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50 Fantastic Long-form Rock Songs

(Pictured - Jethro Tull 1998)

New musical ideas, advancements in recording technology, drug usage, and a new era of creative thinking are all factors that led to rock music becoming increasingly clever and occasionally longer in the 1960s. Rock music hit the mainstream in the 1950s and by the 60s it was becoming more diverse and sophisticated, leading some musicians to follow the jazz and classical lead of extending tunes to new lengths and putting their radio sensibility to the side. Although bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had shown they had perfected the catchy, three-minute pop/rock style and shown the success that can follow those tunes, that’s not all rock was to become. By the second half of the decade, musicians more frequently began to include extended songs on their albums, often incorporating extensive solos, unusual song formats, and simply longer-winded musical ideals, many of which have turned into some of the greatest rock songs of all time. We have selected what we believe to be 50 of the greatest long-form rock songs of all time. For this list, the songs are unranked and are not necessarily the 50 greatest long-form rock songs of all time, but all of which could certainly be in the conversation along with a bunch of other stellar, long-form songs. Of the 50 songs we selected, we will be highlighting ten of which we have found to be especially interesting. We did our best to select from a slew of rock subgenres including hard rock, indie rock, southern rock, and more.

Marquee Moon - Television

The album-titled track from Television’s 1977 debut studio album, sitting at about ten and a half minutes long, remains the band’s most impressive tune that they ever put their name to. In breaking the song down, the first four minutes or so sound just like another awesome Television tune from a great album; however, the next few minutes create a guitar-centric post-punk buildup into a powerful, unison musical expression by the band. With the record often hailed as one of alternative rock’s early great records, the song ought to hit home for a lot of alt listeners, and especially those fond of later-era New York bands like Interpol. Much of the mid-portion of the song, essentially right up to the end, is instrumental, but it’s still about as encapsulating as can be, before the vocals come back in right near the end.

Shine on You Crazy Diamond - Pink Floyd

Coming in at about 25 minutes long, Shine on You Crazy Diamond is one of the many longform Pink Floyd jewels spread across their impressive discography. Coming from their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a nine-part progressive rock epic unified as a whole in its own right, but with three songs sandwiched between parts five and six on the record. To Pink Floyd fans, even though the song is tracks one and five on the record, it’s still one unified, jaw-dropping composition, espousing the creative might of Pink Floyd. Made up of multiple solos, modal scales, time signature changes, and sporadic lyrics, the song is about as overwhelming as can be. Nevertheless, the beauty and power that the band releases throughout the track is encapsulating to the infinite degree, as the band pays their homage to former member Syd Barrett. Speaking about the recording process, bassist Roger Waters reflected that they were there physically, but mentally, the group was elsewhere; perhaps adding to the disconnected feeling of longing and desire in the song.

Telegraph Road - Dire Straits

By the release of Love Over Gold in 1982, Dire Straits was well on their way to not only becoming one of the biggest rock bands in Britain, but in the world. Already releasing complex, longer-form rock songs on earlier recordings, notably Tunnel of Love from Making Movies, the band was moving in a more sophisticated direction, while still holding a unique, roots rock sound. All five songs from Love Over Gold sat at over five and a half minutes long, with the record's opening track Telegraph Road becoming frontman Mark Knopfler’s most impressive creation as a songwriter. Singing initially about the urban boom of American industrialization, to the eventual beginnings of urban decay and the crushing of one man's dream, the song sings a tale too well known for American cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, or Cleveland. Aside from the relatable lyrical matter, Knopfler’s composition is equally as instrumentally impressive as the tune begins with a whisper and builds to an arena rock explosion of power.

The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decemberists

The Decemberists are one of the most intriguing bands in 21st-century American indie. We delved relatively deep into their story in our piece Pacific Northwest Indie Rock: The Soundtrack of the Evergreens. In short, The Decemberists found their niche mixing folklore and mysticism with americana, folk, baroque pop, and rock sensibilities, creating peculiar songs that express the best parts of Pacific Northwest American songwriting. Released from their deeply decorated record within indie spheres, Picaresque, The Mariner’s Revenge Song is an epic sea shanty tells an intriguing tale of an outcast boy who takes up a job on a ship and ends up having to battle a whale after twenty months at sea. To take the tune to a new level, though, the band often depicts the battle scene using props at their live shows. Lyrically speaking, the song is perhaps songwriter Colin Meloy’s most impressive creation, always being worth the listen.

In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly

The only song released by Iron Butterfly to achieve much long-term impact, this epic seventeen-minute-long acid rock staple achieved some love on the pop charts after it was condensed down to under three minutes. The album version of the tune is the one that is most remembered, centering around a heavy-sounding guitar riff. Most of the song is made up of soloing members of the band, starting with an organ solo, then a guitar solo, then a drum solo, then another organ solo, before the band returns to the tune in unison. There’s nothing overly complex about In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in terms of its composition; it really is the long-form soloing that gives the song its power and length, although they did come up with a pretty iconic guitar riff.

How Many More Times - Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin, along with their top-notch British rock brethren of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, were no strangers to long-form rock compositions. Being one of many lengthy rock songs by the band, How Many More Times was released off the band's first album, mixing blues rock with hard rock and a sporadic jazz feel. As the closing track of the record, How Many More Times caps off the top-tier debut, showing that Led Zeppelin was about to change the world of rock and roll. Speaking about the composition, guitarist Jimmy Page stated that much of the song was composed of unused musical ideas leftover from Page’s time playing with The Yardbirds.

Thick as a Brick - Jethro Tull

One of the most impressive and equally peculiar songs selected for our list comes from Jethro Tull in 1972. Not just a song, Thick as a Brick made up the entirety of Jethro Tull’s fifth studio album of the same name. The near 43-minute long progressive rock masterpiece led to a deep and long-term level of praise for Jethro Tull, who had just done something so unusual and boundary-breaking with their single-song album. Running as a continuous piece of music with a calming dip in the middle, allowing vinyl listeners the opportunity to flip over the album, the record was made up of a string of musical themes with changing tempos, keys, and time signatures. Frontman Ian Anderson interjected symphonic instrumentation not only through his well-known flute usage but also trumpet, accordion, violin, and saxophone. Coming with equally intriguing album artwork depicting a newspaper, the song tells a fascinating story and backs it up with expert caliber instrumentals.

Kissing the Beehive - Wolf Parade

Released as the closing track from underrated Canadian indie rock band Wolf Parade's second studio album At Mount Zoomer, Kissing the Beehive represents a climactic point in indie rock songwriting. Although one of the alluring factors surrounding indie rock is its unrestrained creativity, coming as a byproduct of lower-budget independent record labels, an indie rock song over seven or eight minutes is an anomaly, making the eleven-minute long track Kissing the Beehive even more impressive. Even though the song's notability among regular listeners is quite low, as is Wolf Parade’s presence as a whole, it’s still a masterpiece of rock music. Making up three distinct parts compiled together as a whole, the encapsulating nature of Dan Boeckner's guitar, and Spencer Krug’s keyboard playing are simply next-level.

I Am the Resurrection - The Stone Roses

One of the few stylistic offshoots of indie rock that consistently ventured into long-form songwriting was the vibrant, short-lived Madchester scene. At the pinnacle of Madchester and the pre-Britpop sound was Manchester’s own The Stone Roses. Their self-titled debut album has been hailed as not only one of the greatest indie albums of all time but one of the greatest records ever to be released, especially by British journalists. The US release of the band's debut came with Fools Gold as the closing track, and the British release came with I Am the Resurrection as the record's closer. Although fans are split between which track tops the other, the undeniable fact is they're both long-winded, impressive expressions of a hybrid rock-house sound that changed the face of alternative music.

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding - Elton John

Few solo artists dominated the 1970s to the level of success that Elton John did. Elton's crowning musical achievement was the 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, where Elton John mixed pop rock with glam rock and progressive rock. The record has since housed much of his most popular songs like Bennie and the Jets, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Candle in the Wind, and of course, the epic eleven-minute medley Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. In this song, Elton John mixed a haunting, symphonic rock instrumental intro into an uptempo catchy rock tune, creating one of Elton’s finest songs to be heard live. Although too long to ever be released as a single, that has not stopped classic rock stations from playing the epic eleven-minute piece of music frequently as the years have gone on.

Helpless Child - Swans

Jungleland - Bruce Springsteen

American Pie - Don McLean

Hurricane - Bob Dylan

Echoes - Pink Floyd

In My Time of Dying - Led Zeppelin

War Pigs - Black Sabbath

Mountain Jam - Allman Brothers Band

The Colony of Slipperman - Genesis

Dogs - Pink Floyd

Crumbling Castle - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

I Will Possess Your Heart - Death Cab for Cutie

Three Days - Jane's Addiction

Maggot Brain - Funkadelic

Under the Pressure - The War on Drugs

Down By the River - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who

Midnight Rambler - Rolling Stones

Close to the Edge - Yes

Do You Feel Like We Do - Peter Frampton

Roundabout - Yes

In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson

Frankenstein - Edgar Winter Group

Money for Nothing - Dire Straits

I Heard It Through the Grapevine - Creedence Clearwater Revival (Originally Gladys Knight & The Pips)

Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant - Billy Joel

A Bit of Finger / Sleeping Village / Warning - Black Sabbath

The Stars Are Projectors - Modest Mouse

The Past Is a Grotesque Animal - Of Montreal

Siberian Breaks - MGMT

Purple Rain - Prince

Papa Was a Rollin' Stone - Temptations

The End - The Doors

November Rain - Guns N' Roses

LA Woman - The Doors

Dance Yrself Clean - LCD Soundsystem

That Was a Crazy Game of Poker - O.A.R.

2112 - Rush

LA Woman - The Doors


2000's alternative & indie rock playlist cover 2.JPEG
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