Two-minute songs tend to be the domain of hardcore punk bands or appear in the form of skits on hip hop albums. To put it another way, they’re not usually associated with paragons of the rock and roll idiom. However, throughout their immensely productive career The Beatles were frequently able to achieve greatness in under 120 seconds.
The band’s knack for writing compelling songs that come and go before you can make a cup of Maggi noodles has been highly influential. Take a band like Guided By Voices for example, whose entire existence is devoted to summoning compositional magic within the walls of two minutes.
Even Radiohead have been inspired by The Beatles‘ ability to get more done in a shorter time span. Guitarist Ed O’Brien noted the Fab Four’s influence on Hail to the Thief, telling Rolling Stone, “We wanted to relearn the art of putting out shorter songs … Keeping it succinct instead of taking the listener on a journey.”
Here are our favourite Beatles songs that occur within two minutes.
‘From Me to You’ (1963):
Like all great bands, The Beatles started out impersonating their idols – namely the greats of rock’n’roll, R&B, soul and rockabilly. But by messing with the form, they soon developed a style of their own. This is evidenced in the unusual structure of ‘From Me to You’.
The band’s second number one single doesn’t really have a chorus. The hook, “Just call on me and I’ll send it along / With love, from me to you,” is basically just a tail on the verse. The song doesn’t feel lacking, however, and this compositional efficiency enables it to clock in at a completely satisfying 1 minute and 56 seconds.
‘Yes It Is’ (Anthology 2 version; 1965):
‘Yes It Is’ was the B-side to the 1965 number one single, ‘Ticket to Ride’. An abridged version appeared on the Anthology 2 compilation album in 1996. And although it’s 50 seconds shorter than the original (1.50 in total), the Anthology version of ‘Yes It Is’ is the more moving. This is down to John Lennon’s lead vocal appearing unaccompanied (rather than in barbershop harmony with Paul and George). He sounds drained, disconsolate, as he sings of a being hung up on a former lover.
Love The Beatles?
Get the latest The Beatles news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more
‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’ (1967):
The inclusion of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ reprise isn’t an indication that we’re scrambling to find enough songs to fill this list. Track 12 on Sgt. Pepper’s reintroduces the major melodic elements of the album opener, but the reprise has a fizzy, offhand quality, which makes it uniquely addictive. And besides, the original runs for just 2 minutes and 3 seconds and doesn’t get started until around the 11 second mark.
‘I Will’ (1968):
As you might expect, The White Album includes multiple songs that wrap up in under two minutes, and many others that last for just a few seconds more. But Paul’s ‘I Will’ – arguably his best song on the whole album – is the standout among them. Conceived while on retreat in Rishikesh, Paul formulated the chord changes with Donovan before fleshing it out on his own. ‘I Will’ is structurally impeccable and led by a timeless vocal melody.
“You just occasionally get lucky with a melody and it becomes rather complete,” Paul told biographer Barry Miles. “And I think this is one of them; quite a complete tune.”
‘Mean Mr Mustard’ (1969):
Abbey Road side two. That’s all you’ll need to say to elicit a nod of thorough approval from any Beatles fan. It’s described as a medley, which begins with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ and continues until the end of the album. But the real interconnected sequence kicks off with ‘Mean Mr Mustard’, which is also the first of five successive tracks that run for fewer than two minutes.
Is it a cop out to include them here? No way. Each of these tracks stands up on its own and displays just how bloody good John and Paul were at making each second count.
‘Polythene Pam’ (1969):
My personal favourite of the medley is ‘Polythene Pam’. It’s a loose garage song with Lennon showing McCartney that you can introduce alliterative characters into a song without stooping to children’s entertainment. ‘Pam’ runs for a mere 70 seconds, but it feels luxurious, particularly during the guitar solo that follows the second chorus.
‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ (1969):
Paul supplied just two songs to Abbey Road side one, and they’re both considerably grating – ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and ‘Oh! Darling’. But on side two he redeems himself, and then some. ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ finds McCartney at his most melodically eloquent as he sings about some Beatles super-fans who broke into his London home. Look out for the terrific bass playing, too.
‘Golden Slumbers’ (1969):
‘Golden Slumbers’ is really a collaboration between Paul and producer George Martin. The strings and brass arranged by Martin bring a grandeur to Paul’s composition. George plays bass on the track, which was recorded without John. It could easily have felt a little overdone, but Paul avoids cranking up the schmaltz. The lyrics “Golden slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles await you when you rise,” have to be some of rock music’s most quoted lines.
‘Carry That Weight’ (1969):
‘Carry That Weight’ isn’t the final song in the medley – that’s ‘The End’, which despite including a furious jam session, still only runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds. But it’s ‘Carry That Weight’ that provides the sense of release you’ve been waiting for throughout side two. It’s a belting sing-along, centred on the lines “Boy, you gotta carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time.” It also provides a sense of resolution by re-employing the melodies of ‘You Never Give Your Money’.
Honourable mentions: ‘It’s Only Love’, ‘Misery’, ‘There’s A Place’, ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?’