The struggle to be something more than fluff or fun trash, or to be an exemplar of the highest places to which fluff and fun trash can aspire; to make a skeletal framework stand in for flesh and imply substance inside a spook; to transcend the limitations of length when you hardly have time to say anything; to set a memorable mood quickly and then make it seem bigger than it actually is.
Or to be Guided by Voices. This list is dominated by a relatively small number of bands, which I think is less due to limitations in my collection than it is to the small number of bands consistently working at this length. And more so, that some of those small number of bands are really, really good at short-form songwriting.
I Swear, I Picked That Journal Title Before Today
But very weird, to grab a quote from a song with a "me voy" refrain, considering that last.fm has just announced a change that will drive quite a few users elsewhere. Is this site just about data collection now? I wonder if the loss of the play-on-demand feature makes this column less user-friendly. I wonder if there is now little reason to keep it here, anyway.
I just opened a Hype Machine account, and it seems to scrobble appropriately. However, it seems there are fewer fully-streamable tracks available. Readers, let me know: does the migration of full-track streaming to other sites mean that reading this column is now too much work? Or does it not matter as much as it seems like to me? Does it make a difference if you can get Spotify? (I can't.)
The Top Twelve Songs from 1:40 to 1:43
1) To Remake the Young Flyer--Guided By Voices
What a delicious wet/sticky guitar sound! Most of these extremely short songs are really best at their truncated length, but if Sprout had wanted to be even a little bit self-indulgent, he could have stretched this one out. The Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (to which “Flyer” owes a debt of influence) would have ridden this tune for at least three minutes, and we all would have thought it was great.
2) Eruption--Van Halen
Yeah, it’s just wanking. But it is 100% awesome (and quite short) wanking, so there’s not a single boring second to sit through before the cool part. The whole thing is the cool part.
3) Never Talking to You Again--Hüsker Dü
The shock of the folk rock! It would still be great anywhere in Hüsker Dü's oeuvre, but putting this song third on the side one of Zen Arcade is brilliant sequencing: a radical curveball to purist expectations.
4) The Leader--The Clash
Diddley beat with a simple and satisfying candypop refrain, in some ways an exemplar of what can be done within this time limitation.
5) Isla de Encanta--Pixies
Back when this song came out, I was taking first semester Spanish, and I asked my teacher what "fermiento" was. Because I heard it as "Donde no hay su fermiento," or, "Where there is none [of] your something." Also waiting for the German dominatrix version, "Ilsa de Encanta."
6) Cowboys From Hollywood--Camper Van Beethoven
Are they kind of taking the piss out of Dwight Yoakam here? They might have run into each other in California in the early 80s, and David Lowery might have asked Dwight’s band, “Hey, aren’t ya’ll cowboys from Hollywood?” Dwight's band would have gotten offended and claimed to be from Bakersfield, and then there would have almost been a fight.
7) Zurich Is Stained--Pavement
As Lisa pointed out, Pavement on my list has come to seem obligatory. But gosh, they have so many great songs; this one is an exquisitely warped fragment of refried country, although it loses a little something from not being in the album sequence.
8) Dreams Reoccurring--Hüsker Dü
Self-indulgent prog at a length tolerable for human beings. Its companion piece, the 14-minute “Reoccurring Dreams” is punk at a length tolerable for King Crimson fans.
9) I Found The Star--Fastbacks
Hyperactive pink punk pop, played too fast and too loud, and I mean that as a compliment.
10) What's My Name--The Clash
“(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” reimagined, or ripped off, or stomped on, depending on one’s frame of reference. Also see Stop Draggin' Me Down by The Mono Men and Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones by The Hives. "What's My Name" is the best of the three.
11) Hot Freaks--Guided By Voices
Pollard emotes over a loose groove; structurally it’s barely there at all, but it feels like something larger, and it’s gone before you notice it isn’t.
12) Brown Paper Sack--The Gentrys
Reigning Sound’s growlier cover blows away this original, which is rather limp in comparison, but it is still fun trash.
I'll be honest: there are three or four other GBV songs that could have, and maybe should have, made this list, since they are all better than "Brown Paper Sack." But in the interest of variety, I restricted each band to two songs.
Well, then. I am still stunned by today's announcement about the removal of full tracks. It really makes this a different place. You know, I have always thought the price of a last.fm subscription was absurdly cheap; I would be willing to pay more to get the full tracks back, and I wonder why no one ever surveyed the subscribers to find out about that.