Following up our list at the start of the year featuring classic rock’s longest songs, we now bring you a selection of the shortest songs. Why? Because you can’t have one list without the other. Because you gotta show both sides of the spectrum. And because for songs that are 2 minutes or less, these little bad boys pack a serious punch.
It’s not an easy feat to say so much with so little, but would you expect any less from these legends? From The Beatles to The Who, Pink Floyd to Queen, these guys have all mastered the very short song (and by “song” we mean a vocal melody + chord progression, unless it’s a cappella). Here’s a list of 20 short but sweet classic rock songs. The wee little jams that may have initially served as interludes, transitional songs or hidden album tracks, but ended up classics in their own right.
20. Heart “Dreamboat Annie” (2:01)
The title track from the folk/hard rock band’s debut album was released as a single in 1976. The song was a lot softer than Heart’s previous singles (“Crazy on You” and “Magic Man”) and marked their first entry onto the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart.
19. The Box Tops “The Letter” (1:55)
Written by Wayne Carson Thompson (not a member of the group), the song became a #1 hit. Singer Alex Chilton, who eventually moved on to lead the band Big Star, was just 16 years old when recording the song. At under 2 minutes running time, “The Letter” is one of the shortest songs to ever top the charts.
18. Elton John “Goodbye” (1:52)
Though not a famous song in the singer’s catalogue, the final track on 1971’s Madman across the Water is nonetheless great. It was one of the first two tracks recorded for the album (along with “Levon”) and in contrast to a majority of the other songs full of other instruments and musicians, it’s just Elton on piano with some minimal strings.
17. David Bowie “Breaking Glass” (1:51)
This song was originally released on the singer-songwriter’s 1977 album Low, but then re-released as a live version to promote his second live album, Stage. The song only contains one verse; the line “Don’t look at the carpet, I drew something awful on it” and refers to Bowie’s habit of drawing the Tree of Life on the floor due to his interest in the occult at the time.
16. The Kinks “Gotta Get the First Plane Home” (1:49)
The song, off of 1965’s The Kink Kontroversy, was written by lead singer Ray Davies and describes the narrator struggling with being on the road away from his woman, whom he feels lonely and empty without.
15. The Rolling Stones “Not Fade Away” (1:48)
Although credited to Buddy Holly and Norman Petty and recorded by The Crickets, the song didn’t chart until the Stones released a version of it as their first single in the UK and the States. It was one of the band’s first hits and was often played at live shows early on (the band usually opened with it).
14. Janis Joplin “Mercedes Benz” (1:47)
The a cappella song was written by Joplin, poet Michael McClure and singer-songwriter Bob Neuwirth. Singer Bobby Womack has said that Joplin was inspired to write the lyrics after taking a ride with him in his Mercedes. It was recorded in one take and is one of the last tracks Joplin recorded as she died three days later. The song was released posthumously on 1971’s Pearl.
13. The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Ain’t No Telling” (1:46)
The song was released on the band’s second studio album – 1967’s Axis: Bold as Love and is actually pretty complex in structure with various different parts, despite being under 2 minutes long.
12. Journey “Good Morning Girl” (1:44)
Written by ex-lead vocalist Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon, the song appears on 1980’s Departure. Though not very well known, it is a beautiful piece of music, showing off Perry’s impressive range and running through one of the most interesting series of chord changes and arrangements in the band’s catalogue.
11. Cat Stevens “The Wind” (1:42)
The first track on 1971’s Teaser and the Firecat is thought to explore Stevens’ spirituality which would eventually lead him to convert to Islam in 1977 (and take the name Yusuf Islam in 1978). The song is featured in the popular films Almost Famous and Rushmore.
10. Cheap Trick “Hello There” (1:40)
The song, off of 1977’s In Color, was written by lead guitarist Rick Nielsen and was often used as the set opener for the band’s live shows. Nielsen has said that he wrote the song because the band didn’t always get sound checks in their early days, and he felt that instead of playing a more melodic song to kick off the show, this would be a perfect, raucous opener.
9. The Who “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” (1:36)
Written by Pete Townshend and included on the band’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy, the song describes the protagonist Tommy being captivated by his reflection in a mirror as his parents try to reach him. In 1972, the track became the theme song for The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
8. Neil Young “Cripple Creek Ferry” (1:33)
The final song on 1970’s After the Gold Rush was originally written to be part of a soundtrack Young was creating for the uncompleted film of the same name, and delivers a hopeful respite to an album filled with melancholy songs.
7. Pink Floyd “Pigs on the Wing 1” (1:25)
The first part of the two-part song on 1977’s concept album Animals is a love song written by Roger Waters for his new wife at the time, Lady Carolyne Christie. The song (along with “Pigs on the Wing 2”) is lighter/softer and stands in stark contrast to the other 3 dark songs on the album.
6. Elvis Costello “Welcome to the Working Week” (1:23)
The song that kicks off the singer-songwriter’s 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True, introduces the world to Costello’s clever lyrical wordplay and bitter tone. The song seems to be a jab at working class conditions and leading a humdrum life, though is also thought by some to be about masturbation.
5. Jethro Tull “Cheap Day Return” (1:23)
With 3 tracks on their seminal 1971 album Aqualung running under 2 minutes (the others being “Wond’ring Aloud” and “Slipstream”), the progressive rock/folk band had its fair share of great, short tracks. This song shows lead singer Ian Anderson reflecting on a time when he visited his ailing father and the nurse who was present seemed more interested in getting the singer’s autograph than looking after his dad.
4. Queen “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” (1:07)
This fun, almost goofy track from 1975’s classic A Night at the Opera was written by lead singer Freddie Mercury and describes the narrator’s typical week. The song contains some beautiful vocal harmonies as well as an unexpected key change leading into the guitar solo.
3. The Beach Boys “Our Prayer” (1:05)
The a cappella hymn was written by Brian Wilson and originally intended for the band’s album, Smile, which was ultimately shelved. The song was eventually released on their 1969 album 20/20 and is a gorgeous display of their vocal harmonies.
2. Pink Floyd “Stop” (:30)
The song, off of the 1979 double album The Wall, was written by Roger Waters and is the shortest song in the band’s catalogue. It describes the main character Pink calling for a stop to his life as a fascist dictator and to “The Wall” in general. The song is followed by “The Trial” in which Pink puts himself on trial.
1. The Beatles “Her Majesty” (:27)
Written by Paul McCartney, this song is the final track on 1969’s legendary Abbey Road and is considered one of the first “hidden tracks” in pop-rock history. Appearing 14 seconds after “The End,” the song was not listed on the original album sleeve but has since been included and is the shortest song in the band’s catalogue.