Five insanely long songs that don't waste a single second

Every second is priceless.
Walter Iooss Jr/GettyImages
2 of 6

“TELEGRAPH ROAD” by Dire Straits – 1982 (14:18)

“Telegraph Road” came from Love Over Gold, either Mark Knopfler’s most ambitious album, or his most pretentious. Most critics admired the long, complex song structures. But Robert Christgau called it “pompous,” and served up what from him was extreme putdown – “ELP with blues roots.”

Christgau is a crucial figure in rock & roll criticism, but he missed the boat here. That’s not to say Love Over Gold avoids all pomposity. It doesn’t. But its magnum opus, “Telegraph Road” earns its length.

A slow, atmospheric siren gives way to rumblings and primordial explosions before a piano and guitar begin to carve out the basic melody line. About two minutes in, Knopfler’s voice begins the story, and it is some of his best, most efficient writing. It has to be, as it attempts to cover a large swath of societal evolution in a few verses. “Then came the churches, then came the schools – Then came the lawyers, then came the rules – Then came the trains and the trucks with their load – And the dirty old track – Was the Telegraph Road.”

A little past the five-minute mark, Knopfler might have been done, He had a complete story. But he chooses to make the history more immediate by bringing it right up to date with a personal story of a modern automaton spawned by the Telegraph Road world. That second stretch carries us to the ten-minute mark. Then it’s all Knopfler and his virtuoso finger-picking building to a titanic conclusion.