I had my iPod on shuffle the other day and The Vines came on. Now, their middling grunge was nothing particularly special, but I always appreciated their album Highly Evolved because it was so succinct. After just five minutes of listening you were already onto the third track. And it’s not as if these tracks were slight either; take for example Autumn Shade which is a creeping epic that belies its two minutes and seventeen seconds. These songs do what they need to do and then duck out without wasting a breath.*
Of course, there was a time when songs habitually lasted less than three minutes. The Beatles’ early songs were short, sharp bursts of energy; and even when they started to broaden their palette, they still maintained their discipline (Eleanor Rigby and Norwegian Wood are both just over two minutes). It was only once the bad drugs and spiritualism kicked in that their songs started to sail past the four minute mark.
In today’s multi-channel, dual-screening world, brevity is more important than ever. As I’ve touched upon before, music is competing with so many other forms of entertainment. A song simply has to grab your attention within thirty seconds, or it hasn’t done its job. Like it or not, music is advertising.
Bands can afford to take shortcuts with their music too, as they’re performing to a sophisticated audience. There’s no need to repeat the chorus four times, once in a higher key – it’s its decent enough, we’ll remember it after the first listen.
So let’s celebrate the short song. Here’s a playlist of the ten shortest songs in my collection.** I’ve excluded skits (because they’re universally awful) and instrumentals (as much as I like interludes, they aren’t really that meaningful taken out of context), plus I’ve only allowed for one song per artist otherwise it would be full of Wire.
Enjoy – it’ll only take up six minutes of your life.
* The second half of the album does have a couple of overlong songs on it however.
** It should start with The Beatles’ Her Majesty but it’s not on Spotify.