Songs have gotten longer, but radio likes a certain length


So, what happened in 1954? Sunspots?


Except… the article asks the question about “songs on the radio” and answers it with data about “songs in some database.” Might be a very different universe. I wonder if there’s an easy way to query Billboard top 40 data - but I seem to recall hearing they guard that data like nuclear codes.

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I remember the much-missed John Peel reminiscing - usually immediately after playing some shouty 1.59 number - about the happy days of lowering the needle on a Floyd or Tangerine Dream track, and wandering down the Radio 1 corridor for an extended gossip…

“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long. If ya wanna have a hit, ya gotta make it fit. So they cut it down to 3:05.” — Billy Joel


Hypothesis: An awful lot of popular music used to be written by professional songwriters rather than the performers themselves, and was thus more “standardized.” With more performers writing their own music came a degree of self-indulgence — “Who wouldn’t want to listen to my six-minute drum solo?” And this may be true of some genres more than others (I think much of Nashville still operates the old way,) so those genres’ relative popularity over time might have an influence on that graph.

Nice try, but no. Radio used to like shorter songs so they could fit more crap (and DJ patter) in between.

Keeping it short: The 3-minute-rule began to end when “Hey Jude” became a (7’11") hit. A shortened version was made for radio, but the die was cast. By 1978 Kasem’s Top-40 show was forced to grow from 3 to 4 hours. By 1993, even with DJ’s mostly gone, Meat Loaf’s 12+ minute album single could only be whittled down to 5:43.

More in this discussion.

So this is why I couldn’t hear the full version of Blue Room by The Orb on the radio (39 minutes and 57 seconds long, it got to no.8 in the UK Charts in 1992)

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Why yes! TV equally restricts length of tracks.

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