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

Every second is priceless.
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“SISTER RAY,” by The Velvet Underground – 1968 (17:31)

On the debut VU album, Lou Reed and his bandmates rewrote the rules for pop song subject matter. On the follow-up White Light/White Heat, they went even further. At over 17 minutes, the final track, “Sister Ray,” is among the longest songs on any rock & roll album of the 1960s.

But the sheer length is only one of the revolutionary aspects of “Sister Ray.” From the opening loud, sludgy guitar and organ, we are immediately in a different world. Pretty soon, we are searching for our mainline – and could not hit it sideways. This is Reed’s way of telling us the characters in this story are stoned out of their minds.

We get fleeting glimpses of characters in “Sister Ray,” – like the wild orgy Randy Newman would visit in “Mams Told Me Not to Come.” But the cacophony of Reed and fellow guitarist Sterling Morrison provide an insistent nightmare from which we cannot escape. John Cale’s bass rambles all over the place, while his organ butts heads with those guitars. And beneath it all, Maureen Tucker’s drums, which feel like they might be coming from the studio down the hall, relentlessly bang ahead barely keeping the volatile mix in check.

Word is that the support staff working with VU on the recording were so bewildered, distracted, and maddened by the waves of sound they were trying to capture and modulate that they didn’t even mic Tucker’s drums properly, which explains their distance. If you care to, you can hear the story of stoned drag queens and murder that just gets washed away in the rawness of the sound. Punk rock – as a genre – may have been birthed before this, but this song is the wellspring. Anyone who set out to make loud, fast noise with a guitar can trace their musical DNA back to “Sister Ray.”