A few days ago, I asked a rhetorical question on a Facebook status update: what’s the longest song ever made? I thought I had answered that question in the blog post I linked to, the answer being Longplayer, but I got several responses in the form of guesses. Friends of mine guessed “American Pie” (8:33), “Free Bird” (9:06), “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” (17:04), and “Alice’s Restaurant” (18:34), which are all really good guesses, but miss the mark by a long shot. So I started thinking about an actual answer to that question.

It’s a little tricky, because you have to ask, “what is considered a song?” Upon analysis, I determined Longplayer isn’t really a song; it’s just a bunch of singing bowls, something that just barely qualifies as a musical instrument. That’s the reason I’ve excluded Mike Oldfield, too. His music is only music in the barest sense of the word: because he and his fans say it is.

I also decided to limit it to pop songs, which eliminates symphonies and other classical compositions. To qualify, they also had to be one continuous or contiguous song, and not separated by other songs. Suites, or individual songs all strung together (with no break in playing) and united by a common lyrical theme, are permissible. I also decided to let in songs separated by division of the physical media, such as sides of vinyl; it’s not really Jethro Tull’s fault that CDs hadn’t been invented when they made “Thick as a Brick” and it was too long to fit on one side of an LP. But songs on live recordings don’t make it if they don’t have a studio counterpart equally as long. Other than that, I use a combination of my instincts and trust placed in the artist. If they say it’s a song, I give them the benefit of the doubt, excluding clear and obvious attempts to have a really long recording while injecting little to no musicality or effort.

An undeniable finding: almost all the artists on the list I’ve compiled are either progressive rock or progressive metal. This says one of two things. Either only prog fans have the attention spans to listen to a song that’s much longer than 5 minutes, or prog artists are completely insane. I think it might be both. The only non-prog group on here is Pink Floyd, but they’re foundational to most of the other groups on here. Heck, most of them learned to do long songs in the first place from Pink Floyd, among others.

Neal Morse

That being said, Dream Theater is probably the guiltiest single culprit, having four songs on this list. It could have been five, though; their suite “In the Presence of Enemies” is over 25 minutes long, but it doesn’t make the list because parts II and III are separated by the rest of the album the suite is on. But the undisputed king of long songs is Neal Morse. He’s in two different bands on this list, and also has multiple songs as a solo artist. He’s in the band that takes the cake, too.

That band is Transatlantic, and the song that wins the award for Longest Song (with the restrictions previously mentioned), is “The Whirlwind,” clocking in at 77 minutes and 54 seconds. “The Whirlwind” is the name of the album it’s on, too, and it’s the only song on the album. You’ll notice that the song is just shy of 80 minutes, which is the maximum length of a CD. When a physical medium longer than that comes into widespread use, you can be sure that Neal Morse will make a song that matches its length.

Anyway, here’s the list, in ascending length order.

Dream Theater, “A Mind Beside Itself” – 20:26

Rush, “2112” – 20:34

Yes, “Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)” – 21:37

Yes, “The Gates of Delirium” – 21:50

Genesis, “Supper’s Ready” – 22:52

Dream Theater, “A Change of Seasons” – 23:06

Spock’s Beard, “The Water” – 23:10

Pink Floyd, “Atom Heart Mother” – 23:35

Pink Floyd, “Echoes” – 23:37

Yes, “The Solution” – 23:47

Dream Theater, “Octavarium” – 24:00

Neal Morse, “The Conflict” – 25:00

Transatlantic, “Duel With the Devil” – 26:43

Spock’s Beard, “The Great Nothing” – 27:02

Manowar, “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” – 28:38

Neal Morse, “The Door” – 29:13

Transatlantic, “Stranger In Your Soul” – 30:00

Green Carnation, “The Truth Will Set You Free” – 31:03

Magellan, “The Great Goodnight” – 34:45

Dream Theater, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” – 42:04

Jethro Tull, “Thick as a Brick” – 43:46

Meshuggah, “Catch Thirty Three” – 47:09

The Flower Kings, “Garden of Dreams” – 59:16

Green Carnation, “Light of Day, Day of Darkness” – 60:06

Transatlantic, “The Whirlwind” – 77:54

Feel free to add any I’ve missed in the comments section.