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(Credits: Far Out / Jazmin Quaynor / Agê Barros)

Music

10 superb albums under half an hour long

@TomTaylorFO

There was a time when counterculture was propelling art forwards at such a breakneck speed that bands and artists would routinely pop into the studio for a month, record a short and sweet ten-track LP, then tour it for the next ten months before repeating the procedure all over again. This was an effective and efficient way to make money and the art far from suffered as a result. In fact, I’d go a step further and opine that ten or 11 tacks is the optimum length of an album.

There is a beauty in a self-contained project that proves short and sweet. It is almost as though the songs are more fully realised and exacting—they know what they’re about and they bray the nail home flush. As P.T. Barnum once famously declared: “Always leave them wanting more.” And Bobby Womack added, that way “you know they’ll call you back.”

Below we’ve compiled a list of albums you’ll be calling back time and time again. Ideal for your commute or to soundtrack the cooking of a quick dish, these records are brilliant from front to back. From the wry wisdom of Randy Newman’s debut to Bob Dylan’s most silken effort, these superb albums are masterpieces in their own right, it’s merely an added bonus that they don’t waste a second as they go about it. 

10 superb albums under half an hour:

Ramones – Ramones

In many ways, the Ramones pioneered brevity as an imperative. They disavowed the stilted prog-rock notion of seven-minute viola solos by some middle-class maestro and went about declaring that individualism was more important than conventional excellence in their own asocial leather-clad manner. 

As the punk poet John Cooper Clarke said, “they understood that it was more important to have clever lyrics about moronic subjects than the other way around.” They asserted this in a blitzkrieg blast that defined punk’s stroke of genius. After only 29 minutes, the album recorded in just a week ensured that culture would never be the same again. How’s about that for a half-hour listen?

(Credit: Sire Records)

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme – Simon & Garfunkel

Perfection is not a word that often comes into album reviews. Part of me even wonders whether it is as desirable an adjective as it seems on the surface, but Paul Simon’s songwriting frequently throws that back in my face. There is simply something about the way he weaves words into melodies that makes things joyously seamless. 

‘Cloudy’ is a track that wonderfully whisks you back inside for a cuppa on a grim day, ‘Homeward Bound’ still drifts out of headphones like spiritual honey in airports and train stations the world over, and my window cleaner whistles ‘Feeling Groovy’ every fortnight without it ever getting irritating. There are timeless beauties on this record from start to finish.

Pink Moon – Nick Drake

Try as you like, you’ll never be able to capture Nick Drake’s delicate guitar sound, you’ll never be able to sing with such hushed enchantment, and you’ll never be able to write songs with such melodic flow—he is the very definition of inimitable. All that being said, he doesn’t do anything all that out of the ordinary either, he simply does things out of the ether.  

Hymnal and honeyed, Drake’s 28-minute masterpiece is a work of filigreed magic. Partly haunting owing to the tragic realities of what became of Drake and partly heavenly owing to the way he transfigured his struggles into a gift, the album might only be dainty but the shade it casts is enormous. It welcomes you into that shade to hide away from the gaudy draw of humdrum everyday reality for a divine moment of exultation.  

(Credit: Press)

Crazy for You – Best Coast

Lingering somewhere between the sounds of classic indie and surf rock, Best Coast’s debut album defined their sound without any apologies or divergence for the sake of dreaded subtlety. If a handshake really does say a lot about a person, then Best Coast’s unflinching introduction was a fantastically firm one without ever squeezing the point home.

Crazy for You is the sort of record that represents a mood. You go back to the album when you’re searching for the singular feeling that it offers up. Too many wavering albums don’t deliver on this, and over a decade on from the release, that remains a triumph that keeps you going back. 

(Credit: Mexican Summer)

Aretha Now – Aretha Franklin

“Certainly gospel was my background,” Aretha Franklin once declared, “Is my background. My upbringing was in the church. We had to attend regularly. And of course, the church provided a training ground for me, so to speak, as a young vocalist and certainly gave me all of the spiritual values that I needed as a young lady”.

Thus, it seems fitting that the aforementioned punk poet Cooper Clarke said, “All the best musicians started out in church; Jesus invented rock ‘n’ roll.” On Aretha Now, Franklin straddles genres with a brilliance that could rattle the rafters of heaven itself. With tracks like ‘You Send Me’ and one of the finest vocal performances ever put to record, how could you go wrong with half an hour of sheer musical majesty?

(Credit: Atlantic Records)

Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan

Everything about Nashville Skyline is shorted and sweeter than what had come before from Dylan. His self-titled debut album was released in 1962; by the time Nashville Skylinecame around in 1969, he had already released eight studio albums, found himself adorned as the ‘voice of a generation’ and started to retreat from the limelight. For many, this would represent a career beyond reach; for Dylan, it was all condensed into seven years that seemed to go by in some sort of adrenalised state of somnambulant genius. 

While Nashville Skyline might not be the very best offering along the way, in some senses it does seem to be a stunning culmination. He quit smoking, put his feet up for the first time in his adult life and the transition to silky tones suits the record’s message of “Love and only love,” down to an Adagio tee. Dylan’s atypical coarse vocal style of “sand and glue,” may well have served him perfectly on his eponymous protest pieces, but the sultry delivery on this occasion resulted in one of his many masterpieces.

Shallow Grave – The Tallest Man on Earth

There is a sad irony to the work of The Tallest Man on Earth from his point of view—for fans who have been plucked into his wonderful universe his work proves life-changing – affirming in all the right ways – but it’s so personal that you almost want to keep the boon of his oeuvre to yourself. 

His rough voice speaks of a dog-eared existence that harks back through timeless eternities. Likewise, his poetry is the sort that seems to belong to some other world, one just slightly removed from ours basked in the sanguine glow of sepia tones. Lastly, his guitar playing is perhaps some of the most musically intuitive ever put to record. The intonation he is capable of with his plucking hand is incomparable; it tells a story on its own. And all of this was already in place on a debut of bottomless depth and beauty that wrapped up in a fraction over half an hour.

(Credit: Gravitation)

Historie De Melody Nelson – Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg made ugliness work in all its guises. As he said himself, “ugliness is, in a way, superior to beauty, because it endures.” Like the cigarette that was perpetually perched on his bottom lip defying gravity, he was smouldering, ashy, bad for you and unapologetic, but indelibly entwined with culture and stood as an ineffable fuck you to some undefined established constitution.

His first work of the 70s was a concept album, but one which breaks the archetypal mould. It says a lot about the album that unlikely most concept records it is wrapped up in only 28 minutes, illustrating a concise clarity of vision and an unwavering dismissal of any demurring.

(Credits: Philips Records)

Modern Lovers 88 – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

If an album could be made human, then Modern Lovers 88 would be some Pixar-like charming fellow with a beaming grin in some benevolent line of work like a nurse who hands ice cream out to the homeless. It’s sonic cherry cola on a summer day, it’s medicine on a dower Monday morning, and it’s a cinematic slow dancing end to a superb late night. 

What it takes from Bo Diddley it gave back to the future of indie. Its transposed doo-wop stylings are so truly timeless that it could be released tomorrow and we’d still be calling it fresh, and that isn’t purely limited to the fact that Jonathan Richman seems to have cracked the formula for eternal youth. The only side-effect to this ray of sunshine is that if you pop it on, you will suffer from restless leg syndrome as your toes tap for 30 minutes straight. 

(Credit: Rounder Records)

Randy Newman – Randy Newman

Critically lauded, Randy Newman floundered commercially. He had been a hit songwriter for other artists, but when his first solo venture came around his individualism proved troublesome when it came to sales. As he explained. “It’s like I’d never heard of The Rolling Stones. I thought you could move things along just with the orchestra, that it was somehow cheating to use drums. What Van Dyke and I, and Harry Nilsson to some degree, were doing, it was like a branch of homo sapiens that didn’t become homo sapiens. Homo erectus.”

He may not have jumped on the bandwagon of emerging counterculture trends, but he adhered to the tenets of songwriting with the greatest depth. His words match the musical compositions with the artistry of a postmodern novel making the record something like a collection of short stories. 

(Credit: Reprise)