We all know about the “epic” classic rock songs that ruled, and still rule, rock radio to this day. “Stairway…,” “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Freebird.” FREEBIRD! Well, those songs might have been long but they were still focused enough to be played on the radio over and over again. We thought it was time to investigate some of the reeeeaallllly loooooong songs that start at the 10 minute mark and go from there. Though a lot of these tunes might have been too lengthy or too complex (a.k.a. weird) for classic rock radio, they are great nonetheless and all serve as reminders of how bands from that era felt free to experiment and stretch out beyond the standard 3-minute pop song.
And it wasn’t just the prog-rock guys doing it. From Led Zeppelin to Genesis, Jimi Hendrix to Jethro Tull, these bands went for it, sometimes moving past the 40-minute mark in their exploits to create something that transcended the limits of traditional songwriting. Here’s a list of the 20 Most Epic Classic Rock Songs, starting from the shortest (at a measly 9:58) and shooting all the way up to 43:50. If you can get through every second of every song, more power to you! Oh, and you might want to get back to that job search. Just sayin’.
Grand Funk Railroad “I’m Your Captain” Time: 9:58
The closing track to the band’s 1970 album, Closer to Home, is the band’s longest studio recording and tells the story of a captain on a troubled voyage who’s facing a mutiny from his crew.
Deep Purple “Child in Time” Time: 10:22
This track from the band’s 1970 album, Deep Purple in Rock, is a protest song against the Vietnam War and was an early highwater mark of the group’s “Mach II” incarnation.
Led Zeppelin “In My Time of Dying” Time: 11:06
A track off the band’s sixth album, Physical Graffiti, it’s based on a traditional gospel song and has been re-imagined by many other artists, although Zeppelin’s version is probably the most well known.
Bob Dylan “Desolation Row” Time: 11:21
This 1965 song, off of Highway 61 Revisited, was noted as Dylan’s most ambitious to date, with surreal yet poetic lyrics about urban chaos.
The Doors “The End” Time: 11:43
This Oedipal closing track to the band’s legendary self-titled debut began as a breakup song but came to mean many different things to singer Jim Morrison and the band’s legion of fans.
Traffic “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” Time: 12:10
Written by Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood, the song is a tribute to the rebellious nature of the band’s hippy audience.
King Crimson “Starless” Time: 12:16
Though not the band’s longest studio track (that title goes to “Lizard”), it is the longest track on 1974’s Red album, after which the original incarnation of the group disbanded.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Voodoo Chile” Time: 15:05
This blues jam from Electric Ladyland is Hendrix’s longest studio recording and became the basis for the better known “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
Uriah Heep “Salisbury” Time: 16:12
The second album from the British rock band shows their foray into the progressive rock world, with the title track breaking the 16-minute mark and featuring a 24-piece orchestra.
Iron Butterfly “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” Time: 17:05
A track from the 1968 album of the same name, the recording that’s heard on the album was meant to be a soundcheck for the engineer while the band waited for the arrival of the producer, but the performance was later deemed sufficient to be the final album cut.
The Velvet Underground “Sister Ray” Time: 17:27
This iconic, noise rock classic from 1968’s White Light/White Heat album was recorded in one take and is built around a story Lou Reed wrote that describes total debauchery, drug use, violence and transvestitism. In other words, your typical Lou Reed song.
Procol Harum “In Held ‘Twas in I” Time: 17:31
This 1968 song was influential in the development of progressive rock by breaking all pop and rock music standards with its 17-minute running time; it marked the beginning of the lengthy progressive rock suites.
Rush “2112” Time: 20:33
This career-making single album-side track is a seven-part suite with lyrics written by drummer Neil Peart telling a dystopian saga set in a future with no music.
Rare Earth “Get Ready” Time: 21:30
This song was actually written by Smokey Robinson (and first recorded/performed by The Temptations), but the blues-rock band covered it and created this extended version which was popular at college gatherings at the time.
Yes “The Gates of Delirium” Time: 21:55
The first track on 1974’s Relayer is based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace. Now that is some progressive s**t.
Genesis “Supper’s Ready” Time: 22:58
A track from 1972’s Foxtrot, the song is divided into seven sections; live performances of the song were preceded by singer Peter Gabriel telling a story, a far cry from the band’s ‘80s feel-good arena pop hits.
Pink Floyd “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” Time: 26:01
This nine-part epic off of 1975’s Wish You Were Here is a tribute to founding and former band member Syd Barrett who allegedly was in attendance at its recording, unbeknownst to the band.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Karn Evil 9” Time: 29:36
A track off of 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery, it is a fusion of both rock and classical themes and is the band’s longest studio recording.
The Allman Brothers Band “Mountain Jam” 33:41
This live improvisation based on the melody from folkie Donovan’s song “There Is A Mountain” originally took up two full LP sides on the original Eat a Peach double album. The digital era united the two halves for one, blissed out, exploratory, Southern rock hoedown, clocking it at over 33 minutes. And it kicks ass.
Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick” Time: 43:50
Though the 1973 follow-up album A Passion Play is technically longer, this 1972 single-song release is more well-known and was better-received. The album’s artwork claimed its contents to be a musical adaptation of a poem by a fictional 8-year-old boy, but the lyrics were actually penned by flute-flailing frontman Ian Anderson.