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The Shortest Song in the World

ND

As a kid I loved playing Mum and Dad’s records on the stereogram. There was always a little zap of frisson as I dropped the needle onto the vinyl, spinning at 33 1/3 RPM, and the speakers would spit and sizzle, and provided the stylus didn’t bounce off, we’d soon hear some music. Not the cold digital tunes of today with their obedient binary code, but some warm, enveloping sounds.

A favourite record was Creedence Gold.  Its track listing is-

Side 1

1.”Proud Mary” – 3:07

2.”Down on the Corner” – 2:43

3.”Bad Moon Rising” – 2:19

4.”I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) – 11:03

Side 2

1.”The Midnight Special” (Traditional) – 4:11

2.”Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” – 2:39

3.”Born on the Bayou” – 5:14

4.”Susie Q” (Dale Hawkins, Stan Lewis, Eleanor Broadwater) – 8:34

The last track on Side 1, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mesmerised me. It featured not one but two great guitar solos. The second of these stretched on forever and to my eight year old self was impossibly cool. It was always disappointing when the song faded out.

There was so much happening within it, it was a snaking southern boogie like the Mississippi itself, and I wondered how this huge instrumental break enlarged upon the lyrics, how it connected to the story, and of course, it didn’t. It had no textual meaning.

It just was.

It was beyond narrative, but nonetheless epic. It told me that there was much in the world about which to get excited. There was possibility and opportunities for wild, unhinged self-indulgence. And Creedence Clearwater Revival was from San Francisco, a city that fascinated me.

Long, meandering songs such as this open themselves up to connotation and interpretation; like a novel or a film, and many argue that these marathon songs often possess a cinematic quality.

But how do we locate meaning in the world’s shortest song?

“You Suffer” is a track by the British grindcore band Napalm Death, from their debut album, Scum.  It’s precisely 1.316 seconds long. It’s now over thirty years old. Its lyrics are officially listed as-

You suffer

But why?

However, I must confess, I was unable to detect these unaided. I only heard the lyrics “Raaaah.” I had to find them on the web, probably because rightly or wrongly, my ears have enjoyed limited grindcore listening experience. Like arc welding, I think lyric decipherment, when it comes to micro grindcore, is actually quite a specialised skill. There’s possibly a TAFE, or adult education course in it.

I first came across the song when teaching in Singapore (don’t tell the authorities- they might come after me) when babysitting covering a Maths class one humid, bothersome afternoon. I played the song on my MacBook at random points during the lesson when the pupils- all compliant and sweet, were silently immersed in matters algebraic and entirely unsuspecting. I made a few of them jump. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in Maths. It was decidedly un-Singaporean.

Among other places it’s located on an album called Earache: The World’s Shortest Album which has thirteen songs and clocks in at a total of ninety-two seconds. You can listen to the entire album when watching the evening news, in the advertisement break between, say, the sport and the weather. For our British friends iTunes lists the album for sale at 29 pence. There’s a walk-the-dog and put-out-the-bins pocket money incentive for the kiddies of Birmingham.

So, micro grindcore fans, it’s nice to have visited your world, but I don’t think I’ll stay long, despite it being the funniest song about human suffering I’ve ever heard.

1.316 seconds is more than enough.

 

 

 

 

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