Justin Timberlake's Expansive Length

by Jonah Wolf

Justin Timberlake's third album, The 20/20 Experience, will see its official release next week after a juggernaut PR campaign that culminated in iTunes' streaming the album, all seventy minutes of it, for free starting Monday night. In the days since the album was made available, many have commented on the record's expansive length: if you divide by ten tracks, the average song-length is over seven minutes. Pushing that average is single "Mirrors," a ballad that debuted at number 24 on Billboard's Hot 100, probably thanks to a recent reformulation that accounts for YouTube plays in addition to radio rotation.

Timberlake's expansiveness seems to be a bid for the respect accorded Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE: that album's centerpiece and second single was the ten-minute "Pyramids." It also shows the influence of the dance floor; songs ebb and shift in the manner of DJ mixes. (He's also sanctioned a series of official remixes of first single "Suit and Tie.") But will the songs' lengths torpedo Timberlake's chart potential? We rounded up some of the longest, biggest hits. (Note: the YouTube versions are often shorter than the actual songs.)

Don McLean's "American Pie" topped the American charts for four weeks in 1972. Centered on the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, the song is probably one of the earliest examples (after Sha Na Na) of Baby Boomer nostalgia. Madonna trimmed it down for a single that went to number one in several countries around Europe but was held back on the US charts by the absence of an official US single release.

"The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five topped the UK Singles chart but only made it to number 62 in the US.

Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" went to number one as a seven-minute single culled from the twelve-minute album version. The song starts with nearly a full minute of motorcycle noises; a piano riff repeats for another minute as a guitarist solos. Mr. Loaf's vocals finally enter two minutes in. This song doesn't really seem to have verses, just choruses alternating with different kinds of bridges. A female voice enters at 9:30. God, this song is terrible.

Oasis' "All Around the World" reached number one in the UK at 9:38. The song pretty much ends three minutes in, after which point the same hook is repeated over and over, then repeated in another key, then in another key. This is pretty much just a ripoff of "Hey Jude."

That seven-minute Beatles chart-topper perhaps inaugurated the trend of long singles. Lore holds that the song's addressee was John Lennon's son Julian, who had to put up with his parents' divorce when John fell for Yoko Ono.

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