From 45rpm to 45 minutes: thinking about long songs



Something strange happened in the mid 1960s, as we moved away from the 45rpm singles culture, representing a time when albums were nothing more than collections of singles. [It was actually worse than that, since the albums would contain both the A sides as well as the B sides of the singles. Until the Beatles came along, B sides were B sides. With Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, they broke the mould. I didn’t have that single in my collection, my first experience of the phenomenon was Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane.]

People also started releasing albums that were meant to be listened to as albums rather than as a series of discrete songs, where the “bargain size” of listening to music became 45 minutes at 33rpm rather than 3.3 minutes at 45rpm. That tolled the end of the auto changer and spindle extensions and single stacking and release mechanisms. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.


I was thinking about all this a few days ago, in the context of tl;dr and Long Reads. It’s a theme that has come up regularly over the past decade or so, the apparent social trend towards sound bites and powerpoint rather than any sort of depth of treatment of any subject. When does something become tl;dr? What does it say of a civilisation when tl;dr starts trending towards zero?

You’ve probably noticed that whenever I ask myself such questions I tend to switch context, usually to food or to music. There’s a part of my brain that doesn’t distinguish between a single, a snack and a soundbite, and I learn from the comparisons.

This was what was in my mind when I saw a tweet from John Taschek and the conversation that ensued:

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.37.12

Long reads, three- or four-hour meals, albums where you listened to all the songs in sequence, they’re all the same thing to me. [There’s one twist. Simultaneity. I can enjoy the meals and the music with others at the same time, but haven’t yet figured out a good way of doing that with long reads: recitals, plays and films cover only part of the need.]

Anyway, to the gist of this post. Here’s a short list of 1960s and 1970s long songs and albums-meant-to-be-heard-as-albums, to remind some people of geriatric genres, and to let the rest of us wallow in remembered warmth.

Long songs (at least 7 minutes in duration)

Light My Fire (1967, 7:06)

Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (1966, 11:02)

The End (1967, 11:41)

LA Woman (1971, 7:49)

Riders On The Storm (1971, 7:10)

Get Ready (1970, 21:06)

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1972, 12:02)

Season Of The Witch (1968, 11:07)

Ball And Chain (1967, 8:13)

Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971, 11:35)

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (1969, 7:28)

California (1969, 9:30)

Thoughts About Roxanne (1969, 8:20)

(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired (1973, 7:31)

Roll Right Stones (1973, 13:40)

Glad (1970, 6:59 … OK it’s not 7 minutes but I’m not legalistic)

Foreigner Suite (1973, 18:19)

The World Is A Ghetto (1972, 10:10)

Living For The City (1973, 7:22)

Dear Mr Fantasy (1971, 10:57)

Forty Thousand Headmen (1971, 6:21, yes, not quite 7 either)

Layla (1971, 7:02)

Jessica (1973, 7:28)

Help>Slip>Frank (1975, 11:55)

The Music Never Stopped (1975, 8:24)

That’s all for now. There are at least a hundred others, all fodder for a post some other day. John Taschek, I think the appropriate loud melodic long song after Dreamforce is the long version of Living For The City. And Zachary Jeans, if you want long and instrumental, besides the Allmans’ Jessica I would recommend Traffic’s Glad.

Left to myself when the time of day or night doesn’t matter, there’s no competition for Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. And in some moods Help>Slip>Frank takes some beating, as does Layla. Late evenings and in the small hours there’s nothing to touch California or Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired. Next time I’m thinking of covering my top 20 long posts …. not posts written by me, but by others, posts I think everyone should read.  And I can never leave out the John Perry Barlow classic The Music Never Stopped.

4 thoughts on “From 45rpm to 45 minutes: thinking about long songs”

  1. Sometimes there’s an itch you just have to scratch. I’m glad our Twitter exchange drove you to compose this piece. Frankly, it is analogous to the tension I’m hearing from people around their daily life experience. They love the wealth of information at their finger tips, or voice. And yet, the stream is overwhelming them. I suppose this is something akin to the ache for a deeper experience of the artist that those who’d listened to the pop of the 50’s on 45’s longed for. The late 60’s and 70’s afforded the technological change with the “45 minutes at 33rpm” player to satiate the heart’s desire.

    I found myself, back in May, when the weather turned nice here in the Pacific NorthWest, making an actual decision to take my family to the local rivers, lakes, and hills, for the purpose of slowing us down, and to stretch us out. And, in so doing, I added a playlist of 60’s and 70’s Folk Music I found curated on Spotify. Of course there were the usual suspects of Dylan, Clapton, Joplin, The Carpenters, and the Grateful Dead. But the song that really epitomized the feeling, or pace of life I yearned for, was, “Danny’s Song” by Loggins & Messina. I could almost smell the hot leather of my mom’s 1974 Nova from when I was a kid. Memories of Tupperware, those ubiquitous plastic picnic containers that were filled with questionable potato salad, and whipped cream Jello concoctions, gently landed upon me like the early Summer breeze.

    Now that Dreamforce is concluded, we are in transition into the Fall. I find myself itching for tones, and rhythms, that move like fat harvest moons, drunk on the Sun’s full attention, lumbering slowly into the sky. I want depth, like the smell of our Douglas Firs, who brace themselves against the chilly nights. I hear the Canadian Geese at 2am, calling out to each other, as they make a month long thousand mile journey South. That’s in absurd contrast to the 2 hour flight my mother-in-law made to Southern California the other day.

    That’s why I’ve taken the train home after Dreamforce two years running, and three out of the five. I’m appreciative of the time to think, to observe, and to listen. Without the wide open spaces of 7 minute + jams, or down days before and after conferences, I’m the lesser for it. It’s as if I’m caught in peppy songs spinning on a 45 table, ending almost as soon as they start. The intensity of the social stream, the conferences, the EDM I love so- they are always there. In the meantime, I’m going to kick back and listen to “Traffic’s Glad.”

  2. On similar lines , a CEO once chided me for treating my PP slides as proper thinking, he wanted to read the underlying treatise and thinking that I’d based my slides on (and I didn’t have any!). There’s a lesson right there.

  3. I play ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ to my daughter to demonstrate the sheer brilliance and confidence of the opening ‘bit’ – how many minutes before they start singing? Not a single ‘Hmm’ ‘ahhhh’ that you would hear on any opening tracking now. There are a few tracks on here I haven’t heard so I shall be spinning them later. Thanks :-)

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