The popular Western song is typically done on a three-and-a-half-minute model. This allows for a full cycle of verses and chorus. These five songs demonstrate that a song can be complete in less time than that.
If brevity be the soul of wit, then these songs are genius. As a fan of progressive rock, jazz and other genres that lend themselves to the creation of masterpieces that are 10, or 20 minutes long, easily, I started to think about the shortest songs. What are they, and what do they matter in the canon of Western music? I knew that the Minor Threat classic, “Straight Edge” was a tiny blip of a song, but were there others?
I have compiled a short list. They’re arranged in order from longest to shortest:
5. “Song 2” by Blur (2:03)
This song is from the group’s 1997 self-titled album. It is an intense nugget of a song that fans wish would repeat itself at least once more. After all, as the longest song on the list, it wouldn’t take much more for “Song 2” to obtain the length of a “normal” tune. But listeners accept what they are given. This exciting little song succeeds by varying intensity, volume, and coupling that with interesting lyrics that are fun to sing. The pulsing, hollow-sounding drums and guitar motif set listeners up for the almost-screamed delivery of the lyrics. The guitar is like a clock ticking down to the song’s explosive chorus. This change in intensity happens a total of three times in the song. Which is a lot, considering how short “Song 2” is overall. An exhilarating stomp of a song.
4. “Dreamboat Annie” by Heart (2:01)
The Wilson sister’s 1976 debut album had its fair share of classics. “Magic Man” is a favorite of many from this release. But if we are only to discuss short songs, then that leaves title track, “Dreamboat Annie.” This is a delicate masterpiece that is as close to Sandy Denny-esque folk as the Wilsons are going to get. The poetic lyrics, the halcyon guitar, the thoughtful bass, all sound as if it is the lead in to something else, but then, it isn’t. The song that sounds like the tail-end of a dream unspooling, comes to a gentle, but somehow abrupt end at two minutes and one second.
3. “Mercedes-Benz” by Janis Joplin (1:47)
The song is from Joplin’s second solo album, “Pearl.” It was released January 1971, a few months after Joplin’s death. It is a stripped-down commentary on America’s consumerism and misuse of faith. Joplin’s voice is raw, clear, and full of homespun desperation. A simple drum click marks the rhythm. Joplin’s vocals carry the musical weight of the song, forcing listeners to consider every word.
2. “What’s My Name” by The Clash (1:41)
From the album, “The Clash,” “What’s My Name” is the group’s railing against social rejection and domestic abuse, which the narrator suffers to such an extent that he forgets his name. Driving bass, searing guitar and classic punk drumming lure audiences into settling down for a song of standard length. In that way, they are disappointed. However, a great deal happens in the short span of this song. Apparently, three minutes or more is not necessary for the making of a punk classic.
1. “Straight Edge” by Minor Threat (0:46)
The group’s self-titled album includes this mosh-pit classic of less than one minute. For 46 seconds, raw, punk power is harnessed in lacerating guitars, heavy drumming, and screamed vocals and backing vocals. The song is either named for a punk subculture that eschews substance abuse and premarital sex, or the subculture is named after it, the debate continues 36 years later. Either way, the underground public service announcement has a message audiences might miss if they can’t make out the rapid-fire lyrics.
And there they are: 5 songs you could listen to in less than ten minutes. The entries here represent a span of genres to some extent—they are all forms of rock music. And, they come from different decades. These songs prove that they don’t have to be long to be meaningful. A shorter song packs all its energy in a capsule of sound, and true fans have no problem putting these favorites on “repeat.”