Three minutes and thirty-eight seconds: Since I’m getting some new followers (hi! and thanks!) I thought I’d mention a couple of things. The idea of the blog is hopefully pretty obvious! But what’s not so obvious is that a) I’m not selecting the “best” songs at each length - that would barely be possible! I’m picking ones I want you to hear or want to write about or just feel like picking. And b) I’m trying to pick only one song per artist, though at some point I might break this rule.
Meanwhile here’s Marit Larsen. During the high tide of teenpop criticism “Don’t Save Me” felt like one of the songs all participants - and quite a few neutrals - could celebrate. It’s still fantastic, so confident in its use of “Dancing Queen” style piano, so well put together, and best of all it feels alive, a song about a real situation which doesn’t just reach for rote emotions and reactions to deal with it. The “thanks but no thanks” feel - on the edge of a break-up, sympathetic but bubbling with barely suppressed excitement over letting a bad thing go - isn’t much explored in pop but it’s heartfelt and rings giddily true.
What would your 3’38” track be?
Three minutes and thirty-nine seconds: This was a big Summer tune for me this year, a year too late and despite its being quite so stuffed w/tricks I ought to have got bored with by now. Surf guitar runs, cocked-gun sounds, ringing phones, cash registers, horses neighing - no, actually, there should be more neighs in pop! I’m tempted to argue the neighs make the song, to be honest, situate it as an aburdist porno Western thing. But that would be wrong, it’s really the way all these different sounds can’t get a grip on the song. They’re trying to pull it off course, turn it into a novelty, but Major Lazer have a bloody-minded dumb-on-purpose commitment to the beat and to repetition which ultimately keeps the track together. “Hold The Line” is a very good name for it.
What would your 3’39” track be?
Three minutes and forty seconds:
the lyrics of radio-ready pop often pretend that the only relevant zone of human interaction outside the bedroom, the only place that matters, is “the club,” and even more claustrophobic, the V.I.P. room, where the main options are drinking brand-name booze, bragging about sexual conquests and enumerating designer accessories.
- Jon Pareles on current pop
Every night with my star friends we eat caviar and drink champagne, sniffing in the VIP area we talk about Frank Sinatra. “You know Frank Sinatra? He’s dead!”
- Miss Kittin, “Frank Sinatra”
This is one of my very favourite 00s pop songs. It’s fabulously amoral. It doesn’t think the people in the VIP area are all that, because it breaks down their lives into ludicrous repetition. But it certainly doesn’t think the people outside are all that either, they don’t even register. It doesn’t think anything much, nothing it won’t hide behind that mirthless skeleton laugh - “he’s dead, hahahaha” - but it’s still out-thinking anyone coming at it. Most electroclash I got tired of but I keep coming back to “Frank Sinatra”, there’s a seam of jet in it, real glittering negation like in “Get Off Of My Cloud” or “Holidays In The Sun” if you want comparisons. Intoxicating, hollow, horrible, addictive, funny.
What would your 3’40” track be?
Three minutes and forty-one seconds: “Yer in a RUT! You gotta get out of it, out of it, out of it, out of it, OUT OF IT”. That’s why I started doing It Took Seconds. a year ago today. I wanted an excuse to write quickly, without thinking too much. I knew I’d be doing more music writing and I needed a project that would grease those axles. It worked, then it failed. So let’s try again. 221 entries in 365 days - not beyond the realms of possibility, you’d think? And here are The Ruts, putting a finger on the reasons people fool themselves on January 1st, the angry itch they’re trying to placate.
What would your 3’41” song be?
Three minutes and forty-two seconds: What seems to have happened here is that Hayzi Fantayzee have said “We want to make amazing pop records” and then realised they have no particular method or knowledge of how to go about doing so. It was 1983; there was a lot of it about. So “Shiny Shiny” takes a chassis from “The Clapping Song” and whoops and hollers and plays the spoons over the top of it, adding a playground chant for a chorus. It takes its own inventiveness quite for granted - unless it actually IS just a fuck up on my MP3 there’s a bit where they make the song jerk about like the backing is skipping and then kick it to get back to the tune; it’s the kind of idea which in another time and place might have been made the point of the song and placed so you’d hear it and think “Yes. Innovative.” But here it just… happens, and you don’t think about it at all. (Well, you do now, because I’ve pointed it out to you.) Oh, and it’s supposedly “about” the apocalypse but really it’s about a song having a “most early 80s lyric ever” competition with itself. “I’m a hot retard / Marquis de Sade” looked a certainty until “The child spoke - we ain’t got a hope / Press the button press the button it’s all remote” turned up. Those meddling kids.
What would your 3’42” track be?
Three minutes and forty-three seconds: When I was 12 I chose my first Favourite Band. I’d had bands I liked before but this was the first time I decided to have a Favourite Band. They were Ultravox. Not Ultravox! with John Foxx who I thought of as legendary and frightening and probably unlistenable. But Ultravox, the four-piece with Midge Ure in (and Billy Currie and Warren Cann and… no, it’s gone.) I chose them mostly because friends liked them and I admired the seriousness with which these friends apporached that liking. Also, it was something to talk about waiting for lunch at school.
They were a serious bunch, Ultravox. I had most of the albums but I liked the greatest hits album, The Collection, more. It had a blue-marbled effect on the front cover framing the four solemn members of Ultravox as if the cover was decoration in an expensive bathroom suite. Once I sat an exam to get a scholarship to a new school and after I finished the paper I spent the remaining minutes listing the tracks on The Collection, in order. “The Thin Wall” was probably top, because I’d been told knowledgeably how good the drum programming was. “Passing Strangers” was probably bottom, because it was a love song but also I hope because it was a bad love song.
I don’t know where I put “Reap The Wild Wind” - mid table I assume. Now it sounds great, full of idiot confidence. The early 80s are full of people doing what amount to Bowie impressions but charged with a vulgarity Bowie never really managed.
Anyway the point of all this is that Ultravox were a kind of bridging device for me, a way for me to act out being Into Music before I actually got into music. It’s like the vaguely patronising thing sociologist/anthro types say about young girls with pop star posters on their wall: oh their fantasy romance is a kind of stabilisers-on preparation for real romance. Except for me going through all these motions of liking Ultravox was a preparation for being a real music nerd.
What would your 3’43” track be?
Three minutes and forty-four seconds: I’m bored of the proper 90s now, I want these 90s. Maxx - “Get A Way”.
What would your 3’44” track be?
Three minutes and forty-five seconds: Turn of the 00s teenpop, heavy on the stereo panning but effective with it - those flutterbeats, so typical of the era, are suddenly tense and riled up, shifting weight from channel to channel like a boxer bouncing on his heels. If they’re ALL you listen to “He Loves U Not” sounds weirder than it is, that’s some Mouse On Mars style programming there. But Dream were pop, and so really it’s all about the song. The voices aren’t anything super-special but they’re direct and cagey at once, a kind of blank wall which suits the track’s cold defensiveness.
What would your 3’45” track be?
Three minutes and forty-six seconds: Negativland’s music usually leaves me fairly cold - as in, I don’t laugh (or fight the man) - but “Aluminium Or Glass: The Memo” is different. Partly this is to do with my job: I have been privy to the occasional meeting in which questions equally as asinine as “Could a man living in Los Angeles understand what a seagull is?” have been asked in all seriousness. Equally, the “Memo” of the title - a supposed casting call for a Pepsi spot - is presumably completely invented but the writers (and reciter) have got the tone pretty much right: “Contemporary is a GOOD WORD HERE”. Again, before I actually worked in marketing I would have assumed it over the top, but it’s not. Best of all is the air of tear-jerking uplifting unctiousness with which the “When we’re back to back” tagline is delivered.
What Negativland have - maybe unwittingly - caught here is that the problem with marketing isn’t (just) its venality or even its hypocrisy, it’s the extreme, pinched caution involved in much of it. That’s what makes people gravitate towards statements and ideas that aren’t even wrong, just smiling voids of meaning. That said it remains a professional ambition of mine to one day lean across a boardroom table and say with the utmost sincerity: “We can go out of the ordinary - but we can’t live there.”
What would your 3’46” track be?
Three minutes and forty-seven seconds: “Unlike the others I’ll do anything / I’m not the same, I have no shame” - very difficult to hear “Burning Up” as the semi-anonymous art-disco track it might once have been, especially as Madonna’s voice is so distinctive (and this was her best era for singing - thin, full of character, and so hungry). But even aside from her future this is a great, great pop record - she’s fierce of course, but her co-star is that guitar, jabbing and scrawling all over the track, and somehow enhancing its sense of space. This is a song for empty lofts, bare walls, unpaid bills and a beatbox. One of my five or six favourite things by her.
What would your 3’47” track be?