First there was Justin Timberlake trying to best Oasis’s ‘Be Here Now’ for sheer weight of songs designed to be slightly longer than ‘Hey Jude’. Now The Knife have swanned in with new album ‘Shaking The Habitual’ and its central 19-minute monstrosity ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’, a track as elongated and devoid of event as a cricket innings. Yeah, sort of. Are we witnessing the rebirth of the epic? If we are, artists could do worse than emulate these radio-unfriendly marathons (and not, say, ‘November Rain’).
The Orb, ‘Blue Room’ (39m57s)
Techno-prog pioneers The Orb saw an excuse for a bit of mischief when chart-compilers Gallup decreed the maximum length for a charting single would be 40 minutes. They pranked the brave new world with ‘Blue Room’ just ducking under the wire and boring the arse off anyone who didn’t understand this was the noble last gasp of ambient house.
So new were the Roses to this dance game that they went and made a 10-minute single when they could’ve just asked Andrew Weatherall to extend a three-minute cut. The result was the funkiest thing in 36-inch flares and the last word in wah-wah guitar until TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’.
It’s testament to Kevin Rowland’s somewhat refreshed state of mind in 1985 that he saw this as a viable comeback single after the transatlantic mega-sales of ‘Come On Eileen’ and the ‘Too-Rye-Ay’ album. It’s also testament to Mercury Records’ killjoy philistinism that they decided to cram it into a three-minute edit for radio to wholly ignore. Things could’ve been so different if Peter Powell’s listeners had heard Billy Adams asking searching questions about Bearwood and The Little Nibble.
While we’re celebrating artists dancing a crazed jig of joy slap-bang on top of the career self-destruct button, here’s MGMT, who promoted second album ‘Congratulations’ by telling everyone how much they were going to detest it. Back to telesales school with you, lads. Right in the middle of this dumper-hastener was 12-minute epic ‘Siberian Breaks’, which is frankly amazing but hardly anyone got far enough to find out.
In a meta- move, Jason Pierce revives The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ groove on ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’ and not, um, ‘Come Together’. It’s mopheads-down all the way as Spaceman concentrates on his blues-noodle – save a six-minute freakout in the middle – and not a second’s wasted in this Dr John-assisted mantra to the addiction cycle. It could go on forever, which is a bit of a worry for the poor lad’s health.
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Some sexual athletes try to keep pace with this super-stretched disco orgasm. More power to you, mes braves!
Back in the day, Prince saw a nine-minute space and didn’t just fill it with an extended funky jam of dubious artistic verve. He stuffed it with a righteous frenzy of stymied love and ecstatic vocal impressions of guitar solos. Plus a load of tinkling piano at the end, sure, but don’t distract a man when he’s in the zone.
The plastic fantastic soul of ‘Young Americans’ out of his system, Bowie returned to the freak scene double-quick with ‘Station To Station’, inventing Duran Duran’s ‘Planet Earth’ in the first few bars of chopper effects, then striking a blow for more wholesome causes with angular funk and pelting Thin White honky-tonk rock as the epic unfolded. Gets better as the minutes tick by. Like a casserole.
Those Daft Punk wags. They recorded a 10-minute song, called it ‘Too Long’, then sat giggling away until condensation clouded their helmets. Which would explain why they couldn’t find the knob marked “interesting” when they made ‘Human After All’. ‘Too Long’ gives Romanthony plenty of scope to reprise his breathless soul vocal from ‘One More Time’, bookending ‘Discovery’ sweetly.
Frank Ocean understands what to do with 10 minutes of tape. You don’t fill a third of it with Beatley horns or another six verses of ‘Desolation Row’ – no, you empty every trick from your back pocket and come on like an R&B Homer – or, Ancient Egypt fans, an R&B Tryphiodorus – and tell the tale of Cleopatra across the millennia, from milk bath to strip club. Then sit back and watch the, uh, Metacritic dollars roll in.
How about you? What are your favourite gargantuan songs? Let us know on Twitter under #bestlongsongs and we’ll add the top choices to our playlist.