How do you like your songs? Short and sweet, or long and bewitching? The preferred length of a song varies from one person to another—the same as how people have different tastes in music.
Regardless of where your “song length” allegiances lie, you’re probably curious to know some of the longest songs ever. How long can a song really get? Well, I was also curious and I decided to dig around and uncover some exceptionally long pieces released over the years.
First Things First, A Sneak Peek into the History of Song Lengths
In recent years, the three-and-a-half-minute song is widely considered the industry standard—and for good reason. Any song that exceeds this threshold runs the risk of losing the interest of listeners by sound self-indulgent and repetitive. But have you ever wondered how the three-minute rule came about? Time to learn some history!
Back in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, a flat record was the norm in the music industry. The disc was popularly known as a “78” among vinyl enthusiasts—owing to the record’s 78 revolutions per minute. But due to limits relating to storage size, the “78” could only hold a three-minute or 4-minute song—depending on the size of the flat disk.
In the ‘50s, the 45-rpm disk was introduced and it swiftly made the “78” obsolete. Although the new 45s were better than “78s” in every way, they could only hold three minutes of a song (subject to the sound range of a song)—same as their predecessors.
At the time, any artist of a band hoping to get their tracks played on radio had to submit their songs via a 45. (Fun Fact: This is where the term “single” came about – i.e., in reference to a record holding a single song).
The 45 record become the bedrock of music as it was easier to share and more affordable. Some of the greatest British, R&B, Motown, and Rock & Roll songs in American history were actually sold on 45s—including singles by Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. (PS: Several bands wrote long songs at the time. Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix all have songs longer 10-minutes).
But as technology evolved past the 78 and the 45-rpm, why did the three-minute song remain the norm? Theoretically, digital media and cloud storage should give artists the leeway to release tracks as long as their heart’s desire. However, this is not the case. If anything, songs are getting shorter. This probably owes to the age of music streaming and instant internet gratification—leading to short attention spans.
Let’s Look at Some of the Longest Songs Ever
The “longest song ever” is a relative term (i.e., long in relation to what?). From a track that clocks at over 5 years, a composition that has been playing since 1999, to a Billboard charter exceeding 10 minutes—this is a rather diverse and interesting topic.
(Friendly Disclaimer: The length of some of the songs listed below is outright mind-blowing. So, brace yourselves). Ready to be baffled? Hold on to your jaws and read on for some of the longest songs ever.
What is the Longest Song Ever Recorded?
Officially the title of the “longest song ever recorded” goes to The Rise and Fall of Bossanova by PC III from the U.S. According to the Guinness World Records, the duo of Kelley and Michael Bostwick beat the previous record by a whopping 10 hours. The song—which lasts 13 hours 23 minutes 32 seconds—was released in November 2016 and still holds the title (at least according to official records).
As impressive as a song that plays continuously from 6:00 in the morning to 7:23 at night sounds, it doesn’t hold a candle on some of the “unofficially released” songs.
What is the Longest Song Ever?
Whereas the title of the “longest song ever recorded” goes to PC III’s “The Rise and Fall of Bossanova,” the “longest song ever” has to be Bull of Heaven’s “Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws.”
Get this: The song is 5 years, 258 days, and 8 hours long in its entirety. Yes, that’s right—5 freaking years listening to one track non-stop! Not sure if anyone has the cojones, will power, or time to see the song through—but that is mind-blowing.
Interestingly, this is not the band’s first rodeo at exceptionally long songs. Bull of Heaven—a duo of Clayton Counts and Neil Keener—have been churning out lengthy tracks since 2008. Some other notable songs by the band include “116: Rituals of the Elements and Feasts of the Times” and “043: He Is Cruel and Moves with Great Cunning”—which clock at over 4 days and 13 hours, respectively.
What is the Longest Running Song Ever?
Did you know that there is a musical composition—known as “Long Player”—that has been playing without repetition since the turn of the 21st Century?
On December 31, 1999, a song composed by Jem Finer began playing in a lighthouse in England—and has never stopped, nor will it stop until the year 2999 when it completes its cycle. In short, it’s a song that poised to play for the entire 21st Century—covering over 30 generations in the process.
“Long Player” is the result of in-depth research into musical systems. It’s composed of six compositions that follow precise yet simple rules—resulting in a 1000-year long song that does not repeat itself in any way. If this isn’t the epitome of music and science combined, I don’t know what is!
What is the Longest Song Ever to Chart on Billboard Hot 100?
Sure, you now have a good idea of what is the longest song ever recorded, the longest song ever, and the longest-running song—but which exceptionally long songs are good enough to chart on Billboard?
According to the Guinness World Records, the title of the “longest song ever to enter Billboard Hot 100” goes to “Fear Inoculum” by Tool. The song was released in August 2019—and it runs for 10 minutes and 21 seconds. With day-long songs floating around, the length of “Fear Inoculum” sounds relatively minuscule—but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless in an industry where chart-topping songs are getting shorter.
The title for the longest song ever on Billboard was previously held by David Bowie’s 2016 hit, “Blackstar”—which clocked at 9 minutes 57 seconds. The ever-colorful Bowie was usurped by Tool— with their song debuting on Billboard Hot 100 at no.93. Despite breaking the record for the longest song ever on Billboard, “Fear Inoculum” was actually the second shortest song on the band’s album by the same name.
What is the Most Bizarre Longest Song Ever?
What if I told you there is an experimental rock band that created a 24-hour long song? Not that outstanding judging by what you’ve already read in this article, right? Well, that’s until you learn that a psychedelic band known as Flaming Lips released a single in 2011 in a rather unusual way.
Believe it or not, the day-long song—“7 Skies H3”—was sold in pen drives encased in 5 skulls. And I’m not talking about the plastic skulls you place on your doorstep every Halloween—the band used real human skulls! Told you…B.I.Z.A.R.R.E! Keep in mind that the 5 skulls sold out immediately for $5,000 each.
What are Some of the Most Popular Longest Songs Ever?
Resuming to some normalcy, here’s a list of the most popular longest songs ever.
- “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden (13:39): Transforming an 18th Century poem into a 13-minute hit rock song is a feat that few bands are ballsy enough to pull off. But this is exactly what Iron Maiden did with “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
- “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd (26:01): The song is a tribute to Syd Barret—who was a former member of the band. It was an epic off of “Wish You Were Here”.
- “Coma” by Guns N’ Roses (10:16): According to Guns N’ Roses Guitarist, Gilby Clarke, “Coma” is easily the band’s hardest song to grasp. “Without a doubt, Coma. I still don’t know it. It’s like this 15- or 20-minute song with no repeats.”
- “Dogs” by Pink Floyd (17:05): “Dogs” was originally written by Gilmour in 1974—released as “You Gotta Be Crazy”. The track is a delicate blend of pent-up frustration, wordly cynicism, and dreamlike quality.
- “In my Time of Dying” by Zed Zeppelin (11:06): What is a list of some of the greatest songs in history with mention of Atlantic Record’s Led Zeppelin? The traditional gospel track, “In my Time of Dying,” was part of the legendary band’s Physical Graffiti