Allman’s underrated work on the vocals. His delivery knows exactly which words to punctuate and underscore, driving home the refrain (“Sometimes I FEEL/like I am TIED to the whipping post!…Good Lord I feel like I’m dyin’”) along with the powerful guitar playing. 

1) Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row” (1965, Highway 61 Revisited)

 

Only one person could knock “The Whipping Post” out of the #1 spot on this list, and that’s obviously Bob Dylan. “Desolation Row,” after all, may the most beautiful song that Dylan ever wrote. The surreal, poignant lyrics grab hold of the listener in a way few songs are capable of doing. This song is so gripping that sometimes I listen to it over and over again for a whole day. I don’t want to say too much (I will, eventually, have to rank this song), so just listen to the beautiful music.

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by soulmerchant on February 1, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    Notwithstanding the presence of the Doors, this list is fucking outstanding.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Dan on February 1, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    it seems like including live songs is cheating (getting songs otherwise shorted up to length), but that being said, what about the who my generation from live at leeds?

    im going to guess that the reason you didn’t make your cutoff 7 minutes (which seems like the right time to me) is that you are forced to basically make a list of best rock songs (rather than best long … er rock songs [and looking back at the top, it looks like you make this point wrt freebird and stairway]).

    having said that … i feel like its appropriate to shout out to the beatles for essentially starting (like everything else) the idea of a long single with “hey jude”.

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on February 2, 2010 at 2:36 AM

      I don’t know what it is with you Dix Hills people and this whole “live songs don’t count” philosophy. I really don’t understand the logic on that one. Is the “definitive” version of a song always the studio recording? That seems like an arbitrary cut-off and, in the case of the Grateful Dead, patently absurd. Judging the Grateful Dead for their studio work is like judging John Smoltz’s career based on his three seasons as a closer. Also, as Justin points out down below, Scarlet>Fire are generally played as one in Grateful Dead shows.

      And I made the cutoff at 10 minutes instead of 7 because A) 10 is a nice round number and B) since the standard length of a “long” song is usually between 6 and 9 minutes, 10 minutes seems like a whole new class.

      Reply

      • Posted by Dan on February 2, 2010 at 9:02 AM

        First of all, I am not, nor have I ever been, from Dix Hills. I am from Melville. They have different (albeit similar) zip codes.

        Furthermore, I never said that the “definitive” version of a song is the studio version. In fact, if you go by the (somewhat arbitrary, though in this case I think it helps my point) metric of what the radio plays, many times a live version is chosen. However, your point in this post was to reflect on the “lost art of the long rock song.”

        My underlying point is that to qualify, the song should have been written to be a long rock song (in this case >10 min to make your list). Any artist can take a song and jam it out for years when playing a concert. In concert, Led Zeppelin extended the length of many of their songs, including Stairway (which, unfortunately for my point is 9:37 on my copy of “How the West Was Won,” since it would be great to say that even Stairway qualifies, since your point outright was to exclude it … but you get my point). Scarlet Begonias is only 4:19 in studio. I don’t think qualifies in the spirit of your own motivation … it wasn’t mean to be a long rock song, it was meant to be a short song, in fact, with the understanding that the Dead will jam anything they play. On the contrary, the Dead wrote Terrapin Station (16:30) to be a long song, with carefully crafted sections, additional lyrics, etc.

        Furthermore, I also take issue with the idea that just because songs are played as medleys that they are the same song. Pink Floyd played Dark Side as “one song” live, The Who played Tommy as “one song” live, and if the Beatles had toured after Abbey Road, I am sure Paul would have forced them to play the end of Abbey Road together as one song (in fact, he did exactly that during one of the shows I saw during the early 90s). Does that make these all one song? [I am asking this rhetorically.] But if so, you should have certainly included them on your list. In fact, the case is almost stronger, since in this case it was intentional in their composition that these songs flow into each other.

        Now, I want to make a somewhat poor analogy. It is as if you made a ranking of the lost art of the long novel, and you set your cutoff at 1000 pages (lets say first printing of the hardcover, I do not mean this to be an argument about editions having different page lengths that have the same text). However, you then include several books that are transcripts of authors doing book readings, but the authors have ad libbed (some of them, in fact, just keep rambling on and on and connect multiple of their books together and sometimes even go back to reciting the first book after including a separate one in between and then connect them together with weakly related phrases that don’t really make sense if you think about them for a while) thus extending the length of the book. So you see, the book wasn’t really written to be that long and many people find the rambling of the author to be of lower quality, if not boring (and requiring the addition of something else in order to pay attention) compared to the original work.* But the whole list was irrelevant, because everyone knew immediately that it was an exercise in putting “Infinite Jest” at the top of another list.

        *Yes, I know I am in the minority with my opinion about the Dead. I love their songs, but I prefer to listen to their studio stuff at home (better quality recordings, vocals in much better tune, less mistakes, etc.). Going to concerts are great, but thats a separate experience that entails more than just listening to songs.

        Reply

      • Posted by Josh on February 2, 2010 at 9:46 AM

        I agree with most of Dan’s points, notwithstanding the analogy. And, what’s up with all you Woodmere people and your overly-activist-and-broad-interpretations-of-”song”? If there were some sort of speech that I gave where you guys sat in the front, I would criticize said interpretation and would expect one of you to subtly shake your head and mouth “Not True”.

        Reply

      • Posted by John S on February 2, 2010 at 8:01 PM

        First of all, I’d like to apologize to Dan for my mistake. I would never have accused you of being from Dix Hills if I had known better.

        Perhaps the line in the intro about “the lost art of the long rock song” misled you, but I’m not really concerned about intent, or how long a song was “written” to be.

        Allow me to make an analogy (both to illustrate my point and to show you how to make one): What is Hamlet? The version most people are familiar with is the text of the play, but of course the play was written to be performed, not read. So different performances of the play are different: Actors give different line readings, they are staged differently, they are different lengths, with the director making decisions about which scenes/lines to cut/include, etc. No single production counts as the definitive Hamlet, but some are certainly better than others.

        The same logic applies to songs. No single performance is THE performance of a song, not even the studio version. They are just instances of the work, and different instances can vary in length. For the purposes of this list, I considered all instances over 10 minutes, whether or not the song was originally written at that length. If there are other live songs that fit this description (which, again, neither you nor Josh can seem to name) and you feel should be on the list, then that’s just a difference of opinion.

        Your point about medleys is somewhat valid, but I would hardly say two songs counts as a “medley.” Perhaps it’s unfair, but I do apply somewhat different rules to the Grateful Dead because their live performances (whether you like them are not) are so integral to their identity. The length of the studio version of Scarlet Begonias is, to me, almost irrelevant compared to a band like, say, The Beatles, who were so focused on record that they gave up touring.

        Finally, Josh, I have nothing to say to you other than nice Alito reference.

        Reply

      • Posted by Dan on February 3, 2010 at 8:28 AM

        I should have known better than to bring up intent with you English major types …

        Reply

      • Posted by Kyle on February 3, 2010 at 7:46 PM

        It’s fairly clear that if Dan had his way, this list would be composed of ten Beatles songs played very slowly. That’s exactly the reason I’m not sure about the Hamlet analogy, though. I think everybody (with the possible exception of Kenneth Branagh) would agree it would be odd to make a list of the ten best Shakespeare plays over 4 hours long for the reasons you cite: namely that there’s no master copy and no way to judge the duration. But with songs there are master copies. They’re even called that, and it seems only fair to use those as the standards for making a list like this. Otherwise, who’s even to say that the +10 minute version has to be by the original artist? After all, my version of Hamlet is just as valid as the Globe’s, etc., etc. Such a scenario inevitably ends with Dan posting his own 10:01 version of Hey Jude on YouTube with three bonus minutes of “na na na na.” And then Desolation Row wouldn’t get to be #1–which it should be.

        Reply

      • Posted by John S on February 3, 2010 at 9:28 PM

        I think the fact that one of the songs on the list WAS a cover shows how I feel about the “who’s even to say that the +10 minute version has to be by the original artist?” question. If Dan wants to record a 10-minute version of Hey Jude, then that’s fine; I’ll consider it, but it’s probably not making the Top Ten.

        As for the “master copy” argument, that’s relying a lot on a technicality/semantic argument. The term “master copy” is really a way to differentiate between the original recording and bootlegs, not live versions or different recordings of the same song. And your argument goes even farther than excluding live versions. Covers and re-recordings don’t count? These all seem like silly, arbitrary distinctions, to exclude a song for the context in which it was performed.

        Reply

  3. Posted by Josh on February 1, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    “it seems like including live songs is cheating (getting songs otherwise shorted up to length), but that being said, what about the who my generation from live at leeds?”

    I agree with considering “My Generation” if we’re going to be considering live versions. And, besides the inherent problem Dan presents with live performances, how do you define “song”? And how could you consider “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain” a “song”? A unified performance, maybe, but it’s two different songs, each of which is under 10 minutes.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Justin on February 1, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    Nice list.

    The scarlet>fire is played as one song in almost every Grateful Dead show. The song starts as scarlet, enters fire, then goes back into scarlet . The youtube videos posted above does not have the scarlet begonias portion(as John noted, youtube can only host 10 minutes segments.). In total, the above rendition is around 25 minutes.

    Reply

  5. Posted by doc on February 1, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    Excellent list John. I also like “You Don’t Love Me” form Live at the Fillmore East. I would throw in “Dixie Chicken/Tripe Face Boogie” by Little Feat from the live album “Waiting for Columbus”. Most rock and roll aficionados list that album in the top 5 classic live albums of all time. And did I mention that I am friends with members of the band (am I cool or what, Josh can prove it)? I agree with you Josh on the medley thing, but there aren’t many studio 10 minute songs, except for all of what Pink Floyd does (see Meddle). John would also have to list InnaGaddaDavida which is OneofTheGadAwful songs of all times.

    Reply

  6. Posted by James Schneider on February 5, 2010 at 10:09 PM

    So I saw the End wasn’t on it, and i love that song, and I was like is this another one of John’s lists where he excludes all the ones I’ve heard him talk about and the ones I know and picks some I’ve never heard of, and for some of these picks that was true, but this is probably my favorite list you have done.

    Reply

  7. Posted by doc on February 6, 2010 at 5:23 PM

    I see, John, that you mention Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendix and the Experience. I listened again to it today. I am voting to move it onto the official top 10. It’s not a medley, it’s really one song , it’s done in the studio with a real band, and possibly has the single greatest guitar solo ever on a studio song. Plus, the interplay with Steve Winwood (of Traffic and Blind Faith), who plays Hammond Organ, is unbelievable. So, I truly put my 2 cents in, with 2 comments on one post. By the way, the Hendix estate is releasing a new album with new material with The Experience. So far it has received rave reviews. I cannot even convey to you the magnitude of Hendrix’s impact on rock music at the time. It was called “psychedelic” music and it literally scared the hell out of most adults and even freaked out teenagers like myself. Hendrix was just amazing and still the best ever at his craft.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Tim on January 27, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    Two points:

    1. John Smoltz’s three seasons as a closer is likely going to get him into the Hall of Fame.

    2. Where’s Third-Eye Blind’s performance of “Jumper” from LDOC 2008 at?

    Reply

  9. [...] Premeditating the scoff from the blog’s resident music critic, I implore him to write a list—kind of like this one—of the best first lines in [...]

    Reply

  10. [...] really like long songs, but this wasn’t the best year for songs over ten minutes long—with this very notable [...]

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