Short Sharp Shocks

A few months ago, I was invited by my friend Chris Noxon to join his Burning Sensations club. The rules of the road: about twenty people make mix CDs and send them out to the other members of the club on a biweekly schedule. So about once a year, you make twenty copies of a mix, and in return, you get a different mix in your mailbox every couple of weeks. (Yes, you can do this with your friends–start your own club now before people forget what CDs are!)

The level of mixology with the Burning Sensations crew was quite high, but two of my favorites were a mix of dirty R&B songs (from Dinah Washington to Lil Kim) called Risque Dissertation and a collection of global horn-driven music called The World Is Made of Brass. A majority of the mixes I’ve made in my life would fall into the “here’s a bunch of cool songs I discovered recently” category, but when my turn came around, I knew that this time I wanted to do a themed collection. I kicked around some ideas and started a few different playlists, but the one that grabbed me was short songs. I decided to experiment with how many songs I could cram onto a single CD. This was the result:

1. Modest Mouse, “Horn Intro” (0:10)
2. The Mountain Goats, “See America Right” (1:52)
3. R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ” (2:05)
4. The White Stripes, “Broken Bricks” (1:50)
5. Weezer, “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” (1:58)
6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Tick” (1:48)
7. The Beatles, “It Won’t Be Long” (2:09)
8. Curtis Mayfield, “Junkie Chase” (1:35)
9. Little Richard, “Keep a Knockin'” (2:16)
10. The English Beat, “Click Click” (1:27)
11. Prince, “Sister” (1:32)
12. The Kinks, “Two Sisters” (2:00)
13. Husker Du, “Never Talking to You Again” (1:37)
14. Fleetwood Mac, “That’s Enough for Me” (1:46)
15. Spoon, “You Gotta Feel It” (1:28)
16. Elvis Costello, “Clean Money” (1:57)
17. The Ramones, “Judy Is a Punk” (1:30)
18. Art Brut, “18000 Lira” (1:11)
19. K.C. and the Sunshine Band, “Boogie Shoes” (2:10)
20. Pixies, “The Thing” (1:56)
21. Wire, “Feeling Called Love” (1:20)
22. They Might Be Giants, “Robot Parade” (1:04)
23. Al Green, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (2:18)
24. Pavement, “Serpentine Pad” (1:15)
25. The Fall, “Prole Art Threat” (1:56)
26. CafĂ© Tacuba, “Eo” (2:12)
27. Otis Redding, “Stay in School” (1:10)
28. Queen, “We Will Rock You” (2:02)
29. Divide & Kreate, “Illiterate City” (2:08)
30. Fountains of Wayne, “Imperia” (1:56)
31. Nirvana, “Sliver” (2:09)
32. Aretha Franklin, “Money Won’t Change You” (2:04)
33. Bruce Springsteen, “Car Wash” (2:05)
34. Sleater-Kinney, “The Professional” (1:29)
35. X, “Year 1” (1:17)
36. The Smiths, “Panic” (2:18)
37. Bob Dylan, “I Threw It All Away” (2:23)
38. The Lemonheads, “Dawn Can’t Decide” (2:21)
39. The Hives, “Abra Cadaver” (1:33)
40. Blur, “Song 2” (2:01)
41. Dewey Cox, “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)” (1:51)
42. Elastica, “Vaseline” (1:23)

I was originally shooting for 45 tracks on the disc, in tribute to seven-inch singles, but I liked the mix better after I tightened it up and dropped a few songs. (So there’s actually a few unused minutes on the CD: the mix clocks in at 74:34.) Except for the opening sting from Modest Mouse, all the tracks are complete (if short) songs, not skits or jingles. Sequencing all these songs took a while, as you might guess. In pursuit of a steady rhythm, I got anal and trimmed the dead air off the end of a bunch of tracks. Messing around with the editing software, I learned that although songs can be padded with any amount of silence at the end (usually ranging from one to eight seconds), the industry standard is to begin each track on a CD with exactly a half-second of silence.

What sparked this particular mix? I’d been thinking about how the iPod has changed my listening habits: I have less patience for epic tracks, because I’m always curious to know what might come up next in shuffle-play. But a few bands have blossomed in this setting. The Ramones and Sleater-Kinney, who I always liked but found a bit exhausting over the course of a whole album, now give a random mix a quick jolt of energy and then step offstage.

(Back in the day, addressing the perception that they only played short songs, one of the Ramones said no, they were actually long songs played fast.)

Some notes on particular songs on Short Sharp Shocks:

#2, “See America Right”: I put this on the last mix CD I made (Victim of a Short Attention Span); repeating it must violate some unofficial rule of mixology, but I didn’t want to make a collection of short songs without this one.

#4, “Broken Bricks”: It’s amazing how a third instrument, even one as simple as a ringing bell, fills out the White Stripes’ sound.

#5, “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”: A B-side to the 1996 “El Scorcho” single.

#7, “It Won’t Be Long”: I’ve always thought of this as the secret Beatles hit.

#9, “Keep a Knockin”: The opening drumbeat may sound familiar; try listening to it back to back with Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”

#16, “Clean Money”: An outtake from the Armed Forces era, first made available on the Taking Liberties odds-and-sods collection.

#20, “The Thing”: A B-side to the 1990 “Velouria” single.

#23, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”: Green’s first single, recorded in 1968.

#27, “Stay in School”: The leadoff track on a 1967 Stax promo album, Stay in School. (This track is also sometimes called “Announcement.”) 5000 copies were distributed to radio stations in an effort to stop kids from dropping out.

#29, “Illiterate City”: As found on the Best of Bootie 2007 compilation.

#30, “Imperia”: B-side to the international version of the “Radiation Vibe” single in 1997.

#33, “Car Wash”: An outtake from Born in the USA, later released on Tracks. So far as I know, this is the only Springsteen song with a female narrator.

Any questions about other tracks, feel free to ask in the comments section. Another member of Burning Sensations offers his perspective here.

posted 21 August 2008 in Tasty Bits and tagged . 9 comments

9 Comments on Short Sharp Shocks

  1. Scraps Says:

    Cool! I used to have a list of very short songs that I loved so I would have a selection of things to fill in the chinks of mixes that didn’t come close enough to exactly eighty minutes (or ninety, or sixty, or whatever) for my taste, cos that’s the kind of obsessive I am. I think I made a Top Five Songs Under 1:40, or something like that, for the Well at some point.

    This just arrived in the mail, btw. Great choices. Seriously looking forward to the songs I don’t know.

    (Nothing by the Minutemen?*)

    *obligatory quibble, without which the comment would not be me.

  2. Chris M. Says:

    Would love a copy of this. Nice work!

  3. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t put any Guided by Voices in there. They’ve got a bunch of songs under a minute.

  4. Gavin Says:

    (email sent to Chris M.)

    It probably represents a moral failing or a niacin deficiency or some other lack on my part, but I’ve never really connected with the Minutemen. Every now and then I pull out Double Nickels, but it just leaves me cold.

    Guided by Voices would have been a good option too. It was interesting seeing which bands had tons of songs under two minutes: obvious suspects like Wire and the Ramones, but also some I didn’t expect, like Pavement.

  5. Scraps Says:

    Niacin deficiency jokes make me happy.

  6. Gavin Says:

    Another good band with a lot of short songs: Tokyo Police Club. For some reason, though, nothing of theirs seemed to fit as I pulled together the mix.

  7. Rob Says:

    Genius mix. “Illiterate City” blew my little mind.

    I love how these are all complete verse/chorus/verse songs, rather than cheating with skits’n’snippets–the big surprise for me was “Boogie Shoes,” which I never would’ve guessed was only 2:10.

    “Double Nickels” has those great Minutemen versions of “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” (41 seconds) and “Dr. Wu” (a slovenly 1:45). I love “Sister” into “Two Sisters”!

  8. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    Where does that version of They Might Be Giants’ “Robot Parade” come from? I know it from No!, where it’s very different.

  9. Gavin Says:

    It’s called “Robot Parade (Adult Version),” and I got it from the TMBG compilation Dial-a-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants.

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