If you want to make a hit you’ve gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05
The Entertainer by Billy Joel
VH1’s website recently ran a story about the 20 longest songs in classic rock history. Spoiler alert: Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a brick” was deemed the longest, best known song, clocking in at 43 minutes and 50 seconds.
You could argue, and I do, that this album-length song was really more than one tune, with a reprise at the end. Ian Anderson divided the album into two parts, and didn’t partition the songs, but there are definitely wide enough variations on this theme to classify each musical change as an individual song.
The runner up, The Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” at 33:41, is what I would consider a real long jam. It is a single song that just goes on and on, drawn out with instrumental solos.
These types of songs rarely got, or get, radio play, except maybe late at night a progressive stations where the lone live DJ wants a long bathroom break. Yes, believe it or not, there are still some broadcast radio stations with real live disc jockeys. (See WNCW)
While seemingly never-ending songs can get tedious, they work well in situations where dancing is the favored activity. A friend often recounts the experience of grooving on a garage band’s rendition of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” that went on and on for a blissful eternity.
While many of these solo indulgences can get tedious, there is something special when a prolonged jam reaches a crescendo and then satisfyingly leads the audience back into the last verse or the instrumental melody.
So go ahead, yell a request for “Freebird” at your next live music event. You’ll have a better chance of hearing the long version there than on the radio dial where they cut everything “down to 3:05.”