In the days of TikTok where 20-second sections of pop songs are going viral, it’s hard to say what the average length of a song should be. Over the past 50 years, your average radio hit would land around the four-minute mark. But sometimes four minutes just isn’t enough – what if you have a story to tell or a trip to take your listener?
Hard rock has always had the advantage of its self-made attitude of lifting a finger and doing what it wants to do, not what is expected of it. Some bands wouldn’t be caught writing a four-minute banger made for a single, and others sometimes dip their toes into the longform to see what happens. Either way, we should celebrate music that takes its time.
With all that in mind, here are ten of those songs that skewed the usual, fast-paced, condensed, radio-friendly format and instead chose to comfortably extend their musical journey beyond the ten-minute mark.
“If music is the food of love” then these songs are a buffet.
Throughout their career, Porcupine Tree have never shied away from doing long songs or actually more complicated procedures such as concept albums. Fear of a Blank Planet, released in 2007, and its narrative nature paid off as the band’s best-selling record at the time. Fear of a Blank Planet tells the story of a mentally ill teenager dealing with his turmoil during the rise of technology and a constant stream of media information and how it shapes his perspective on the world.
Anesthetize is perhaps the magnum opus of the whole experience. Clocking in at 5:42 p.m., it so perfectly depicts the cold demeanor of the protagonist, disconnected from the outside world. This is achieved both in Steven Wilson’s mundane but heartbreaking lyrics and also in the bloated soundtrack. There is a strangeness in the whole affair; a dark, 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 the wicked guitar squeals alongside, bouncing from speaker to speaker. The song’s final act gives way to sadness and regret that are just as haunting as the first, but in an entirely 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 intense atmosphere.