BEST SHORT POP RECORDINGS OF ALL TIME (2:30 OR LESS)

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Compiling this list, as we looked over decades of music, we found ourselves asking, “What happened to the two minute pop song?”

In 2015, streaming became the best source of revenue in the music business.  In streaming, the shorter the song, the more it can be heard, and this equals more money.

So guess what’s happening?

Songs are getting shorter.

In 2000, the average song on the charts was over 4 minutes.

Now we’re down to about three and a half minutes, and two minute songs (and shorter) are beginning to pop up, again.

For almost 50 years, the two minute hit song has been dead.

Now it’s coming back.

Most of the songs on this list are from the 50s and 60s.

If you don’t see your favorite artist, it could be because they never made a mark under two and a half minutes.

We were very strict with this list.  The most glorious songs running to 2:31 were rejected.

At first, we set the standard at 2:06, the length of “Yesterday,” the pace setter, but too many short songs recorded by masters of brief hits would have been left out, so we settled on two and a half minutes—interminable, if one doesn’t happen to like the song, but still brief enough to meet the standard.

Elvis and the Beatles had hits under two minutes; these two famous acts produced many great songs in the ‘two minutes’ territory. (To keep the list from being dominated by the Beatles, we had to leave off All My Loving, She Loves You, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Martha My Dear, and many other favorites.) Producing a short recording isn’t easy for songwriters and bands to do. A 12 bar blues song tends to be at least three minutes. Most popular songs before and after (and during) the Elvis/early Beatles era were three or four minutes long. Groups like Devo, the Sex Pistols, the B-52s, and even the Ramones, usually took at least 3 minutes to say what they needed to say. Commercial reasons aside, one wonders: did the relatively short length of their songs (done consciously?) give Elvis and the Beatles a feverish, energetic boost as artists?

Whole decades are dominated by songs averaging four minutes in length—the whole philosophical, or just stylistic question, of the duration of a song, is a fascinating one. What if Mozart and Beethoven symphonies were all four minutes long—would these masters be considered “easy listening?”  How long do we want a song to be?  What imposes length? We think immediately of commercial air time, or now, commercial streaming time. But certainly aesthetics plays a part.

Two minutes is plenty of time to both tell a story and to feature intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and a short solo.  What else do we need?

Time is precious.  We are busy people.

So let’s get right to the list, in no particular order:

1. Yesterday -The Beatles  ~Paul McCartney, perhaps the happiest person on the planet, dreamed this brief gem of a broken-hearted song in the middle of Beatlemania.

2. Between The Bars -Elliott Smith ~This guy had a direct, poignant sound like no other.

3. You Don’t Own Me -Lesley Gore ~An early, operatic, feminist, masterpiece from the golden age of the short pop form.

4. Gin House Blues -Nina Simone  ~You probably don’t know this one. Off her early, great album “Forbidden Fruit.” It’s about gin. But does that matter?

5. All Shook Up -Elvis ~He ruled the short genre.

6. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want -The Smiths ~When you hear a song like this, you think, ‘Why does a song ever have to be long?”

7. White Rabbit -Jefferson Airplane  ~Is this song missing a chorus? Does it have a completely different structure, or does it just feel that way?

8. Universal Soldier -Buffy St. Marie ~This is more than a 60s anti-war song; it’s a whole soul cry.

9. The Good Life -Tony Bennett ~Even when pop songs were elegant, they featured lyrics which were partially a mystery. Please tell me what this song means!

10. Subterranean Homesick Blues -Bob Dylan This is one of his shortest. His pop genius tended to express itself in three to six minutes.

11. Ferry Cross the Mersey -Gerry and the Pacemakers ~The lilting, lazy (but brief) way to pop immortality.

12. A Day In The Life Of A Fool -Harry Belafonte ~Not his signature song, but a great version of a classic, the one version we found which clocks in under 2:30.

13. Georgy Girl -The Seekers ~Do they write swift, catchy, urbane, hopeful songs like this anymore?

14. Fly Me To The Moon -Frank Sinatra ~”Grown-up” music like Frank’s tended to run three and a half minutes long, not two. This one’s a little over two. Obviously there’s no hurrying Frank.

15. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) -Simon & Garfunkel ~A breezy, under-two-minutes, swirl of swooning, 60s harmonizing.

16. Summertime Blues -Eddie Cochran ~A teenage, working class, lament—from 1958, covered in a live recording by The Who, in 1967.

17. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat -Guys and Dolls ~A full but fast Broadway musical number of arch religious urgency.

18. Bad Moon Rising -Creedance Clearwater Revival ~Pure, neat, and rocking.

19. Immigrant Song -Led Zeppelin ~They led the FM radio, longer song, wave of earnest rock; this minor hit from their third album is uncharacteristically quick.

20. Fun Fun Fun -The Beach Boys ~No surprise that they had short songs.

21. People Are Strange -The Doors ~The bad boys of AM radio loved the long song almost more than anyone else. But they had structured pop brevity, too.

22. Elenore -The Turtles ~Joyous romanticism.

23. Sealed With A Kiss -Brian Hyland ~A very pretty song, with the perfect bridge.

24. She’s Not There -The Zombies ~Beatles plus Dylan. Add mood.

25. Everyday -Buddy Holly ~The nerd Elvis. Died at 24.

26. I Fought The Law -Bobby Fuller Four ~Rolling rhythm of iconoclasm.

27. Eleanor Rigby-The Beatles ~Bite-sized classical music

28. Play With Fire -The Rolling Stones ~The Stones tended to stretch out; in this early, brief song, they ply one of their common themes: telling a chick who’s boss.

29. Plays Pretty For Baby -Saosin ~This rocks beautifully for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

30. I Want To Hold Your Hand -The Beatles ~Their early hits get right to it; no lengthy intros, solos, or fade outs.

31. Teas -Donovan ~The most talented folk rocker of them all? Even this obscure song is great.

32. You Really Got Me -The Kinks ~Ray Davies began writing songs because he didn’t like the songs his talented band was covering. Great songwriting in the 60s was an amateur explosion.

33. The Needle and the Damage Done -Neil Young ~The somberest pleasure.

34. Dance Music -Mountain Goats ~Upbeat, hipster-era song with autobiographical feel.

35. Blister in the Sun -Violent Femmes ~Post-60s mannerism.

37. Blitzkrieg Bop -The Ramones ~When parody is so menacing and serious it’s good.

38. September Song -Nat King Cole ~A wonderful melancholy pop song and a wonderful melancholy  pop singer.

39. Let’s Twist Again -Chubby Checker ~Dance informs song in one way or another.

40. Falling In Love Again -Marlene Dietrich ~She’s had enough of you. But you want her.

41. Roll Over Beethoven -Chuck Berry ~It wasn’t true that Beethoven could be so good and  little pop numbers could also please. But it was true.

42. Blueberry Hill -Fats Domino ~When blues became pop.

43. Tutti Frutti -Little Richard ~A voice that goes through the roof even as electric is taking over the house.

44. La Bamba -Ritchie Valens ~The guitars on this song are fantastic—speaking Spanish or not.

45. Wake Up Little Susie -Everly Brothers ~Everything: Rock, country, folk, great guitar playing, great vocals, story, hooks.

46. Gucci Gang -Lil Pump ~A tiger laughs in this video, a recent hit which shows rap songs getting shorter. The 2 minute hit is returning.

47. Massachusetts -Bee Gees ~Their melody and vocals have great charm.

48. It’s Nothing To Me -Sanford Clark ~A barroom fight story.

49. Fell In Love With A Girl -White Stripes ~Snappy vocals and crunchy rock sound.

50. Communist Daughter -Neutral Milk Hotel ~Crunchy melancholy with a nice trumpet solo.

51. Lump -Presidents of the United States of America ~Hard and catchy.

52. Wrong Way -Sublime ~Tells a miserable story fast, with knock-about energy.

53. Letterbox -They Might Be Giants ~This song (1:26!) has a nice ‘wall of sound’ sound.

54. Game of Pricks -Guided By Voices ~A minute thirty of driving guitars and nice chord changes.

54. Danville Girl -Pete Seeger ~A sweet, melancholy, hobo song. A treasure.

55. Norwegian Wood -The Beatles ~Even as they became more sophisticated, they retained their early-days-knack for ravishing brevity.

56. It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie -The Ink Spots ~Insouciant (and influential) blues/rock & roll—they formed in 1932! One of the best vocal groups of all time.

57. Ain’t No Sunshine -Bill Withers ~1970s Smooth.

58. This Land is Your Land -Woody Guthrie ~Folk music for the U.S.A.

59. Rocky Top -The Osborne Brothers ~Fast and sweet.

60. Doo Wah Diddy Diddy -Manfred Mann ~A great vocal, and a really fun song.

61. Walk Like A Man -The 4 Seasons ~Your great-grandfather’s rock n’ roll.

62. Run Away -Del Shannon ~Melancholy romp.

63. Honky Tonk Blues –Hank Williams ~The Poet of Country Blues

64. He’s A Rebel -The Crystals ~That undying theme: the outsider rebel who woos.

65. Love Potion Number 9 -The Searchers ~A song doesn’t need much time to tell a story.

66. Come See About Me -Supremes ~Motown gals.

67. You Gave Your Love To Me Softly -Weezer ~A big, fuzzy sound over traditional structure.

68. Don’t Be Scared -Daniel Johnston ~Nice song. Sometimes being less scared matters.

69. Nervous Breakdown -Black Flag ~The lyrics, performance, and music sync up well.

70. Black Hole -The Urinals ~When a punk song has a certain softness, it’s always interesting.

71. Loneliness -The Residents ~The apocalypse: in a murky one minute and seven seconds.

72. Come In Stranger -Johnny Cash ~Country guitar over boogie woogie, and that voice!

73. Single Pigeon -Paul McCartney ~After the Beatles. The greatest pop songwriter of them all?

74. Untitled -Bauhaus ~Spooky war sounds and mumbles.

75. Colossal Youth -Young Marble Giants ~Toy instrumentation and girl vocal.

77. Moulin Rouge -Tim Buckley ~A trumpet, a bit of French, a sweet, vampy vocal.

78. Dean’s Dream -The Dead Milkmen ~Some punk is punk—but practiced with art.

79. Outdoor Miner -Wire ~Exquisite pop number which fades out at 1:45 just because it wants to.

80. Orchid -Black Sabbath ~Spanish guitar sound in a ‘less is more lesson’ from Tony Iommi.

81. 30 Century Man -Scott Walker ~”See the dwarfs and see the giants…” 89 seconds of pondering an attitude.

82. She’s A Hunchback -The Dickies ~One minute and twenty seven seconds of melodic, rhyming, punk genius.

83. Remember the Day -Sibylle Baier ~The winsome dream of girl and guitar, languid and sweet. She’s fantastic.

84. Follow God -Kanye West ~Self-assured enough to say big things casually and briefly.

85. It Never Was You -Lotte Lenya ~Married to the songwriter, Weil, who wrote for Brecht.

86. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas -Judy Garland ~Her voice was too valuable to waste on a two minute song, but we found this Christmas song…

87. Second Hand Rose -Barbra Streisand ~The hit maker; this is from “Funny Girl.”

88. Hit The Road Jack -Ray Charles ~Brightly Percussive, with call-and-response.

89. Yes Indeed -Drake & Lil Baby ~Rap, backgrounded by its music, splits the mind.

90. Lazy Confessions -The Moldy Peaches ~Breathless hipsterism.

91. The Letter -The Box Tops ~A sophisticated, multi-instrument, formula hit in just 2 minutes.

92. Mercedes Benz -Janis Joplin ~G-Eazy’s rap song samples Joplin’s throw-away rather well.

93. Go In -Bigklit ~A recent girl rapper moving into short song territory.

94. Stay -Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs ~The falsetto “won’t you stay?” still excites.

95. Because -Dave Clark Five ~Iconic British invasion band originally formed to fund their soccer team’s travels.

96. I’m Henry VIII I Am -Herman’s Hermits ~Rock and roll can be kids music.

97. Jumpin’ Judy -Erik Darling ~From the folk album “True Religion,” one of the best ever made.

98. Yakety Yak -The Coasters ~A ‘clean your room’ song, fun, socially real, but innocent, and under 2 minutes.

99. Walking My Baby Back Home -Johnnie Ray ~Would have preferred “Cry,” but it was a little too long.

100. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl -Donovan ~If you don’t appreciate the genius of Donovan where have you been?

101. Black-eyed Susie -Ralph Stanley ~A bluegrass tempo can fit everything into two minutes.

102. The Scarecrow -Pink Floyd ~This band will always be Syd.

103. What’s New Pussycat -Tom Jones ~All that excitement in 2:09!

104. It’s Only A Paper Moon -Ella Fitzgerald ~”It’s a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phoney as it can be, but it wouldn’t be make-believe, if you believed in me.” A classic. And we cheated. The final note of this complex arrangement sounds at 2:32. For Ella we’ll do anything.

 

WHAT IS POETRY?

A poem is an imaginative fiction, and though it may aim at a kind of truth, it is not real; it is not the truth.

The poet never necessarily endorses what he imagines in his poems.

A poet is essentially a playwright or a story-teller. Shakespeare is not himself guilty of mayhem, because he put mayhem in his plays.

The mind that imagines is not the hand that does. The author is never the persons imagined.

Countless authors have used their own experience to recount crimes in the first person. Of course this does not mean they are guilty of anything. A society would not be free if it prevented authors from making imaginative fictions.

Think of all the songs that sing of things not necessarily condoned by the singer or the songwriter. Poems, like songs, like stories, like plays, are finally not real; that’s why they belong to creative writing.

There are some, who have almost no imagination themselves, who would judge a poet harshly by that poet’s fictions—fictions meant to shine light on life by dint of imaginative thought, seeking to understand and cure the world’s ills, the very ones which most afflict those who have no imaginations, those who, ironically, imagine that a fiction is entirely real.

Unfortunately, poetry is increasingly taught in our schools as something which is not imaginative, but either a collection of facts or the real voice of a real person speaking. The imaginative virtue, in this case, is replaced by a different virtue, a virtue that is virtuous precisely because it has no imagination at all.  Either the poem makes no sense (without sense, there is no imagination) exhibits some political opinion found in any newspaper, or is a kind of memoir in which the poem’s speaker is precisely relating a real incident from real life. The imagination is nowhere to be found.

The virtue which is virtuous because it has no imagination is a necessary virtue, and there should be no objection to it: ‘virtue without imagination’ accompanies duty and loyalty and obedience of every kind, and society as we know it would be impossible without this kind of simple virtue.

But this kind of simple virtue has nothing to do with imaginative writing.

This does not mean that the imaginative cannot be moral and virtuous, in the final analysis, and in fact, it should be, but it is moral in a different manner; it arrives at the good in a more round-about way; as in Dante’s famous poem, hell may have to be visited before heaven is gained. In the imaginative fiction, “hell” is both real and not real.

Great poets have been exiled. Mixing real with unreal, the real they include may still offend. Imaginative writing, which comes close to the real, includes this risk. The ‘scary’ real mingles with the ‘scary’ fiction.

But in the end, it is fiction, and, if it is good fiction, it overcomes the scary, it does not support the scary, for the imagination is guided by the ultimate truth or good, if it is good. The imaginative writer, using the bad occasionally, strives to be good. Not because the writer is ‘honest,’ as in writing a truthful memoir, or because the writer expresses a desire to ‘save the whales,’ but because the fiction is a fiction which participates in a truth expressed in a highly imaginative manner, so that the expression itself is as important as the thing expressed, the power of the expression giving a kind of license to say what people may think but are afraid, or too embarrassed to say, the embarrassment existing not because of who the poet is, but because of the world’s shortcomings. The poet is not expressing his thoughts, but in the imaginative act of the fiction, the thoughts of everyone. This is the purpose of imagination: to go out of ourselves in a moral act and identify with the world, to identify with the intrigues and secrets and welfare of the world, for the sake of the world.

I have been influenced by the work of Dorothy Parker, one of the best poets of the 20th century. The last stanza of her poem, “Love Song,” goes like this:

My love runs by like a day in June
And he makes no friend of sorrows.
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon
in the pathways of the morrows.
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
My own dear love, he is all my heart,—
And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

Parker is madly in love with a man who will not sit still long enough to love her, and the torture is such that she wishes somebody would kill him. We don’t know how real, in this particular case, this sentiment is, but we do know that this precise sentiment could be real, and this very sentiment could be Parker’s precise state of mind.

But since, as readers, we know it is a poem, we identify abstractly with its sentiment; we call it real and yet unreal, and don’t equate it with any actual behavior of Parker’s. As we live in a free society, we do not censor; we allow both Dorothy Parker and her poem complete freedom, with the democratic conviction that a society which suppresses fictional expressions of this kind will be a society which has less creativity and more violence.

Scarriet holds to this principle of free expression: we carefully and deliberately produce work that could be true, but which is not true; no person, place, or thing is ever identified so that a stranger might identify the truth of its content in any way; only its truth as an inspired fiction exists; a Scarriet love poem could be about any love; the universal sentiment is always the subject, never a particular individual in a particular circumstance. The imaginative poem is the only poem we allow to be published here.

Shelley said the secret of morals was love, for love makes us passionately identify with another person.

Romantic attraction, or love, used to be the staple of lyric poetry, but imagination is required to make love interesting, and the non-imaginative poetry of today is not up to the task.

First, since love has been written about so often, the challenge to be original is greater.

Second, romance has become problematic in modern times, just as romance.

Third, since poetry now exists most influentially in the college classroom, it behooves professors to make poetry a subject that feels more modern, and expresses the sort of social change college campuses are simmering with; thus love poetry is tacitly rejected as too simplistic and old-fashioned, too associated with popular music, and so essentially not serious.

Fourth, social media has created a firestorm of private-turned-public, take-no-prisoners, gossip which pries into slightly uncomfortable private feelings with a judgmental animus never before seen in history, and since original romance effusions are bound to entertain slightly, or even deeply, uncomfortable private feelings, the love poet may just throw in the towel altogether, and instead write poems on very simple subjects, like history, politics, and philosophy.

Imagine if the Beatles were told they couldn’t write love songs; the Beatles simply would not exist.

The result, today, is that poetry finds itself in a state of confusion, exiled from all song, or lyric, elements, and struggling, as “poetry” to make a prose more meaningful than—prose. Which, obviously, cannot be done.

Look at these lyrics from one of the Beatles’ best-known albums, Rubber Soul, released in 1965, the height of Beatlemania, in which the Beatles were also striving to be more sophisticated:

“Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man, you better keep your head, little girl, or I won’t know where I am.” —Lennon & McCartney

This is from the songwriters that would go on to produce “Imagine” and “Let It Be” and “Here Comes The Sun.” Imagine if a would-be John Lennon wrote a poem like that today, and it ended up on Facebook. “Run For Your Life” was influenced by an Elvis Presley song, and has been covered numerous times. What is the difference between a song and a poem? Should poets be held to the same standards as songwriters, recording artists, and other ‘creative writers,’ and what should those standards be? Should all creative writing, whether a movie script, a short story, a song, or a poem, be held to the same moral standard, whether or not it appears in a cinema watched by millions, or on some poor wretch’s blog?

If I make something up, which nonetheless has some resemblance to reality, in a poem, is this not the same as a major-release film depicting precisely the same thing, with the only difference that the latter costs millions of dollars to make, and employs thousands of people? It may just be that the film will be considered an elaborate fiction, no matter how horrific the content, but with the way poetry is increasingly read and judged these days, the poet, it will be assumed, is somehow responsible in his own person, as the filmmakers are not, for any offensive content that is part of the fiction.

Can censors say, “You may write about love, but you may not depict hateful things like jealousy?” No poems or songs like “Run For Your Life?” No ambiguity of desire allowed? Where do we draw the line, when it comes to imaginative fictions, in keeping a society creative and free? And can we ever justly assume something about an author’s personal character—think of our Shakespeare example—based on their imaginative fiction?

Look at what Plato demanded for his Republic: poems that only praise. (Plato, contrary to popular opinion, did not ban all kinds of poetry from his ideal society.) A song like “Run For Your Life” would be banned, because threatening to kill your girlfriend is not praising her.

It didn’t matter to Plato that Lennon wrote a song about an unnamed girl. What mattered was purely the bad emotions involved. Yet Aristotle would say these “emotions” are a vital part of art’s expressive good.

Was Plato right?

How imaginative/expressive/creative are we allowed to be?

We believe we have made it clear where Scarriet stands.

If Scarriet has ever strayed, in any way, from our rigorous standard,—we are human, after all, and poetry is a passionate and extremely difficult art—we apologize, without reservation.

JUSTIN BIEBER’S BLACK VALENTINE

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)  might have the best poem in Rita Dove’s 20th Century Poetry Anthology

Did anyone notice that Justin Bieber mentioned Phillis Wheatley on Saturady Night Live last night?

The producers of SNL decided to have a little fun with Justin Bieber, who like many pop stars before him (most famously Elvis Presley and British Invasion blues rock bands) is a white person cashing in on a ‘black vibe’ for an exciting (raunchy?) public appeal.

There’s nothing complicated about this.

It’s the combination all of us want: Safe, yet dangerous: I’m actually very nice—but that doesn’t mean you can  fuck with me. 

Or: I’m blessed with x or y talent—but that doesn’t mean I had it completely easy. 

Or, I’m glorious—but love and sympathize with those not as glorious as I am.

This is the combining that is at the heart of all social activity and all poetry.

Which is why it never gets old.

SNL wryly pointed out that Valentine’s Day occurs during Black History Month, as they had Bieber, in his SNL introduction, wooing girls in the audience with roses and Black History Month facts: “Did you know Maya Angelou invented the peanut?”

One of Black History’s fixtures, Phillis Wheatley lived and died in the 18th century, was a pre-American slave shipped from West Africa by the British to their American colony, was highly educated and became a famous poet while living in Boston in the care of her affectionate master and family.  She wrote poetry like this:

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

She supported the American Revolution and her work was praised by George Washington.  She was emancipated, married a free black, but died, with two infant children, due to poverty and illness, in 1784.

Phillis Wheatley’s story is complex.

There are lives, and even artistic sensibilities, which shame the easy attempt to profit from combinations put together in too contrived and glib a manner.

Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Centruy American Poetry has been attacked by Helen Vendler and Marjorie Perloff as being too black.

Vendler complained too many poets—and not enough poems by Wallace Stevens—were included.  This is not even worthy of a response, and Dove was correct not to work up any sort of substantial one.

The Perloff camp wanted more experimental poets in the anthology.

But the experimental crowd couldn’t care less for wonderful poems like the one below, included by Dove in her anthology, written by the African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Vendler doesn’t deserve a response; this will do as a response to Perloff:

Life’s Tragedy

It may be misery not to sing at all
And to go silent through the brimming day.
It may be sorrow never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To have come near to sing the perfect song
And only by a half–tone lost the key,
There is the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of life’s tragedy.

To have just missed the perfect love,
Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lays aside its vanity
And gives thee, for thy trusting worship, truth—

This, this it is to be accursed indeed;
For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by the things we have,
But by what kept us from the perfect thing.

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