Perfect length for a pop song: 2:42

Joshua Allen of The Morning News says all pop songs must be 2:42. Even one second, in either direction will ruin it.
What else is at 2:42? “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty. “Divine Hammer” by the Breeders. “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. “Get Up” by R.E.M. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas. “This Charming Man” by the Smiths.

You need more proof? Jerk. Let’s look at Sgt. Pepper. “Lovely Rita” is two minutes, 42 seconds. It delivers that psychedelic vibe and a coda but then gets the hell out of your life.

Compare that to “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It’s a mere two seconds longer but feels like it drags on for hours. Maybe it’s Ringo, maybe it’s the tedious melody–or maybe it’s the two goddamn seconds.

Then over here we have “Good Morning Good Morning,” rightfully discarded by the masses as a throwaway. Why? Two minutes, 41 seconds. Hey, Beatles, maybe next time think about tacking on an extra second to give a song the grandeur and majesty it deserves.

Link (via Gerry Canavan)


  1. um… yeah. whatever. The Cars – Just What I Needed is 3:44. No further questions your honor.

  2. What’s sublime about the Morning News piece is how it proves the point by being written equivalent of a 12-minute bass solo — ouch.

  3. “Get Up” is good, because everything REM is good, but if that’s the choice for their foolproof hit, someone’s judging by length alone.

    :P Funny article.

  4. Interesting theory, but: Pulp, “Common People”, 5:50. One of the greatest pop songs ever recorded, in my opinion.

    This reminds me of the days before CDs when the best song on each tape always seemed to be Track 7. Why was that? Like it took listening that long to prepare you for the greatness.

  5. I despise everything about the mamas & papas version of california dreamin. The Edde Hazel version, of course, is awesome. And 6:20.

  6. The most significant song on Pepper has to be “A Day in the Life”, and it’s a song that needs all that room in order to get its (deep) point across.

    Or, to stick with The Beatles, take Hey Jude: no way would that song be the landmark it is if it had been cut at 2:42, even though the length itself is not the reason why it’s so successful.

    ADD is not a valid reason for limiting creativity in popular music. If you only have 35 minutes a day to listen to music, you’re not a music lover, and your opinion on the length of songs is irrelevant.

    Now, if someone actually tried to approach this subject a little more objectively, maybe we would get more relevant results. You could build a library of 100-200 popular songs (at least) of varying lengths, and then have various people listen to a certain number of songs each, at the end of which they would say if a song felt too short, too long or just right.

    After a statistically-significant sample of people has each listened to their songs and reported back, we could compile the results and see if there’s one “peak” where the sweet spot in song length is, or if it’s actually a plateau, or perhaps multiple peaks or plateaus.

  7. Looks like somebody else had the bright idea of clicking the “Time” column on his copy of iTunes. (I tried this a few weeks back, idly comparing songs that were exactly three, four, and five minutes long. It can also be fun to play all the tracks in your library that are under two minutes.)

  8. Well all of those songs listed are better than the filth on today’s airwaves that spout off the chorus 10 seconds into the song. Not to mention that all the choruses are so mind-blowingly simple that a 4 year old could learn it after one listen.

  9. Did you ever listen to Napalm Death’s first album? All the songs are exactly as long as they need to be…some are 4 seconds long, some are 3:59, some are 1:47.

    That’s the way all music should be. Haven’t you ever thought to yourself, this riff is cool but after a minute you’re sick of it? How many times do you only listen to the beginning of a song on your iPod and then skip ahead?

  10. Need more proof that this is complete nonsense?

    Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: 3:46

    Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven”: 7:57

    The Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand”: 2:26

    Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” 5:03

    The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” 3:38

    …and OOPS! “Johnny B. Goode” i,s ONE SECOND too long (2:43)! Sorry Chuck baby, but you blew it.

    The list is literally endless.

  11. Hmmmmm. Joshua Allen writes:

    “The scientists then dug up this song by a group that pretty much defines one-hit wonder: the La’s. The song is ‘There She Goes,’ and is so flawless that it instantly made everything else the band did pointless. This ditty is two minutes and 42 seconds, and is all about songwriting economy.”

    I wrote, in an entry entitled “2:42” on December 10, 2004:

    “I have a fine candidate for pop perfection: ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s, which most people know better by its fairly recent remake by Sixpence None the Richer. For my money, ‘There She Goes’ is nearly impossible to beat in its pop perfection: from the tips of its chiming guitars to the bottom of its blissful lyrics, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. If aliens came down and said that we had just shade under three minutes to justify our existence or we’d be evaporated — well, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest playing this song, but I might suggest someone put it on in the background while we boot up Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer.”


    Also, to be contentious, anyone who thinks the rest of The La’s output is superfluous after “There She Goes” hasn’t heard their album. For one thing, there’s only two tracks out of twelve on their 1990 studio album that clock in over three minutes (one of them at 3:01), and then entire album is an exercise in pop perfection — “Timeless Melody” is almost as astonishingly perfect as “There She Goes,” and “Feelin'” is only a small step below that — and clocks in at an astoundingly economical 1:44. The La’s managed only that one studio album — but the one was *enough*.

  12. So if the speed of your turntable was 0.6% slow (a 170th of a semitone if I did this math right) your whole listening experience got screwed up? And hence, any slightly shorter heap of manure would have sounded like the perfect song to you… Sounds perfectly solid to me. It would explain the musical taste of quite a lot of people.

  13. In ‘The Entertainer’ Billy Joel sayeth:

    If you wanna have a hit
    you gotta make it fit
    so they cut it down to 3:05.

    I like 3:30 as a good average length… don’t get me started on preferred movie length, tho, I’m sure to start kind of flame war.

    One of my fave short pop songs is still the White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With a Girl”, which I think is 1:50.

  14. People: It was a JOKE. Read the article before you engage in elaborate debunking of his methodology and hypotheses. You make yourselves look silly…

    Article opening:

    “I am a very busy and important man. I don’t need to tell you this. The shit I have to deal with every day would make your pubes turn white. Check it: While dictating that last sentence I did something complicated in Excel and pleasured my ex-wife the way that makes her cry and call her mother. OK?”

  15. There’s a general song structure that works in pop music that is going to vary depending on the tempo of the song. And the tempo will depend on what decade or sub genre of pop music you like. So a new wave pop gem by Human League is going to be around 4 minutes long at 127 beats per minute. The Ramones can do the same basic structure, crank the tempo up and it’ll be under 3 minutes. Both songs will consist of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, repeating chorus, fade out. It’s that structure or some variation on it that makes pop songs work, not any arbitrary length.

  16. Other songs that are 2:42

    “Michelle” The Beatles
    “Mess Around” – Ray Charles
    “Brass Monkey” – The Beastie Boys
    “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” – CCR
    “Somebody Cares” – Tommy James and the Shondells
    “Im Left You’re Right She’s Gone” – Elvis Presley
    “Kansas City” – Little Richard
    “Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
    “Oceans” – Pearl Jam
    “Shake” – Otis Reading
    “Phonograph Blues” – Robert Johnson

  17. 10:15 saturday night is 3:38 but its so good it goes by in what feels like 2:42.

    Space time paradox? I think so!

  18. Of course, he’s absolutely right. It’s simple numerology.

    2:42 is 162 seconds. Add the digits together for 9. The square root of 9 is 3 (3*3=9). The square of 9 is 81, and 81*2=162.
    So 162 can be represented as (3^2)^2*2. Notice that there are three 2’s there, and also 6=3*2, and 1+2=3. It just screams the Golden Ratio.


  19. “I used to have this theory that all great singles should be 2 minutes and 58 seconds long. So Joe said to me, ‘Just stop us when we get to 2:58.’ Well the time was going by and they were cutting a really great version, live, bang on the money. I looked at the studio clock and they were already past 2 minutes and Bill Price said, ‘What are you going to do?’ There was about 20 seconds to go and I still didn’t know what to do. The time came up and I thought sod it, I spoke over the intercom into the studio, right over the track, the tape, everything. Joe sang out, ‘Okay okay don’t push us when we’re hot!’ I thought that’s it I’m dead, I’ve ruined the perfect take . . . When they came in the control room everyone was saying what a great track it was and I thought any minute now I’m done for, but nobody said a thing about my voice being right over it.”

    Kosmo Vinyl, referring to The Clash’s “Armagideon Time” (taken from the Clash on Broadway box set).

  20. The logic here is stupid if for no other reason than every track mentioned here has several lengths depending on album or recording. For example, my copy of “Have You Seen the Rain?” by CCR comes in at 2:40.

    And yes, it’s obviously a joke. But a stupid one.

  21. Two minutes and forty two seconds is exactly right.
    All successful songs over that are in fact exactly that, the extra notes are filler. All the successful songs under, are in fact the correct length if you count the unused pauses.

  22. This is why I listen to Classical (misnomer, I prefer the Modern period, 20th century music). Composers like Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Bartok haven’t even finished warming up by 2:42. In other words: pop sucks, and I consider anything post Jazz to be pop.

  23. A standard 10-inch 78rpm record can hold approximately 3 1/2 minutes per side. A 45 can hold about 5 1/2 minutes. CDs can hold up to 64-72 minutes of music, and MP3s can be virtually infinite in length. These limits have historically dictated the effective practical length of a pop song. That’s the end of the history lesson.

    I was a DJ once upon a time, and I can tell you that commercial radio stations don’t like to play long songs, because they can’t squeeze in enough commercials and mindless patter.

    While the too-precise number ‘2:42’ is crap, it’s not far off. I’d say that any song between 2:30 and 3:30 is the most likely to get extensive airplay.

    As to the question of whether or not length and/or airtime make a song great, I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.

  24. There is a relatively obscure artist by the name of Wesley Willis; RIP, all of his songs were 2:42 for this exact reason. Sadly, none of his songs were hits because…

    Well, look them up I promise you’ll be amused.

  25. Shirelles “Baby It’s You” – Beatles “Good Morning” – The Platters “Only You” – Beatles “Michelle” – Smokey Robinson “I Second That Emotion” – Left Banke “Walk Away Renee” – Del Vikings “Come Go With Me” – all 2:42

    Too bad for The Byrds that “8 Miles High” was 3:35 !!!

  26. 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. Also the greatest pop song length… I suppose the additional 120 seconds kill the equation.

  27. Sometimes just to be an ass and to see how people react, I say this to them:

    “if it’s longer than 90 seconds and has more than 3 chords it’s no longer music, it’s masturbation.”

    most of the time they just shake their heads in confusion, or call me an elitist punk rawk snob, lol

  28. I am:

    *shocked that so many people care
    *impressed by how many good songs are 2:42
    *saddened by how many boing boing readers are taking this seriously.
    *a hypocrite for even responding myself.

  29. I own almost every studio album by David Bowie, and /not one song/ comes within a second on either side of 2:42 apart from bonus tracks. I’ve got Candidate at 2:40 and John, I’m only Dancing at 2:45. Thats it. So there

  30. The meaning of life is 42. Obviously the question has something to do with the length of pop songs.

  31. Cyclops Rock by They Might Be Giants is 2:42. It’s about as close as they come to a perfect pop song, but if “There She Goes” is the gold standard, this is a terrible field to compete in.

    Also, yeah, it’s a joke, but it’s still funny to think about.

  32. deftones-street carp
    beastie boys-lighten up
    dr. dre-the next episode
    pixies-letter to memphis
    radiohead-thinking about you
    sonic youth-providence
    dillinger escape plan-fix your face
    cake-she’ll hang the baskets
    thrice-under a killing moon
    arlo guthrie-highway in the wind
    weezer-american gigolo
    man or astroman-engines of difference
    primus-over the falls
    ween-mr. richard smoker
    outkast-2 dope boys in a cadillac
    norah jones-painter song
    big black-sleep!
    morphine-the only one
    waco jesus-animosity
    the bronx-rape zombie

    all 2:42.
    i have too much time on my hands….

  33. hmmm

    just scanning my itunes and almost all of my most favorite-est songs are between 2:41 and 2:44. there are outliers for sure, but there is a high amount of favorites in this time window. odd.

  34. #5:

    Ah hah! Front 242 was ahead of their time for multiple reasons. :*)

    One you lock the target;
    Two you bait the line;
    Three you slowly spread the net;
    And four you catch the man.

  35. @11 (MADDY)

    That number’s a little over at 3:27. Zevon’s ‘The Overdraft’ is 2:42, though.

  36. I like The Morning News, but let’s be honest here folks – everything they publish there is done with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. It’s a funny piece. A few notable songs from my collection come in at 2:42, but hardly the best of my collection.

  37. #51; Did you see the documentary that was made on him? Was pretty crazy, if you haven’t you really oughta.

  38. From my iTunes library:

    Disco Pope by The Prats

    Skanatra singing Fly Me to the Moon

    Pogo Pogo by Plastic Bertrand

  39. Well, I have listened to you and read your comments, and I always thought mine should be a little over ten inches long.

    What, you were talking about lengths of SONGS?

    Oops. Wrong blog.

  40. I have produced 8.c.d.’s and had a interview with Vince DeGiorgio of B.M.G. records in New York and of the 11 tracks the one that caught his attention and he said was good length and complete was 4:12 long.He said to send him more music so he could watch my progression. 5c.d.’s later I have not sent him anything I have worked to hard to be put on a shelf and wait. I have some that are 3:00-4:30 but find it hard to be creative with those borders as I make Dance/Techno some pop-crossover. Big question do you stray from the pure emotion of the journey in a song in hopes of striking it rich…I don’t believe artist that have paintings that are worth millions did that. Music and the arts are their to kiss the soul and make life beautiful and bearable..I am confident that my time will come. To understand more Check out free music and video samples at band website:

  41. Dare i say ‘win’?

    “Of course, he’s absolutely right. It’s simple numerology.

    2:42 is 162 seconds. Add the digits together for 9. The square root of 9 is 3 (3*3=9). The square of 9 is 81, and 81*2=162.
    So 162 can be represented as (3^2)^2*2. Notice that there are three 2’s there, and also 6=3*2, and 1+2=3. It just screams the Golden Ratio.


  42. I hate the fact that pop music has to be 3 minutes long as it means that all songs are structured the same, it makes it all very predictable and you are loosing out on so much extra such as solo’s, extra verses and variations on the theme.

    There are so many other music forms available that have been developed by centuries of composers, isn’t it about time we started using them in pop? the 3 minute rule was only created due to lack of space on 78rpm records.

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