The Crawling Ear Column: Short Music for Short People

James checks out a CD with 101 very short songs on it...

Remember when I went to that record fair in November? One of the CDs I neglected to mention picking up was the 1999 Fat Wreck Chords compilation Short Music for Short People. It’s the infamous smattering of punk that tested the limits of the compact disc format and every listener’s patience with over a hundred thirty second songs. I’m going to talk about it now, because my neighbour’s dog told me to.

Immediately I have to call Fat Wreck Chords out on false advertising. Few of the songs on Short Music clock in at exactly half a minute. There’s an error margin of about plus or minus three seconds. The notable exceptions (because there are always notable exceptions) include Fizzy Bangers, who turn in a measly eight second blast; the Mr. T Experience, who felt eleven seconds was long enough; the Offspring, who pushed their limit to thirty-six; and Bad Religion, whose track clocks in at an unprecedented forty seconds. In light of all this, the blurb on the cover should read 101 Bands Playing Songs That Are In The Neighborhood of Thirty Seconds Long (Except For Fizzy Bangers, Mr. T Experience, Offspring, & Bad Religion, None of Whom Seem to Think Our Rules Apply to Them).

Perhaps I’m nitpicking. Short Music for Short People is actually a pretty sharp idea. With the exception of groups like Mr. Bungle, who toss up a wild, unpredictable aural salad, you really don’t need more than thirty seconds to get the general vibe of any band. Green Day manages to get their platform of melody, teen angst, and senseless property destruction across here beautifully in their acoustic Ballad of Wilhelm Fink. All rockets through five or six different time signatures in I Got None, a fair representation of what their biggie sized songs are like. Let’s face it, if you can’t hack it in thirty seconds, you don’t really deserve anymore.

So what’s truly outstanding on this bastard? Well, if you’re asking my personal opinion, the highlights definitely include HI-STANDARD’s cute oriental-themed jig Asian Pride; Big Wig’s liberal-bashing anthem Freegan; the Damned’s atmospheric prog snippet It’s A Real Time Thing; Sick of It All’s hardcore groove Blatty (Human Egg) ; The Living End’s rockabilly splash Ready; the Ataris’ dated but fun The Radio Still Sucks (they really sock it to Oasis!); and the handful of already established hardcore punk classics littered throughout the disc – Deny Everything by the Circle Jerks, I Like Food by the Descendents, Spray Paint by Black Flag, etc.

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I’ll give honourary props to a few mediocre Short Music tunes with hilarious titles – Farts Are Jazz To Assholes by Dillinger 4, Rage Against The Machine Are Capitalist Assholes by White Flag, and Mr. Brett, Please Put Down Your Gun by H20. That last one is a swipe at Bad Religion guitarist/buckshot enthusiast Brett Gurewitz; H20 apparently heard about BR’s extra ten seconds in advance and decided to go on the attack. Funny stuff.

The final three songs are crammed together on the ninety-ninth track, which kind of feels like a gyp until you realize every CD player in the world at the time couldn’t go up to triple digits. Has that changed yet? I demand a re-release of this album with the proper 101 tracks. Hopefully that’ll happen in my lifetime. If not, I’ll always have this slightly flawed copy to keep my ADD at bay on those long drives through the forests of upstate New York on the weekends, when thoughts turn to days and plaid bondage pants of yore. Why hast thou forsaken me, Nerf Herder? I thought our love was pure and eternal. Oh, the pain.

The Crawling Ear Column can be found every Wednesday at Den of Geek. Last week’s is here