Five amazingly great long songs that still end too soon

These songs still end too soon.
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“AMERICAN PIE” by Don McLean, 1971 (8:33)

“American Pie,” more so than “Stairway to Heaven” or any other long song from the early ‘70s, proved that the public would eat up eight-minute songs, provided they were good enough. Don McLean’s history of rock and roll up to that point told through his cleverly cryptic lyrics, opens and closes with its “slow” verses. They are sandwiched around four up-tempo stanzas that rock much better than one might have expected from the writer of “Vincent.”

The famous refrain - “the day the music died” – a reference to Buddy Holly’s tragic death in 1959, became part of the vernacular. Fans have long debated the other characters who appear in various symbolic guises. Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are well-established, but McLean rarely speaks about the meaning of his symbols, which has given the song an exceptionally long shelf-life.

The run-time, as will be the case with many of the songs on this list, is malleable. The songs existed in several versions. It was so long that it did not fit on a single side of a standard 45 back in 1971, so it was divided into two sections. You flipped your disc over in the middle to hear the second half of the song. Nonetheless, it stayed at number one for the entire first month of 1972.

“CHOCTAW BINGO” by James McMurtry, 2002 (8:45)

McMurtry usually introduces this song in concert by cribbing from Townes Van Zandt. “Now I’m going to play a medley of my hit.” The simple blues riff tells the soap opera story of the family reunion at Uncle Slaton’s in the wilds of Oklahoma. And such a family you never did see.

There’s cousin Roscoe from East St. Louis, and football coach Bob, who brought along his SKS rifle and Desert Eagle pistol for a little bit of fun after dark. Then there are second cousins Ruth-Anne and Lynn whose skinny halters and cut-off britches have our narrator contemplating things best left unsaid.

McMurtry, among the finest lyricists in modern American music, is working at full capacity here. Here, backed by an outstanding ensemble featuring David Grissom on guitar and organist Ian McLagan, the simple blues shuffle explodes into cascades of sound as the story grows wilder and wilder. If you’re looking for genuine Americana, look no further.