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Three minute rule

Some time ago (the exact circumstances are hazy enough that it was either several years ago, or at the pub, and most likely both) I formulated a rule that music tracks shouldn't last longer than three minutes. This resurfaced in my mind while playing 'Guitar Hero: World Tour' which, for understandable if not entirely forgivable reasons, features a number of tracks of truly punishing length. I can find it in my heart to forgive bands from the olden days for meandering guitar solos or bass grooves, perhaps because it seems that those were necessary parts of the genre (to my under-educated ears, anyway). Solo noodling, too, is easier to appreciate when you're playing (well, OK, 'playing') along. It may frequently be mastabatory, and tiresome to listen to, but when you're the performer it can offer a satisfying opportunity to show off your (ersatz) musical chops, so you can empathise with the choice. In fact, the track that really bugs me is 'Some Might Say' by Oasis. It's not that it's terribly long, it's just too long. It's as if, having produced a perfectly serviceable rock track, they had some tape left over so just repeated the last bit of the chorus over and over again to avoid wasting it. It's not even self-indulgent, unless they enjoy playing that bit much more than the evidence would suggest.

I suppose what I'm saying is not actually that all tracks should be only 3 minutes long, just that it should be the default, and bands should seriously consider whether they can justify making something longer. If Oasis had been simply been asked, "So, how come it takes five and a half minutes, then?" they would have been forced to confess that really it's two verses, two choruses, and instrumental in the middle... and then a two minute coda that sounds like it was supposed to fade out, except the producer nodded off. I mean, you only have to look at the lyrics to raise suspicions that there might be some redundancy involved. Tip: if you're finding copy 'n' paste a useful lyric writing tool, you might wish to tighten the song up a bit. I'm not saying all long, or even all repetitive songs are bad. I'm just tactfully suggesting that if you're writing a song and find yourself thinking "Hmmm... We could put another instrumental in there" or "Why not repeat the chorus again at the end?" or "I know, we could just do the first verse again", don't. Knock it on the head. It's done.

Is there a good technical or rights-related reason for bands pad their songs this? Or is it just the equivalent of double-spacing your essay to make it look like you've done more? Because you're not fooling anyone.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
tortipede
Nov. 18th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Case in point: Bat Out of Hell. One third of a very good album (if you like that much bombast), repeated again and again (and again) to make up the other two-thirds. Clearly, nobody ever told Meat that it was OK to write short songs, and that quantity could actually detract from quality.

Edited at 2008-11-18 12:43 am (UTC)
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 01:38 pm (UTC)
If you were feeling generous you might allow the 'genre' defence, on the grounds that he's being (cod) operatic... I'm with you on this one, though.
tortipede
Nov. 18th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)
No. He was allowed bombast on the genre defence; he is not allowed to use it twice.

Edited at 2008-11-18 10:25 pm (UTC)
jinty
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:04 am (UTC)
That's why Punk's not dead (or summat)
Punk went back to the earlier view of three-minute pop songs, in revolt against the excesses of psychedelia and prog. I agree with the view that in principle songs ought to be kept down to that level (much though I love eg Interstellar Overdrive).
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC)
Re: That's why Punk's not dead (or summat)
Absolutely. This is one of the things I love about 'The White Stripes': their songs are so pleasingly compact.
timscience
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:16 am (UTC)
It's the equivalent of double spacng an essay.

Now, there is a case to be made for a song which turns into a chant at the end, in the manner of The Killers' "All These Things That I Have Done". It gives the opportunity for a singalong and works really well at gigs and can work on record. (clarification)But it has to be a separate thing - you can't just repeat the last part of the chorus* (/clarification).

You can do this maybe once per album, and you have to have a really really strong riff to support it. There aren't many riffs that can stand being repeated for two and a half minutes (although Interstellar Overdrive is one of them).

See also, listening to techno anywhere except in a club. It is no coincidence that Space Heroes' self defined mission (this week anyway) is to take all the good bits out of 90s techno and distil them down to three and a half minute pop songs.

*Unless it's really good

Edited at 2008-11-18 10:58 am (UTC)
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
take all the good bits out of 90s techno and distil them down to three and a half minute pop song

This may be the only good mission statement I've ever read. Even better: you follow it.
zengineer
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:22 am (UTC)
Nah, nah nah, nah nah nah nah... nah nah nah nah. Hey Jude.
timscience
Nov. 18th, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)
Indeed. But don't try that one unless you actually are The Beatles. And, some might say*, even then.

*See what I did there?
vinaigrettegirl
Nov. 18th, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)
3-minute songs are for dance-bands and are shorter than the ideal 7-minute spoken sermon. Longer songs are for (a) musical expression (b) masturbatory, generally male self-absorption and unquestioned belief in the Rightness of whatever is being produced or (c) essay-padding. The more people question the extended unmusical stuff, the better. That is not my humble opinion, it's just my opinion...

I'll get my coat.

More Burning Man pls?
cleanskies
Nov. 18th, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)
More like this please.
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.


Do you see what I did there?

Edited at 2008-11-18 01:58 pm (UTC)
cleanskies
Nov. 18th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Something that got cruelly thwarted by a stylesheet, I think.
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
Well, that'll teach me to use deprecated tags...
Let me try again (for my own edification and enlightenment):
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.
Because you're not fooling anyone.

Because you're not fooling anyone.

Because you're not fooling anyone.

Because you're not fooling anyone.

Because you're not fooling anyone.


Do you see what I did there?
That's better. I've learned something today.
zenithberwyn
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
If you're talking about bloated Oasis songs, what about the entire Be Here Now album? Five and a half minutes is positively compact on that overblown pseudo-epic pile of hubris.
oxfordhacker
Nov. 18th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
Oh good lord, yes. I remember hearing the first single off that album on the radio and thinking, "Man, Oasis should sue these guys. It's such blatant rip-off it's going to make them seem bad by association." And then they announced who it was by, and I knew Britpop had died...
concourse
Nov. 19th, 2008 09:12 am (UTC)
My brother had a similar moment hearing "Technologic" by Daft Punk on an advert in the cinema the other day. He said Daft Punk should sue whoever that was for ripping them off so blatantly and unimaginatively, until I told him who it was.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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