Monday, 18 November 2013

The Shortest Average AAA Songs Per Album (News, Views and Music Issue 219)

Last week we looked at which AAA albums had the longest average length of song per album and seeing a that went pretty well in the research department I'd already promised you a look at the shortest average running times this week. You nearly didn't get this article, dear readers, or any other article this week because I think my brain just exploded. As if researching 20 Beach Boys albums wasn't bad enough, I then had to juggle 10,11,12,13 and 14 track albums and their running times together to work out the differences between them all. Unlike last week's long songs the distance between these tracks are tiny, mere seconds between first and last place in our listings, and I have a seemingly permanent headache from dividing twos into seemingly impossible fractions. As a result, while I'm pretty sure I covered all possible ground in last week's article, this one might have a few mistakes in there (I've never been too bad at maths but you need a masters degree to work this lot out), so I apologise now before the corrections start pouring in in the comments section. What I do know for certain is that this album is once again dominated by one group (in fact nearly 20 Beach Boys albums possess tracks with an average running time shorter than three minutes) and that I've had to make it a top sixteen this week because there were two equal places at the end. As you might have expected, every single song comes from the 1960s, when albums were generally shorter, unlike the free-for-all last issue that had long tracks from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Once again, compilations live albums and solo spin-off albums do not count (this article was hard enough to write without adding them in too...)

1) The Beach Boys "Surfin' USA" (1963)

(24:15 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 1 second each)

Beach Boys album number two just beats Beach Boys album number one by four seconds (that's what comes of having no less than six improvised-on-the-spot instrumentals to fill up the time slot!) The shortest song here, 'Finders Keepers', lasts a paltry 1:38, while the longest is the title track itself, which positively seems like an epic at 2:27. Thank goodness these Beach Boys albums were re-issued on a two-fer-one CD...

2) The Beach Boys "Surfin' Safari" (1962)

(24:53 running time ÷12 songs = 2 minutes 5 seconds each)

Beach Boys album number one is the earliest AAA album of them all (beating nearest competitor 'Please Please Me' by five months) and has the 'feel' of a 1950s records when pop songs were designed to last around two minutes, so it's no surprise to see 'Surfin' Safari' on the list. These songs' playing time range from the even shorter 'Ten Little Indians' at 1:26 (which is barely worth finding the groove for in the days of old vinyl) up to a whopping 2:17 'Heads You Win, Tails I Lose'. Which, coincidentally, is probably how most Beach Boys fans feel about forking out full price for an album that doesn't even last 25 minutes.

3) The Beach Boys "All Summer Long" (1964)

(25:10 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 6 seconds each)

We jump ahead now to Beach Boys album number six, which was Brian Wilson's answer to the British Invasion overtaking America and wanting a bit of an American Invasion of his own. A fine farewell to writing only songs about sun, surf and girls (till 1976 anyway), 'All Summer Long' is the stepping stone between the carefree pop band of the past and the increasingly mature band of the future. Really, though, this is an album looking forwards and back, full of short returns to old themes (in fact the nostalgic 'Do You Remember?' is the shortest at 1:40) and new stretches forward (the comparatively sophisticated 2:40 'Girls On The Beach').

4) The Beach Boys "Little Deuce Coupe" (1963)

(25:25 running time ÷12 songs = 2 minutes 7 seconds each)

...And back in time we go to Beach Boys album number four, the world's first concept album no less, which sounds great on paper but in practice just means yet more car songs along with the recycling of four previously released songs on the same theme. The strain of having to come up with six albums a year is really beginning to show on the band by now, with the songs getting more complex musically but simpler lyrically. The album is bookended by its two shortest songs (the title track and 'Custom Machine', which both clock in at 1:38) and stretch to the 2:47 of 'Car Crazy Cutie' which, again, sounds much like you'd excpect a Beach Boys song of that title to sound. At 25:25 this is another short album all round: come on guys - you're hardly going to break the speed limit with that are you?!

5=) The Monkees "Headquarters" (1967)

(29:59 running time ÷ 14 songs = 2 minutes 8 seconds each)

We now jump tracks entirely to Monkees album number three, the only record the band played from beginning to end themselves and the shortest of our core 101 album reviews. While most of the songs are brief and simple anyway (barring the album highlight, the marvellously sophisticated 'Early Morning Blues and Greens'), these songs' average running time has been adversely affected by the appearance of two spoken word 'songs', 'Zilch' and 'Band Six', which both have particularly short running times. All good fun though - these two songs make this album the closest thing to a musical equivalent of the energy and manicness of the TV series. So there.

5=) The Beach Boys "Friends" (1968)

(25:30 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 8 seconds each)

...And back again, to Beach Boys album 14. By 1968 most artists had doubled the length of their album running time, but circumstances (that six-records-a-year contract and Brian Wilson's failing mental health) meant that the Beach Boys were forced to sell us short this time around. Well, I say short - this is another of our 'core' 101 albums and almost all the music on this troubled album is glorious, masterpieces in miniature, ranging from the extremely short but extremely sweet 0:38 'Meant For You' up to the peculiar space-filling 3:37 instrumental 'Diamond Head', on which The Brach Boys might not even feature.

7) The Beach Boys "Surfer Girl" (1963)

(25:32 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 8 seconds each)

Ah, this is more what we expected: Beach Boys album number three. This is the one where Brian Wilson truly grows into a writer and starts thinking deeper thoughts with songs like 'In My Room' and the jazzy 'Our Car Club'. The songs are still on the short side, however, ranging from the first appearance of 'Little Deuce Coupe' at 1:38 again to the a capella 'Your Summer Dream', which done in one staggering 2:27 take!

8) The Beach Boys "Wild Honey" (1967)

(23:58 running time ÷ 11 songs = 2 minutes 11 seconds each)

This one is Beach Boys album 13, the back-to-basics album that inspired the more rocky feel prevalent in 1968 even though this album was actually released the same week as 'Magical Mystery Tour' in 1967. Again, Brian Wilson's only months on from regretfully abandoning 'Smile' (an album which would have bucked the trend by lasting near 50 minutes by the way) and isn't at his best here, so the rest of the band are awkwardly filling his shoes to varying degrees of success. The 1:05 closing chant (it's not really a song) 'Mama Says' definitely pulls the average time down, although the longest song ('A Thing Or Two' at 2:40) isn't exactly a giant of a song either.

9=) The Small Faces "The Small Faces" (First Immediate Album) (1967)

(30:24 running time ÷ 14 songs = 2 minutes 13 seconds each)

Unusually, The Small Faces started their career at Decca in 1965 making fairly long and epic R and B tracks before jumping ship for Immediate in 1967 and celebrating their new-found musical freedom to go all-out psychedelic by...shortening all their songs! The poppiest album from the summer of love by some margin, Americans know this album better by the name 'There Are But Four Small Faces', but we've gone for the UK title here because that was first and more accurate (counting Jimmy Winstun there were five!) The songs range from the delicate 'Feeling Lonely' at 1:35 to the closing psychedelic 'Eddie's Dreaming' - his dream lasts 2:47 for anyone interested.

9=) The Beach Boys "Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!!)" (1965)

(26:42 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 13 seconds each)

Beach Boys album number nine was a sort-of step backwards from the greatness of 'Beach Boys Today', partly because of that workload again but partly to give Brian Wilson the space to write 'Pet Sounds'. Then again, how many other step backwards do you know that include 'California Girls' 'Help Me Rhonda' and a better song than either 'Let Him Run Wild', a single that surprisingly flopped. The latest Beach Boys a capella song 'And Your Dreams Come True' undoubtedly pulls the average running time down at 1:04, while 'Rhonda' is the widest thing here at a sultry 2:46.

11) The Beach Boys "Shut Down Volume Two" (1964)

(27:05 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 15 seconds each)

Beach Boys album number five - 'Shut Down Volume One' was a 'Various Artists' record in case you're wondering - is the last really 'innocent' sounding Beach Boys album, no matter how hard the band try o sound young again on 'Beach Boys Love You' 13 years later. This is also the longest of the first half-dozen BB albums. The songs are still mighty short, though, ranging from the delightfully named 'Pom-Pom Playgirl' at 1:30 (it sounds much like you'd expect by the way, bearing in mind the kind of jokes the censors allowed back in 1964) and somehow it speaks volumes that the only track to go past the three minute point isn't a 'song' at all but the rather forced 'comedy' sketch of a fight breaking out between 'Sonny' Love and 'Cassius' Wilson. Mind you, entire boxing rounds have lasted longer than this album, clocking in at just 27 minutes.

12=) The Beach Boys "Christmas" (1964)

(27:37 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 18 seconds each)

This is the last Beach Boys album on the list, I promise. Album number seven brings good cheer every yuletide, but even by 1964 standards it's running length is quite scroogey (it's all down to that six-records-a-year contract again...) The traditional closer 'Auld Lang Syne' is the biggest casualty at a paltry 1:19 (it doesn't help that Dennis Wilson speaks over the rest of the song, which sounds even better without his scripted accompaniment), while the slowed-down arrangement of 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' makes this cover sound a lot longer than the 2:44 it lasts. Bah! Humbug!

12=) The Kinks "Kinda Kinks" (1964)

(27:38 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 18 seconds each)

Interestingly, the first Kinks album is pretty darn long for an album in 1964 and even at 14 songs the average length is pretty long. The debut had been planned for months, though (in Ray Davies' head at least), while this second album had to be recorded on the run in between tours and marriages. This is a curious record that on the one hand really shows Ray really coming into his own as a writer but on the other sounds at times as if the band couldn't wait to get through this album quickly enough. The running times suggest that too, ranging from the 1:49 burst of adrenalin 'Come On Now' to the moody 2:44 classic 'Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worrying 'Bout That Girl' ( it takes somewhere close to 2:44 just to type that title...)

14) The Beatles "With The Beatles" (1963)

(32:34 running time ÷ 14 songs = 2 minutes 20 seconds each)

Even the fab four aren't immune to short songs. In fact, if you take away the 3:00 cover of 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' (which drew eyebrows at the time for daring to break the 2:59 barrier) then this would be the shortest album on the list. American kinda know this album better as 'Meet The Beatles' by the way, although Europe actually first met The Beatles on 'Please Please Me', a record with fractionally longer songs that just missed out on appearing on this list. The songs range in length from 'Hold On Me' to the 1:46 short sharp shock of 'Little Child'. It's a worthy first record to have been reviewed by this site - some 330 albums ago!

15= The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" (1964)

(30:45 running time ÷ 13 tracks = 2 minutes 22 seconds each)

At two minutes and one track shorter, Beatles album number three is the least value-for-money record timewise of all their records. Stuff time though (if I wanted time I'd buy a watch) - this is still a fascinating record for the time period, both as fresh as the other albums released by competitors in 1964 and already looking forward to the future with sadness. Much of this album was written on the run in hotel rooms and it shows sometimes in the brevity of the songs ('I'll Cry Instead is the band's fourth shortest song at 1:46), with the longest song 'I Should Have Known Better' at 2:43.

15=) The Monkees "More Of The Monkes" (1967)

(28:28 running time ÷ 12 songs = 2 minutes 22 seconds each)

Finally here comes the second appearance by The Monkees, which just beats a whole great run of Monkees albums (including albums 1,4,6,7,8 and 9) that only just missed out on a place in this list. This second Monkees album is the last before the great 'revolution' which saw the band play their own instruments (legend has it the band didn't even know the record was coming out and had to stop off during a tour to actually buy the album). It's the one with 'I'm A Believer' on it, which just happens to be the longest song (at a radio-playlist friendly 2:45), with the shortest song 'When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door' at 1:48.

And that's that for another issue. In case anyone was interested there's a whole great tie for 16th place, with two Hollies albums, three Monkees albums, 'Please Please Me' and Cat Stevens' 'Matthew and Son' all tied on 2:23. Join us next week for more news, views and music, whatever the length, whatever the running time!

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