We all have that one song that, no matter how many times you hear it, remains perfect.
There are also songs that have such great staying power that decades after they first rose to fame, they’re still requested on radio, and ever-present on DJ sets and party playlists.
The five most-streamed songs from the 20th century come to mind.
Over on the Guardian‘s Hannah Jane Parkinson has a theory about what makes a song great, and she might be on to something.
While I’m keen on a dramatic seven-minute epic to close a rock album, a pop song should come in at between two and three minutes (as almost every track on Pet Sounds does). That’s why, when Madonna brought out a song that was four minutes long called 4 Minutes she was not as clever as she thought she was. Also because the radio edit was not four minutes. And also because it was crap.
It was crap. Madge can do better.
The three-minute track is a legacy of the 78rpm of shellac, and then vinyl records. One side lasted between three and five minutes.
Now, with no such restrictions, tracks can tend to bloviation. Most of the truly great bangers still come in at under three minutes, though. The raucous teen energy of Arctic Monkeys’ debut single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, at 2min 54sec, is a perfect example. However, I have come to allow circa 3min 30sec as an acceptable length. That is because of Xenomania, the production outfit that worked with Girls Aloud throughout their career.
We ran a check on some of the office favourites. After much back and forth (and judging), these were mentioned in the ‘perfect pop song’ category:
Yeah, not exactly all pop, but it’s a Friday and nearing home time so that will have to do.
Most of these come in around the three-minute mark, with a few closer to four minutes. Then there’s Billy Joel, but we’ll forgive him.
So is three minutes the golden number?
If you want your entire song played on the radio, then sure.
Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is about six minutes long, and it’s the most listened to track of the 20th century, so maybe not.
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