Three Minute Perfect Pop: A Musical Meme

One of the highest compliments you can pay a songwriter or performer in this era of music is that they write or perform “perfect three minute pop songs.” Which leads one to wonder: What songs do you have in your collection that are exactly three minutes long, and are they perfect pop songs? Let’s go to the iTunes and find out!

Be Kind to My Mistakes by Kate Bush. A B-side from one of her singles. Not bad, but certainly not perfect (Bush’s perfect pop song in my opinion: “The Big Sky”) So, no.

Top of the World by The Carpenters. Insanely uncool — the sort of track you immediately jab “fast forward” on if there is anyone else around — but when no one’s looking, you sing along. Yes.

When Will I See You Again by Erasure. Techno interpretation of the plaintive disco classic ballad in which a disco queen pines up for the coked-up, lame-wearing guy with whom she engaged in heavy frottage in a bathroom stall the night before. I like it (and having Andy Bell sing it, of course, just adds another level of fabulousness), but is it perfect pop? No.

The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles. Oh, come on. Yes.

The Kids Aren’t Alright by Offspring. Sprightly tune about a bunch of screwed up suburbanites. A little, you know, dark for perfect pop. No.

Bright Sunny South by Alison Krauss. Decent bluegrass but nothing special. No.

Amanda by Waylon Jennings. Waylon discovers he’s old and apologizes to his wife for it. Eegh. No.

Saturday by David Boyles. Indie white man funk. Not bad. Not even close to perfect, though. No.

The Distance by Cake. Too arch. No.

She’s Got a Way by Billy Joel. Actually one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. It’s a perfect song to have handy when you really, really need to apologize for some thoughtlessly stupid thing that causes your woman to question whether she shouldn’t just kick your ass to the curb, but that’s not exactly the same as perfect pop. No.

Semblance by Keith Jarrett. Somewhat like if you took the Charlie Brown theme, hacked it into 17 uneven pieces, and reassembled them at random. No.

Rock & Roll Band by Boston. The worst song on the first Boston album, in which the band congratulates itself for you, know, doing that rock and roll thing. The Hootie & The Blowfish of the 70s. No.

If it Were Up to Me by Rooney. What happens when your songwriting recipe includes the Beatles, the Kinks, ELO and the Replacements, but then you set the oven 10 degrees too low. It’s a nice try, though. No.

Joker by Five A.M. For when you can’t find that Matchbox 20 CD. No.

The Golden Boat (Turntable Mix) by John Zorn. Jazz freakster John Zorn couldn’t write a perfect pop song if you put a gun to the head of his pet ferret and spotted him the entire Abbey Road album. No.

Time is on My Side by The Rolling Stones. Great song about abusive relationships. Gets creepier every time you listen to it. No.

One is Never Too Old to Swing by Girls From Mars. Sweet but generic swing. No.

She’s Got You by Patsy Cline. If by crying in your beer after your ass is dropped is a popular activity — and apparently it is — then yes.

Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley. Make me an argument that this isn’t perfect pop. You’re wrong. Yes.

Honkey Tonk Woman by Waylon Jennings. Yes, the Rolling Stones song. When they do it, it’s perfect pop. When Waylon gets to it, it wriggles like a wounded snake. No.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce. Croce is waaay overrated by the people who still remember who he is, but this song does it all, baby. Yes.

Share the three minute songs in your collection (in the comments or if you have your own place, over there). Are they perfect pop?

38 Comments on “Three Minute Perfect Pop: A Musical Meme”

  1. Goldfinger – Mabel. Three minutes? Yes. Perfect pop? No. Actually, it’s difficult to say this is pop at all. It’s punchy and fun, but is closer to punk than pop.

    The Donnas – It Takes One To Know One. Hey, if you can’t rock out to this (or most songs by The Donnas, incidentally) you’d best check your pulse.

    Reel Big Fish – Brand New Song. Admit it – you like ska. I know you do.

    Sum 41 – Nothing On My Back. Another song that sounds a lot like every other song they put out. Not so great.

    Zebrahead – Now Or Never. Such an incredibly bad song it’s almost fun to listen to.

    Zebrahead – I Am. Same deal as above.

    Zebrahead – Playmate Of The Year. Infectiously silly. (Are these the guys of the three minute song or what? And these are all off the same album.)

    The Trews – Confessions. The best Canadian band no one in the US has heard of. Some of the best rock to come along in quite a while and this track is a good example.

    The Trews – Every Inambition. This one is the band’s best track. Great to rock out to.

    Green Day – Basket Case. Quality. ‘Nuff said.

    Thanks for that, John. For some reason, it doesn’t even bother me that I’ll never get these last five minutes of my life back :)

  2. Four Brave Combo pieces (Westphalia Waltz, Violins Play for Me, Hokey-Pokey, and O Christmas Tree), plus the Jolly Rogers, “Itches in me Britches”. None of which could be considered the Perfect Pop Song, though Hokey-Pokey should be.

    Granted, only a smidge of my music collection is on this machine yet, but I don’t think that any of my Scandanavian folk or Celtic music would qualify either.

  3. iTunes on my library at work turns up these songs that are exactly 3:00:

    “Ca Plane Por Moi” by Plastic Bertrand, which I would say is about as perfect as a pop song gets.

    “Walla Walla”, The Offspring. Love the song, but perfect pop? I think it has too much schenfreude for that.

    “Vacation”, The Go-Gos. I’d also say this is perfect pop.

    “Orange Blossom Special”, Johnny Cash (*At Folsom Prison*). I don’t see any way that Mr. Cash, as I much as I respect his work, could be considered pop.

    “Forget”, Mission of Burma. No way.


  4. “‘Vacation,’ The Go-Gos. I’d also say this is perfect pop.”

    I have this listed at 2:59, interestingly enough. Otherwise, total agreement.

  5. (On “Vacation”):

    “I have this listed at 2:59, interestingly enough. Otherwise, total agreement.”

    For what it’s worth, this was an iTunes Music Store purchase, and is listed as coming from *VH-1 Behind The Music: Go-Go’s Collection*. iTMS also lists the version from *Vacation* (the album) at 2:59.


  6. Strangely, I only have one song that is exactly 3 minutes: “When We Get Married” by Crambo. It’s saccharine and kinda catchy, which I’d say qualifies it, if not as a “perfect” pop song, then as a “pretty darn close” one.

    Some songs that were close but not quite there (at least according to my media player) were:

    “Build Me Up Buttercup” at 2:58

    “Gay Boyfriend” by the Hazards at 3:03. If it weren’t for the fact that it is 3 seconds too long, I would call this one perfect.

    “Volare” as perfomed by Vitamin C comes in at 2:59. It’s 3:01 when done by Dean Martin (at least, Kazaa said it was Dean Martin) but is not very pop-y.

    “Why Not” by Hilary Duff at 3:02

    “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher) at 2:59

    “Cruel to Be Kind” as performed by Letters to Cleo at 3:01

    “Free Ride” at 3:02

    I don’t know if these are the official times for these songs, as most, if not all of them have been downloaded. Someone may have a version of them that is 3 minutes exactly, but that someone is not me.

  7. I have a surprising number of 3:00 songs. Few pop ones, though…

    Barenaked Ladies – Unfinished: A weak effort from a weak album. No.

    Beastie Boys – I Don’t Know: It’s the Boys. Yes.

    Billy Talent – The River Below: No. Just, no. (Muchmusic disagrees)

    Buffalo Daughter – Dr. Moog: Obscure, barely comprehensible and hilarious for all the wrong reasons. God, yes.

    David Bowie – I’ve Been Waiting For You: Heathen is…let’s just say No.

    Guided By Voices – Bulldog Skin: GBV are an idie sacred cow. They also don’t know what musicality is. No.

    Kevin Lyttle – Turn Me On (feat. Spragga Benz): Yes and no. Dancehall is bad, bad, bad. Bump and grind is good, good, good. I’mt torn.

    Moby – Rushing: Mody is so five years ago. No.

    Norah Jones – Ain’t Gonna Ask You: I say no. Album sales say yes.

    Pennywise – Anyone Listening: No. Why even ask?

    Sarah Harmer – Stormy Weather: My unrequited love for Sarah makes me far from unbiased. Yes.

    The Trews – Confessions. I agree with the above. The Trews are a fun little Sloan clone. (A clone of a ripoff of the Beatles. Hooray for EastCan rock!). Maybe.

    The Trews – Every Inambition. Good track. Yes.

    Tsunami Bomb – …Not Forever: Bad lightwieght punk. No.

    The Weakerthans – Wellington’s Wednesdays: The Weakerthans are delicious. Yes.

    William Shatner – I Can’t Get Behind That: Shat’s new album is amazing. This track is not the reason why. No.

  8. I’ll have you know that I have “Fool on the Hill” listed at 2:59 as well!

    The only two songs in my iTunes library that are exactly 3:00 are:

    “Sailor”, by Hem. As wonderful as Hem is, it’s not pop.
    “Just a Touch” by REM. From Life’s Rich Pageant. I’m going to call this a Yes. Upbeat, incomprehensible, but somehow still singalongable.

  9. Out of more than fifty 180-second songs, I came up with less than a dozen I could argue were pure pop. The top were probably the Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and Madness’s “House of Fun”, although I’d argue that Bessie Smith’s version of “Alexander Ragtime Band” is about as perfect as a pop song can be. Oddly enough, none of the four Duke Ellington tunes that clocked at 3:00 could reasonably be called perfect pop songs.

    A full list is at my own blog ( or, y’know, click through my name), should anyone care to see another forty songs that are three minutes long and not perfect pop.


  10. Hmm, out of a 3600+ song collection, I have only 13 3 minute songs…One is folk and two are celtic, which probably disqualifies them right off the bat. Plus a parody song.

    My only conclusion here is that my music collection is very weird.

    Steamroller Blues, Elvis Presley

    My Father’s Shoes, Cliff Eberhardt – can folk be perfect pop?

    Dedicated To The One I Love, The Mamas & The Papas – Yes

    The Fondler, Capitol Steps – it is Parody, which I suppose is disqualified

    Boys Of The Puddle/The Sculillon’s Wife, John Mckusker – Celtic, I think this is the same category as Folk, above.

    Christ Has My Hart Ay, Battlefield Band (more Celtic)

    Cracklin’ Rosie, Neil Diamond – Oh, sure.

    From Here To Eternity, Frank Sinatra

    In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning, Frank Sinatra

    Squeeze, Luigi

    Concerto In C Minor For Cello, RV 401-Allegro Ma Non Molto, Yo-Yo Ma

    Out of Habit by BR5-49

    Laß Mein Herz Die Münze Sein, BWV 163, Yo-Yo Ma

  11. Like Sara, I have a 3300+ song collection that has led me to the conclusion that I have a wierd taste in music.

    Here are my 16 3:00 long songs:

    On Fire – Van Halen
    The Auctioneer – Steve Goodman
    The Ballad of John and Yoko – The Beatles
    Desire – U2
    Drive Away – The All-American Rejects
    Minibar – Mitch Hedberg (spoken, stand-up)
    The Fool on the Hill – The Beatles
    Sea of Time – The Beatles
    Halloween – Dave Matthews Band
    I Want You Back – Jackson Five
    Where Your Eyes Don’t Go – They Might Be Giants
    The Distance – Cake
    She’s Got a Way – Billy Joel
    Paper Thin Walls – Modest Mouse
    We Are the Champions – Queen
    Wings of a Dove – Madness

    (I have Brand New Song – Reel Big Fish at 3:04)

    …and for some reason, none of the formatting I try to apply to the post is working in preview…but I’ve gotta go study, so I’m just giving up now

  12. oh, one more thing: I’m a pretty poor judge of what’s “perfect pop,” so I’ll leave y’all to decide what’s worthy.

    Ok, that’s it, now I’m really done.

  13. I can’t believe I’m going to post this here.
    For 3-minute songs, I duplicate a couple of John’s. (Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way,” and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”) And I can’t argue with John’s comments.

    The one’s I haven’t seen here (and their pop-ability):

    Dance to the Music – Sly and the Family Stone: Darn Pop-tastic

    Mad Fright Night – Lo Down: It’s from the ‘Kids’ soundtrack so, ya know, no.

    Rusty D-con-STRUCK-tion – Ashley MacIsaac: If anybody could make fiddle pop-alicious, he could, but until that day, probably not.

    Mama Told Me Not To Come – Tom Jones: Oh, hell yeah.

    Utah Saints Take On The Theme From Mortal Kombat – The Utah Saints: Pop? Maybe? Still delicious ten years later? Oh, yeah.


  14. Three Minute Warning

    My pal John Scalzi is like the kindly uncle of the blog community. Not only has he been doing it longer than just about everyone else, he actually gets paid to do it over at AOL. Periodically he’ll throw out…

  15. Three Minute Warning

    My pal John Scalzi is like the kindly uncle of the blog community. Not only has he been doing it longer than just about everyone else, he actually gets paid to do it over at AOL. Periodically he’ll throw out…

  16. What a fun post and thread, I won’t list all of mine but I can’t resist a few:

    “Here Cum Germs” – Alien Sex Fiend. No.
    “U-Mass” – Pixies. No, not really.
    “I’ve Been Tired” – Pixies. Yeah.
    “Vogue” – KMFDM. Hell yeah.
    “Salute U” – G-Unit. It’s got the form, but it’s not perfect.
    “Animal Cage” – Front 242. Arguably so.
    “You Don’t Love Me” – Dawn Penn. Quintessential.

  17. My iTunes gives me 9 songs at the exact 3:00 long mark, but only 1 was purchased from iTMS, the rest were ripped off CD:

    Earl’s Breakdown – Flatt & Scruggs
    Transdermal Celebration – Ween
    Barroom Hero – Dropkick Murphy’s
    Jugband Blues – Pink Floyd
    Green is the Colour – Pink Floyd
    Take Me Away – Ween
    Da Superfriendz ft. Mf Doom – Vast Aire
    Joppa Road – Ween
    Baby Bitch – Ween

    Pop? No. But you could probably draw some interesting conclusions about pop/attention span/and Ween fans :-)

  18. I have 125 tracks that are exactly three minutes long. I find that rather frightening.

    Perfect pop:

    Dedicated To The One I Love (The Mamas & The Papas)
    Manha Da Carnaval (Black Orpheus soundtrack)
    Philosophy Of The World (Shaggs)
    Scarred For Life (Peter Blegvad)
    Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
    Don’t Worry About The Government (Talking Heads)
    Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8) (Jimmie Rodgers)
    I Like Girls (Uncle Bonsai)
    Aerodeleria (The Loud Family)
    Fly (Nick Drake)
    Venus Records (Paula Carino)
    Light Of Love (Tommy Keene)
    Idumea (Cordelia’s Dad)

    Just perfect:

    Sister Cancer Brother Dollar (Doctor Nerve)
    The Opening Prologue, The Second Prologue (Harry Partch)
    Japan is a dishpan (Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band)
    Rumeurs D’En Bas (Daniel Denis)
    Light Music For Small Masses (Ozone Player)
    Zawinul/Lava (Brian Eno)
    A Smiling Shore (June Tabor)
    Vi: Les Anges (Oliver Messiaen)
    Their Brains Were Small and They Died (Mark Graham)

    Honorable Mention:

    Baby (Os Mutantes)
    I’m Blessed (Brendan Benson)
    Uncloudy Day (The Staple Singers)
    Redland (The Waitresses)
    Drag Queen Blues (Richard Digance)
    Moon Lovers (Slapp Happy)
    Life Is Hard, But Life Is Hardest When You’re Dumb (Austin Lounge Lizards)

  19. If pop=popular, then not much of this stuff will qualify. I’ll go with fun and accessible.

    Black Wind Blowing, by Billy Bragg & Wilco. Too folk and too morose. Good, but no.

    The Distance, by Cake. It’s dark. But it’s fun. And accessible, in spite of the lyrics. Pop music can be angry music. Yes.

    Ruby Sees All, by Cake. Probably yes, though the hornpipe in the intro might disqualify it.

    Tougher Than It Is, by Cake. It wouldn’t surprise me if John McCrea sets out to write 3:00 songs. This is a definite yes.

    Set Out Running, by Neko Case & Her Boyfriends. One of many sad ballads in this list. Good song, just not what we’re looking for.

    Dextivity, by Dexter Gordon. Sweet, jumpin, and fun. Yes (circa about 1948).

    Accidents Will Happen, by Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Gets hung up a bit at the beginning of the chours… but otherwise rolls along. Let’s say yes.

    Miami, by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Gotta love the ska… especially the Argentinian ska in Spanish. This is just a lot of fun. Yes.

    Let’s Take A Trip Together, by Morphine. Dark and smoky. Close, but too languid. No.

    Just A Touch, by R.E.M. OK… so the lyrics are incoherent. (I would love to see a video for this song, made from R.E.M. fans listening to it on headphones, and trying to sing along. That would be hilarious.) But this song is FUN. Big yes.

    Sea Cruise, by Rico. Gotta love the ska. But downtempo novelty intstrumentals probably won’t cut it. Like the boat whistle though.

    Across The Great Divide, by Semisonic. Sounds like it’s going to be ballady… then kicks into the chorus. Yes. Besides, need at least one song on the list with a Hammond organ.

    No Dancing, by Smog. The title alone would be enough to disqualify it. Good song though.

    If The Night…, by The High Strung. Yes, in a ballady sort of way. There would be better songs to pick from this album though.

    Monkey Man, by The Specials. Oh heck yes. How can you not love the “Aye, aye, aye” that kicks it off? And… gotta love the ska.

    Slips And Tangles, by The Weakerthans. Geesh, why are so many of the 3:00 songs down-tempo? Has to be a no on this one.

  20. Well, I’ll only list ones that I don’t see in other’s lists, but these all deserve the label of perfect pop, even when they aren’t pop and are far from perfect…

    Caledonia Mission/The Band
    Si Yo Fuera/Celeste Mendoza
    I Love Lucy/The Soft Boys
    What Is Home Without Love/The Louvin Brothers
    Mary Cristo/Tribalistas
    Bass/Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
    Runnin’ To Brother/Danielson Famile
    Daydream Believer/The Monkees
    Dog Gone/Frank Black & The Catholics
    Small Stakes/Spoon
    Etopia Mundo Negro/Olodum
    Homenagem Ao Malandro/Chico Buarque
    Robert Menendez Basta Ya!/Tris McCall
    Astral Plane/The Modern Lovers
    Good-Bye/Carmen Miranda
    The Kings Horses/Charlie And His Orchestra

  21. Of the 8 songs that showed up in my list, I’d rate none of them as “perfect pop.” In fact, one was my son’s choir performance from fourth grade. However, “I might fall back on you” from Showboat is by far the best song. If you’ve never heard this song, here are the lyrics (from

    Little girl, you are safe with me:
    I can protect what’s mine;
    I am a sturdy maple tree
    And you’re my clinging vine!

    Woods are just full of maple trees,
    Cedar and oak and pine;
    Let me look them over, please,
    And then I’ll let you know
    If you have a show.
    After I have looked around
    The world for a mate,
    Then, perhaps, I might fall back on you!
    When I am convinced
    That there is no better fate,
    Then I might decide that you will do.

    I am just an average lad,
    Though no gift to womanhood,
    Some girls say I’m not so bad!

    Others say you’re not so good!
    But if you are patient, dear,
    And willing to wait,
    There’s a chance I might fall back on you!

    [Gower And Marge]
    After I/you have looked around
    The world for a mate
    Then, perhaps, I/you might fall back on you/me!
    When I/you are convinced
    That there is no better fate,
    Then I/you might decide that you/I will do!

    I am just an average lad,
    Though no gift to womanhood,
    Some girls say I’m not so bad!

    Others say you’re not so good!

    [Gower And Marge]
    But if you are/I am patient, dear,
    And willing to wait,
    There’s a chance I/you might fall back on you/me!
    (Two groups of GIRLS dance on)

    [Group 1]

    [To Gower]
    After she has looked around
    The world for a mate
    Then, perhaps, she might fall back on you!
    When she is convinced
    That there is no better fate
    Then she might decide that you will do!

    [Group 2]

    [To Marge]
    He is just an average lad,
    Though no gift to womanhood,
    Some girls say he’s not so bad,
    Others say he’s not so good!

    [All Girls]

    [To Gower]
    But if you are patient, dear,
    And willing to wait
    There’s a chance she might fall back on you!

  22. Chicago’s “Harry Truman”: Yes.

    Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet”: Totally yes.

    Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You”: So disco, but so yes.

    Dusty Springfield’s “Am I the Same Girl?”: Oh yes.

    Blondie’s “Little Caesar”: Not so much.

  23. “Maria” from West Side Story, sung by countertenor Andreas Scholl, great song, okay performance.

    “Cheryl” by Charlie Parker, awesome.
    “Mama’s Gone – Goodbye” Midge Williams, great singer, pop from the 1920’s.
    “Celia” by Ray Brown, performed by Bud Powell. Swings great, but isn’t really distinctive.

  24. I have no 3.00 minute songs in my iTunes.

    Closest to 3 minutes is Maurice and the Cliches (2.56) singing “Soft Core”, which includes the lyric, “She has a birthmark that looks just like a staple.” Perfect pop? Probably not.

    Second place: “Valerie Loves Me” by Material Issue at 3.06. Poppier but still no where near perfect pop.

    Me, I actually have a thing about the five minute mark. Three minutes seems a little short for pop pleasure.

  25. I’m not pasting in all of the 3:00 songs, because it’s mostly Chad’s music collection on my iPod and I don’t recognize half of them, plus there’s a lot.

    The only perfect pop songs I would say there are in the bunch are:

    “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, Marvin Gaye (no further information needed)

    “Hackensack”, Fountains Of Wayne, _Welcome Interstate Managers_ (a song about a guy trapped in New Jersey, wisting after a girl who got out.)

  26. Wow. Surprising number of people with iTunes out there… Well, considering that my music collection would fit on a mini with room to spare, here’s my 3-min songs-

    “After the Flesh” by Thrill Kill Kult. Um, no.

    “Need you Tonight” by INXS. Pop, yes, perfect no.

    “The Irish Ballad” by Tom Lehrer. Warped, yes, fun, yes, other people stare at the speaker as the lyrics sink in, oh yes, pop, no.

    “Wait until Tomorrow” by Hendrix. Might have been back in the day, but in 2004, it’s an oldie, not pop.

  27. Is there still anybody out there?

    If yes here’s another perfect three minute masterpiece for you:
    One more glass of beer – Steve Forbert.

    Dark as a dungeon – Johnny Cash
    Sukie in the graveyard – Belle & Sebastian
    Free – George Michael
    Samba tranquille – Thievery Corporation
    This city kills – Janove Ottesen

    Hope I can reactivate this … ;-)

  28. Dear John,

    not all of these are three minutes exactly and not all are my favourite songs of all time – but these are just a few songs that I always deemed as ‘perfect pop’
    Regards Ben Sherwood

    pilot: january
    supertramp:breakfast in america
    george michael:faith
    jackson five: abc
    beatles: she loves you
    beatles: I wanna hold your hand
    nirvana: lithium
    cardigans: lovefool
    elliott smith: baby britain or division day
    ronnettes:be my baby
    billy joel: uptown girl
    abba : dancing queen
    weezer: burnt jam
    penguins: earth angel
    10cc:dreadlock holliday
    george harrison:i’ve got my mind set on you
    queen:crazy little thing called love
    charles and eddie:would I lie to you
    icehouse:cant help myself
    men at work :land down under
    beach boys :i get around
    the la’s :there she goes again
    badfinger :maybe tomorrow
    george michael :freedom
    weezer:say it aint so
    carpenters[cover]mr postman

    perfect ballads
    john sebastian: welcome back [mr kotter]
    elton john: your song
    beatles: yesterday
    John Lennon: imagine
    billy joel:she’s always a woman
    Elliott smith: somebody used to know
    man, the list could go on for too long.

  29. well, i’ve got eighteen songs at exactly three minutes length.

    i wouldn’t say that any of them qualify as poppy, let alone perfect pop, but “1-2 crush on you” by the clash is 3:01 and it’s the catchiest song around.

  30. There She Goes: The La’s

    From the self-titled and only lp (so far) from 1990
    (referring to the orginal and not the cover versions)

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