While most songs last anywhere from two to four minutes, there are many impressive tracks with an epic-style feel that clock in well over the radio’s suggested time for singles.
Bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd have released several memorable songs well over ten minutes in length. And everyone will always remember Queen’s legendary ‘Bohemian Rapsody,’ which took six minutes to listen to.
Check out this eclectic, wide-ranging list of best long songs below. It might take a while!
Shine on You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd
In 1975, rock group Pink Floyd released their album Wish You Were Here, a project featuring a nine-part composition they called ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond.’ One of the main themes present in this concept album, more particularly ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond,’ is their paying tribute to former band member Syd Barrett who was forced to exit the group several years earlier due to mental health issues and substance abuse.
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Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd solidified their place in rock n’ roll history with their single ‘Free Bird’, which clocks in at over nine minutes on the studio recording. After songwriter Duane Allman (of the awesome Allman Brothers Band) passed, the band began dedicating the song to him when they played it live.
Related: Check out more from their amazing discography on our pick of the best Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.
The End – The Doors
At almost twelve minutes in length, The Doors’ epic song ‘The End’ tackles many metaphysical concepts. It started as a breakup song written by frontman Jim Morrison, but as the group worked on the tune together during a string of performances at the popular California music club, Whiskey a Go Go, the tune morphed into a commentary on deeper subject matter. Mother-father relationships are examined, as well as one’s relationship with reality.
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Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands – Bob Dylan
Appearing on Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ was such a long track it took up an entire side of the double album release. For 11 minutes and 22 seconds, Dylan sings about his former wife, Sara Lownds, with a series of poetic questions which are never answered. He wrote the tune during the Blonde on Blonde recording just a few months after they were married.
I Am the Resurrection – The Stone Roses
This biblically influenced track features a four-minute instrumental at the end of the song. The band began writing the tune when their bassist played a Beatles riff backward. They played parts of the song during soundchecks at shows, partly as a joke, but it morphed into an eight-minute indie rock anthem.
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Experimental rock band Led Zeppelin is one of the genre’s most notorious groups, and their eight-minute track ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has long been steeped in controversy. A song about the frailty of material possessions and the importance of finding happiness within yourself, it first made headlines when some listeners thought the track might contain satanic messages. They also entered a lengthy legal battle when accused of copyright infringement by the band Spirit, but courts sided with Led Zeppelin.
Related: You can find this song on our list of great classic rock songs.
Autobahn – Kraftwerk
Though the radio edit for ‘Autobahn’ is a manageable 3:28, the album version of the electronic band’s single is a staggering 22 minutes. The song’s title pays homage to Germany’s highway system, and the song encompasses the band’s experience while on tour. Surprisingly, one of their main influences is the American surf rock group, The Beach Boys.
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Down by the River – Neil Young
Known as a “murder ballad,” Neil Young’s song ‘Down by the River’ follows the story of a man who kills his lover. In a literal sense, it deals with love gone terribly wrong. In a symbolic sense, Young has explained previously in interviews it’s about someone who lets their “dark side come through a little too bright.”
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Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Frontman Freddie Mercury had a brilliant musical mind, and his genius is at the forefront with Queen’s legendary single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Mercury had to fight their label for its release because execs worried the song’s six-minute length was too much for radio. With religious references, commentary on Mercury’s sexuality, and conflict within society and relationships, the single is now considered to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
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Dogs – Pink Floyd
A song commenting on socio-political issues and the downfalls of greed, Pink Floyd’s ‘Dogs’ was structured with one of the greatest literary novels of all time in mind. While writing the song, the band was influenced by their reading of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Animal Farm. The animalistic characteristics of the tune pay tribute to Orwell’s influence on the 17-minute track.
Related: Sit! Good job! Now, listen to these songs about a dog.
Sister Ray – The Velvet Underground
Laced heavily with frontman Lou Reed’s dark sense of humor, Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’ tells a wild story. Full of satire, the song follows several New York characters who go back to a house to party. The problem is one of them ends up dead. Appearing on their ’68 album, White Light, White Heat, many of the band’s tunes take a black comedy approach to their societal commentary.
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Karn Evil 9 – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Centered around a futuristic carnival show (Get it? “Karn Evil” sounds an awful lot like “carnival”), prog rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer divide this half-hour epic into several parts. It opens with a dreary setting featuring a struggling society. A lengthy instrumental interlude breaks up the story, then ushers in the ending. Finally, listeners are taken into a world that has seemingly overcome its depravity as a beautiful nature scene is described.
Related: See this song on our list of good drumming songs.
The Camera Eye – Rush
An 80s track drawing differences and comparisons between New York and London (London comes out on top), this was the last of the epic-style tracks Rush recorded. It became one of their most requested songs at almost eleven minutes while on tour. Hard rock group Dream Theatre covered it while on a Canadian tour.
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Got to Give It Up – Marvin Gaye
This ’70s classic is all about dancing despite its suggestive title, and it’s been helping people move their feet for decades. One of Marvin Gaye’s most popular hits, it’s almost 12 minutes in length, which made it a perfect disco number to play in clubs while people packed the dance floor.
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Desolation Row – Bob Dylan
Historically driven, Bob Dylan’s song ‘Desolation Row’ deals with several inmates killed by other prisoners in his father’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1920. Because the song lasts 11 minutes, he never released it as a single. It appears on his highly-regarded Highway 61 Revisited album. On the rare occasion Dylan plays the tune live, it can last over 45 minutes.
Related: Learn something new with these songs relating to history.
Thick as a Brick – Jethro Tull
When frontman Ian Anderson learned many critics viewed the band’s album Aqualung as a “concept album,” he decided to give them exactly what he thought they wanted. For their fifth album, Thick as a Brick, he used the track listing as one continuous concept album, poking fun at the critic community. For inspiration, he used the off-beat humor of the British comedy group Monty Python.
Station to Station – David Bowie
A 10-minute drama introducing one of David Bowie’s 1976 characters, the Thin White Duke, ‘Station to Station’ appears on the album by the same name. During the recording process, Bowie was under the influence of heavy drugs and barely eating, which affected the subject matter he wrote about. This haunting track tackles everything from the occult to Gnosticism, mental paranoia, and other religious systems.
Marquee Moon – Television
Beginning their musical journey by becoming one of New York’s most in-demand bands, punk group Television combined rock and jazz elements for their debut album Marquee Moon. The single by the same name clocks in at almost 10 minutes. Their unconventional sound paired well with the album’s themes, including adolescence, New York imagery, French literature, and enlightenment.
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Close to the Edge – Yes
Band leader Jon Anderson has stated in interviews the meanings of his songs often come after they’re written. In the 10-minute track ‘Close to the Edge,’ he felt the song was telling him the good part of himself could always save the bad part of himself if he stayed on the right path. Written for their follow-up album to their widely successful Fragile album, the tune was one of many “epic” tracks they wrote before recording their next project.
Maggot Brain – Funkadelic
Lead guitarist and Funkadelic band member Eddie Hazel had quite a tall order when recording ‘Maggot Brain.’ Bandmates put him in the middle of several large amps and told him to play as if he had just found out “his mother had died.” The emotional performance and raw ability of Hazel’s guitar-playing skills are present throughout several solos. He followed in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix, playing a unique rhythm and lead pattern for a dynamic performance.
Echoes – Pink Floyd
Twenty-three and a half minutes of Pink Floyd’s album Meddle are dedicated to their dramatic, instrumental-heavy track ‘Echoes,’ which was the longest song at the time in 1971. While much of the band experiments with different instruments’ amplification to distort the sound, bandmate Roger Waters penned the lyrics, which focus on empathy and humanity’s need to connect with one another.
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Dark Star – Grateful Dead
Bandmate Robert Hunter wrote ‘Dark Star,’ and it was one of the first tunes he wrote while with the Grateful Dead. Appearing on the band’s 1969 album Live/Dead, the mysterious, cosmically-centered song’s release coincided with NASA’s trip to the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. When performing it live, as the band has many times, the live version of the song can sometimes last up to 43 minutes.
Telegraph Road – Dire Straits
It takes just over 14 minutes to listen to Dire Straits’ ‘Telegraph Road.’ This is an actual road in Michigan frontman Mark Knopfler has traveled before. While riding down Telegraph Road, he had a book on his mind he was reading, The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun. He decided to write a song in honor of the book, and the road served as the setting for the tune. The lyrics focus on America’s growing population and the rise of unemployment.
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Siberian Breaks – MGMT
This 12-minute psych-rock track centers around surfing, an activity MGMT frontman Andrew VanWyngarden got into while recording the album Congratulations in 2010. The song’s message centers around a surfing trip to Russia’s arctic circle, an unforgiving freezing stretch of beach only the most dedicated surfers visit. Due to his newfound love of surfing, water and wave themes became present throughout MGMT releases.
Madame George – Van Morrison
Not only does Van Morrison consider this his best song, but many critics also highly favor the lyrical story of Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Madame George.’ Cyprus Avenue is a real place in the town of Belfast, Ireland, where Van Morrison hails from. In the song, which fluctuates between sad couplets and whistful storytelling, we learn of the magnetic character’s flashy, partying lifestyle. The Irish songwriter has said his grandmother could have inspired the character.
Misty – Kate Bush
Featured on her album 50 Words for Snow, songwriter Kate Bush included the 13-minute track ‘Misty.’ Though Bush herself has called the concept of the song “silly,” the overall tone of the song takes on a darker quality at times. The tune follows the story of a naughty snowman who finds a sleeping woman and hops into bed with her.
One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) – Wilco
Though the song’s title includes a direct dedication to author Jane Smiley’s boyfriend, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy admitted in prior interviews he had a passing conversation with him, but that was pretty much it. ‘One Sunday Morning’ is a 12-minute rock ballad exploring religion, morality, and mortality. At its center is a strained relationship between father and son.
Related: See more songs about sons on our playlist.
The Diamond Sea – Sonic Youth
Even before Sonic Youth ever recorded ‘The Diamond Sea,’ they would close out each performance with a tune that could last up to a half hour. The last 15 minutes of that half hour consisted of improvised noise the band felt at the time. The open-ended lyrics have left fans guessing for years as to what the song is about. Some claim it’s about someone who does things to feel more powerful, eluding to a theme of narcissism.
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Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang
Considered by many to be the first mainstream rap song, The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was the first song of its genre to break into the US Hot 100 chart. The tune encompassed the overall atmosphere of the rap game when the 1980s were approaching. The genre was just starting to take off, with mainstream consumers noticing rap music for the first time.
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