I love the long song. Sure, it can be overdone, but if the song is really special we don’t want it to end. Van Morrison has done so many stream-of-consciousness type meditations it would take a while to list them all. On the double disc set Hymns to the Silence he had two tracks that were the centerpiece of each disc, the title track and the song “Take Me Back.” I never want those songs to end.
Yet, as much joy as those expansive overtures can instill in us, there is still something fascinating about the ability, even in music, to say something succinctly. Writers in other disciplines are encouraged to say as much as possible in as few words as is necessary.
Music, on the other hand, not only touches us lyrically, but enchants us sonically as well. It is in the creation of emotion that a piece of music gains its strength. This feeling comes not just from the meaning of the words, but sometimes in the absence of them; which makes a song with music and lyrics all the more impressive when it seizes us in just a brief few moments. It is easy to forget that there once were writers who sought to steal our hearts and our ears in less than three minutes. It has become a lost art.
One of the best examples of consistently concise writing excellence was The Lovin’ Spoonful. Led by songwriter and lead singer John Sebastian seven of their first eight singles charted in the U.S. top ten. Included in that run were two singles that peaked at number two, and the number one hit “Summer in the City.” In fact on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits album there are twenty-six tracks, and only three of those crack the three minute mark. And they are fully formed compositions, verse, chorus, bridge, solo. The whole package is there.
The Spoonful were also a real roots band that played folk, rock, country, acoustic blues, and even jug band music. And Sebastian was the creative genius at the center of it all. Their debut hit song reached number nine on the charts, and came in at 2:05. In just two minutes and five seconds they created a moment of musical transcendence. 2:05! Bliss with an autoharp. And how many other rock songs do you know that featured the autoharp?
Sebastian was so good at turning out these laser strikes of good time feeling that it seems surreal. How was he able to it over and over again? The answer might just be found in another question… Do you believe in Magic?