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December 10, 2004


Following up on Wednesday's Three Minute Perfect Pop entry, Chad Orzel observes on his site: "Of course, the real test is to see whether 3:00 is a more 'pop' song length than some other, so we need a control list to compare to." His control list is for songs that run four minutes and thirty three seconds, which aside from being 93 seconds longer than three minutes is a crafty little in-joke for music geeks. This time pops up some interesting songs for Chad, including "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" by Steely Dan and "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow, and a number of other people pitch in with their on Cage matches (as it were) including me. It's a good sampling, although based on what I see there I would have to say that for pure pop satisfaction, three minutes has 4'33" beat.

But let's approach the "perfect length for perfect pop" question from another angle -- let's start with a song that embodies perfect pop, figure out how long it is, and then see if other perfect pop songs are also that length.

As it happens, I have a fine candidate for pop perfection: "There She Goes" by The La's, which most people know better by its fairly recent remake by Sixpence None the Richer. For my money, "There She Goes" is nearly impossible to beat in its pop perfection: from the tips of its chiming guitars to the bottom of its blissful lyrics, it simply doesn't get any better than this. If aliens came down and said that we had just shade under three minutes to justify our existence or we'd be evaporated -- well, I wouldn't necessarily suggest playing this song, but I might suggest someone put it on in the background while we boot up Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer.

"There She Goes" -- both The La's and SNTR versions -- clocks in at 2:42. We go to the iTunes again, and ladies and gentlemen, we strike gold:

* "Johnny B Goode" by Chuck Berry
* "Michelle" by The Beatles
* "Don't Do Me Like That" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
* "Breakdown," ibid
* "Help Me" by Concrete Blonde
* "Crazy" by Patsy Cline
* "Tears of a Clown" the version by The (English) Beat
* "Sunday's Coming On" by Marc Teamaker (no, you don't know who he is. Trust me, it's good)

Check it yourself -- 2:42 has got the perfect pop goods. I await your verification.

Posted by john at December 10, 2004 12:01 AM

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Michael Rawdon | December 10, 2004 01:36 AM

Tracks in my iTunes clocking in at 2:42: Elton John, "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock n Roll"; The Beatles, "Lovely Rita"; Jethro Tull, "Driving Song", Shirley Bassey, "Diamonds Are Forever", The Beatles, "Michelle"; Yes, "The Fish"; The Who, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"; Nanci Griffith, "Anyone Can Be Somebody's Fool"

At 3:00: The Beatles, "The Ballad of John and Yoko"; Men Without Hats, "Fall Down Gently"; Carole King, "I Feel The Earth Move"; Thompson Twins, "Future Days"; Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Walk on the Ocean"; Boston, "Rock n Roll Band";

At 4:33: Jethro Tull, "Crew Nights"; Rush, "Chain Lightning"; Joshua Redman, "Faith"; Richard & Linda Thompson, "Back Street Slide"; The Who, "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"; Elton John, "Bitter Fingers"; Howard Jones, "Bounce Right Back"

Interesting sets. For my money, the best tracks here are "Walk on the Ocean" and "Crew Nights".

So why the heck is the comment system ignoring all my attempts at formatting? (At least in Preview mode.)

Tim Walters | December 10, 2004 01:49 AM

No time to sort through all of my 2:42 tracks, but the ones that jump out are:

I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash)
Lucky Number (Lene Lovich)
Walk Away Renee (The Left Banke)

It doesn't get more perfect-pop than that.

Michael Rawdon | December 10, 2004 02:20 AM

Pi (3:14) is also a good length for pop songs:

* Fleetwood Mac, "Don't Stop"
* Toad the Wet Sprocket, "Come Down"
* Squeeze, "Cool for Cats"
* The Beatles, "Get Back"
* Nanci Griffith, "Drive-in Movies and Dashboard Lights"
* Steeleye Span, "Thomas the Rhymer"
* The Police, "Roxanne"

Mitch Wagner | December 10, 2004 02:31 AM


- "Signed, Sealed & Delivered," Stevie Wonder.

- "Mama Tried," Grateful Dead

- "Homeward Bound," Simon & Garfunkel

- "Birthday," the Beatles.


- "Somebody To Love," Jefferson Airplane

- "Night and Day," Billie Holiday


- "Forever Autumn," Moody Blues.

I don't even recognize half of these, and they're on my own damn iPod.

The Grateful Dead song kicks ass. I could listen to that all day.

Tim Walters | December 10, 2004 03:06 AM

Michael, you should upgrade your copy of Now We Are Six. The uncut version of "Thomas The Rhymer" is 6:43.

Nick | December 10, 2004 03:38 AM

23 tracks @ 3mins, 15 @ 4:33 and 26 @ 2:42
Sadly, only about 4 are even in the running.

But what's the music geek in joke?

Byron | December 10, 2004 04:05 AM

Hrmmm, my 2:42 songs are pretty violent for Pop. "Destroyer" Messah, "Teenage Angst" Placebo, "Tonight the Stars Revolt!" Powerman 5000, and "How to Kill" The Art of Noise. Of course, "I Will Always" The Cranberries, "Girl" Frente!, "Sunday 8pm" Faithless, "Do What?" Squirrel Nut Zippers and "Journey's End" Clannad mitigate it somewhat. None particularly scream 'Pop' the way "There She Goes" does...

At 3:00 we do a bit better... "I've been waiting for you" David Bowie, "P.A.C.O!" Ladytron, "The Fool On The Hill" The Beatles, and "Mrs. Train" They Might Be Giants, I think count. "Master Race" by New Model Army is in there, but I mention it because I like the song, not because its quintessential pop. :-) There are more than at 2:42 so I won't list them all.

At 4:33 we get... well, I don't really see anything that would count as Pop. GnR's "Welcome to the Jungle" (it was popular at least) clocks in at 4:33. As do several Tom Waits songs (not pop at all). Oh wait, "Houses in Motion" The Talking Heads.

James | December 10, 2004 04:09 AM

It would seem to me that you could establish a minimum and maximum time for a song to qualify as "pop" and I'd bet you'd find many songs that fit at each second increment. I'd try it, but alas I haven't yet reached I-pod status. Back inside the cave...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 10, 2004 07:39 AM

2' 42" also gets you the Beatles' "Yesterday," which whatever you think of it is certainly popular; it's their most-covered song.

Also in my 2' 42" list: "April in Paris" by Count Basie, and "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas.

JamesG | December 10, 2004 07:56 AM

Oddly enough not a single song from the band Front242 shows up under my 2:42 songs.

Vardibidian | December 10, 2004 08:33 AM

James -- oddly enough, after noting your ipodlessness, I glanced at the top of the page and thought it said "Taunting the Turntable Since 1998". It seemed, I don't know, harsh.

As for 2:42, it has some pop classics ("Messed Around", "Don't Do Me Like That", "Hey Tonight", "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw" and "Cheese and Onions") but a lot more stuff that isn't even trying to be pop ("Vek Nisht", "How the other Half Lives", "Lover of my Dreams", "Married", and "Put on your Old Grey Bonnet). Odd.


Ryan Bayne | December 10, 2004 11:15 AM

Goodness (but not necessarily pure pop satisfaction) at 2:42:

Celebrity Skin - Hole
Nothing in this World Can Stop Me Worrin' Bout That Girl - The Kinks
She Ain't Pretty - The Northern Pikes (Canadian, but still gets the most airplay of any of their songs here)
You Need Love - Muddy Waters


Execution Day - The New Pornographers
Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf) and U-Mass - The Pixies
Miss World - Hole
Don't Worry About the Government - Talking Heads

Nothing exciting at 4:33, but The Weight by The Band is 4:34...

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 10, 2004 11:45 AM


"Echos Myron" -- Guided By Voices
"Pink Turns to Blue" -- Husker Du
"Loiue Louie" as covered by Motorhead

"Johnathan David" by Belle and Sebastian

"Rockville" by REM
(I suppose "Heartwork" by Carcass is probably not pop)

Jeff Z | December 10, 2004 01:14 PM

I'm sure glad I have "There She Goes" - both versions - in my iPod, because I was so crushed by your take on "Rock 'N' Roll Band" by Boston, which is a song I like a lot. I feel somewhat redeemed today.

*Sigh* I embrace my love of Cheese. Because Happy Cows come from California...

Randy | December 10, 2004 01:56 PM

Media Player 2:42 (My PC is overpopulated with Christmas music at the present time, so I'll leave those out)

Jimmy Buffett.....Why don't we get drunk?
Fabulous Thunderbirds......Wrap it up
Black Oak Arkansas.......Jim Dandy
Beatles.......Yellow Submarine

(At least that's what it says)

Fabulous Thunderbirds...Powerful Stuff

Ripped from CD, Rikki don't lose that number checks in at 4:32

Kristy | December 10, 2004 04:03 PM

Clearly I need more pop and less movie scores on my lab computer, because I don't seem to be striking gold anywhere.

Thanks for the snerk about 4:33, though!

(since no one seems to have answered Nick's plea for understanding yet: 4'33" is a famous minimalist piece by John Cage wherein someone sits at a piano for 4'33" and doesn't play a single note (occasionally, turning pages of music).)

Steve Eley | December 10, 2004 04:26 PM

For an excess of context, see:

Dave | December 10, 2004 04:59 PM

Much of my 2:42 stuff has been mentioned by others. I think I overlap about 60% with Chad Orzel for instance, and "Pink Turns To Blue" as referenced by Phillip above is a great poppable punk song.

A few others:

Love Ain't Nothin' - Robbie Fulks
Hurtin' Song - BR-549 (looks like a good length for alt-country)
Delicions Demon - Sugarcubes
Train To Ska-Ville - The Ethiopians (gotta love the ska...)

I suppose "The Great River" off the LotR soundtrack doesn't quite qualify as pop.

Also a notable shout-out to "Screen Door" by Uncle Tupelo... which barely misses at 2:43. Drat.

Dave | December 10, 2004 05:01 PM

Yeah, that would be "Delicious Demon."

Jeff | December 10, 2004 05:21 PM

2:42 is pretty boring (one song: "Painter Song", Norah Jones) but 2:41 and 2:43 are pretty good:

"9 Fingers on You", Shudder to Think. Wouldn't call it pop, but it's a great song. Still... no.
"Secret Agent Man", The Toasters. Ska cover of the classic. The Toasters kick ass. Yes.
"Skaternity", The Toasters. Hey, whaddya know? Yes.
"Green Disease", Pearl Jam. Hm... probably no.
"Waltz", Hem. Not pop.
"Forever Blue", Chris Isaak. Lot of songs on this album would qualify, but not this one.
"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard", Paul Simon. Yes, yes and furthermore, yes.
"With a Little Help From My Friends", The Beatles. You bet.

4:33 --
"King Tide", Neil Finn. Neil Finn is a master of great pop songs. Yes.
"Like a Mighty Rose", Vince Guaraldi Trio. Nope.
"Where I End and You Begin", Radiohead. A bit too dismal, but for Radiohead, it comes awfully close.

Jake McGuire | December 10, 2004 05:39 PM

Oddly enough three songs from my Creedence Chronicles, Vol. 1 album are 2:42 long.

On the other hand, so are the Me First and the Gimme Gimme's covers of "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard" and "Nothing Compares 2 U". Which are both something like, if not exactly, pop genius.

Brian Greenberg | December 10, 2004 06:20 PM

OK, I've been reading this thread on my blackberry, with no access to ITunes, so I haven't been able to put my $.02, but I will say this:

In perhaps the greatest song *ABOUT* pop songs, The Entertainer, Billy Joel says, "It was a beautiful song but it ran too long, if you're gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05."

Is he right? Any gold at 3:05?

John Scalzi | December 10, 2004 06:46 PM

Yeah. At 3:05, among others:

"Here Comes the Sun" -- The Beatles
"Brass in Pocket" -- The Pretenders
"That's The Way (I Like It)" -- KC & The Sunshine
"Helpless" -- Sugar
"You Might Think" -- The Cars

And also "Imagine" by John Lennon, which is not perfect pop, but which is a damn fine song.

A fine roster, although not as robust as 2:42 in my opinion.

Anonymous | December 10, 2004 09:38 PM

Hmm... I think this question demands further experimentation. Someone should go through their collection, find the songs that they classify as perfect pop, and record the duration of each one... see if there's a specific time that has a lot of candidates, or a neat little cluster around some other time. Though you would require a pretty good sample size, and this would take a fair amount of time. Unfortunately, my appetite for pop music is pretty much satisfied by music that other people play around me, so I have little if anything in my music collection that would qualify as perfect pop.

And to be a pedantic music geek - strictly speaking, 4:33 isn't a minimalist work; Cage considered "silence" or natural noise to be the ultimate surrender to indeterminacy (essentially musical randomness).

lazybratsche | December 10, 2004 09:38 PM

Bah... I am the "Anonymous" in the above post.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 10, 2004 09:42 PM

3:05, yeah baby!

"Superball" Aimee Mann
"I Wanna Be With You" -- Raspberries
"Greed Killing" -- Napalm Death.

Oh, wait, scratch that last.

Dave | December 10, 2004 11:11 PM

Not much gold at 3:05 for me...

9-9 - R.E.M. Hard to describe anything from _Murmur_ as pop.
Mother - The Police. Um.... NO. Makes me wonder if there's a good pop song in 7/4 time though.
Let's Move To The Country - Smog. Nope.
Hesitating Beauty - Billy Bragg and Wilco. Hm, I guess yes. One of the few songs to qualify off the Mermaid Avenue stuff.
Someone Should Tell Her - The Mavericks. A definite yes.
Something - The Beatles. Yes.

There's a bunch more, but nothing interesting enough to matter.

And Jeff - thanks for reminding me to rip my Toaster disc. They do kick ass.

Brian Greenberg | December 11, 2004 12:42 AM

OK, finally back at my PC. Here's my list(s):

Riding On A Railroad - James Taylor (Live)
Summer, Highland Falls - The Michael Cavanaugh (Movin' Out) version
Under The Boardwalk - The Drifters
Why Don't We Get Drunk - Jimmy Buffet
Yesterday [Live] - Paul McCartney (The Concert for New York)

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
Can't Help Falling In Love - Elvis Presley
I'm Just A Bill - Schoolhouse Rock*
She's Got A Way - Billy Joel
The Water Is Wide - James Taylor

*: I've been removing kids songs from the list, but it's worth noting that 14 Schoolhouse Rock songs were exactly 3:00 long. Must have something to do with what ABC needed on Saturday mornings...

Hopelessly Devoted To You - Olivia Newton-John (Grease Soundtrack)
In The Ghetto - Elvis Presley
Louie, Louie - John Belushi (Animal House Soundtrack)
You Make Me Feel So Young - Frank Sinatra & Charles Aznavous (Duets)

All I Wanna Do - Sheryl Crow
American Tune - Simon & Garfunkel
Home To Stay - Josh Groban
If This Is The Last Kiss (Let's Make It Last All Night) - Meat Loaf
Roberta - Billy Joel
Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting - The Who (Elton John Cover on "Two Rooms" disc)

I think 3:00 is my favorite list, but in terms of best "Pop," I think it goes to 4:33 in a narrow victory...

Brian Greenberg | December 11, 2004 12:47 AM

One other thing. Here's the most popular times in my playlist, in terms of number of songs:

Time Songs
---- -----
3:00 25
2:59 23
3:17 18
3:46 16
3:02 16
3:37 15
4:15 14
3:57 14
3:52 14
2:18 14

2:42 and 3:05 both have 12 songs, 4:33 has just 8.

(Geek note: I cut & paste my playlist into Excel, created a pivot table, made column one "Time" and column two "count of song name", and cut & paste the top 10 entries. If you understand that, try it yourself & send me the top 10 - brian@familygreenberg.com. I'll compile averages & post the list if enough people respond...)

Matt McIrvin | December 11, 2004 01:52 AM

At pi: I'm rather fond of "Borderline" by Brad Sucks (not Madonna), which is a 3:14 song. As is the Gunther Schuller orchestration of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag". And the Glenn Miller Orchestra's "String of Pearls". And TMBG's "AKA Driver".

Glenn Miller's version of "Song of the Volga Boatman" runs to 3:05.

drood | December 11, 2004 11:33 AM

I'm borderline on the 2:42 theory. One the one hand, I have Dusty Springfield's classic "I Only Want to Be With You."

On the other, I have Mae West's version of "Twist and Shout."

K. Chew | December 11, 2004 11:20 PM

2:42 gets me Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs; anything else has already been mentioned.

3:00 turns up I Saw The Light by Todd Rundgren, Can't Help Falling in Love by Elvis, and Wings Of A Dove by Madness.

4:33 is fascinating: it gets me City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie, American Pie as performed by Madonna, Space Truckin' by Deep Purple, and Into the Night by Benny Mardones.

I'm having a great time with this iTunes feature.

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