Tom Petty often said he didn’t think songs – and rock & roll records – should be too long. He loved how Buddy Holly could do everything and more and be done in under three minutes. That was Tom’s goal. And as songwriters know, to do that in such a brief span of time and create a fully- realized song, isn’t easy.
But it’s nothing compared to writing a fuilly realized song in under two minutes. Yet there are many famous songs, including many hits which qualify, more than expected. ed. The great ones simply seem great, they don’t seem incomplete or rushed in any way. Yet before a full two minutes has passed, they are done.
These are our favorite five songs under two-minutes. If you have your own, we invite you to share them with us.
1. The Boxtops, “The Letter,” 1:52
Written by songwriter-producer Wayne Carson, it was recorded by The Box Tops in 1967. It was a number one hit, with Alex Chilton singing the lead. Though it’s over quickly, it’s got everything. Cool lyric, great compelling tune, good riff, solo section. And it’s over before you know it. Needingf to be replayed. Joe Cocker also recorded a great version of the song, although his is more than twice as long as this one.
2. Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz,” 1:49.
Sung a capella with unchained Delta fervor like an old field holler, but with expensive foreign cars in it. All her friends drives Porsches, she sings. So she wants a Benz. It’s a song Janis Joplin wrote on a lark, having fun at Vahsen’s bar in Port Chester with Bob Neuwirth and the poet Michael McClure. She started riffing on it, while Neuwirth scribbled down its lyrics. She recorded it in one take at Sunset Sound in Hollywood on October 1, 1970. Three three days she overdosed on heroin and died in her motel room up the street. Her psychedelic
Porsche was parked outside. It was her last recording ever, included on her final, greatest album, Pearl, which also featured “Me & Bobby McGee.”
3. The Beatles, “From Me To You.” 1:56
There are several great Beatles songs under two minutes, including “I Will” and “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.” But this one is included because it is such an early one and so singularly Beatles. Written in 1963, it was their second single in the UK before they broke through in America. In under two minutes, it’s a perfect song. One of so many from Lennon & McCartney’s “bottomless well” of songs, as their producer George Martin called it. John and Paul wrote it together. Both were especially proud of the bridge – or ‘middle-eight’ – which distinguishes it as a Beatles song. Paul said it is almost “like ragtime.” (In C major, the bridge goes to G minor, which shifts the key quickly before ending on a G augmented. Augmented chords are used in ragtime and other genres, often in standards, but rarely in Rock & Roll. Until these guys, that is.
4. Simon & Garfunkel, “Feelin’ Groovy.” 1:45
From their fourth studio album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, it was written by Paul Simon. They made the track with Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on upright bass, both from Dave Brubeck’s band. Though Simon doesn’t think it holds up well, especially compared to their other classics, that’s mostly about the title and that word – groovy – which isn’t groovy anymore. That one didn’t last long. But the song is undeniably joyful, with that sunny melody. And the sound of Simon & Garfunkel singing perfect two-part harmony about happiness is timelessly great.
5. Rolling Stones, “Not Fade Away.” 1:50
It was written by Buddy Holly, a master at writing fully-realized songs that do everything they need to do and are done before you know it. He recorded it himself first in 1957 to a Bo Diddley beat. But his record is longer than that of The Stones, who covered it in 1964.
It took Buddy Holly a full 2:21 to complete the song, whereas The Stones got it done in 1:50.
It was not their first UK single, but was the first one to become a hit, going to #3. It was also their first single released in the U.S. with “I Wanna Be Your Man,” written by Lennon & McCartney, as the b-side.