It was a beautiful song but it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05.
But that was 1974; in this era of InstaEverything, even 3:05 is an eternity. I once put together a compilation CD with no songs over two minutes, which if nothing else makes for rather more variety: 42 tracks in just under 80 minutes. Radio wouldn’t dare do this.
Well, actually, they would. Enter Radio SASS (Short Attention Span System), which unapologetically edits your standard classic-rock tracks down to the essential stuff. Purists, of course, will be horrified. Stations, they say, should be delighted:
Records that were 2:00 — 3:00 minutes long have been replaced by repetitive epics. It’s not unusual for today’s recordings to regularly cross the four or five minute mark. The immediacy of radio has ground to a musical dawdle. While TV, newspapers, movies and other media have sped up, radio has fallen out of pace with today’s rapid lifestyle. Button pushing listeners and competition from new media is fierce. TSL is down.
A return to shorter songs is essential. Will listeners object? The answer is no. Several focus groups conducted by Harker Research show that most people don’t even notice. When a song begins, the average radio listeners pays attention to the beginning then makes a snap judgment. Do I know this? Do I like it? Then it’s punch or play. They seldom reflect on the song as it ends. Most people use radio as wallpaper, a background to their daily activity.
I sampled some SASS, and I think I’d notice that they’d boiled down Manfred Mann’s take on Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” which runs around 7:05 in its LP incarnation and 3:48 as a single, to a startling 1:45 — but it would take probably half a minute for it to sink in, and by then they’re a third of the way through the next song.
So I’m inclined to think this would work better than you’d think. Try to imagine Iron Butterfly’s infamous psychotrope “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” in two minutes flat. I did.