The Perfect Song Length

Over on The Morning News, Joshua Allen has written this humorous and eloquent article on the perfect song length. The crux of his point is that song writing should be to the point – conveying what it needs to and avoiding the superfluous. He makes a good case for his argument, backing up the ideal running time of 2 minutes and 42 seconds with such examples as The Beatles’ Lovely Rita and California Dreamin’ by Mama and the Papas.

So I booted up iTunes and decided to take a look through my own playlist and see whether my own music collection supports Joshua’s theory.

There were just seven songs on my playlist that hit the 2:42 mark exactly. Here are the three that really stood out for me.
First up is Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry. For those of you who don’t know your classic rock or never watched Back To The Future, Johnny B. Goode is a hard hitting bluesy rock song. It tells the story of guitar protégée Johnny over three succinct verses and the solo is just long enough to impress and to support the songs concept. All up it is a fantastic and perfectly crafted song.

Now for something completely different – Mister Richard Smoker by Ween. For the most part, it follows the same structure as Johnny B. Goode: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus. The only difference is that Mister Richard Smoker starts with the chorus and the last chorus is an extended outro. It’s an equally great song of a very different tone.

Lastly I want to look at Suicide Life by Eels. It’s a nice song – but it’s also repetitive with a verse-chorus-verse structure with nothing to break it up and a slow tempo. It may be the perfect length, but it’s definitely not a perfect song. It’s interesting because that song is from their 2005 album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations which was filled with songs around the two to three minute mark. And I’d have to say that was a definite weakness of the album – too many songs of a similar length and ordinary structure. It was still a good album, but it had its highs and lows. Take a look at a song like Mother Mary from the same album. It’s forty seconds longer, but because of the tempo, solo and breakdown it’s a much more successful song. It’s also got a wickedly vibrant sound whereas Suicide Life is more morose. But then there’s Blinking Lights (For Me) – a two minute song which is also morose, but is more interesting for having a more developed melody then Suicide Life.

What about everyone else? What noteworthy tracks on your personal soundtrack hit the 2:42 mark?

Also, a song like Chocolate Rain seems to go forever.

With thanks to Luke for replacing my network card. Yay for internets.

Article photo from Retronaut.