Op-Ed

Two Minutes and 42 Seconds in Heaven

How many horn solos does it take to kill a perfect pop song? Applying science and taste to determine the exact best length—down to the second—for the platonic song.

Photograph by Kristi Bogel

I am a very busy and important man. I don’t need to tell you this. The shit I have to deal with every day would make your pubes turn white. Check it: While dictating that last sentence I did something complicated in Excel and pleasured my ex-wife the way that makes her cry and call her mother. OK?

Terrific. Point is, I’m all about maximum efficiency. E.g., I use “e.g.” instead of for example. It’s just faster, and classier.

I schedule 35 minutes a day for recreation. That’s all I need to refresh myself from the rigors of punching holes through the guts of this world. Recreation typically consists of lifting something heavy or posting a new sonnet to my blog. But sometimes I want to unwind with a fine carafe of Popov and some good tunes on the hi-fi. I yearn to—in the words of Boston—lose myself in a familiar song, close my eyes, and slip awaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Here’s the problem: “More Than a Feeling” is four minutes and 47 fucking seconds long. I don’t have time for that kind of nonsense. That’s, like, one-seventh of my recreation right there.

Don’t get me wrong, slugger. I love “More Than a Feeling.” Those who don’t are your basic a-holes. But it’s like: We get it. The riff, the handclaps, the 10,000 multi-tracked guitars—nice. But then there’s another verse and another chorus and infinity more solos and just a really ridiculous amount of balderdash.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re just that transparent. You’re thinking: “B-b-but you need time to let the song work its magic! You gotta soak in it! You need to ride those waves of pleasure again and again, climbing to the absolute climax at 3:39 when—just when you think the song can’t get any more intense—the singer takes that note even higher and you are transported to blah, blah, blah,” and I stop listening.

My scientists told me that the perfect song length had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in.

C’mon, cousin. Boston could’ve easily transported you to wherever you needed to go in two and a half minutes. Your world would be rocked just as thoroughly—but in half the time.

This epiph launched a whole in-depth study on the ideal song length. The research was privately funded by an organization that shall remain nameless but rhymes with Schmustin Schmimberlake, Ltd.

My starting assumption: I knew the best songs were short and to the point. But exactly how short and how pointed?

There is such a thing as too short, of course. Songs that just take up space there on the LP, a fragment that no one bothered to make work, or, God forbid, a mood piece or studio experiment or some other variety of half-assery. No, what I needed were full-fledged songs—intro, verses, choruses, solos, maybe even a breakdown.

My scientists told me that the perfect song length had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in. Where the band thinks: Hey, let’s do the chorus seven times. Hey, let’s give the saxophone guy a real moment to shine on this one. Hey, let’s add another bridge.

Just look at what clocks in between two and a half and three minutes: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “We Got the Beat,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Good Times Bad Times,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Paranoid,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Debaser,” “God Only Knows,” and “Fall on Me.” These are not only stone-cold classics but they also encapsulate all that is great about the band without wasting your goddamn time.

The scientists then dug up this song by a group that pretty much defines one-hit wonder: the La’s. The song is “There She Goes,” and is so flawless that it instantly made everything else the band did pointless. This ditty is two minutes and 42 seconds, and is all about songwriting economy.

I listened to it and said, in my rich and sonorous timbre, in my typically concise and absolutely-nailing-it fashion: “Here is a song that has everything I need and nothing I don’t.”

The main riff acts as the intro. The verses are the chorus. The solo is 100 percent fat-free and leads right into a tidy bridge. And then we’re back where we started. It’s like some ingenious IKEA futon or Japanese love hotel where every component is doing double-duty. When “There She Goes” is over, I guarantee absolutely no one in the room goes: “Jesus, finally.”

I’d hit upon the perfect song length. I fist-bumped somebody.

What else is at 2:42? “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty. “Divine Hammer” by the Breeders. “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. “Get Up” by R.E.M. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas. “This Charming Man” by the Smiths.

You need more proof? Jerk. Let’s look at Sgt. Pepper. “Lovely Rita” is two minutes, 42 seconds. It delivers that psychedelic vibe and a coda but then gets the hell out of your life.

Compare that to “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It’s a mere two seconds longer but feels like it drags on for hours. Maybe it’s Ringo, maybe it’s the tedious melody—or maybe it’s the two goddamn seconds.

Then over here we have “Good Morning Good Morning,” rightfully discarded by the masses as a throwaway. Why? Two minutes, 41 seconds. Hey, Beatles, maybe next time think about tacking on an extra second to give a song the grandeur and majesty it deserves.

OK, my point here is stop wasting your life. I know nobody lives day to day with the ruthless intensity that I do—thank your lucky stars—but I’m sure some of you out there do something valuable with your time. Maybe you do the landscaping at my club’s golf course or prepare the crab legs at my club’s restaurant. Either way, stop frittering away the precious moments of your life on two minutes and 47 seconds of “The Safety Dance.”

Can’t believe I blew half my recreation time telling you this. Audi 5K.

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Joshua Allen is a complex and exciting young man. He is a hard worker and always gives 110 percent. He is a people-person unless that person is a crab and not pulling their weight for the team. If enthusiasm and get-up-and-go are drugs, then he’s a hardcore drug addict. He’s pretty obviously an only child. He lives in Fireland, USA. More by Joshua Allen