Quick Official Statement on “2:42”
Posted on April 23, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 22 Comments
Wired.com has picked up the story about The Morning News’ piece on 2:42 being the perfect length for a pop song having an eerie resemblance to my own post on the matter a few years earlier. I admit to being initially rather skeptical that the subject matter was entirely coincidental, but then Josh Allen, the writer of the MN piece, came by and explained in a comment how he’d independently come to the idea.
Long story short: I believe him, it was coincidence, we both have excellent taste in music, and that’s that. I would appreciate folks not suggesting Mr. Allen has engaged in plagiarism of me, either in text or in ideas. I don’t believe he has. In any event, the utter pop perfection of “There She Goes” was known to many long before we wrote about its length, and hopefully this discussion will bring Lee Mavers out of his perfectionist cubby hole to write some more perfect pop songs before we all, like, die. It’s not too much to hope for.
The perfect length for a song (pop or otherwise) is when the artist feels the song is completed. This is like saying the perfect painting must have 42,014 brush strokes. Or the perfect novel 467 pages…
A music listener, art admirer or book reader may have personal preferences to how much art they can take in. But that is entirely up to them…
I still hate Sixpence None The Richer’s version of the song. My ears bleed whenever I am exposed to it, I swear.
And honestly, I thought it was three minutes for a perfect song, because that’s how long you got per side on the old 78s or 33s or…whatever. One of those formats.
I ended up digging out “So I Married an Ax Murderer” because of your post. I had totally forgotten about the Alcatraz tour. I miss Phil Hartman.
Good to hear that a “Smithers, release the hounds!” event has been avoided and, in fact, was not necessary.
The next step is for some enterprising young audio masters to take some songs that are merely excellent and make them perfect by cutting them down to 2:42.
“Stairway to Heaven”, “Free Bird”, “American Pie”, “In the Name of Love”, and others.
‘There She Goes’ by the La’s has always been one of my favourite songs, and my husband and I once ended up having a conversation about the length of the song (me, exclaiming that I wished it was longer), at which point he gave me a bunch of statistics that music theorists have tossed about regarding the perfect length of a song, and yes, 2:42 was one of those numbers.
So even though you once wrote about it, my conversation with my significant other predated both of you. ;)
I was not surprised that two people would have independently written about it at all, but I was surprised to read that you were so suspicious of Josh Allen’s article. Glad it’s all worked out.
Ray, just because you’re a professional musician doesn’t mean you know anything about music!
Clearly a song’s best length is when it’s done. That said, a lot of truly excellent pop songs are done at 2:42.
A professional would imply I am making a living at making music. I wish…
BUT maybe this is where I went wrong!! From now on I will write all my songs in the length of 2:42. YES!! THE KEY TO SUCCESS!!
Please excuse me now as I have to go quit my day job.
WFMU a year or so ago had a contest for cutting songs down to 60 seconds. The results were… entertaining.
No reason you couldn’t do the same to 2:42…
Big, fat Irving
The 242nd fastest gun in the West.
Also, 242nd St is the northern terminus of the 1 train in New York City.
I found this whole 2:42 thing kind of funny because when I used to figure skate, the short program limit was 2:40 +/- :02. So I was always cursed by 2:42. You not only have to get your music down to that, you have to fit everything in that time period, which is like, really fast. (for us who very-far-below elite level skaters, that is.)
Now I will try to look at 2:42 in a new light. I’m sure many a young girl has skated to “There She Goes.”
I don’t have a link, but I remember hearing Pete Townshend saying something like ‘all proper rock and roll songs: two minutes fifty’ in his broad London accent. This would have been in, oh, 1978 or 80 or so.
It’s the sort of thing you’d expect the quote miners to pick up, but I can’t find a link to it.
My favorite story along these lines is when The Clash decided that three minutes was the perfect song length. If you listen to Armagideon Time you’ll hear their producer try to cut them off at three minutes, as they had asked him to, Strummer’s response was “OK! OK! Don’t push us when we’re hot!”. I love that they left that exchange in when they released the track.
“In any event, the utter pop perfection of “There She Goes” was known to many long before we wrote about its length, and hopefully this discussion will bring Lee Mavers out of his perfectionist cubby hole to write some more perfect pop songs before we all, like, die. It’s not too much to hope for.”
I think it would have, John, IF YOU HADN’T POSTED THE VIDEO TO THE AWFUL SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER ABOMINATION.
But no, Lee will just slink further into the Liverpudlian shadows. Although he did produce La’s soundalikes The Crescent.
Come now, Kay. It’s the best song Sixpence ever did.
Just checked my iPod and happily what I consider to be the second best pop song of all time (after “There She Goes” of course, which borders on the Divine) also clocks in at the mystical 2:42:
“Let My Love Open the Door” by Pete Townsend
…and in my rush to write that, I missed the “h” in Pete’s name. Sorry about that, Mr. TownsHend.
I remember the Townshend quote from the movie “The Kids are Alright” (Don’t flame me, that’s what Pete named the song, and that’s the name of the movie).
The quote is paraphrased here: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=4448.
Personally, the playlist on my IPod that I listen to most is “Long Songs.” Everything on the list is 7’00” or more long.
Might I just say that I hate “There she Goes” by The Las (or anybody else) with a bitter burning hatred? If that’s the perfect pop song, I’ll stick to heavy metal…
“Come now, Kay. It’s the best song Sixpence ever did.”
Of course, but there’s the opportunity to use the original, but instead… the probably barefoot, Takamine-wielding, wispy GIRL, going “Scouse? How ADORABLE!”
Now that I’ve had time to check my copy of “The Kids are Alright,” the full Townshend quote is
“…we had ten minutes on the album to fill when we’d finished. And so Kit [Lambert] turned ’round to me and said, ‘I think you should write something linear… something with continuity… perhaps a ten-minute song.’ So I said, ‘You can’t write a ten-minute song. I mean, rock songs are two minutes, fifty by tradition. It’s one of the traditions.'”
You should Price Is Right his ass by bidding 2:43…he’d have like almost no chance.
For some of us Scots and other Brits, this song is indelibly linked – by being played on Radio One without comment or introduction – to the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. The association spoils it a little. Did you have a song association for when the “Helicopter of Happiness (TM)” took W away?