I was just listening to Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” when suddenly I felt like I should browse through my music library and try to find some classic rock songs that go a little (sometimes a lot) over the average song duration. Those epic tunes have always been my favorites – there’s something so special and engaging…I mean sharing 10-20 minutes of your life with a song is indeed an engagement and this means that the song has to be more than extraordinary. I have always been fascinated by how those true rock artists manage to maintain a song for over 10 minutes – it’s quite the challenge, isn’t it?
When it comes to lengthy musical pieces, I think we can mostly find them in jazz or nowadays in electronic music. However, I argue that the rock music scene from the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s has a lot to offer when it comes to epic long tunes. In no particular order, here are 10 examples, chosen by me, of classic rock songs that go over the average song length. I do hope you have about 2 and half hours of your life to spend with them.
Rush – “2112”
The title track from Rush’s fourth studio album was an absolute ground-breaking moment for the Canadian rockers. The story is set in the future – in the year of 2112 when there’s no music. A man, however, discovers the magic of music and everything changes.
Deep Purple – “Child in Time”
“Child in Time” comes from Deep Purple’s 1970 album – “Deep Purple in Rock”. It’s a very straightforward protest against the Vietnam War. Interesting fact, the song is actually based on It’s a Beautiful Day‘s psychedelic song “Bombay Calling”. Ian Gillan once said in an interview, “There are two sides to that song – the musical side and the lyrical side. On the musical side, there used to be this song ‘Bombay Calling’ by a band called It’s A Beautiful Day. It was fresh and original, when Jon was one day playing it on his keyboard. It sounded good, and we thought we’d play around with it, change it a bit and do something new keeping that as a base. But then, I had never heard the original ‘Bombay Calling’. So we created this song using the Cold War as the theme, and wrote the lines ‘Sweet child in time, you’ll see the line.’ That’s how the lyrical side came in. Then, Jon had the keyboard parts ready and Ritchie had the guitar parts ready. The song basically reflected the mood of the moment, and that’s why it became so popular.”
The Velvet Underground – “Sister Ray”
Some late ‘60s vibes with Velvet Underground! Nothing special to say about this song – it’s typical Lou Reed from the beginning till the end of it. It may be all about drugs, violence and all of these bad things in life; however the song has definitely something else to offer as well.
Pink Floyd – “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”
In my book, the kings of maintaining both lengthy and breathtaking rock tunes have to be Pink Floyd. Throughout their career, they have a great number of tracks that go over the average song duration. However, I chose those two songs specifically because I feel like they both perfectly illustrate how powerful a lengthy song can be and how well it can play with your emotions and moods. On top of that we get brilliant instrumentals, skillful improvisations and numerous important parts and details that go one after another like waves.
Pink Floyd – “Echoes”
The Doors – “The End”
Jim Morrison wrote this song about his girlfriend, however in time, it turned into something much deeper and meaningful. “The End” is one of their most emblematic tracks, coming from their self-titled debut album. He once said, “Everytime I hear that song, it means something else to me. It started out as a simple good-bye song… Probably just to a girl, but I see how it could be a goodbye to a kind of childhood. I really don’t know. I think it’s sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be.”
Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”
And it all comes back to this song – one of Guns N’ Roses’ greatest accomplishments of their career. “November Rain” is a beautiful power-ballad that ruled the first half of the 90s. Read more about it here: The Story of Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain”
King Crimson – “Starless”
“Starless” has pretty much everything I love about progressive rock – smooth intro, saxophone accompaniments, jam sessions, long improvisations and memorable drums. The tune comes from King Crimson’s seventh studio album – “Red”, released in 1974.
Led Zeppelin – “Achilles Last Stand”
Achilles Last Stand” is a very essential song for the future development of British heavy metal music. Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in Page’s home in California, the tune simply changed the course of rock history. On top of that, it impresses with John Bonham’s powerful drumming and John Paul Jones‘s bass line.
Jimmy Page has often referred to “Achilles Last Stand” as his favorite Led Zeppelin song.
Yes – “The Gates of Delirium”
YES are the other absolute masters of lengthy and epic rock tunes. “The Gates of Delirium” is a 22 minute progressive saga based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It starts with a vocal section and it evolves into a mythical and rather long instrumental section. By the end of the song, you finally realize that for the past 20 minutes you have experienced the whole range of feelings – from tenseness and anxiety to calmness and hope.