Define “epic.” For classic literature fans, this can represent something like Dante’s Divine Comedy or Homer’s Odyssey; for rock music fans, the term is much less absolute. To us, one person might use “epic” as the go-to compliment for anything that makes them want to crank the volume knob to its most extreme clockwise position and go crazy. Whereas others may consider “epic” solely on the length of the song or its storytelling subject matter, particularly when discussing progressive rock, jazz fusion, jam bands, avant garde, black metal, or the like.
There are obvious references to pinpoint, bands such as Rush or Pink Floyd, and though they do make appearances here, my list today comes courtesy of a much wider variety. I tried my best not to place the majority of this list in any substantial order around significance, because I hold every selection and honorable mention in the highest regard. That being said, I avoided some of the more given song choices and brought you a collective that really shows what it takes to make a song longer than 10 minutes truly stick with you.
From blues to prog, from protest to parody, here are some of my personal favorite songs at over 10 minutes in length. Feel free to add your own in the comments section below at your own risk. As a noted aside, some of these entries are dedicated to those who have inspired my eclecticism over the years.
The whole of this project is dedicated respectfully to my great grandparents — you’ve lived long and fruitful lives, and this one’s for you. Thanks for the model car when I was a little boy, it’s been well taken care of. I promise, one of these days, I’ll drive a nice yellow ’64 Thunderbird, I’ll crank up the Johnny Cash, and think of you both all the way down I-40 in search of my own dreams.
Opeth – “To Bid You Farewell” (10:56)
When it comes to long songs, we have our pick of Opeth‘s repertoire; this Swedish metal band has enough on Deliverance and Morningrise alone to comprise a list by themselves. That being said, it was simply favoritism and a roll of the dice that brought me “To Bid You Farewell”, a brooding track suited for any funeral procession you can fathom.
Similar in musical style to the majority of a later release, Damnation, “To Bid You Farewell” is an absolutely beautiful song through and through with no bad traits at all. If for no other reasons, I included it as a nod to a spectacular band and a reminder that dark romanticism is not dead by a long shot, at least in the musical sense.
Temple Of The Dog – “Reach Down” (11:13)
Temple of the Dog is a unique specimen in terms of supergroups. Back in the days of early grunge, there was a band called Mother Love Bone led by front man Andrew Wood; this band, which included future members of the alternative awesomeness called Pearl Jam, released one full-length LP and broke up due to Wood’s untimely demise. Wood’s former college roommate, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame, decided the best approach would apparently be a band tribute — a one-off shotgun blast of depth, a labor of love and loss.
Loaded with some of the best rock songs ever written during that time period, a collaboration with Eddie Vedder, and a profoundly bleak yet powerfully moving catalog of lyrics, Cornell and Mother Love Bone crafted Temple Of The Dog’s solitary eponymous release. It includes the famous-in-its-simplicity single “Hunger Strike”, the fast-paced “Pushin’ Forward Back”, the haunting “Wooden Jesus”, and the anthem-like ballad “Say Hello 2 Heaven”. In the midst of it all, there is “Reach Down”, an unlikely contender for its position and a sign that even the best of us need to just let it all out.
Also, a fun fact: Pearl Jam did a cover of this particular song on one of their Ten Club Christmas Singles – thought you should know, it’s that good.
Neil Young – “Cowgirl In The Sand” (10:03)
Neil Young is considered a godfather of grunge rock due to his vocal style among other things. While not a terribly big sensation with today’s youth, Young has consistently proven himself a viable artist on many fronts, and “Cowgirl In The Sand” is sustainable evidence of his blues roots, as well as his ever-present relevance in modern rock music.
While not necessarily an “epic” song, “Cowgirl In The Sand” is chosen for both its (albeit narrow) time prerequisite of just over 10 minutes, along with its stability as a tightly-written song on the whole. I am positive that, as our lovely readership, you can think of a hundred other reasons why Young snagged his spot here: the lovingly dated feel of the song itself, the imagery it invokes, along and along we go. “Cowgirl In The Sand” is a relatively peaceful stop here, so take a moment and ingest it, will you? We still have lots to do, but lots of time to do it, and yes, The Doors are here too.
I put this song ahead of “Reach Down” as a clear statement to Young’s influence on Cornell and Vedder, as if it wasn’t already a clue.
Rush – “Cygnus X-1″ Duology” (10:25/18:04)
In multiple circles, Rush fans dub “2112” the band’s magnum opus. Here, today, I say unto you: read the storyline for these two pieces from Cygnus X-1 (courtesy of Wikipedia), both of which run over 10+ minutes each, and tell me that is not a bad-ass science fiction short story waiting to happen.
While “2112” is a significant work in the Rush catalog on even concept alone, the Cygnus Duology, linked between A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres, is a definitive pair of pieces in terms of scale, style, and depth of subject matter. Thank you to Neil Peart for bringing that kind of fantasy mentality to Rush, otherwise we would still be sitting on the Canadian Zeppelin sound of Rush ’74 (though “Working Man” still kicks ass).