There are two primary types of songs out there, and they could hardly be more different. On one hand, there is the music that is made for you to listen to and immediately consume- in essence, one form or another of pop music. On the other hand, you have your music that is used to as artistic expression, which usually means it’s going to be dense, cerebral, or, when all else fails, long.
Yes, if you’re reading this and have listened to music before in your life, you’ve listened to both incredibly short songs and frustratingly long ones (and if you’ve never listened to music before, hi! Nice to meet you! I’m kind of depressed that your first exposure to media of any sort was this website!). Short, three minute pop songs like “I’m a Believer” are all well and good, but we still love us some “Stairway to Heaven.” In fact, lengthy rock songs were huge in the 1970’s- FM Radio got its start mainly because of Traffic songs and drugs. But this article is not about short songs that waste your time (anything by the Black Eyed Peas) or even long songs that you’ll enjoy but still take ten minutes to listen to (like Marquis Moon). No, this article is for incredibly, impossibly long songs that might be palpable when placed in the background, but which no one would dare give a close listen to.
Sober. No one will give it a close listen while sober.
Yes more often than not when you find an album with an obnoxiously long song (think more than 15 minutes), it’s normally some filler, or a hidden track, or just a crazy long track for the hell of it stuck at the end of the CD. However, in a handful of extreme cases, these long songs are pervasive attempts to waste minutes, hours, or even years of your life. Below are the 6 most egregious examples.
6: PIP PROUD MAKES YOU LISTEN TO HIM FISHING FOR 21 MINUTES
Pip Proud was an Australian poet/singer-songwriter who was primarily active in the 1960s. He made it about as far as you’d expect a “talented underground Australian musician in the 1960’s” would go. Which is it to say, England. I know, horribly unexciting, but trust me, it was a bigger deal back while the Beatles still roamed the Earth. That said, Proud developed a quite a reputation for himself, with his manager calling him Australian’s Bob Dylan, and most everyone else calling him Australia’s Syd Barrett.
I do threaten my credibility here (“What!? This random person whose opinion is being broadcast online doesn’t know everything there is to know about his subject matter? THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE I AM OUTRAGED,” you are probably shouting while gathering your pitchforks) but I’ve not listened to any of Proud’s original 1960s material. But that doesn’t matter, as the song for this list in no way represents Proud’s normal musical stylings. Pip Proud was a folk musician who sang poetry over dirty acoustic guitar. This is…not even close to any of those things. This is something to eat up 21 minutes of your time.
Is…is this a 60’s fashion being messed up thing, or an Australian fashion being messed up thing?
In 2000, Proud released Oncer, an album of music that the now-50-year-old recorded over the course of several years. What makes this album quirky, interesting, and unique is that every single song on the album, 64 minutes of music spanned over 14 tracks, was recorded in one, and only one, take. That leads to a low-fi charm that made Proud such a collectable artist 30 years after his prime. You have songs with strange diatribes, beautiful emotions, and Proud’s almost…toady voice punctuating each track.
The album has profound tracks, it has tracks that serve as historical commentary…and there’s a song where Proud goes fishing and records it. That’s…yeah that’s it. It’s not even a candid recording because he’s clearly aware that he’s recording himself fishing, since the track starts with him saying “This is me and Sally going fishing.” And…yeah. That’s just what they do. It’s called “Gone Fishing.” They fish for 21 minutes and talk. Granted, it’s all just very thick Australian accents, but if I had to guess I think you hear about two fish get caught during this track. Oh, and one of the fish was pregnant. These are things I know now because I spent 21 minutes listening to someone fish. I’d have to think that part of Proud got some deep satisfaction from the fact that people actually sat down and listened to him fish for 21 minutes on a CD they spent money to buy.
The best part of the whole thing? This isn’t even the last track on the album. So people would have to listen to this whole 21 minute fishing expedition just to get to last two appropriate length songs. That’s kind of evil, but I wholeheartedly approve. It’s like he pranked everyone who bought the album.
Pip Proud died of throat cancer in 2010. When I found that out, it was a sad moment for me. But, despite the fact that it had no musical relevance whatsoever, and that in the course of writing this I’ve had to listen to it three times now, a little part of me is glad that I was able to hear Pip Proud go fishing. And then again, another part of me thinks, “Seriously dude? you used up 1/3 of your album with this?”
5. ALVIN LUCIER IS SITTING IN A ROOM FOR 45 MINUTES
This list from here on out is going to be pretty much evenly split between “Crazy minimalistic artists” and “The Flaming Lips.” This track falls under the former category, as Alvin Lucier was a composer of experimental music and sound installations who was primarily active in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A longtime music professor at Wesleyan, and a member of the Sonic Arts Union, Lucier made music/sonic experimentation that you can only appreciate if you are extremely interested in either the science of audio, or that oh my God my hands are so big right now haha dude I think I ate too many sheets of that shit.
Arguably his most famous work (in the same sense that this is the most famous website I write for) was “I Am Sitting in a Room” (link goes to part 1 of the complete track). To describe the song as “45 minutes of a guy with a mild stutter recording and replaying the same 63 second long speech over and over” would…let you know why it’s in this article. But that being said, the song itself is actually extremely interesting, at least in theory. Lucier records himself speaking and plays that recording into a single room while recording his recording. He then records that recording, and plays that recording of the recording into the same room. And so on, and so forth, for about 45 times. It’s sort of like making a hundred photocopies of your butt, except not and all, and that’s just a cheap excuse for me to use the word “butt” at least once in this article while using this picture.
What actually happens with the song is pretty cool, but not in the “I’d listen to this intently for 45 minutes while sober” way. If you skip ahead five minute at a time you see the total disintegration of the song. An (admittedly basic) description of the audio science at play goes as follows: Every room interacts with sound differently, depending on the size of the room, the dimensions, and the items in there. Sound traveling at a high frequency pushes forward in directional waves, bouncing off certain surfaces and being absorbed into others. Lucier records himself speaking in the room, which shows the slight, subtle effects the room has on the audio. Upon playing each copy-of-a-copy, the audio gets less defined and more absorbed, and by the 8 minute point you can’t even discern what he’s saying anymore. The only thing that remains is some basic frequency of the audio, and the general rhythm of his speech.
It’s fascinating for music nerds to see this audio devolution, step-by-step, and to me it sort of sounds like ambient space noise by the end of it. But, the fact of the matter is, if you listen to the whole track…you just spent 45 minutes listening to a dude talking in a room in 1969. But hey, at least this song clocks in at less than an hour, unlike…
THE FLAMING LIPS WILL PLAY FOR SIX HOURS BECAUSE FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY
“We kind of suggest, playfully, that you take some kind of drug experience,” Wayne Coyne tells us in his twenty minute video explaining his six hour song. “Found a Star on the Ground” differs from most of the rest of these tracks in that it does not aim to be gentle listening. Focusing on this behemoth of a song is a testament to either your love of The Flaming Lips, or the sense of boredom your job leaves you with. Of course if you’ve listened to this whole thing, you might fall into a third category- your friends drugged you rather severely and started playing this song to see how you’d freak out to it over the course of six hours this song is six fucking hours long. Sorry for going so heavily italics on you, but I can’t stress that point enough.
If any other band tried to make 360 minutes of continuous, high energy, krautrock-meets-psychedelic music you might wonder about their sanity. And possibly worry about the muscles in the drummers poor arms (The drums are fairly nonstop and frantic for the entire song- I honestly hope they have a drum-circle situation going so that they can take shifts). And when you hear that a band releases a song that’s 6 hours long during the same year that they released a $150 EP that consisted of a USB drive placed inside a candy gummy-brain, you’d be convinced that they had snapped. But…none of this is particularly surprising for The Flaming Lips. I mean, this is a band that as far back as 1997 was making albums placed on four separate CDs that had to be played at the same time on 4 different stereos. They’ve always done crazy shit. It’s not like they’re making songs that are like, a day long encased in, like…a real human skull or something.
THE FLAMING LIPS MAKE A DAY LONG SONG ENCASED IN, LIKE, A REAL HUMAN SKULL
Oh Goddamn it, Flaming Lips, you’re ruining my credibility. If you didn’t rub our face in this damn gimmick I could at least pretend that you weren’t this crazy. Debuting on Halloween as an online streaming track, the Flaming Lips actually sat down and recorded a song that ran 24 consecutive hours. A full day. And because I love you all so dearly, I actually tried to listen to as much of it as possible. I was one of 5 people listening to the song (found here) when I started streaming it for about half an hour at 11:30 PM, and…you know what, the first ten minutes I heard made a really pretty Indie Rock song. A little space aged, sure. But it sounds like it would be a good opening sequence to a Flaming Lips album…and then you realize that it’s going to go on for twenty four more hours. Yes, “7 Skies H3” is like the Dance Marathon of Psychedelic Indie music. This is not something that you can start whenever you want- the track begins at midnight every night…and then streams all day…until it starts again at midnight. If you wanted to stat it on your terms, you could of course buy the physical copy of it instead of listening to it online for free…
Oh wait, before I go any further, I should point out that there are only 13 copies of this available for physical purchase. If they decided that the best way to sell their 6 hour song would be a $150 edible gummy brain, how would they go about selling a 24 hour song? Oh that’s right, an actual human fucking skull topped with chrome drippings and a rubbervagina on the back of its head with a USB inside. It costs $5,000, for you recreational drug users who are successful enough to drop 5k without a second thought, and who also want to have a bare human skull hanging on their mantel…oh God, I just realized…these are all going to the main character from American Psycho, aren’t they?
She don’t use jelly
Coyne said that he doesn’t expect people to listen to the whole thing all at one time, and the recording of the track itself involved a lot of innovation (since most digital recording software have a 6 hour limit), but he does imagine a few people will, and I quote, “[get some] mushrooms, [go] to a hotel room, listening to the 24-hour song, and coming out the other side, like, ‘This changed us.'” Well, I didn’t do that, but what I did do was go to work stark sober while spending 7 consecutive hours listening to it (from hours 10 through 16 of the song). So now, for my gimmick in this column, I present…
Jeff Slowly Goes Mad Listening To 7 Hours Of a 24 Hour Flaming Lips Song
Below is my response to the song, written in real time. I started documenting my mindset after listening for two hours, and kept at it until I stopped after 7 consecutive hours of music.
The 10-12 hour period of this song pretty much sounds the same. I mean, it’s hours zero through two for me, but the at the point I’ve started listening to this, the song is about ten hours into it’s…cycle? Well whatever, at this point, it’s pretty quiet. Occasionally some vocal “ahhhs” come in there. But it does sort of meander at this point. I don’t blame them. If I were playing 10 hours of music nonstop I’d be meandering too. Scratch that, I’d probably have already ripped off my clothes and started running around the streets naked screaming “THE SKIES ARE NEVER ENDING BEHOLD ME I AM JEHOVAH” until the cops tasered me. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. The Flaming Lips either have more patience, or better drugs, than I since they deal with that feeling by occasionally going very soft for a few minutes as someone in the background makes haunted-ghost noises and they probably, I don’t know, switch out musicians or something. I don’t know why, but I can just imagine Wayne Coyne dressed as the Mad Hatter and periodically going, “CHAAAAANGE PLACES” as 20 musicians scramble around and start playing a different instrument.
If you’ve listened, uninterrupted, to all 13 hours so far, congratulations, you are a better man than I. For reference sake, here’s a transcript of a Gchat conversation I just had with my roommate after just three hours of listening to this song at work. Admittedly, I was listening to it with a totally unaltered mind, so that probably wasn’t how it was meant to be taken in…
Me: 3 hours. I’ve been listening to this song for 3 hours.
Charles: Is it like new or just the same stuff over and over again?
Me: It slowly changes.
Charles: You are crazy, how do you learn about this shit?
Me: So it’ll do like the same stuff over and over for like, 20 minutes, and then it’ll like get a little quiet, and then one guy is just screaming “AGHHH” he goes but foolish mortal you are in the background you fool we cannot hear your pitiable shrills. “AGHHHHHHH” he still cries, foolish mortal we drown you with our sound! Uh… I think it’s breaking my brain
Charles: I think so too. Why are you doing this to yourself??
Me: FOR SCIENCE!
It’s gotten worse. 4 and a half hours in.
Me: So so okay. The last 45 minutes it was barely making any noise. It was soft whispers of music and I think I heard a ghost crying. But now it’s picked up…I think
Charles: Oh dear God.
Me: It’s amazing I’ve done any work today listening to this stuff.
Me: That being said, it’s very possible that every email I’ve sent out has just been one of those magic eye pictures. “Hi, I need that file please.” “IF YOU UNFOCUS YOUR EYES IT IS A BADGER!”
My roommate’s started ignoring me. I don’t blame him. I think I can taste colors.
Me: I understand why they sell this inside of a real, human skull now.
Me: After a while you just stare into the empty eyes and mercurial toupee and you say, “”I understand you, spinning squirrel vortex.”
Me: “Someday I too will have plastic vagina to the back of my skull inside which would be a USB drive…”
Me:…I think I need coffee but I’m a little worried as to how the caffeine would affect me as I get into hour 6 and 7 of consecutively listening to this song. I haven’t heard a spoken English word put to music since…I can’t even remember.
My roommate no longer wants to hear my space ramblings, because I am become death destroyer of worlds. I’m going to post my responses to twitter now because fuck the social media generation.
6 hours into listening.
But surely, a song that is a full day long can’t be topped, right? How can you play music for longer than 24 hours?
BRIAN ENO WILL PLAY YOU MUSIC FOR AT LEAST 30 YEARS
I know what you’re thinking. “That has to be a typo.” You’re right, I’m the one writing this and even I have a hard time trusting the accuracy of that statement. So how about you and I saunter down skeptical lane together, hand in Purell-soaked hand?
Brian Eno’s full name is “Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno.” That isn’t so much an interesting fact about an excessively long name as it is a warning about what Brian Eno is going to do to you. He is going to waste your time, even if he’s just letting you read his birth certificate. Of course, Brian Eno is possibly the most well known ambient and experimental musician out there, though you probably know him for his variety of production work or for the fact that, holy shit, he’s the guy that composed the Window’s start-up sound? Apart from his numerous (numerous) solo albums, Eno has worked with John Cale, Talking Heads, U2, Nico, Slowdive, Sinead O’Connor, and Coldplay. We can forget I mentioned that last one.
Yeah if I were to go into depth of all the points of Eno’s 40 year career, I’d…well actually I’d be fitting in with the whole “things that are oppressively long” theme of this article. But I’m not gonna waste that time. I’m gonna tell you about 77 Million Paintings.
Not to be confused with that book that activated Oprah’s rage center that one time.
Released in 2006, “77 Million Paintings” is a software/DVD combination that randomly creates music while generating images to go along with them. There are 296 original original images which can be overlaid and combined to up to four at a time, but while that helps the whole thing function as a “performance art piece” it doesn’t really address that whole “30 year song” thing from above.
It was Wayne Coyne who first described this song as saying it lasts 30 years, but doing some probably-wrong math the number seems to be more between 60 and 120 years. Now most youtube videos of it tend to limit it to just three minutes, but the option to play for years is always on the table.
Yes, there are limitations, but it’s conceivable you’d be able to someday get equipment (computer, projector, etc) that would be able to play this for 30 years. Which, if you’re the person going through the trouble to do that, I have to ask, how’s it feel to be the 21st century of Howard Hughes?
Still, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Jeff, I mean, this seems like a bit of a stretch. Yes, in theory you can play this song for 30 years, just like in theory you can play some song on an organ for 639 years.
…Wait, you don’t mean to say…
JOHN CAGE EXPECTS YOU TO LIVE 639 YEARS
Where should I start? Should I talk about John Cage, the brilliant experimental music mind who once composed a song that was four and a half minutes of silence, or should I talk about how organs have no finite-life span if they are properly maintained? Oh, well I guess I covered the second point with that sentence, so let’s get to Cage.
John Cage was an American composer and music theorist who was an instrumental figure in a bunch of fake-but-smart-sounding musical branches such as Indeterminacy in music, Electroacoustic music, non-standard use of musical instrumentation, and sonic turquoise plated synergetics. Okay so I made that last one up. But you get the idea.
That brings us to the creation of the longest song on this list. “As Slow As Possible.” The original piece, written for piano in 1985 and called “ASLSP 1985”, typically lasted between 20 and 70 minutes. In the course of writing it, however, Cage left out the small detail of exactly how slow the piece should be played. In 1987, the same piece was written for the organ. Given that the organ basically imposes no time limits, a series of musicians and philosophers (yes, philosophers) met in 1997 to determine how slow “As Slow As Possible” could be played. Since the first permanent organ installation was 639 years old at the time, they tossed up their hands and said, “Hey, 639 works for us!”
Unlike “77 Million Paintings” they didn’t throw out some arbitrary number and say, “See, isn’t that pretty cool? That’s a long song!” No, not only did they actually set out to play it for 639 years, it’s already been playing since 2001.
So if you see this church, and hear one single, maddening, never-ending note? You’ll know you found the right place.
The song sort of cheated, because it began with a 17 month rest, but since 2004 it has played exactly 10 notes. Now, for those of you thinking, “Wait, this church has a never-ending organ? Wouldn’t that be terrible for people trying to go to a church service there?” Well, if this 10 minute audio file of the note change that occurred in 2006 is any indication…Good God, yes. It’s the worst.
You might find yourself getting annoyed with a song when it’s 10 minutes long…but imagine a song that is 10 generations long? So yeah, next time you find yourself complaining about a song for being too long…look at these six tracks and just be glad they decided against wasting any more of your time. Sure, Weezer shouldn’t be making eight minute songs…but at least you’ll finish it during your lifetime.