Taylor Swift’s voyage to rerecord her entire discography as part of a label dispute is paying off in more ways than one.
This week it was confirmed that the singer’s extended, 10-minute version ‘All Too Well’ – the centrepiece of her 2012 country-pop crossover ‘Red’ – is the longest song to ever hit number one in the US charts.
It beats a 50-year-old record set by Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’, which stood at 8 minutes 42 seconds.
‘All Too Well (10-minute version) (Taylor’s Version)’ unseated the rock anthem, dispelling notions that modern audiences can’t hack longer tracks.
We all know the likes of Queen, Prince, and David Bowie had a penchant for lengthy songs.
But there’s a certain alchemy required for a five, six, even ten-minute piece of music to make a splash.
Here are fifteen tracks across music history that got it right.
Frank Ocean – Pyramids (2012)
The world’s first taste of the Odd Future star in solo, studio album mode was a soundtrack of the artist inhabiting two polar opposite worlds. One lush and dreamy, the other dark and fractured.
Illusions of grandeur and opulence are built – and subsequently shattered – in an odyssey of jazz, soul, and funk that allowed Ocean to shine outside of his role in rap collective Odd Future.
Kim Kardashian may have broken the internet in 2014, but Frank Ocean got there two years prior. Via Soundcloud, no less.
‘Pyramids’ set the scene for the magic of ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ to truly transcend audience expectations.
One of the 21st century’s most subtle ‘go big or go home’ moments, whose plot twist is just as chilling to listen to now as it was almost a decade ago.
Green Day – Jesus of Suburbia (2004)
Though some of the band’s recent works appear to arrive past their sell-by-date, there are no doubts the influence of ‘American Idiot’ album was phenomenal on guitar lovers around the world.
Central to this was ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, a six-part rock opera that tore up post 9/11 America into shreds.
Billie-Joe Armstrong revealed earlier this year that he thinks the song is the best the band have ever recorded.
In an age where 00s punk hits seldom lasted three minutes or longer, Billie Joe & co. had millions of teenagers under their thumb, willingly sitting down (or moshing) to this white-hot mix of melodrama and power chords.
Pop-punk’s very own ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, some might say.
Anita Ward – Ring My Bell (1979)
Terminally used in advertisements, films, and disco compilations, there is no doubt that Anita Ward’s one-song contribution to disco fever is a certified floor filler.
We know the 70s as a period where rock music got particularly proggy and experimental, leading to three-minute guitar solos in abundance.
But the same was happening right beneath the noses of disco lovers who wanted tunes they could move to for as long as possible. Martin Gaye, The O’Jays and Donna Summer were tearing up the charts by making that premise danceable.
‘Ring My Bell’ may not ebb and flow in the way some of their songs do, but it’s a banger for all of the little embellishments that persist throughout.
Ward was reportedly still working as a substitute teacher when the song went Gold in the US charts – she had no idea it was even getting radio play. With a hook like that, how could it not?
Adele – My Little Love (2021)
Adele’s fourth album ’30’ will top near enough every chart in the world this week.
What makes this feat more remarkable than Adele doing her usual show-stopping business-as-usual is that half of the album’s 12 songs are 5 minutes or longer.
Yet the pieces never stall, drag, or veer into overindulgence.
‘My Little Love’ isn’t the longest of the bunch, but it pains and soothes the listener simultaneously as the singer addresses her nine-year-old son, Angelo, featuring voice notes of conversations about her recent divorce.
People have time for it because simply put – the storytelling is good.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1985)
A straight-up fan favourite, no Metallica song has been more performed live in the band’s 40-year history than ‘Master of Puppets’.
It has all of the complexities and gear changes metal stalwarts crave without being confusing or pretentious, along with a chant-along chorus that punctuates at the perfect moment.
One video featuring the band performing the song in the torrential rain on the band’s own YouTube channel has amassed 20 million views. Not once do the energy levels slide in the 55,000 people showing up to see one of the world’s most admired bands.
You’ll find the same any other Metallica show. At almost 9 minutes, it’s a sight to behold.
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends (2007)
Somehow, in the thick of New York’s chokehold on alternative music in the 00s, James Murphy made two simple chords spanning almost eight minutes sound like poetry.
Coming-of-age end credit scenes have aspired to evoke the feelings located in this track since it became a permanent fixture in the psyche of every 20-something having a bit of a crisis.
Murphy is wistful, presenting the song like a stream of consciousness on feeling disconnected that is true to life without inducing a single eye roll.
The luminous two-chord, slow-burn idea behind ‘All My Friends’ has ended up inspiring bands right into the next decade.
For starters, The 1975’s ‘Sex’ and Charly Bliss’ ‘Young Enough’ – both two-chord, winding stories of lost youth – wouldn’t exist without it.
Rihanna – Same Ol’ Mistakes (2016)
There are a number of pop artists that know their formula and stick to it because they have no reason not to.
Styles and sounds may deviate slightly, but the statistics are there – the sweet spot of a high charting song is around 3 minutes. That is, supposedly, the aim for performers that want people to care about what they have to say.
It’s not a crime to do so. But Rihanna has never been that kind of musician.
‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ is the sound of an artist that knows she can do whatever she wants.
Even if what she wants is to cover one of Tame Impala’s lesser-known cuts and slap it midway through an album that would technically become her last work of the 2010s.
A woozy, magical affair laced with THC, and 30 seconds longer than its original.
Nine Inch Nails – Closer (1994)
Covered, sampled, and interpolated by everyone from Weird Al Yankovic to The Weeknd, ‘Closer’ formed the bedrock of the 90s industrial scene by oozing sex appeal.
His partnership with Londoner Atticus Ross later facilitated a transition into soundtracking Oscar-winning films, but ‘Closer’ was the start of an incredible musical journey. There’s something oddly poetic about the weird collision of noises soundtracking Reznor’s uncontained angst.
Trent Reznor’s drum machine crushes and snarls through a chorus with lyrics we can’t print in this piece. In line with this, we’re not linking the incredibly NSFW music video that accompanies the song.
You can have a live version instead:
Elton John – Tiny Dancer (1971)
It’s quite remarkable to have a song sparkle this much when the listener has no sense of what the chorus even sounds like until two and a half minutes down the line. What sounds like near-ballad territory bursts into a classic, stirring sing-a-long – a masterclass in momentum building.
“We came to California in the fall of 1970 and it seemed like sunshine just radiated from the populace,” co-songwriter Bernie Taupin said in a retrospective. And god, does it show.
‘Tiny Dancer’ failed to make a chart impact at first, with radio stations opting to play an edited down version to appease listener attention spans. Unbeknown to them, it took away everything that made the song great.
Lana Del Rey – Venice Bitch (2019)
“Can you make a 3-minute normal pop song?” cried Del Rey’s management upon hearing the preview singles for what would become 2019’s near-unanimous Album of the Year (it’s rare The Guardian and Pitchfork agree on anything in this sense).
We imagine they are thankful she resisted.
A welcome pause from the trademark limerence that occupies the bulk of her material, ‘Venice Bitch’ is a soft, psych-y snapshot of the singer being wistful, but genuinely happy.
Harry Styles – Sign of the Times (2017)
There are lots of reasons Harry Styles was able to sustain the superstardom afforded to him through five years in the world’s biggest boyband.
Gucci suits, acting in a Nolan film, and the adoration of Stevie Nicks will only get you so far.
Central to Styles’ whole schitck is taking a chance on the unconventional. It’s difficult to verbalise what a move it was to make ‘Sign of the Times’ not only rooted in Bowie-esque sound palettes, but to make the listener tune in for at least 2 minutes longer than anything else in the top 10 at that moment in time.
For a 23-year-old star trying to make listeners (beyond the fandom you’ve already cultivated) take you seriously, there was potential for disaster. Instead, it set him apart from his bandmates perfectly.
Once again, the theory that pop music has to be punchy and to the point flounders here – with any luck, Styles’s debut single will hit 1 billion streams on Spotify alone next year.
Tyler, The Creator – GONE, GONE/THANK YOU (2019)
Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well’ is part of a career-long series of spotlighting each album’s most potent offering during the fifth song. For Tyler, The Creator, that opportunity arises further down, during every record’s track 10.
At this point in each album, he weaves two songs together for the longest song on each album – a one-two combo where he brings out the big guns. In fact, the aforementioned Frank Ocean has appeared in this spot twice.
This used to appear to act as a flexing of his formidable production skills, but now it’s often just heartbreaking. ‘GONE GONE…’ is the epitome of both – an artist in a state of grief that U-turns into gratitude.
Blondie – Rapture (1981)
Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ arose at a time where the band had released five albums over five years and faced going creatively stagnant.
Fortunately for the nightclubs of the 80s, that didn’t happen. ‘Rapture’ is mish-mash of sci-fi imagery, disco, with a rap interlude from Debbie Harry to boot.
Technically, ‘Rapture’ was the first official rap song to top the Billboard Hot 100. It’s rhythmic guitars and saxophone riffs are structured in the same way the MCs were putting beats together in Brooklyn’s underground clubs.
Some dismiss Harry’s flows as sounding a bit nonsensical, forgetting that this was a time where people were still realising you could talk and rhyme over music.
Of course, the band are indebted to their contemporaries for this reason. Fab Five Freddy (who gets namechecked in the song) Grandmaster Flash, and Melle Mel were essentially in the process of inventing rap music here.
Does anybody have a clue what Debbie Harry is actually saying here? No! And it doesn’t matter, because the song is more than the sum of its parts, and one of Blondie’s best.
Daft Punk – Around The World (1997)
Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s love affair with disco-funk pioneers CHIC may well have been most apparent when the French duo teamed up with Nile Rogers (remember 2012’s niché little number destined for B-side purgatory?)
But ‘Around The World’ is definitely where it started.
An early smash for the pair, ‘Around The World’ mystifies and captivates by perfecting a technique millions of dance songs fail to do effectively – creative repetition. A lot of it.
The titular phrase is repeated 144 times, to be exact.
The rest is simple. Five instruments, a talk box, and a groove that shifts just enough each time before your brain starts questioning why a song with no other lyrics is so addictive.
Meatloaf – Paradise By The Dashboard Light (1977)
Half of Meatloaf’s discography could’ve ended up here, at the conclusion of our expedition.
The brainchild of frequent collaborator, the late Jim Steinman, ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ cemented the blueprint for how dramatic, theatrical compositions can be entertaining to the point that you don’t realise you’ve been captivated for so long.
‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ is a prime example of an artist that truly doesn’t give a monkey’s whether the listener doesn’t understand what’s going on, as long as they enjoy themselves.
And many people did – an initial calamitous chart flop, turned wedding party staple, selling millions.
On paper, it shouldn’t work. A chaotic, three-part, jukebox musical inspired story of two teens on a date, delivered 30-year-old man? Members of Meatloaf’s studio band were convinced they’d never hear it on the radio.
After all, the original iteration was actually meant to last 27 minutes.
The long song to end all long songs.