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 songbarely 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.