All Day Long

When I worked for the classic-rock station here in Madison, we would occasionally have “long song weekends,” and we even created a MySpace page, back in the pre-Facebook era, for the Long Song Preservation Society, whose guiding principle was “if it can be said in under six minutes, is it really worth saying at all?” (The society’s “about me” blurb was written by a certain Internet writer whose work you might know.) Recently the Onion‘s AV Club wrote about Thick as a Brick and the pleasures of the very, very, very long song. This got me thinking about the long songs I have known.

I can remember hearing “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time on WLS sometime around 1974 and thinking how strange it was for a song to last so long. (Same for the album version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which I also heard for the first time about then.) Not long after that, I started getting into prog rock, and suddenly long songs were not so unusual. If Emerson Lake & Palmer wanted to take 12 minutes to play “Take a Pebble,” it was fine with me.

The previously unknown utility of long songs quickly became apparent to me when I got my first radio job. While I was on the air at KDTH, I also had to tend the room-sized automation system that operated our FM station, D-93. Until I got the hang of changing tapes and other tasks, I would start each shift on KDTH by rounding up the longest songs I could find in the station’s library, which would give me plenty of time to do what needed to be done in the other room. The longest ones ran maybe five minutes at the outside, and even they weren’t enough sometimes. I wished I had  “2112″ or “Alice’s Restaurant” or “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” or “Do You Feel Like We Do,” which I knew so well from college radio.

“Do You Feel Like We Do,” which runs close to 14 minutes, was the longest song in the libraries of most of the rock stations I worked for. I cued it up one night and laughingly announced on the air, “I’m going across the street for a burger—here’s Peter Frampton.” After a trip down the hall to the restroom, I came back to find the studio line blinking. I answered and the caller said, “Wow, you really did go across the street!” How long have you been letting it ring, I wondered.

The longest song I have in my library is a bootlegged version of “The E-Street Shuffle” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, recorded live in my much-missed former home of Iowa City in 1975, which runs 24:05. (Another song from the same show, “Kitty’s Back,” clocks in at 19:20.) Also taking up a lot of time on a single track is Pat Metheny, whose “As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls” (one of the greatest song titles ever) runs 20:43. Jazz players do like to stretch out: Red Garland’s “All Morning Long” runs 20:18—and doesn’t waste a second. Jimmy Smith’s 1958 track “The Sermon” runs 20:12, and he has others that run in excess of 15 minutes. The title song from Kenny Burrell’s All Day Long lasts 18:22.

Most impressive of the long songs in my library might be Van Morrison’s “Summertime in England,” which runs 15:38 and has to be heard to be believed. Alas, all of the versions at YouTube are either live tracks or truncated—the whole thing is on the 1980 album Common One, which includes a second 15-minute track, “When Heart Is Open.” Other favorites: the Miles Davis track “All Blues,” from Kind of Blue, which runs 11:35, and Starcastle’s fabulous prog-rock “Lady of the Lake,” at 10:28.

If you have a favorite long song, please tell the whole class what it is.

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17 responses

  1. You grabbed a burger….I grabbed the night girl. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” will always be heard through that prism.

  2. Cooler heads might find it overblown or cartoony, but I think the nine-minute version of “Midnight Rambler” on “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!” doesn’t waste a second.
    (Is nine minutes long enough for this conversation?)

  3. The longest song that I’m aware of is “Mountain Jam” at 33.38 off the Allman Brothers album Eat A Peach from 1972.

  4. Also forgot to mention that Fela Kuti’s ’70s albums have some ferocious grooves that go for an entire album side and never let up, if you’re into that kind of thing.

  5. When I was doing regular shifts on college radio (not my usual specialty show programming) Springsteen’s “Jungleland” and The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” were the go-to/go-to-the-bathroom songs.

  6. “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” too.

  7. I love Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” its guitar solo seems spontaneous but also pre-planned.

    In the shorter is better debate I always admired the talented folks at the record companies who could trim, say “Frankenstein” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to AM-friendly lengths.

  8. Grand Funk – Closer to home/I’m your Captain (9:40)

  9. Gotta go with “In Held ‘Twas In I,” Procol Harum’s 17:51 ‘Shine On Brightly’ closer. It’s all there: Keith Reid’s imponderable ponderables, clowns clowning endlessly and a truly breathtaking grand finale. The rest of the album could have been left blank and I still would have felt I got my $4.19′s worth.

  10. I’d have to go with Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me A Dime.” I also like very much the previously mentioned “Mountain Jam” from the Allman Brothers’ “Eat A Peach” as well as the live version of Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” from “The Road Goes Ever On.”

  11. These are songs which, in my old live radio days, I’d put on if I needed to go get something to eat (I was usually alone) or go to the little boys’ room.

    One track which immediately comes to mind is Mahogany Rush’s “Try for Freedom” from World Anthem. Another, King Crimson’s “Lizard” and “Prelude: Song of the Gulls/Island.”, Todd Rundgren & Utopia’s “The Ikon” and Todd’s solo “Treatise on Cosmic Fire”, and Yes’ “Gates of Delirium” from Relayer. Zappa’s “Big Swifty” and “Waka/Jawaka”.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you…!

    1. Oh, and I love “Summertime in England”. “Did you ever hear about did you ever hear about did you ever hear about did you ever hear about did you ever hear about did you ever hear about -huh! William Blake! T.S. Eliot!” :)

  12. “Funeral For A Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding” by Elton John (11:05) is a favorite of mine that I consider one of the greatest rock classics of all time. Other favorites include “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic (12:10), “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin (9:41), and “Roundabout” by Yes (8:32). Mentioned earlier are songs I just love: “Loan me A Dime” by Boz Scaggs, “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home” by Grand Funk, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, and “Like a Hurricane” by Neil Young. The longest song I’ve ever played on the radio (and it was on a college radio station) was the medley, “Burn Down the Mission/My Baby Left Me/Get Back” from Elton John (18:20) from his album 11/17/70, which was a live concert performance broadcast on WABC-FM/New York, so that probably doesn’t count in the annals of LONG songs…but I love it, anyway.

  13. At the college radio station I did once use long-version Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida when I needed to run to MCd’s to get a burger. Of course the vinyl picked up a skip about 12 minutes in.

  14. At WSUP, I played “Green Grass and High Tides” by The Outlaws for extended bathroom breaks. The 1975 song, never released as a single, was a favorite of AOR stations and the group’s usual last number at concerts. It’s from the 1978 album “Bring It Back Alive” and ran 20:20. Due to a printing error, early releases of the lp on 8-track and cassette were titled “Bring ‘Em Back Alive.” The song is notable for having two extended guitar solos.

  15. Let me add another one: just finished my 10cc tribute show this week with Feel The Benefit from 1977′s Deceptive Bends which runs just over 11 minutes. Put it on, got in my car and made it home to hear the end of the song

  16. My three cents—

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