In the day and age of TikTok where 20-second sections of pop songs go viral, it's tough to say what the average length of a song should be. For the last 50 years, your average radio airplay hit would land somewhere around the four-minute mark. But sometimes four minutes isn’t enough - what if you’ve got a story to tell, or a journey to take your listener on?
Hard rock has always had the benefit of its self-made attitude of sticking a finger up and doing what it wants to do, not what is expected. Some bands wouldn’t be caught dead writing a four-minute made-for-single banger, and others occasionally dip their toes into the longform to see what happens. Whatever the case, we should celebrate the music that takes its time.
With all of that in mind, then, here are ten such songs that skewed the usual radio-friendly, brisk, condensed format, and instead opted to extend their musical journey comfortably past the ten-minute mark.
“If music be the food of love” then these songs are a buffet.
10. Porcupine Tree - Anesthetize - 17:42
Throughout their career, Porcupine Tree have never shied away from long songs or in fact more complicated proceedings such as concept albums. Fear of a Blank Planet, which was released in 2007, and its narrative-driven nature paid off as the band’s best selling record at the time. Fear of a Blank Planet tells the story of a mentally affected teenager dealing with his disorders during the rise of technology and a constant flow of media information and how that shapes his perspective on the world.
Anesthetize is perhaps the magnum opus of the entire experience. Clocking in at 17:42, it so perfectly describes the protagonist’s cold demeanour, disconnected from the outside world. This is achieved in both Steven Wilson’s banal yet heartbreakingly real lyrics and also the swelling soundtrack. There’s an eeriness to the whole affair; a gloomy, personal feeling of intruding on someone’s private thoughts. As guest guitarist Alex Lifeson’s solo closes the first movement, Anesthetize becomes a haunting beast of a song. Soft pads hang in the background as spiteful guitar crunches alongside it, flitting from one speaker to the next. The final act of the song gives way to sadness and regret that is every part as haunting as the first, just in a totally different way.
Fear of a Blank Planet is a dark, nihilistic and uncomfortable story and album and Anesthetize demonstrates what an extended runtime can do to really create and build an intense atmosphere.