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Short Is Sweet: The Greatest Pop Songs Under 3 Minutes

The best things come in small packages… Here uDiscover Music presents the 50 greatest pop songs that clock in under three minutes.

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We all know that short is sweet, small is beautiful and the best things come in small packages… and the same applies to pop singles. It’s those classic singles that are under three minutes long that are very often the greatest pop songs of all time.

But why is this? Well, it stems from the fact that when 78 rpm were the standard records for pop music there was a limit to what could be put onto a shellac record. Initially these brittle discs were limited to about 2 minutes playing time, by the 1920s 10” records were virtually all 3 minutes or under. In 1923 when King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the band that included Louis Armstrong, recorded 13 sides at Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, the records were almost all between 2’ 30” and 3” minutes long.

Eddy-Arnold-Texarkana-Baby-SingleWith the coming of the vinyl age in the late 1940s and the 45 rpm single the trend continued. RCA Victor had nearly gone bust in the 1930s trying to develop a long playing record, but it was RCA that came up with the 45 rpm, 7 inch, single to rival the 78rpm. Some dynamic marketing executive had the idea of colour coding the RCA releases. Bizarrely their Blues and R&B records came out on orange vinyl, among the seven different colours were, popular music on Blue, while country records, rather appropriately, were green. Their first Blues 45 was Arthur Crudup’s ‘That’s All Right’ which ran 2 minutes 55 seconds… a few years later Elvis covered the song…the rest is history.

Most 45 rpm singles in the 1950s and early 1960s were around 3 minutes in length, the majority less than 180 seconds. This was both a historical hangover, but it was also down to the fact that AM radio liked their records to be short as well as a technological necessity in that this allowed the records to be as loud as possible; putting more grooves on a 45 to pack in more music meant that they played quieter.

We’ve picked 50 of the Greatest Pop Singles under 3 minutes long as testament to what is the most popular art form on the planet… Pop Music! Who can resist Martha and The Vandellas clarion call to have us all ‘Dancing In The Street’? Running time 2 minutes 39 seconds. Or The Beach Boys and ‘God Only Knows’ (2 ‘ 53”) – and not the first single to have God in the title as is often cited, but certainly the best.

Rock and Rollers liked their singles even shorter. Elvis’ s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is just 2’ 8”, while Del Shannon’s classic, ‘Runaway’ is 8 seconds longer. Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and Ray Charles’s ‘Hit The Road Jack’ both run for just 1 minute and 58 seconds. And it’s not just older artists who like ‘em short. Blur and Elvis Costello both have great singles that run for little over 2 minutes.

The Beatles, naturally, kept to the formula and ‘From Me To You’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Lady Madonna’ and many of their other hits all run for under 3 minutes; we’ve chosen ‘I Feel Fine’, 2 minutes 19 seconds to represent their genius.

Likewise, The Rolling Stones released a strong of short ones, with their debut, ‘Come On’ running just 1’ 48”. In the same way as ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Get Off My Cloud’, ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby’ and ‘Mothers Little Helper’ all following the formula. On our list of the 50 Greatest we’ve gone for ‘Honky Tonk Women’, which just creeps under the wire at 2’ 59”.

Anyway, time to dive into the wonderful world of the greatest pop songs under three minutes…some of the finest music ever committed to vinyl…

What are your greatest pop songs under three minutes?

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Peter Evans

    June 26, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Wannabe The Spice Girls!!!
    You are kidding me!!!Greatest pop songs
    You might as well put Benny Hills Ernie,or other such rubbish…
    Totally manufactured,hats off to them for it.
    But please,was it a typing error?

    • uDiscover

      June 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      Not even slightly! The Spice girls represent the Pop of their generation, maybe not yours… but to some these are the pinnacle of pop

    • Oliver

      May 27, 2019 at 11:06 pm

      I would say needy by Ariana grande, monopoly by Victoria Monet and Ariana grande, sally walker by iggy azalea, Keenan by iggy azalea and tyga, and changes by XXXTENTION

  2. Rick Bloom

    June 26, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    “Great music is essentially other people’s opinions”
    Rick Bloom

  3. John Stark

    June 26, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Oh, Pretty Woman was the greatest of all time!

  4. Joe

    June 26, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    The 3 minute mark is a pretty arbitrary running time. From the mid 50’s to the late 60’s, probably 95 % of the big hits ran less than 3 minutes. On the other side, you’re leaving out most of the hits of the 70’s and 80’s, when the singles were running 3 1/2 to over 4 minutes. Some odd (IMHO) choices as well (Include “Break On Through 2:25” and leave out “Light My Fire” 2:55). Don’t know anything about rock after the 80’s, so I can’t speak tot he later choices.

  5. Deb

    June 26, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Velocity Girl by Primal Scream.

  6. Charles Ressler

    June 27, 2016 at 4:31 am

    You leave out “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiac? They shortest #1 song of all time.

    • Chas

      January 26, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      Yup !

  7. Col Goldie

    June 27, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Teddy Bear – Elvis. May be the shortest.

  8. RichC

    June 27, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    No “Rock Around the Clock” one of the greatest singles of all time without which many others on this list may never had happened??? (unless that is #50, only seeing 49).

  9. Todd Medlock

    July 13, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Hummm: I guess Jimi Hendrix “little wing” was not a “pop single”. Too bad. IMHO it is much better than most of the songs on the list.

  10. David

    July 13, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    No The Letter by The Box Tops?

  11. Michael Hollenkamp

    July 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison

  12. chris rogers

    September 11, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Depending on your age,you can’t beat 50s and 60s music.

  13. Tony

    September 13, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Bee Gees Massachusetts!!!!!!!

  14. Blair Bartholomew

    April 23, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    “”Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa” is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David which was a hit for Gene Pitney.[1][2] Its success in the UK enabled Pitney to become an international star. In the US, Pitney peaked at #17 on the pop chart.[3]

    The song is notable for its tonal ambiguity, a common feature of Bacharach’s constructivist style. The verse is in G major, with a lydian implication in the melody supported by the supertonic major. At the start of the chorus, an interruption of the expected cadence by the subdominant chord (C major) establishes this as the new tonic, with the remainder of the chorus centred around the submediant, dominant and subdominant chords of this key. A similar interruption at the end of the chorus converts an expected perfect cadence in the new key to a modal cadence back into G major. At the end of the song, a dominant seventh on the tonic resolves as a perfect cadence into a new key to finish the song on the subdominant chord of the principal key (C major as viewed from the perspective of a G major tonality).”
    Wikipedia

  15. Bazzerboy

    June 26, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Never heard so much claptrap about a normal run of the mill song.

    • Dave

      December 23, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      It’s not claptrap just because it’s over your head, but it doesn’t belong in this thread.

  16. John Morgan

    June 26, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    ‘Purple Haze’ at 49 and no Jefferson Airplane ‘White Rabbit’. I know everyone has their personal favourites, but …

  17. Bill Collins

    June 27, 2017 at 6:09 am

    Your list is incomplete without:
    (1) Gloria–Them
    (2) Your Ma Said You Cried In Your
    Sleep Last Night–Kenny Dino
    (3) Mother-In-Law–Ernie K Doe
    (4) Just One Look–Doris Troy
    (5) That’ll Be The Day–Buddy Holly

  18. Fred

    June 30, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    ….interesting that no one has mentioned Creedence Clearwater Revival. Plus, most of their singles were flip side hits.

    • J m

      January 25, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      Bingo. Exactly. John Fogerty championed the idea of get in and get out in under three minutes – and did it as well as anyone.

  19. Jim Branson

    September 4, 2017 at 1:06 am

    When a task is not seen in a meaningful context it is experienced as being arbitrary. — Nehemiah Jordan

  20. Laszlo Jakabfi

    September 8, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Surrender by Elvis

  21. bob

    September 9, 2017 at 4:28 am

    There’s only 49

  22. Phillip Sanders

    June 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    The best…… DinInlove you, Frank Wilson

  23. air besar

    June 28, 2018 at 2:40 am

    You must be kidding. No Louie Louie. No Chuck Berry?

  24. Nadyaswhya1991

    June 29, 2018 at 9:26 am

    Your email

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