10 Classic Albums We Wish Were Shorter

There’s no doubt about it – the world has got longer. Soon we’ll all be living to 100, TV dramas are now two-hour marathons, prime-time Saturday night talent shows seem to go on as long as Ben Hur, and you rarely find a movie clocking in below the old 100-minute limit any more. Numb bums all round.

This phenomenon is also noticeable in music, where the advent of the CD has meant single albums can be stretched way beyond the old 35-40 minute average to an hour or more’s listening, as unlike with vinyl, the sound quality doesn’t diminish as you put more music on the disc. I fear that this has given people a licence to indulge.

What’s worse, there’s barely a mass-audience rock album out there that hasn’t been reissued as an ‘enhanced’ or ‘deluxe’ edition with loads of studio out-takes, demo versions and other floor-sweepings tacked on, which only serve to dilute rather than add to the charms of great works of art. Yet economy of expression is an old, old friend of art, even if it is a woefully neglected one.

So may I suggest going the other way? How about reissuing some great albums in a ‘redux’ format, with the filler from the original sets taken out?

Here’s my suggestions for some judicious edits to universally acclaimed, but slightly overweight classics.

Guns n’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

I’m not even going to attempt the impossible, wheat-from-chaff task of whittling down Use Your Illusion I and II to a single album, but what about slimming down the 53 minutes of this universally acknowledged belter to an even leaner, meaner fighting weight of 47? The quick, painless extraction of Anything Goes and You’re Crazy from side two, and we’re there. See, didn’t hurt a bit, did it?

Metallica – Metallica

The Black Album could surely be made a couple of shades more black if it didn’t tip over the hour mark, and was neatly clipped of a couple of destined-for-deluxe-reissue tracks from its running order. Don’t Tread On Me? OK, how about we just sidestep you altogether, so we don’t have to discuss your slightly questionable flag-happy sentiments? And while we’re there, we could surely keep snipping and dispense with Through The Never. Then if we simply draw things to a close before the serviceable but unmistakable thrash of Struggle Within, we’ve got an album that is 20 per cent shorter, but, I’d argue, a good 10% greater.

Def Leppard – Hysteria

Perhaps surprisingly for one of the great commercial hard rock albums, this one clocked in at 62 minutes on release. But if it really was a rock answer to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, as producer Mutt Lange suggested, with every track a potential single, then can we suggest that a couple end up as b-sides instead? Would you miss Don’t Shoot Shotgun if it was quietly omitted? Then could we perhaps end on the title track, lopping off Excitable and Love and Affection? I know, I know – but we’re being cruelto be kind here, people…

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

This debut album may be a timeless pearl of a record, but some of the flimsier, indier moments could surely go by the wayside to bring it back under the 45-minute mark. Would My Sugar Spun Sister be terribly offended if her song were left off the album? She’s probably old enough to live with the disappointment. Don’t Stop might be a bit of an indulgence, but it works as a psychedelic confection, whereas Bye Bye Badman could definitely say farewell permanently without too many tears being shed.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe

It’s not hard to cut the crap out of Gallagher & co’s debut, to reduce it from 52 minutes to a neat 45. The rinky-dink delights of Digsy’s Dinner will surely not be missed, and then if we brutally cull Up In The Sky and Bring It On Down, you’ve got a shorter, sweeter listen whose charms simply cannot be denied.

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

Funny how bands that profess to adhere to the less-is-more ethos of punk still end up making records too long for their own good. Most of these songs are over five minutes long, but short of shaving a minute off each, would skipping over Fistful of Steel make us enemies of the revolution? Or pragmatic radicals with the people’s best interests at heart?

REM – Automatic For The People

This 1992 gem is one album that gets very close to flawless. But can I just suggest one small amendment? Cut out the slightly clunking Ignoreland from side two, and then we can flow nicely from Monty Got A Raw Deal to Star Me Kitten and absolute perfection is pretty much achieved, at a beautifully substantial yet never-outstaying-its-welcome 48 minutes in length. Thank you and good night.

Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks

I bow to no one in my enduring love for Mr Zimmerman’s 1975 classic, but when Lily Rosemary & The Jack of Hearts comes on, I often decide to put the kettle on. Then I realise I’m out of milk and pop out to get some, answer an urgent call of nature, put the washing out to dry and phone my mum to wish her happy birthday, and I get back to my stereo to find myself asking ‘Ye Gods, is this song STILL not finished?’ It starts off pleasantly enough, but then simply REFUSES to end. For that reason, it’s out. Admittedly, the woozy, bucolic charms of Meet Me In The Morning now flow straight into the slow, wistful charms of If You See Her, Say Hello, which isn’t ideal sequencing, but now we’re down to a nine-track, 42-minute journey of pure quality, who’s complaining?

The Beatles – Abbey Road

Even the Fabs weren’t averse to a bit of over-indulgence. Although Revolver (14 songs, 35 minutes) is a beacon of brevity and even Sergeant Pepper clocks in at only 39, Abbey Road’s 17 songs last a full 47 minutes. I wouldn’t want to touch the medley on side two, but could Maxwell’s Silver Hammer meet a sticky end? Or can we live without Octopus’s Garden’s cutesy charms and remove Ringo’s sole composition? There’s no room for sentiment where great art is concerned. Mr Octopus – notice has been served – please look for another dwelling.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Rare is the double album that you couldn’t reduce to a sizeable single serving. But Physical Graffiti is so consistently great, it just about justifies the extra length. That said, just how much damage would be done to the package as a whole if we neatly chopped out the middle three or four tracks from the second half? Could we not lose the so-so blues rock of Night Flight followed by The Wanton Song and Boogie With Stu’s good-time pub rock? Come on – you can keep them for the Deluxe reissue. Then we could move Kashmir further back in the set to balance it all out a bit. No? OK, I’ll get me coat.

Guns N' Roses Quiz: Use Your Illusion I & II

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock