A side trip to 420

On the Déjà Vu LP by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, there’s a little solo track by Stephen Stills called “4 + 20,” which began “Four and twenty years ago I come into this life / The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife.” It is a measure of how far out of the loop I was that for many years after that, subsequent references to 420 made me think of this song rather than, um, something else.

Today, of course, 420 has been institutionalized. In a review of Freezepop’s Imaginary Friends (which I myself reviewed here), Chicken Donut offers the following observation:

Every time I see a track that is 4:20 in length I always wonder whether it was on purpose or not. It seems so random that you would happen to make a track exactly that long.

Which notion, of course, led me to the shelves to see what kind of songs time out at 4:20. And I’m thinking, based on the stuff I’m familiar with — your mileage may vary — that it’s mostly random after all, with the possible exceptions of UB40’s “Higher Ground,” where you can write your own joke (the B-side was called “Chronic,” after all), or the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” where you don’t really have to.

Freezepop, meanwhile, let it be known on their Facebook page that the timing on “Magnetic” was purely coincidental.

Addendum: Stevie Wonder, back in the Seventies, cut a track called “Higher Ground,” not connected to the UB40 song — but which RHCP covered. Neither recording exceeded four minutes, however.

5 comments

  1. Charles Pergiel »

    19 December 2010 · 2:21 pm

    Since most songs are between two and four minutes long, that only gives you 120 different lengths of time to choose from and as there are presumably 1000’s of songs published every year, there are going to be a huge number of duplicates. Songs over four minutes long are not as common, but still there must be a bunch of them, and you are still limited to fixed number of lengths, as the length of a tune is only measured in seconds.

  2. CGHill »

    19 December 2010 · 2:48 pm

    Oh, easily. I have a database of chart items (roughly 1950-1999), and it shows more than 100 songs that were listed as running 4:20. (The shortest song to chart during that period was Duane Eddy’s “Some Kind-a Earthquake,” from 1959, which runs a mere 1:17.)

    Arguably the most effective time for a pop tune is two minutes, forty-two seconds.

  3. David Fleck »

    19 December 2010 · 8:46 pm

    I had no idea. And me a CU-Boulder grad.

  4. Keith »

    20 December 2010 · 12:00 pm

    I guess I’m “old school”, but isn’t that the number of blackbirds baked in a pie?

  5. David Fleck »

    20 December 2010 · 6:03 pm

    Oh yeah, they were baked alright.

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