Sometimes less is more, or at least when it comes to music. As a listener, you can’t beat a rip-roaring 90-second thrill ride in a souped-up tank rather than a track that trudges slowly for seven minutes, meandering to mediocrity, without ever picking up an ounce of pace like a battered up old Vauxhall Nova.
Of course, both methods aren’t mutually exclusive, and almost all the artists who feature on the list of our favourite songs under two minutes below, love a grandiose moment as much as the next act. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t know that it’s a delight to leave the listener occasionally wanting more. By cooking up anthems that are over moments after it feels like the first chord is twanged, they keep the audience hanging on for more and more.
It’s all about getting the balance right and letting a song end organically instead of trying to get to that magic three-minute mark. A piece of music that would make for a good song at average length can more often than not make a sensational track when the superfluous fat has been stripped, and all that is left is a nourishing hunk of meat.
Most of the tracks below share a sense of frivolity that is infectious as a listener. Something is alluring when all the typical structure of a song has been thrown off the top floor from a hotel window in true rock star style. Check out the list below.
10 best songs under two minutes
The Smiths – ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’
Landing in at one minute and fifty-two seconds is The Smiths at their pitiful best with ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’. The Smiths initially released the track as the B-side to ‘William It Was Really Nothing’ in 1984, and at the time, it was just a throwaway effort.
As the decades have continued to advance since The Smiths‘ split, so have the cover versions of ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’. Who can forget the butchering of the track in the John Lewis Christmas advert? Despite John Lewis’ best efforts, the acoustic number remains unsullied and never mind how many times you listen to the track, hundreds of goosebumps will spring up across your body.
Ramones – ‘Judy Is A Punk’
If there’s a band who knew the power of a song being short but sweet, it’s the Ramones. While there are plenty of efforts by the group that qualifies for the list, it’s hard to look past the fierce ‘Judy Is A Punk’ credentials, which is too strong to be ignored.
The track is an ode to being proud about being different and an underground anthem that epitomised the sub-culture that the Ramones were firmly at its heart.
Janis Joplin – ‘Mercedes Benz’
‘Mercedes Benz’ was famously recorded by Janis Joplin just three days before her death, and the track is all about her devastatingly powerful vocals being toned down and pared back. Joplin based the song on a piece called ‘C’mon, God, and buy me a Mercedes Benz’ by the legendary San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure, which Joplin transformed into this untamed beast.
After an afternoon drinking with Patti Smith, Bob Neuwirth, Rip Torn and Geraldine Page, Joplin mustered how she could change McClure’s work into a song. It’s a moment of inspired genius from the singer-songwriter, whose talent truly knew no bounds.
The Libertines – ‘Mayday’
The Libertines brought back garage rock in ferocious style at the turn of the century when they became the talk of Camden town after playing gigs in sweat pits that quickly became the stuff of legend. ‘Mayday’ is about as quintessentially early Libertines as you can get, and although it’s only just over a minute long, every last second is sacred.
While the track may feel like it’s just an exhilarating ride with no substance, that couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘Mayday’ was written by Pete Doherty about his experience in the Mayday riots in London back in 2000 and is about sticking two fingers defiantly to those in power.
The Beatles – ‘I Will’
Few people know how to write a love song like Paul McCartney, and on ‘I Will’, Macca proves that it’s about the substance in what is said rather than how long it takes you to say it. The track is one of his finest moments on the White Album and a beautiful Beatles deep cut.
Paul told Beatles biographer Barry Miles: “I kept searching for better words, and I wrote my own set in the end; very simple words, straight love-song words really. I think they’re quite effective. It’s still one of my favourite melodies that I’ve written. You just occasionally get lucky with a melody, and it becomes rather complete and I think this is one of them; quite a complete tune.”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Pin’
Yeah Yeah Yeahs 2003 debut album, Fever To Tell, is one of the decade’s definitive albums. ‘Pin’ showed why they were one of the coolest bands on the planet, who had the tunes to make sure they could walk the walk.
The fact that a bloodthirsty effort like ‘Pin’ could sit side by side with the mind-blowingly conventionally beautiful ‘Maps’ showed a versatility to Yeah Yeah Yeahs that made them stand out from the other countless garage punk bands that sprouted up in New York in the early ’00s.
The White Stripes – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’
If you grew up on a diet of music television, the iconic Lego video for ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ would be imprinted on your mind until you draw your final breath. There’s no denying the sheer innovativeness of the video, but sometimes that can overshadow what a killer track ‘Fell In Love With A Girl Is’.
Sure, it’s not the most complicated or technically astute track in the world, but the simplicity of it only plays into the charm of ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’. Jack White’s captivating guitar makes sure to grab your full attention for the duration of the track, which announced The White Stripes to the masses in 2001.
Guided By Voices – ‘Game Of Pricks’
There truly isn’t another band on the planet quite like Guided By Voices. They have released over 30 albums packed with songs that rarely overstep the two-minute mark throughout their expansive career. The list wouldn’t be correct if it didn’t include at least one cut from the lo-fi legends, and ‘Game Of Pricks’ is a track that reflects Guided By Voices at their absolute best guide.
Taken from their 1995 magnum opus, Alien Lanes sees singer Robert Pollard at his most personal hour as he comes to terms with his marriage’s breakdown. The song comes straight from Pollard’s heart, and his lyrics are a lot less obtuse than the bulk of Guided By Voices material, especially the pertinent reflection, “I entered the game of pricks, With knives in the back of me”.
Vampire Weekend – ‘2021’
Over the last 15 years, Vampire Weekend have shared four albums and have become festival headliners in their native America. Their most recent album, 2019’s Father Of The Bride, is their most substantial body of work since their debut. Unlike their contemporaries, Vampire Weekend have aged gracefully, with ‘2021’ offering a quietly brilliant moment on the record.
‘2021’ is built around an ambient sample of Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono’s ’80s effort, ‘Talking’. Vampire Weekend morphed this obscure sample into a sad-boi electronica anthem that mourns the passing of time and the loss of youth.
The Clash – ‘White Riot’
The Clash’s effervescent anthem, ‘White Riot’, sums up the band’s political and punk rock ethics in less than two minutes. The provocative lyrics wound up all the right people and pointed the finger at what’s wrong in society, which still feels as poignant now as it did back in 1977. Many listeners misconstrued the song’s meaning and assumed Strummer was calling for a race war, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Strummer explained to NME about the song’s contentious lyrics: “The only thing we’re saying about the Blacks is that they’ve got their problems, and they’re prepared to deal with them. But white men, they just ain’t prepared to deal with them—everything’s too cosy. They’ve got stereos, drugs, hi-fis, cars. The poor Blacks and the poor whites are in the same boat.”