Listening to Long, Long Songs

An email came in the other day: What’s the longest single uninterrupted song ever released on record? I guess it all depends on the delivery system.

If we’re talking about vinyl, the artist is limited by the capacity of the side of an LP, which is capped at somewhere around 23 minutes.

I remember being captivated by Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” which took up 22:43 minutes of the first side of their 1974 album.

The maximum capacity of a CD is around 80 minutes. Technically, if there’s only one song on a CD, it’s a single not an album. And as far as I can tell, the longest single ever release was “Devil’s Glitch” by Chris Butler which is just a few seconds shy of 60 minutes.

But when we go fully digital, there is no capacity limit. This is from Weird Retro:

Officially (according to the Guinness Book of Records and they are the “official” people for records after all) the longest officially released song is Zwei Jahre by Germany band Phrasenmäher, coming in at 1 hour 30 minutes 10 seconds. The song was released through the digital platforms iTunes, Amazon and Spotify on January 10th 2014. But unlike the shortest song record, we’re ignoring this one. There are much much longer songs out there to be heard if you have the time. Or with one particular track, if you have a thousand years spare.

Now let’s start with the shortest longest song, or at least one of the shortest longest songs. Prog Rock bands have notched up some over-blown walls of sound over years after all one of the cornerstones of the musical genre is long tracks on long concept albums. The one to represent the genre is from Jethro Tull the Folk Rock / Prog Rock band, with their single song album Thick As A Brick from 1972 coming in at 43 minutes and 50 seconds. Let’s now jump forward in time and length, with the 2011 release from The Flaming Lips, who recorded a 24 hour long song called 7 Skies H3. There are only two possible ways of listening to the whole track, either by streaming or by buying a special edition of the song that comes on hard drive encased in a human skull for a mere $5000.

There are tracks out there that use loops and computer algorithms to produce single pieces of work, for example, the currently in production Longplayer. It started to play on January 1st, 2000 and has been playing ever since, not scheduled to stop until December 31st, 2999. With a run-time of a thousand years, you can listen to what there is so far at longplayer.org. However, we can discount Longplayer, as it is still being made.

The longest recorded song used to be 118: The Chosen Priest And Apostle Of Infinite Space (2009) by Bull of Heaven, at more than 2 months long. However, the band has gone on to produce longer and longer tracks. Year on year, their tracks have reached near mind-boggling length and complexity. In July 2014,  they released 310: ΩΣPx0(2^18×5^18)p*k*k*k which is their longest release so far, and lasts for 3.343 quindecillion years. Now get your head around that one!

Well, that wins, doesn’t it?Here’s a sample. As you’re listening, you can read this appreciation of long songs. Don’t worry. You’ll have time to finish it before the song runs out.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “Listening to Long, Long Songs

  • July 21, 2017 at 7:26 pm
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    I love Close To The Edge by Yes, one of three songs on the lp.

    Reply

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