Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy/Wikimedia)

Music

The 15 most beautiful songs under 2 minutes

@TomTaylorFO

There is something unmistakably beautiful about a song that fleetingly drifts in and out of existence like a windfall of half notes caught up in a breeze. Rather than feeling too short, they often feel more fully formed than their rambling counterparts. Their exacting nature gives them an indelible sense of candidness—of words fully facing up the music, bearing vulnerability and then squarely beckoning you the lift the needle and listen all over again. 

No doubt there is a slew of punk songs that trash like a fit and invigorate you quicker than a jar of coffee, but it’s often beauteous gems that fit the smaller sand timer like haiku’s that soar the highest. With that in mind, it is pretty, short and sweet balms to life that we have compiled for the list and delightful playlist below. 

From David Bowie’s ethereal pillow-propped reimagining of an old classic to an instrumental ode that never fails to conjure your mood to join the music faster than any song I know, and even perhaps the greatest musical moment in any film with an old French classic—there’s a two-minute song to cram into any occasion below.

Admittedly, we’ve given ourselves a little five-second leeway here and there, but this peaceful patch is no place for the finickity, so please take your complaints elsewhere and enjoy. 

The 15 most beautiful songs under 2 minutes:

‘Bookends’ – Simon & Garfunkel 

Perhaps the ultimate short and sweet song, somehow Simon & Garfunkel capture infinities with a few chords, sparse strings and a bouquet of perfectly picked words. Simply put, music doesn’t really get more beautiful than this—and I’ll keep that praise as short and simple as the song. 

As Jack Savoretti declared when we recently spoke to him: “For me, Elvis is the king of rock, Sam Cooke is the king of soul, James Brown is the king of funk, but when it comes to songwriting, I think Paul Simon is the king,” he says. “‘Bookends’ is just a masterclass. The simplicity of it is like a conversation with an old friend.”

‘Le Tourbillon’ – Jeanne Moreau

As mentioned above, there is a typically French moment of pause in the 1962 François Truffaut film Jules et Jim, and for my money, it is the most beautiful music moment in movie history. Jeanne Moreau simply sits down next to a finger plucked guitar and produces a symphonic melody of honeyed belle without ever breaking above a silken croon. 

As an English speaker, part of you listens along wanting to know what her whirlwind of words mean, and part of you hopes that they remain a mystery so that the lustrous allure is never tarnished. All I know for certain is that rarely does anything so delicate seem so boundless. It’s like a puddle reflecting the stars that you could drop a ten-tonne bomb into and never hear it hit the bottom. 

‘Avril 14th’ – Aphex Twin

When you think of beautiful instrumental piano pieces, the usual thoughts are of old Sonata’s, but the pioneering electronic force of Aphex Twin proved just as wondrous when he offered up the dust-covered candle-lit ambience of ‘Avril 14th’.

No matter where you are in the world or what is happening around you, this musical medicine proves to be a calming boon that carts you off elsewhere—to some other glowing corner of contentment and quietude.

‘Sound and Vision 2013’ – David Bowie

When Bowie offered up the first version of ‘Sound and Vision’ on Low, it seemed that ambient music could never be bettered. However, he offered up an alternative version in 2013, and he may well have achieved that feat. 

I’m not saying that it is better than the original, merely that in the right moonlight it manages to eclipse it, and that must make it just about the greatest alternative version of a song ever. The cloud nine dreaminess is as embalming as fresh sheets, and it whisks you off to a beautiful starry place in an instant.  

‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ – The Smiths

The naked pleading of this song joyously plays with irony. We’d all love to say that the track is being laughably melodramatic, but even if it’s merely a prayer for a last-minute winner, we’ve all been in that wretched spot of unapologetic desperation. You just never expect it to sound this listenable. 

It’s a song that could only ever be by The Smiths, and in some ways, it is one of the most defining that the band crafted. Like a lot of great bands and artists, The Smiths somehow mystically seem to capture times and places in your life: this anthem in miniature seems to be holed up in its own chapter for each of us. 

‘Pink Moon’ – Nick Drake

Admittedly, this song is one of those on this list that trickles home five seconds overdue. The only reason I mention that fact despite stating that we weren’t going to be finickity here is because it seems far longer than its two minutes, and I mean that in the best possible way. 

Drake crams so much into the hymn that it seems to stretch on beyond itself. With poetry and unique guitar playing swirling in a geyser of a very singular mind, the song is a wondrous artefact to marvel at, and it still remains somewhat of a mystery no matter how long you stare. 

‘Being Around’ – The Lemonheads

A lot of love songs take themselves too seriously. While the Byronians out there might quip ‘What could be more serious than love’, the John Cooper Clarke’s of this world can happily retort that you can still tackle serious subjects with a smile. Evan Dando does just that, and he has never made boogers sound cuter (until Courtney Barnett covered it).

Short and sweet, the very nature of the song seems to imply a sincerity that a lot of stuffy odes fail to deliver. As Joni Mitchell once said: “When I read the Shakespearean sonnets, I feel like some of them are mercenary. How many poems can you write where you say, ‘You’re so beautiful that you should reproduce yourself and I’m the guy to do it’ They can’t all be inspired.” Dando joyously disavows any tropes or platitudes and remains sweetly singular in a declaration of affection that couldn’t possibly mask its inspiration.

‘Bend Down the Branches’ – Tom Waits

“Even beauty gets old,” Waits sings in a whisky-soaked grovel that seems more dust-covered than Father Time rummaging through a cellar of memories. All the while, there is something sweet and sunny about the melody, as he applies a spring-like twist of lemon to drinks in the spit and sawdust bar of his candle-lit imagination. 

An ode to his wife Kathleen Brennan, Waits sings of affection everlasting as things get crooked and creaky, but they never wither, they merely bend. What a joyous way to waste away a minute in contentment’s embrace. 

‘I Will’ – The Beatles

As Tony Visconti once explained, in the 1950s and early ’60s, you essentially had to write songs under three minutes otherwise DJs wouldn’t play them because you’d take up all their valuable talking time. Thus, The Beatles’ back catalogue is crammed full of little gems. 

However, at one minute and 45 seconds, few deliver sweetness faster than Paul McCartney’s little love song ‘I Will’. The arrangement surrounding the simple verses and strumming add flourishes of colour and dynamism to a song that could hold its own anywhere. 

‘Dayton Ohio 1903’ – Harry Nilsson

With Nilsson Sings Newman, what you have is one of America’s greatest ever singers in Harry Nilsson singing the songs of one of America’s greatest ever songwriters in Randy Newman, and somehow it extends beyond the sum of its parts. Both artists share such an expert knowledge of their craft that they can afford to be naturally playful with it, and ‘Dayton Ohio 1903’ soars as a result.

In less than two minutes, the ditty whisks up a lullaby that could rock a can of Red Bull to sleep, offer a hug to a cactus and gently blow the rain away from a wedding. Nilsson’s pipes are in perfect order, but they don’t have to be pushed to pretentious possibilities. The song is a thing of subtle self-contained perfection. A genuine gem for everyone to enjoy. 

‘After Hours’ – The Velvet Underground

With ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ proving about three seconds too long for the list, The Velvet Underground happily offer up its ever so slightly shorter sister. A proto-indie anthem, few things under two minutes have ever proved so seminal. In the mid-00s, there seemed to be an army of songs searching for a similar sound, and very few achieved it. 

“He taught me that you can put the most sonically aggressive music and put it side by side by some of the most beautiful ballads that anyone has ever written,” Nick Cave said upon the passing of Lou Reed back in 2013 in an interview with Channel 4. ‘After Hours’ is a glittering testimony to that as the poetry ditches urban dirges and enters bedroom-bound loveliness. 

‘Ain’t Got No – I Got Life’ – Nina Simone

With several versions of this song out there, boy oh boy, is this list glad that one happens to be just a few seconds over the two-minute mark. Simone shares the joy of simply living with absolute affirmation. 

Simone herself faced some mightily tough circumstances in her life, but in this short boon, she explodes with exultation gracefully and offers up a toe-tapping jam that never misses a beat or skips a note. In short, the song rides home happily close to perfection.

‘Bless the Telephone’ – Labi Siffre

In a marvellous act of off-beat syncopation, Labi Siffre delivers the age-old line of “I love you” just a second before expected as though his caller has to get it briskly off their chest as an imperative. Rather than seeming disorderly, this naturalistic nature of the song perfectly captures the moments it sings of. 

In a meta sense, the song itself offers up some blithe escapism from the daily grind just as a reassuring phone call can. Siffre can’t stay on the line long, but the comfort he brings far outlasts the song itself, and that’s surely a good sign of something beautiful. 

‘Let it Shine’ – Randy Newman

The often-curmudgeonly songsmith Randy Newman put his more satirical stylings to one side for the 1972 track ‘Let It Shine’ taken from his masterful Sail Away album. Like pathos in a comedy, there is often something more sincere and lifelike about poetry that proceeds a wry smile.

Life can’t always be sanguine and Newman also starts his most optimistic song with a touch of realist lamentation. It is this honest acknowledgement, however, that makes the hope he offers thereafter sing out all the louder. This contrast offers up new starts, Newman and encourages you to embrace them with hope, and he does it so joyfully that it is impossible not to nod along to the Dean of Satire’s more sincere side.

‘Hold On’ – John Lennon

Some songs have to remain short because a guitar tone and its accompanying notes prove so perfect that one wrong step might ruin it. That seems to be the case with ‘Hold On’. You could simply melt into the wobbling reverb of the sound and the sensual tones of the Cookie Monster.

Beyond the affirmation, calmness and ultimately sexiness that the song offers up, there is a simple sense of ineffable coolness in the mix too. Let your hair down to your toes and listen again and again. 

Follow Far Out Magazine across our social channels, on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.