Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ten Unusually Short Albums

Since the advent of the CD, we've grown accustomed to seeing the CD's 75-minute running time as a typical 'upper limit' for an album length. A rough average might be an hour, though in the post-CD era, an album could be any length the artist desired, really.

Historically, of course, an album was a slab of vinyl twelve inches in diameter. A vinyl album is actually capable of holding almost as much as a CD (there are records clocking in at just shy of 70 minutes), length on an album comes at the expense of sonic fidelity, and resistance to getting scratched. The majority of albums released during the vinyl era clocked in at about 40 minutes.

There are exceptions, though. Some albums are really terribly short, perhaps because the songs on them are short, or perhaps because the artist felt the work was complete as it stood, or perhaps because the artist simply ran out of creative inspiration - or studio time. Whatever the reasons behind them, the following albums are all incredibly short - shorter than some EPs or even some singles, in fact.


1.WHO KILLED THE JAMS BY THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU (29:54): The earliest form of the duo who would become the KLF, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu released a seven-song début in 1987 that still managed, through various forms of trickery and nonsense, to be 41 minutes long. Its little-known follow-up, however, kept the number of songs and dispensed with the additions, coming in eleven minutes shorter. Less than two years later, half of this group would team with DJ Alex Patterson as the Orb and release a single that was 19 minutes long. Two years after that the Orb would release "Blue Room", a single that was ten minutes longer than this whole album.The Justified Anceints of Mu Mu's Who Killed the JAMS

2.BOOKENDS BY SIMON AND GARFUNKEL (29:51): In fact, Simon and Garfunkel's two previous albums were even shorter. But Bookends is not only brief, it's even padded: that less-than-thirty-minute running time includes two versions of the same song, devotes most of its side two to rounding up previously-released singles, and includes two and a half minutes of old people talking, with no music at all. With the reaminder also including The Graduate rejects, what remains would barely have qualified as an ep, and it's remarkable how well the album holds up.Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends

3.RAMONES BY RAMONES (29:04): At 29 minutes, this is actually longer than the other albums on this list. Yet it actually crams fourteen complete songs, ranging from 90 seconds to 155, into that timeframe. The Ramones are considered by most to be the first punk band, and this the first punk album, defined largely by a fat-free to-the-basics aesthetic. Compare it to Never Mind the Bollocks, which has only three songs shorter than three minutes and two longer than four.Ramones' Ramones

4.REIGN IN BLOOD BY SLAYER (28:56): This, Slayer's major label début, was considered one of the first and most seminal 'thrash metal' albums, where 'thrash metal' mostly means metal played really fast and really short. At 4:51, the first song on this album "Angel of Death" is positively prog-like (and highly controversial, being about Josef Mengele), but after that the songs fly by, with none of the next seven breaking three minutes. In the 1960s, it was commonplace for songs to stay below three minutes, but it was largely the heavy metal genre (where songs would drag) that broke that barrier, so it was tough in 1986 to accept that a song could even be called 'heavy metal' if it was less than, oh, five minutes.Slayer's Reign in Blood

5.PINK MOON BY NICK DRAKE (28:22): Pink Moon, Drake's third and final album, is short. But it seems in this particular case like its very brevity is largely the point of the album: the whole thing is the simplest of whispers, sparse and demo-like, with songs that don't go on longer than they need to. Oddly enough (considering its 'classic' status), its producer John Wood has said of it, 'you really wouldn't want it to be any longer'. Drake himself is said to have commented on the length by saying, 'that's it.. that's all I have', a sadly prophetic statement given that it would be his last album released before his death at 26 by overdose.Nick Drake's Pink Moon

6.WEEZER BY WEEZER (28:20): Weezer has so far released three colour-coded albums with the same name. While the first and the third, referred to by fans as "The Blue Album" and "The Red Album" repectively, were each 41 minutes plus, this 2001 'return' (after five years without an album release) had a green cover and a 28:20 running time. Weezer seems to like the short album, with each of their most recent three releases (all within the last 14 months) runnin little more than half an hour, but it's not the result of a lack of inspiration: Weezer is one of those groups that litter songs across limited-edition releases and single releases. It just so happens that only half or so of all the songs Weezer records make it on the album.Weezer's Green Album

7.HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON BY SERGE GAINSBOURG (27:57): Seeing as how it clocks in at less than 28 minutes, it's odd that Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 masterpiece has only seven songs on it (three of them two minutes or less, and the epics that open and close the album being largely the same song). After all, it's not like there was no room left on the twelve inches of vinyl. Looking at the album as a collection of seven pieces diminishes its value, though. It's more like a single piece of music split into seven parts (one doesn't really notice one track changing to another while listening). With that being the case, wouldn't anything else be superfluous?Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson

8.NASHVILLE SKYLINE BY BOB DYLAN (27:14): What's weird about Nashville Skyline isn't merely its brief ten-track and 27-minute running time (with a remake of a previous Dylan song and an instrumental too); what's weird is that it comes from Dylan, who on other occassions had released albums of epic length: his second album, 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was 50:04, his first full electric album, Highway 61 Revisited was 51:26. Subsequently, in 1976, he would release Desire, whose nine songs were 56:13 and whose four-song side two was longer than this whole project. Dylan escaped criticism for this album's length by allowing criticism to focus instead on the fact that it consisted entirely of country make-weights with banal lyrics crooned in a 'smooth' voice completely atypical of Dylan. It's since been critically re-evaluated, though it remains shorter than a TV sit-com.Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline

9.EVERYBODY'S ROCKIN' BY NEIL YOUNG AND THE SHOCKING PINKS (24:55): The wildly erratic Neil Young had released brief albums and lengthy ones before this one (and a few years after this would release a five-song ep that still managed to exceed this album in length). Yet this deserves special note for being short and chintzy as well, a Sha-Na-Na style 'rockabilly' throwback whose ten songs feature four 1950s covers. The legend goes that Young had presented his new record label with a country album, which they rejected, asking for a 'rock and roll album'. With the willfulness that defines him, he gave them exactly what they asked for. He also claims, though, to have had two longer and more substantial songs ready for inclusion but that his label wouldn't pay for another session to record them. So who knows for sure?Neil Young's Everybody's Rockin'

10.IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD'S FAIR BY ELVIS PRESLEY (21:58): How short is this album? Well, it's a mere ten songs, six of which are less than two minutes. They're all knock-offs recorded for the soundtrack to another in an endless series of mid-sixties Elvis movies. Each side averages less than eleven minutes, and the whole collection could comfortably fit on one side of vinyl. You could fit it three and a half times on a single CD. But the best sign of how chintzy this record was is this single striking fact: Even Colonel Parker thought it was a rip-off. That's right: the ex-carny who managed Elvis, the man who released an album of Elvis's onstage between-song banter, the man who kept him in Hollywood in the 60s and in Las Vegas in the 70s, the man who milked Elvis product to the tune of fourteen albums and twelves singles in the years 1970 and 1971 alone... the man whose very name is associated with exploitation of artist and fan... even he thought fans were cheated by the length of this album. A stronger condemnation you will not see anywhere.Elvis Presley's It Happened at the World's Fair

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