Larry Levine, the engineer at L.A.’s Gold Star Studios, was the man who built Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, so if anyone could confirm an old legend, he could:
At nearly four minutes long, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was a lengthy single by radio standards of the era. “It was running 3:50, and Phil was really worried that no DJs would play it,” Levine recalls. “So I suggested that we mark the record 3:05, and if anyone asked we could say it was a typo. Phil went along with that. We knew the programmers would figure it out after they listened to it. But at least it made sure that it got played once. It’s a good thing, too.”
Which is by way of reminding you of this item from 2005:
What makes the perfect song? Rich Appel, in his monthly newsletter Hz So Good, proposes criteria: “To me, the perfect song is about 2:30, has a beginning, middle and end, and is easy to sing along with.”
Hard to argue with that, though I’d stretch it out a few more seconds; seemingly every Motown hit up through 1967 or so ran somewhere between 2:40 and 3:00.
My scientists told me that the perfect song length had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in. Where the band thinks: Hey, let’s do the chorus seven times. Hey, let’s give the saxophone guy a real moment to shine on this one. Hey, let’s add another bridge…
The scientists then dug up this song by a group that pretty much defines one-hit wonder: the La’s. The song is “There She Goes,” and is so flawless that it instantly made everything else the band did pointless. This ditty is two minutes and 42 seconds, and is all about songwriting economy.
Allen also points to the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita” as an exemplar of the breed:
It delivers that psychedelic vibe and a coda but then gets the hell out of your life.
The Fab Four’s exquisite sense of timing “Hey Jude” and “Revolution #9” aside is manifest elsewhere: “Eight Days a Week” comes in at 2:42, as do three songs from the White Album (“Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Birthday” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”). Weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, Underground Sunshine’s slavish cover of “Birthday” also ran 2:42.
Allen offers a proposed mix tape of songs running 2:42. I’d like to suggest a few more:
- “Love Me Tender” (Elvis Presley)
- “Ooh Baby Baby” (The Miracles)
- “California Nights” (Lesley Gore)
- “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin)
- “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (Glen Campbell)
- “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots)
- “Down on the Corner” (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
All of these conform to Allen’s dictum:
When [the song] is over, I guarantee absolutely no one in the room goes: “Jesus, finally.”