Short Is Sweet: The Greatest Pop Songs Under 3 Minutes
The best things come in small packages… and that goes for the greatest pop songs of all time too. Here are 50 incredible songs under three minutes.
We all know that short is sweet, small is beautiful and the best things come in small packages… and the same applies to pop music. It’s those classic singles that are under three minutes long that are very often the greatest pop songs of all time.
Why are pop songs so short?
The reason pop songs were so short, early on at least, 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 two minutes of playing time. By the 1920s, 10” records were virtually all three 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 two-and-a-half and three minutes long.
With the coming of the vinyl age in the late 1940s, the trend continued. RCA Victor had nearly gone bust in the 1930s trying to develop a long-playing record, but RCA eventually came up with the 45 rpm, 7” single to rival the 78rpm. A dynamic marketing executive even had the idea of color coding the RCA releases. Bizarrely, their blues and R&B records came out on orange vinyl. Popular music came on blue, while country records were green. Their first blues 45 was Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” which ran 2:55.
Many 45 rpm singles in the 1950s and early 1960s were around three minutes in length. This was a historical hangover, but it was also down to two quirks:
1) AM radio liked their records to be short. In case someone didn’t like the song that was playing, they didn’t have to wait long before the next one started.
2) Shorter songs meant less grooves on the record, which meant that the record was louder when it played. And, oftentimes, louder means better in the mind of a listener.
Our playlist of the greatest pop songs under three minutes
But enough history for the moment. In this playlist, we’ve picked 50 of the greatest pop singles under three minutes. The list is extremely varied, moving from the beginnings of pop music into the present day. There’s a little bit of country, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll, and a whole lot of straight pop. It doesn’t include Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay,” which hit No.1 with just one minute and 37 seconds of sweet singing. Or the under-two-minute gems Herman Hermit’s “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” and Lil Nas X’s mega-hit “Old Town Road.” But we have 50 other greats that we think you’ll enjoy.
A few highlights: Who can resist Martha and The Vandellas‘ clarion call to have us all “Dancing In The Street”? Running time two minutes 39 seconds. Or The Beach Boys and “God Only Knows,” which clocks in at two minutes 53 seconds.
Early rock ‘n’ rollers liked their songs especially short. Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” is just two minutes and eight seconds, while Del Shannon’s classic “Runaway” is just eight seconds longer. Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Ray Charles’s “Hit The Road Jack” both run for just one minute and 58 seconds. But it’s not just older artists who like ‘em short on our playlist. Blur and Elvis Costello both have great singles that run for little over two minutes.
The Beatles, naturally, have plenty to pick from: “From Me To You,” “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Lady Madonna,” and many of their other hits all run for under three minutes. We’ve chosen “I Feel Fine” – a mere two minutes 19 seconds to represent their genius.
Likewise, The Rolling Stones released a string of short ones, with their debut, “Come On” running just one minute 48 seconds. There’s also “Not Fade Away,” “Get Off My Cloud,” “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby,” and “Mothers Little Helper.” On our list of the 50 greatest, though, we’ve gone for “Honky Tonk Women,” which just creeps under the wire at two minutes 59 seconds.
Anyway, time to dive into the wonderful world of the greatest pop songs under three minutes.
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Dancing In The Street
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
Queen – Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Eddie Cochran – C’mon Everybody
Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps – Be-Bop-A-Lula
The Turtles – Happy Together
Del Shannon – Runaway
10cc – The Dean And I
Patsy Cline – Crazy
The Jam – Going Underground
The Who – Pictures Of Lily
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel
Spice Girls – Wannabe
The Temptations – My Girl
Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay
Aretha Franklin – Respect
Sam & Dave – Soul Man
Wilson Pickett – In the Midnight Hour
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down
Pixies – Monkey Gone to Heaven
Blur – Song 2
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
ABBA – Waterloo
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn – Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man
The Jackson 5 – ABC
Arctic Monkeys – I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game
The Doors – Break on Through (To the Other Side)
The Smiths – This Charming Man
The White Stripes – Fell In Love With a Girl
Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?)
Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Ariana Grande – 7 Rings
DEVO – Whip It
blink-182 – All The Small Things
The Kinks – You Really Got Me
Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack
Jilted John – Jilted John
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill
The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You
Cream – Badge
Ricky Nelson – Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)
The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’
Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down
Little Richard – Tutti Frutti
The Beatles – I Feel Fine
The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women
Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World
Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze
Missed one of the greatest pop songs under three minutes? Let us know in the comments below.
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?
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
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
June 26, 2016 at 5:51 pm
“Great music is essentially other people’s opinions”
June 26, 2016 at 6:57 pm
Oh, Pretty Woman was the greatest of all time!
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.
June 26, 2016 at 8:41 pm
Velocity Girl by Primal Scream.
June 27, 2016 at 4:39 pm
Teddy Bear – Elvis. May be the shortest.
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.
July 13, 2016 at 8:03 pm
No The Letter by The Box Tops?
July 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm
Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison
September 11, 2016 at 11:10 pm
Depending on your age,you can’t beat 50s and 60s music.
September 13, 2016 at 6:41 pm
Bee Gees Massachusetts!!!!!!!
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. Its success in the UK enabled Pitney to become an international star. In the US, Pitney peaked at #17 on the pop chart.
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).”
June 26, 2017 at 6:26 pm
Never heard so much claptrap about a normal run of the mill song.
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.
June 27, 2017 at 6:09 am
Your list is incomplete without:
(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
August 29, 2019 at 1:18 pm
I don’t know any of those songs
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.
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.
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
September 8, 2017 at 5:50 pm
Surrender by Elvis
June 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm
The best…… DinInlove you, Frank Wilson
June 28, 2018 at 2:40 am
You must be kidding. No Louie Louie. No Chuck Berry?
January 26, 2019 at 2:21 pm
February 5, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds. It was a groundbreaking single that introduced a sound that became a staple in rock and roll.
January 23, 2023 at 6:02 pm
Almost any song by Chuck Berry. 90% of Motown. Well over 50% of all Punk Rock. Over 50% of The Beatles singles. All Jerry Lee Lewis hits.
There are thousands to choose from and you select DEVO, Spice Girls and Jilted John!
April 3, 2023 at 7:18 pm
Just about ANYTHINg by the Dave Clark 5 – “Everybody Knows”, “Because”,”Catch us If You Can” “Bits and Pieces” all very, very cool songs. AND you forgot the Box Tops “The Letter”! Good lord, do your homework!!!
April 13, 2023 at 3:02 am
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