Episode 23 - Songs Under Two Minutes Long

The short song, when executed to perfection, is a miracle of precision.

The archetypal short song collection is perhaps The Commercial Album by The Residents. The enigmatic group reasoned that since songs were essentially a verse and a chorus repeated three times, why not just do one verse and one chorus and stop there? The result was an album in which none of the tracks last more than a minute. Perversely the track played in the podcast is Japanese Watercolour - an instrumental.

However there's a reason that things are the way they are. The human ear needs the story to evolve, and three minutes feels "about right". Well, it does now, but worth noting that few of The Beatles early songs lasted more than two minutes. Then fast forward to punk and Wire's Pink Flag dealt largely in miniature masterpieces, of which at 1:18 Fragile is a wonderful example. Similarly The Clash's first album.

The power pop lo-fi movement of the early 90s in the U.S. stripped back songwriting to its essentials yet again, and there is a marvellous trio of songs featured from that era by The Lemonheads, Guided By Voices, and then a Pavement track to finish which is all of one minute long: I Love Perth (don't we all?).

Jonathan Franzen or Dickens or Zola are what you come back to night after night, and those are the stories in which we lose ourselves. But there's a lot to be said for saying what's on your mind, getting in and getting out. There's no room for manoeuvre or indulgence or digression. You wouldn't want all music to be this concise, of course. But in the same way a Raymond Carver short story is breathtaking in its economy, Fell In Love With A Girl or Final Day or Girlfriend In A Coma or Forever Drone are all the better for being neither one note shorter or longer.

And, on top of everything else, you get 24 tracks in one episode.


Fell in love with a girl, The White Stripes

Mayday, The Libertines

Something against you, Pixies

Rockin' Stroll, The Lemonheads

Motor Away, Guided By Voices 

I Love Perth, Pavement

My only friend, The Magnetic Fields 

Underbelly, Wild Beasts

Girlfriend in a coma, The Smiths 

Velocity Girl, Primal Scream

King of carrot flowers Pt 1, Neutral Milk Hotel

Never talking to you again, Husker Du 

Forever Drone, Josef K 

Fragile, Wire 

Final Day, Young Marble Giants

Detail for Paul, The Durutti Column

Another green world, Brian Eno 

Japanese Watercolour, The Residents

This aint no picnic, The Minutemen

Love Song, The Damned

Vaseline, Elastica

New baby boom, Black Box Recorder

How can we hang on to a dream?, Tim Hardin 

True love will find you in the end, Daniel Johnston