What is the longest song in the world?

With the increasing importance of singles, songs are getting shorter and shorter. But what was the longest song ever, and what was the lengthiest rock or pop song to ever make it onto the radio? Let's take a look!

Not every song is suitable for the radio, especially the longest song in the world.
Not every song is suitable for the radio, especially the longest song in the world.  © Collage: Unsplash/Elijah Merrell/Austin Neill

There are some ridiculously lengthy tunes out there, especially in the world of classical music.

Rock and pop songs, however, seem to keep shrinking shorter and shorter over time, with few songs jumping over the four-to-five minute mark.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some exceptions out there.

fun fact of the day: Fun Fact of the Day for February 19, 2024: Discover surprising trivia!
Fun Fact of the Day Fun Fact of the Day for February 19, 2024: Discover surprising trivia!

Which piece of music holds the world record for being the longest song in the world? And what rock or pop song holds the position of longest ever played on the radio?

Let's find out!

What is the longest song ever?

Organ2/ASLSP by John Cage is the longest continuous piece of music ever to have been written or played. Famously performed on the organ of a medieval church in central Germany, the piece was written in 1987 and consists of eight scored pages, written in an open format.

Originally performed in 14 hours and 56 minutes by Diane Luchese in 2009 (a world record in itself), Organ2/ASLSP has also been played on the piano and various other instruments. There are a variety of versions, but only one stands out in history as something truly extraordinary.

The Halberstadt performance was inspired by John Cage's request that it be played as slow as possible. After a lengthy setup, the John Cage Organ Foundation Halberstadt decided to play Organ2/ASLSP for 639 years, making it the longest song in existence.

A purpose-built organ was created and installed in the Halberstadt Cathedral (which has stood since 1361) and the performance began on September 5, 2001. It began with a rest that lasted until 2003, followed by a note that lasted until 2020. What's truly remarkable is that the performance will (if all goes well) continue until September 5, 2640.

John Cage has since passed away and, let's be real, having written a song more than 600 years long, it's unlikely that any of us will ever hear the end of the Halberstadt performance.

Jethro Tull is one of the best bands of the 1970s, sporting a charismatic frontman that will never be beaten in musical skill and lyrical mastery.
Jethro Tull is one of the best bands of the 1970s, sporting a charismatic frontman that will never be beaten in musical skill and lyrical mastery.  © IMAGO/Independent Photo Agency

What's the longest rock song?

The longest popular rock song ever released is Jethro Tull's 1972 masterpiece Thick as a Brick. Each side of the record was a single song, the first side totaling 22 minutes and 37 seconds, and the second side totaling 21 minutes and 5 seconds. As a result, Part 1 of Thick as a Brick is without a doubt the longest rock song in the world.

There's not going to be any complaining about that. The record is one of Tull's best efforts, and a direct response to those who had claimed their previous album, Aqualung, was a concept album. Taking on a surreal sense of humor, the album lasted almost 45 minutes and was one continuous piece of music, split over two sides.

Considering that the record was continuous, apart from needing to flip it over, you could also make the case that the entirety of Thick as a Brick was one giant song. This would certainly be the longest rock song ever, at a total of 43 minutes and 42 seconds.

What was the longest song ever played on the radio?

Iron Butterfly wrote the longest song ever played on the radio, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".
Iron Butterfly wrote the longest song ever played on the radio, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".  © IMAGO/BRIGANI-ART

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Thick as a Brick didn't get played on the radio. Instead, the accolade for longest rock or pop song to make it onto the radio has to go to Iron Butterfly's song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which spanned more than 17-minutes. Released in the late 1960s, it was a psychedelic delight.

An American rock band from San Diego, Iron Butterfly became famous for their heavy metal and hard rock style. This was something new for the time, with progressive rock only just starting to stretch its legs. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida became an instant hit and a bestseller, and got a good amount of airtime when it released.

It's hard to believe that something like this could be heard on the radio these days. The longest you would generally anticipate is something between five and10 minutes. The Teacher from Foo Fighter's fantastic new record But Here We Are comes in at 10 minutes and four seconds, making it possibly the longest song on radio rotation right now.

The longest-ever piece of music will make you grow old!

While by no means your traditional song or piece of music, John Cage's insane organ project won't end until many, many years after even our children's death. Sitting down and listening to the whole piece would not only see you age many years, but would be a completely impossible task.

Unless someone manages to achieve immortality, no one will ever hear every note of Organ2/ASLSP. Indeed, John Cage has passed away already, so not even he will hear every note he wrote down. What a remarkable, and certainly radio unfriendly project!

Cover photo: Collage: Unsplash/Elijah Merrell/Austin Neill

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