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Length Does Matter

Updated on April 5, 2013
The Rolling Stones, "Sticky Finger"
The Rolling Stones, "Sticky Finger"
The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour"
The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour"

There have always been long and long winded classical music on records, ditto for most operas that have been recorded and movie soundtracks. But, the "long song" in rock and pop music is a fairly recent event.

For those who do not know, in the 50's and 60's, most of the hit singles and songs on albums averaged not more than 3 minutes time. In fact, even that was considered long. Any song by Elvis, The Beatles, early Stones, or you name it, usually ran not more than this. Many were only 2 minutes. I know, it seems too short, as just when you got "into" the song, it was over! Some of this was due to the record format, the 78 and 45 rpm records had limited space and 3 minutes was often the max. Also, radio stations did not like to play songs much longer because it ate into their advertising sales. Consider a the Doors, Light My Fire, which really was the first pop song on radio that broke this barrier. When it came out in the mid-60's, few stations played the long 7 minute version, so the record company created shorter 3-4 minute version (without the long winded instrumental), which stations played like fire. It was their first #1 hit. Dylan, the Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin and many more had their long songs but it was more of an anomaly. It became a fad.

When FM radio came out in the late 60's, many stations played nothing but long versions of the songs to occupy airtime, then, would have 10 minutes of ads to make up for it. Yes and Queen, both groups of the 70's had their 22 minute songs, actually, a series of shorter songs tied together many times, so did Pink Floyd.

Many producers feel the pop\rock song should not be longer than 5 minutes because any longer, it becomes a "jam" or becomes tedious and redundant. For some songs, that is totally true. Justin Timberlake's 20/20 CD averages 7 minutes per song, other artists it is 10 minutes.

Then there is the value item. As a listener, would you find a CD of long but fewer songs worth the $12 or shorter and more songs (at least 12)? It depends, I guess. Not all songs on a CD are good or great, some suck. If the CD has only six long songs and you only like three of them, did you get your money's worth? Would you be a repeat buyer of that artist? Also, is the artist actually being lazy by extending the song into a 7 minute exercise of a "jam" session? Some tend to view a long rock song just as that.

For many record companies, the old axiom continues when dealing with recording artists: more shorter songs are better than a few long ones for many reasons.


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