As a fan of Prog Rock, Jazz and occasional forays into ‘classical’ works, I’m not intimidated by length, grandiosity and musical indulgence. If a band wants to create a rock opera sprawling out across four sides of vinyl (or two CDs) I’m up for that – assuming they can maintain the quality, which, let’s face it, is the exception rather than the rule. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Genesis), The Whirlwind (Transatlantic), No Roots (Faithless), Marbles (Marillion) and Mother (Goldie) are fine examples of ‘Symphonic’ works from popular artists that manage to hold my attention from beginning to end. Extended improvisation? Even trickier territory in my experience. Fine, if you’ve got the chops – and more importantly, the soul and the ideas – to keep it interesting. Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, Talk Talk and Liquid Tension Experiment have employed variations on this approach with a level of success which most ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ musicians would struggle to match.
And yet, for all that, there are times when I just don’t have the attention span, and brevity has its own merits: I’m oftentimes equally, or even more impressed by musical artists’ more concise offerings, whether they consist of a single idea fleetingly and perfectly captured, or several interwoven threads pulling in seemingly disparate directions only to tie up neatly in the last few bars (or indeed, not). Either way, it’s remarkable where a song can take you in a relatively short space of time.
I was partly inspired by a recent Tea Time Theme Time on BBC Radio 6 Music. This is a regular feature on the Radcliffe and Maconie show, whereby a listener will email the show with a selection of three songs with a common theme which other listeners must divine whilst the songs are playing. The theme that day was ‘songs under two minutes’ so adopted that as my arbitrary benchmark – though one or two songs exceed that, whist several are somewhat shorter. Here’s a ‘top ten’ from me, beginning with two very different offerings from the prolific pen of American Indie Godfather, Bob Mould.
Whether sweet or sharp and shocking, enjoy (and feel free to reply with suggestion of your own)!
And is this the shortest ‘song’ ever? Anybody come across a one -second song?