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The five greatest multi-part rock songs

Conventional pop music tends to find a sweet spot between three and four minutes. If a song is any shorter than three minutes, it’s likely too brief to be memorable, and if it surpasses the four-minute mark, most listeners will be tuning out and changing the record. However, this is just the convention for money printing hits; creative impulse can and will often overspill such conventions.  

Some epically extended compositions are slapped on an album as one meaty main course that takes up a whole side of an LP. Examples of this include Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ and Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’. Other epics, such as Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, are broken up into different parts and spread around the album for a reprise effect.

Today, you may have read the title and thought, by “multi-part”, I mean to explore some of the best songs that have notable internal phases, such as Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, you’ll be wrong. This isn’t the criteria I’m using today.

Instead, I’m exploring some of the greatest groups of songs that are listed as separate parts or with different names but flow into one another as one continuous track. That would have been quite a lengthy title for the article, so I instead opted for the punchier ambiguity of “multi-part”.

Some people refer to such segregated compositions as “suites,” a term originally used for ordered groups of instrumental or orchestral compositions. So, multi-part, segmented, suite, whatever you refer to them as, read on as I pick the five greatest. 

The five greatest multi-part songs 

God Speed You! Black Emperor – ‘Bosses Hang’ (Parts 1-3)

Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor released a particularly interesting experimental album in 2017’s Luciferian Towers. The album consists of four tracks: ‘Undoing a Luciferian Towers’, ‘Bosses Hang’, ‘Fam / Famine’ and ‘Anthem for No State’. ‘Bosses Hang’ and ‘Anthem for No State’ run for just under 15 minutes, but both were split into three parts for digital release. 

For the record, I feel that the powerful album is at its best listened to from start to finish, but when making the tough decision between the two multi-part songs on Luciferian Towers, ‘Bosses Hang’ comes out just on top. There is a running concept of political uprising that runs through the album, and in a statement released alongside the record in 2017, the band listed their “grand demands,” which are as follows:

  • an end to foreign invasion
  • an end to borders
  • the total dismantling of the prison–industrial complex
  • healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right
  • the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again

Kraftwerk – ‘Kometenmelodie’ 

In 1974, German electro-pioneers Kraftwerk released their landmark fourth studio album, Autobahn. The album consists of just five tracks, with the eponymous opener coming as the indisputable main course, clocking in at just under 23 minutes. However, today, length is not what counts; we’re looking at the greatest multi-part songs. Following the epic on side one, the second side of the record kicks off with ‘Kometenmelodie’, which is split into two phases. 

‘Kometenmelodie’ translates to ‘Comet Melody’, and the futuristic-sounding instrumental was inspired by the Kohoutek Comet, which passed Earth in 1973. Autobahn was years ahead of its time and helped Kraftwerk gain their enduring reputation as one of the most influential acts of the 21st century. In a 1991 interview with NME, composer Ralf Hütter demonstrated the originality of the work: “We played it to our friends, and a few of them said ‘Fahren auf der Autobahn!? (we drive on the Autobahn) You’ve gone crazy!’. We just put records out and see what happens, otherwise, we’d end up over-calculating this or that.”

David Bowie – ‘Sweet Thing’ 

David Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs seems to have been unfairly crowded out by his admittedly brilliant spell in the 1970s. The album’s sound is neither the glam rock beauty of Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane nor the soul and funk orientated Young Americans or Station to Station. Unfortunately, the album is remembered mainly for its title track and the catchy rock-out ‘Rebel Rebel’, which are great hits, but there’s much to be admired in the album’s underbelly. 

Perhaps the album’s greatest attribute is the three-part suite consisting of ‘Sweet Thing’, then ‘Candidate’, and then a second dose of ‘Sweet Thing’ which consists of a one-verse reprise. The entire run through lasts 8 minutes and 50 seconds as it runs through a jazz and soul-inspired sequence that reaches a pacey rock-oriented climax in the middle of ‘Candidate’. 

Pink Floyd – ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ 

Pink Floyd were no stranger to a lengthy, compartmentalised composition. They wrote most of their music by feeling out the sounds over drawn-out sessions of free improvisation. Some of these longer compositions were unbridled triumphs (‘Echoes’, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’) while others become somewhat tired toward the end, leaving the listener wanting to abort the interstellar journey and skip to the next track prematurely. 

While there are a few great Pink Floyd tracks I could have picked from that have been split into different sections, none are quite so memorable as ‘Another Brick In the Wall’. Pink Floyd’s concept album The Wall was released in 1979, and it marked the peak of the band’s commercial success hitting the top of the charts in the US and reaching number three in the UK. The lead single ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2’ became the band’s only US and UK number-one. While the catchy climax to the three-part song is best known standing alone, it’s best heard in full with the dramatic build-up of part one and ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’. 

The Beatles – Abbey Road Medley 

The Beatles released their penultimate studio album, Abbey Road, in 1969 to their usual high critical acclaim and commercial success. The album included two of George Harrison’s most successful compositions in ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Something’ as well as John Lennon’s classic opener ‘Come Together’. While these big hits were the main commercial appeal of the album, something particularly interesting occurs at the end of the second side of the record. 

After ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and ‘Because’ at the start of side two, Paul McCartney’s ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ follows. At the end of the song though, there is no cut-off and for the rest of the album, the songs flow into each other without a halt for breath. This run of nine tracks has become known as the ‘Abbey Road Medley’, and it consists of ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, ‘Sun King’, ‘Mean Mr Mustard’, ‘Polythene Pam’, ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’, ‘Golden Slumbers’, ‘Carry That Weight’, ‘The End’ and the 23-second hidden track ‘Her Majesty’.