In 2013, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 was 3:50. IN 2018, the average 3:30. And six percent of those were 2:30 or less. When I began playing rock ‘n roll records on the radio in the 60s, very few songs were over three minutes, in part because any longer than that and the grooves on a 45 rpm vinyl disc began getting very narrow, scratched more easily and were prone to jump and skip. And really, if a songwriter can’t get it all said in under three, going longer ain’t gonna help. With a few prominent exceptions, of course. I’d heard and played the single edit of “Light My Fire” probably fifty times before I heard the full 7-minute song on the album and after that hearing the 3-minute single just pissed me off. “Hey Jude” blew off self-governing music makers. We didn’t get a rash of super-long songs, but after that monster hit came to us in ’68 dang near every new rock album had one or more stretched out tracks. There was a single edit of “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” that ran 2:52, but the song took a full album side, ran just over 17 minutes. (great weed song, that one)
In the 60’s and early 70s, a disc jockey could easily play fifteen to seventeen songs in an hour and still have a fifteen-minute commercial load. By the 90s, we were getting a dozen songs an hour. Me and my cohort were often telling record promoters begging for a slot on our playlists when we didn’t have one: Make the records shorter and we’ll have more space for you. That was a cop-out, really, because if the song had the goods, we’d find a place for it. But still, fewer songs an hour helped nobody. Great songs are tidy songs. “Yesterday” is 2:00 on the nose.
All that said, I’m cheered by this little development. Artists have discovered that in the streaming age, short songs pay off more than long songs do.