Top Seven Songs Over Seven Minutes In Length
We apologize to all eras of music this list ignores. The seven songs on our rundown are from a short period of time, late-August 1968 to early-February 1974. The years 1970 and 1971 are responsible for four of our seven selections. It’s not that we don’t like songs recorded after February of ’74. It’s just that long pop songs were still in their infancy in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When a big-time rock band recorded a track of seven-plus minutes and released it as a single it was usually a milestone. As time went on, long songs faded into the background and stopped standing out. Since historical significance played a huge factor in our decision making process newer seven-minute songs were overlooked.
“American Pie” by Don McLean, 8:33 (1970)
When asked what “American Pie” meant Don McLean replied it means I never have to work again. While the folk singer has been quiet about the denotations of his magnum opus, I like to think the sentiment behind his epic is clear. McLean is singing about what he sees as the death of rock and roll. He equates the literal deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper (“the day the music died”) with the figurative death of the genre. According to me, McLean believes rock music deteriorated from the innocence of school gyms, malt shops, and hot rods cruising down Main Street to the maliciousness of free love, hard drugs, and corporate avarice. “American Pie” is a lament. McLean probably felt the same way about rock music in the late 1960s that many felt about rock and roll in the late 1950s. By the way, the “jester” is Dylan, the “Sergeants” are The Beatles, and “Jack Flash” is Mick Jagger.
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles, 7:11 (1968)
Rock lore says Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” to help Julian Lennon deal with the divorce of his parents. Apparently, Paul was closer to Julian than John. The song was originally titled “Hey Jules” but Macca changed it to “Hey Jude” because it’s easier to sing. Folks, that’s genius. Even though there have been successful singles longer than the industry standard of three and half minutes, songs of “Hey Jude’s” length were still considered novelties in 1968. “Hey Jude” was the longest single to ever top the British charts and is still one of the longest songs to ever reach the pinnacle position in the states. In America, it stayed at number one for nine weeks. That tied a record eventually broken by “You Light Up My Life.” If The Beatles had returned to touring this probably would have been their encore. McCartney sang a rousing rendition of “Hey Jude” to conclude the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
“Layla” by Derek and The Dominos, 7:02 to 7:11 (1971)
“Layla” has been bandied around as a candidate for greatest rock song of all-time. It should definitely be in the conversation. I think a more appropriate honorific is “rock’s definitive love song.” With the guitar driven first-half and the piano-heavy second, this track embodies the two sides of rock: the hard and raucous versus the soft and tender. Eric Clapton wrote the first half of “Layla.” It was his torch song to Patti Boyd, wife of George Harrison, Clapton’s best friend. The second half was composed by Jim Gordon. There’s a third guitar God associated with the track, Duane Allman. He played slide guitar.
“Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, 8:02 (1971)
Jimmy Page said “Stairway To Heaven” “crystallized the essence of the band.” No truer words have ever been spoken. It’s a masterpiece and one of the greatest rock songs of all-time. Of course, if you’re a really big fan of Zeppelin this eight-minute marathon isn’t your favorite song. It’s “Kashmir.” Anywho, “Stairway To Heaven” was never released as a single and was the final song on side one of Led Zeppelin IV. Page and Plant originally played the song for John Paul Jones in front of a fire inside a country manor located in the Welsh countryside. Can you imagine a better setting to hear this song? It must have given him chills.
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, 7:28 (1969)
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is responsible for Crosby, Stills and Nash. One night at a party, David Crosby and Stephen Stills performed an acoustic version of this song. Graham Nash heard it and asked them to play it again. Eventually, he began to harmonize with Crosby and Stills who just so happened to be looking for a third singer to form a vocal trio. The rest, as they say, is history. This opus is broken into four parts and was written by Stills about his relationship with folk singer Judy Collins (who has blue eyes). This was the band’s second single from their self-titled debut album. At a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert you’ll definitely hear this song. It’s one of their best known tracks and a staple at their live shows.
“Time” by Pink Floyd, 7:01 (1974)
Most of the songs on this list have some historical significance. Pink Floyd’s “Time” makes our list solely because it’s a great track. One could argue though that since it does have historical significance to the band Pink Floyd, who is one of the greatest rock bands of all time, than by extension it’s important. After all, this is the only song from the Dark Side of the Moon credited to all four members. The clock sounds you hear at the beginning were recorded individually by Alan Parsons at an antiques store. He had recorded them independently of the song (that was the kinda stuff Parsons did for fun). The song ends with a reprise of “Breathe” which was introduced earlier in the album. “Time” is the second song over seven minutes on Dark Side of the Moon, one of the greatest rock albums of all-time. “Us and them” clocks in at 7:46.
“War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, 7:58 (1970)
“War Pigs” is one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all-time. It’s one of Black Sabbath’s most memorable ditties and the opening track of their most successful album, Paranoid. The song was originally called “Walpurgis,” which is the name of a festival associated with paganism. At the behest of their label, the band changed the title, lyrics and theme to avoid connotation with Satanism. Nonetheless, some critics still failed to realize the song was anti-war not pro-war. “War Pigs” was one of the songs Clear Channel deemed inappropriate after the 9/11 attacks and the encore for Guitar Hero II for Playstation and Xbox 360.