I’ve written before about the often accidental joys of musical discoveries; how U2 are successors to Queen, the enormous spectrum of ‘silly love songs’. Back in The Day I was an avid fan of making Compilation Tapes, full of intensity and meaning, teenage angst and young love. However, my favourite playlist these days has a much simpler approach: all the songs are under three minutes long.
Three minutes used to be a benchmark for radio-friendly pop singles. Enough time for a couple of verses and choruses, a bridge section and restatement of the main idea. Plenty of time to tell a story, evoke a mood, make us feel something. Now I like a good 6-minute epic as much as the next man: I’ve been an unapologetic fan of Queen, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Rush & Genesis in my time. But right now, I’ll keep it brief.
Harry Connick Jr – It had to be You (2’41”). From the wonderful When Harry Met Sally soundtrack. If we’d had a first dance at our wedding, this might well have been it.
Blur – Song 2 (2’00”). A wonderful thrash of a song, beloved of sports montage compilers everywhere.
The Jam – Start (2’14”). The song that really brought The Jam to my consciousness; I love its screeching, percussive guitar and the driving bass line.
The Arctic Monkeys – Riot Van (2’14”). On their first album these guys told better stories in barely two minutes than many bands can in half an hour.
The Beatles – Paperback Writer (2’18”). The Beatles started off writing pretty much everything under 3 minutes. This isn’t my favourite song from their early singles (I think I prefer I Feel Fine) but it fits better in this list, and I love the guitar riff.
The White Stripes – Blue Orchid (2’38”). Stripped, loud, just about keeps time, another awesome riff.
The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t it be Nice (2’25”). God Only Knows is just about my all-time favourite song of any length, but this is another gem, with tremendous vocals and a wonderful evocation of young love.
Dusty Springfield – Spooky (2’35”), Does anyone sing more sexily than Dusty?
Simon & Garfunkel – 7 O’Clock News / Silent Night (2’05”). An early mash-up? Brilliant overlay of Vietnam-era news headlines over Art Garfunkel’s haunting, clear chorale.
Nina Simone – To Love Somebody (2’39”). Nina Simone is a legend. That is all.
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me to The Moon (2’29”). Fill my heart with song, let me sing forever more. You are all I long for, all I worship and adore…
Bob Dylan – I’ll be your Baby Tonight (2’41”). It took a lot for me to choose this over Subterranean Homesick Blues, but this is proof that Bob Dylan most definitely CAN sing.
Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army (2’57”). Apparently this was his response to ABBA’s Dancing Queen. I loved it when I was 9, and my daughters love it too. Brilliant pop music.
Stevie Wonder – You are the Sunshine of my Life (2’56”). This song will always be part of me. I’ve sung it over and over to my daughters while rocking them to sleep. And I still love it.
KT Tunstall – Black Horse and The Cherry Tree (2’52”). I saw her perform this on her own on Jools Holland’s show, recording layers of effects, percussion and backing vocals in sequence live on stage, before starting the song proper. This was her first UK TV appearance, and apparently she was only booked at 24 hours notice. Fantastic.
Aretha Franklin – You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman) (2’45”). Just listen to it, and understand.
Amy Winehouse – Love is a Losing Game (2’35”). Borrowing heavily from Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and others, Amy Winehouse tells her own tales of tragedy, beautifully. Listen to this acoustic version. She can really sing.
Nancy Sinatra – These Boots are Made for Walking (2’42”). I love how the arrangements build and build throughout the song. I defy you not to be tapping your feet and humming along by the end…
Jimi Hendrix – Crosstown Traffic (2’13”). What a start. 90 miles an hour, baby, is the speed I drive…
The Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (2’53”). A wonderful companion to Riot Van, this is the start of the evening that ends being chased by men with truncheons dressed in hats. Wonderful, driving power chords and tremendous, witty lyrics. What a finish.
20 songs in less than 51 minutes.