2:42 the Perfect Time for a Pop Song? You Don’t Say.

Over at The Morning News, Joshua Allen declares two minutes and forty two seconds the perfect length for a pop song, based on the fact that “There She Goes” by The La’s — perhaps the most perfect pop song ever — is that length. I agree, and indeed said the exact same thing, three and a half years ago. That’s, um, quite a coincidence.

In any event, here’s “There She Goes,” as covered by Sixpence None the Richer, coincidentally also coming in at 2:42 (give or take video editing time), and thus, still pretty darn perfect.

32 Comments on “2:42 the Perfect Time for a Pop Song? You Don’t Say.”

  1. Utah:

    Yeah, but I featured that video here not too long ago. Don’t want to repeat myself too much.

  2. Yeah, I much prefer The La’s version. Though the Sixpence version is used in one of my favorite movies of all time, So I Married an Axe Murderer.

  3. My iPod (mini, old school, 4GB) currently has just one song that clocks in at 2:42, but it’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case, which is just about a perfectly constructed song, if you ask me.

    I actually felt like that article seemed very familiar when I read it, but I thought it was just because I am a big fan of succinct song production.

    That dude owes you a nod of some kind.

    (@stacy: HEED! PANTS! NOW!)

  4. Stacy:

    The version in SIMAAM is actually from the Boo Radleys. Ironically, it’s the one version of the song I’ve heard that I don’t like.

  5. I find that the best time for a pop song is between midnight and five in the morning. That’s when a radio station isn’t pressured as hard to play the hits. (Not all pop songs are hits, and not all hits are pop songs.)

  6. See what you did? I had to buy The La’s version & the Sixpence version from Amazon (my search-fu on iTunes failed me)…

    It’s all your fault.

    That’s my story & I’m sticking to it…

  7. Haha, I noticed that article too, and thought the same damn thing. I noticed that the list he pointed to had “Echos Myron” by Guided By Voices.

    Hmmm, I’ve noticed another couple of 2:42 songs since we last visited this topic:

    “Walla Walla Bang Bang” by Gas Huffer
    “Makes No Sense at All” by Husker Du

  8. You may not like to repeat yourself, but apparently Joshua Allen doesn’t mind. I thought it sounded a little too familiar when I read it on bOING bOING this morning.

    At first, I thought The Morning News might be a newspaper. Turns out it’s an online magazine. Do you s’pose Josh has editors, or is he running the whole show over there? Think said editors are aware of the surprising similarities? Does it matter?

  9. Burns!:

    I’m not going to make a federal case about it. It’s possible, although I suspect a bit unlikely, that he came up with the exact idea independently, three and a half years after I did (or that someone who had read mine suggested it to him). However, even if he did snake the idea from me, at the very least he was smart enough to write all original text, which avoids the plagiarism issue. Nabbing an idea is not really actionable, or else all us writers would be in trouble.

    What I suspect happened is that the dude came across the “2:42” entry, thought it was a great idea (which, you know, it is), and figured that no one would notice if he clipped an idea from 2004 and presented it as his own. Normally he’d probably be correct, but this site has a large readership, and it really is a very specific idea, which people would remember. And they did: I heard about it through a link on Boing Boing, and before I could comment there that the idea looked like mine, some other person did it ahead of me.

    If the dude did take the idea from me, fine, whatever. But maybe next time he’ll twig to the idea that it’s nice to credit your sources. Since I don’t doubt he’ll Google his name in the near future and try to see who is linking to his piece, I imagine he’ll come across this entry and the comments.

  10. I’m not used to being stunned by blog posts, but based on this one I wonder if the La’s have risen Cthulhu-like in the collective unconscious. At present I’m writing a novel; in one scene, the protagonist (a high school band’s guitarist) tries to convince his headbanger brother that “There She Goes” is the greatest song ever made. Now I knew the La’s have their fans, especially among the rock snobs (I include myself, God knows) but to read this post, and the older one, while writing this chapter–I mean, it’s either Jungian or creepy, or both, as I hadn’t even heard of you three years ago. (No offense.)

    As a rock snob, I commend you on your exquisite taste.

  11. OK, since I wasn’t around here three and a half years ago:

    At 4’33”:
    Barenaked Ladies: Helicopters
    Cowboy Junkies: Murder, Tonight, In The Trailer Park
    Cutting Crew: Life In A Dangerous Time
    Dave Matthews: Save Me
    Dire Straits: Portobello Belle
    Dreams So Real: Heart of Stone
    Melissa Etheridge: No Souveniers
    No Doubt: Sunday Morning
    Semisonic: Closing Time
    Steely Dan: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

    At 3’00”:
    Cowboy Junkies: Winter’s Song
    Cowboy Junkies: Someone Out There
    Daniel Lanois: Silium’s Hill
    Dave Matthews: Halloween (Live at Luther College)
    Warren Zevon: Hasten Down The Wind
    The Who: Pinball Wizard

    At 2’42”:
    Concrete Blonde: Help Me
    Live: Top
    They Might Be Giants: Pencil Rain

    (There are also an assortment of other tracks that I’m sure only the most obsessive album buyer would have ever heard of. Like “Vegas Throat” by The Jack Rubies; I think maybe two dozen people in the world bought the album…)

    So from my collection, I’d have to give the nod to 4’33”, although 3’00” certainly has a home run in there. Maybe my collection isn’t really “pop”, though.

  12. Good espresso drinking christ, 20 comments on 2:42 songs, and no-one mentions the Ramones?

    Y’all are way too indie pop for your own good.

  13. Lee Mavers, the lead singer and songwriter for the La’s is an infamous perfectionist. He was one of the late 80s/early 90s British musicians (like the Stone Roses) with a huge 60s influence who inspired the Britpop genre. Apparently he insisted on recording the first and so far only La’s album on a forty-year-old multitrack that had to have “real 1960s dust” on it.

    The other story about him was that he was so disappointed with the album that he spent most of the 90s rerecording it over and over to get the sound right.

    John Power, the bassist with the band went on to form Cast, and if you like jangly 60s inspired pop you can do a lot worse than look out for their stuff.

    In fact, and just to tie it in to another recent topic here, one of their singles is the hamster-pokin’ one-word titled “Alright”:

  14. Or, possibly, he read it a while ago, forgot that he’d found it anywhere specific, and didn’t bother to do a two-second web search when it came time to write his own column.

    It was three and a half years ago, and I have the kind of memory that makes me understand how it could happen.

    I would still have checked to make sure I didn’t get the idea from somewhere else, though, so I’m not excusing this guy. I just don’t think conscious intent to rip off is necessary.

  15. Hey there, this is Josh, the unfortunate dude who wrote the Morning News article. Someone just forwarded me this post and I had a smallish heart attack. Scout’s honor, John, I never saw your original post until now.

    I’ve been making mix CDs of super-short songs recently, under a minute, and decided that they were too short to get much joy out of, so I upped the time limit and came up with a vague belief that certain songs between 2:30 and 3:00 were really good at encapsulating what was best about particular bands. (This is also not a fresh or original idea but whatever.)

    I pitched that to the Morning News and then realized it was sort of a boring thesis, so I decided to just pick some really specific time as the perfect song length and be a real blowhard about it since obviously this is an indefensible and ridiculous argument.

    As I skimmed through the songs in iTunes I tried to find a length that had a bunch of decent songs that I could use to bolster my dumb thesis, and — oddly enough — I noticed “There She Goes,” which I’ve always thought was pretty flawless song, one that very few people would fight me over. So it looks like both you and I ended up on 2:42 for the same reason.

    (Unfortunately I wasn’t crazy about the other 2:42 songs I had — I mean, they were OK but not PERFECT — but I was already committed so I just ran with it.)

    So I just wanted to say I didn’t rip you off, but you certainly came to same conclusion WAY before I did. I’ve been writing on the internet since 1995 and have had several of my stories pilfered over the years and know how unsettling it is — and also know how stupid it is to steal someone’s work online because it *always* comes back to them. It never would’ve even occurred to me to try to pull something like that.

    Anyway, my apologies.

  16. It’s a joy, no arguments here. I don’t know that 2:42 is strictly necessary, though: my candidate for short-duration perfection has always been Roll To Me, which only just scrapes over the two-minute mark. So I could listen to it almost three times instead of Bohemian Rhapsody. Which can’t be a bad thing.

  17. Joshua Allen:

    So what you’re saying is great minds think alike?

    I can live with that.

    Excellent taste in songs in any event.

    And since there was no idea snaking in this case, there is no need for an apology, although the offer is very much appreciated. Thanks.

  18. I’ve got to say, as someone with a B.S. in English Literature from Caltech (among other degrees) that this claim to ideal pop song length is similar to one of the “rules” of poetry which Edgar Allan Poe [19 January 1809 – 7 October 1849] explicated in “The Philosophy of Composition” and “The Poetic Principle” [written near the end of his life and published posthumously in 1850].

    In particular, Poe called the ideal poem short, at most 100 lines, and utilizing the “most poetical topic in the world”: the death of a beautiful woman. [Poe uses the composition of his own poem “The Raven” as an example. The essay “The Philosophy of Composition” first appeared in the April 1846 issue of Graham’s Magazine. see also Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Louisiana State University Press, 1972. p. 272. ISBN 0807123218].

    As currently on wikipedia: ” T. S. Eliot said: “It is difficult for us to read that essay without reflecting that if Poe plotted out his poem with such calculation, he might have taken a little more pains over it: the result hardly does credit to the method.” Biographer Joseph Wood Krutch described the essay as, “a rather highly ingenious exercise in the art of rationalization than literary criticism. [Krutch, Joseph Wood. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926. p. 98]”

    Given that Poe invented both the modern Science Fiction short story and the modern Detective story, I’m surprised that his name doesn’t come up more often in this blog.

    The margins of this comment are too small for me to enumerate the many contributions which Poe made to pop songs.

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