20 songsEvery Second Counts

NeilBy | posted on 6th August 2014

The 20 songs series has done long and dreamy, now it's going to try its hand at short and spiky. All the tracks in this playlist are under two minutes long, give or take the occasional second here and there. In total, the playlist is barely half an hour long.

There's a well-documented phenomenon whereby people sometimes feel they have an amazing psychic talent for predicting news headlines. One day they're talking about a topic that's not exactly hot, the next they're reading about the very same subject in their daily paper of choice. What are the chances?

Surprisingly good, it turns out. Like when your Auntie Marjorie phones just when you're thinking about her, and the two of you stagger under the weight of the co-incidence of it all, it's actually the kind of thing that happens all the time. It's just that all the millions of times when it doesn't happen - when you're thinking of old Marj but the landlord rings instead, say - tend not to stay in the memory very long.

Casting all this boring rationality aside for one moment, however, I couldn't help but shake my fist at the sky when I spotted that The Guardian had started an open thread about short songs:

Admittedly, I hadn't got very far through my own playlist at this point, but it was bubbling under, I was about to do it, I was coiled ready for rapid-fire action, fast beats and no let-up. Figuring I'd better get on with it, I set about finishing my playlist, and while there's doubtless some cross-over between the two (I know "Allison" features in both) I've tried not to be influenced by Guardian readers' choices, and all 20 of my picks have come from my music library.

Selected highlights follow, head to the media links for the full playlist. Enjoy the fun while it lasts!

Pixies - "Allison"

Generally the first track that comes to mind when I think of brief yet epic numbers, Allison somehow finds time in its barely one minute length for a verse, chorus, bridge, solo and a thousand drum fills. Only when I found the video on Youtube for this playlist did I learn that it's not about a girl, but jazz and blues pianist Mose Allison.

Denzil - "Shame"

Sadly, no video for this exists on Youtube, or anywhere else I've looked. From Denzil's great lost album Pub, "Shame" somehow crams in three verses in 74 seconds, each of them darkly comic:

and its a shame about Dennis,
such a shame about him.
All that work he did for homeless people now
they never mentioned it when they sent him down.
Thirteen people's a lot to kill, you never hear but some of them were ill,
and no-one knew their names he only came to clean the drains
and now he's in the hall of fame
he's lovely.

Super Furry Animals - "God! Show Me Magic"

Their second single - after "Hometown Unicorn" - and their first Top 40 hit, "God! Show Me Magic" is early Super Furry Animals to a tee - a distinct and unique vision achieved through lyrics that make you "huh?" and a series of perfect hooks blurred by a fuzzy soup of guitars and effects.

The Rakes - "22 Grand Job"

Before The Rakes called it a day a few years ago, their career highlight was perhaps headlining the Benicassim festival in 2006. I say headlining, but only in the sense that they were the final band on the main stage on the festival's final night. It's just that Benicassim's scheduling, which sees the festival eschew an early start for more tolerable evening temperatures before building up to the usual headline slots in the 11pm to 1am slots, means the true headliners are sandwiched between lesser lights either side. That said, at least I can say I've stood and watched a short-lived post-punk group close a festival at five in the morning before catching at least two hours sleep and then legging it for the station...

Snow Patrol - Monkey Mobe

Say what you like about Snow Patrol gradually drifting into ever safer waters, but it's worth remembering that before "Chasing Cars" became the most played song in the UK for the first decade of this century, before "Run" gave them their breakthrough hit, it very nearly didn't happen for Snow Patrol. Third album Final Straw did almost nothing on its original release in August 2003 (something that the band's Wikipedia entry glosses over somewhat), its eventual success in reaching #3 in the album charts only came after a re-release and the success of "Run".

The rest, as they say is history, but in the case of Snow Patrol the history that came before was the more interesting one. Both Songs for Polarbears and When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up are interesting, eclectic albums, and occasional lapses can be forgiven when they're surrounded by songs like "Starfighter Pilot", "An Olive Grove Facing the Sea", "Making Enemies" and "One Night is Not Enough". On the flipside to the last of these was "Monkey Mobe", which could be dismissed as a fluffy piece of incidental filler, but at the same time does all it needs to: it gives you a sweet hook and gets out before it gets old.