In my academic research I’ve been investigating the ‘constraints of song’ – that is, what defines a song, and what creative decisions are likely to make it more (or less) successful. The simplest of these is track duration, not least because it’s easily measurable.
I couldn’t find any statistical study of track length over time, so did a quick analysis myself, finding the top 10 best-selling singles of each decade 1960s-2000s (from everyhit.com) and comparing them to the track runtime from the relevant iTunes download. The full spreadsheet of my data can be found here (rough paste below).
- The mean average length of track rose from 2:43 in the 1960s to 4:03 in the 1970s but then (from the 1970s) fluctuated by no more than 0:18 per decade, maintaining an average length of around 4:00 over 40 years.
- The median song length, from the 1970s, is even more conservative, with only 0:12 change (3:47 to 3:59) between the 1970s and 2000s.
- Best-selling hit songs were shorter in duration during the 1960s (although this may have been dramatically affected by some very short early Beatles’ singles, five of these appearing in the decade’s top 10, all with a duration of less than 2:30).
- The mean average duration of best-selling hit songs has not varied significantly by decade since the 1970s.
|1960s||The Beatles||She Loves You||02:22|
|The Beatles||I Want To Hold Your Hand||02:26|
|The Beatles||Can’t Buy Me Love||02:13|
|The Beatles||I Feel Fine||02:20|
|Seekers||The Carnival Is Over||03:09|
|The Beatles||Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out||02:16|
|Englebert Humperdinck||Release Me||03:18|
|Elvis Presley||It’s Now Or Never||03:14|
|Tom Jones||Green Green Grass Of Home||03:04|
|1970s||Wings||Mull Of Kintyre||04:44|
|Boney M||Rivers Of Babylon / Brown Girl In The Ring||04:00|
|John Travolta & Olivia Newton John||You’re The One That I Want||02:49|
|Boney M||Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord||04:31|
|John Travolta & Olivia Newton John||Summer Nights||03:36|
|Blondie||Heart Of Glass||04:35|
|David Soul||Don’t Give Up On||03:38|
|Slade||Merry Xmas Everybody||03:26|
|1980s||Band Aid||Do They Know It’s Christmas||03:41|
|Frankie Goes To Hollywood||Relax||03:53|
|Stevie Wonder||I Just Called To Say I Love You||04:21|
|Fankie Goes To Hollywood||Two Tribes||03:28|
|Human League||Don’t You Want Me||03:56|
|Culture Club||Karma Chameleon||04:02|
|George Michael||Careless Whisper||05:02|
|Jennifer Rush||The Power Of Love||04:27|
|Dexy’s Midnight Runners||Come On Eileen||03:24|
|1990s||Elton John||Candle in the Wind 1997||04:10|
|Robson & Jerome||Unchained Melody||03:19|
|Wet Wet Wet||Love Is All Around||03:57|
|Bryan Adams||(Everything I Do) I Do It For You||06:33|
|Various Artists||Perfect Day||03:45|
|Britney Spears||Baby One More Time||03:30|
|Puff Daddy & Faith Evans||I’ll Be Missing You||04:24|
|Whitney Houston||I Will Always Love You||04:23|
|2000s||Will Young||Evergreen / Anything Is Possible||04:11|
|Gareth Gates||Unchained Melody||03:54|
|Tony Christie featuring Peter Kay||(Is This The Way To) Amirillo||03:12|
|Shaggy featuring Ricardo ‘Rikrok’ Ducent||It Wasnâ€™t Me||03:47|
|Band Aid 20||Do They Know It’s Christmas?||05:06|
|Kyle Minogue||Can’t Get You Out Of My Head||03:52|
|Hear’Say||Pure And Simple||03:48|
|Shayne Ward||That’s My Goal||03:38|
|Bob The Builder||Can We Fix It?||03:09|