The standard length of a pop song has long been considered three minutes, even though pop songs haven’t consistently been three minutes long for a generation or more. The creep began in the 70s—American Top 40 went from a three-hour show to a four-hour show in October 1978 because the records were getting so long—and it’s continued to this day. But if brevity is the soul of wit, it must also be the soul of music. Think of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic singles, for instance, practically none longer than 2:50 and some as short as 2:05. So anyway: Here’s a random selection of songs from my music stash that run between 2:59 and 3:01. Your mileage may vary—the length of an mp3 does not necessarily correspond to the official timing on a record—but this is what I’ve got.
“My Baby Loves Lovin'”/White Plains. One of the mighty quartet of Tony Burrows records that ran the charts early in 1970. Hear it here, then check the version Elton John recorded for an album of soundalike hits released scant weeks before he became a star.
“Celebrate”/Three Dog Night. Written by Gary Bonner and Allan Gordon, who also wrote “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and featuring all three of the group’s singers, Danny Hutton, Cory Wells, and Chuck Negron. Live performance from Soundstage here.
“People Get Ready”/Kenny Rankin. The Impressions song, from Silver Morning, by the singer/songwriter who died earlier this year.
“Sad Day”/Rolling Stones. The B-side of “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and a pretty good song.
“Invisible Man”/Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators. You’d swear this group is from the days of the three-minute pop song, but their album Keep Reachin’ Up was actually recorded in 2005.
“Warm Love”/Otis Clay. From a 2003 Van Morrison tribute album featuring various R&B stars, including Little Milton, Bettye Lavette, Eddie Floyd, Ellis Hooks, and others. The original is from Hard Nose the Highway, and is very fine indeed.
“Don’t Ask Me Why”/Billy Joel. I was never quite sure what this Latin-flavored earworm was doing on what was supposed to be Billy Joel’s hard-rock album, Glass Houses, but it’s harmless.
“They Don’t Know”/Tracey Ullman. Now THIS is a three-minute pop song. Although the video cuts off a few seconds early, it goes on long enough for a special guest to appear.