What follows will be a minor sampling of many recordings which end (to varying degrees) soon after beginning. One may already be familiar with pieces such as these, some of which may function as a beginning, ending or segue (with the listener often unaware of its separateness). However, taken away from the comfort of the rest of the album, and taken on their own, what do we have? Are these pieces that certain something—revealing more than their common lengthier counterparts—or are they bereft of that certain something?
The following are meant to highlight an undercurrent that is typically overshadowed. Why pay attention to a short song or segue on an album? Why is it even there? Vanished; just as they came into existence, they may reveal something unable to be communicated by a longer form. It should also be noted that most of these examples are not overly obscure, and nearly everything on this list is currently in print. This is part of the point. If they appear on albums by The Beatles and Neil Young there is a likelihood that they may crop up elsewhere in your collection. Dig through your collection, and see what you find. I would be curious to know what you find in your record collection that seems to embody what is discussed here.
Judge for Yourself:
Judge for Yourself:
1: The Incredible String Band - The Son of Noah's Brother (The Big Huge, Elektra, 1969).
Always stuck out on this LP; not a segue really, so what is it? Even in the ISB’s longer pieces (specifically “Creation” and “Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending,” the listener finds many distinct parts within each, appearing briefly, and then being absorbed back into the fabric of the whole. See also “The Yellow Snake” on its brother LP, Wee Tam.
2: Lindsey Buckingham\Stevie Nicks – Stephanie (Buckingham Nicks, Polydor, 1973).
One of Lindsey Buckingham's most wondrous songs. See also the other short piece on this LP “Django (which too is an instrumental).”
3: Zomes – Organ Passage (Zomes, Holy Mountain, 2008).
Beautiful rubble. Notice too, some new patterns and tones popping up just moments before the song's ending. Any other piece from this LP follows a similar pursuit of minimal, yet expansive patterns. Lungfish, Asa Osborne’s prior band also excelled in exploring brevity and, perhaps too, the infinite.
4: Sandy Bull – Gavotte No. 2 Take 1 (Inventions, Vanguard, 1965).
In contrast to "Blend II" on side A of the LP, seeing this thin band of music right next to the nearly side-long piece is particularly striking even to the eyes (since you can easily think Blend II is the only track on side A-- yet look closer). Bull then starts off side B with an alternate version of the same piece. He must have had an intuitive grasp of the connection between the longness of "Blend II" and the shortness of Bach's "Gavotte."
More mp3s below!
5: Shirley Collins – Just as the Tide Was Flowing (False True Lovers, Folkways, 1959).
Of all the versions she released, though each are beautiful, there is something about this one. Short songs such as this arise from the oral tradition, and though from the same come lengthier and epic pieces, these shorter ones are perhaps more central to being human in their manageability to be recollected. See also Vashti Bunyan (specifically “Lily Pond” as it makes use of part of the melody for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
6: Moondog – Why Spend the Dark Night With You? (The Viking of Sixth Avenue, Reissue: Honest Jon’s, 2006).
Well, really any of Moondog’s short pieces (of which there are many). Even his longer pieces retain the momentum of constant movement, while staying put all the while.
7: Michael Hurley – Rat Face (Hi-Fi Snock Uptown, Reissue: Mississippi, 2010).
Where does humor fall into brevity? See also: Hurley’s “Old Black Crow.” The personae of animals are featured throughout his albums, listen to his lyrics, and see his artwork; do rats, wolves, geese, owls, penguins and bees know a certain something of brevity? Some of his songs lovingly mimic the sounds made by these animals, perhaps returning to a kind of natural brevity found in the original instrument: the vocal cords.
8: The Beatles – Maggie Mae (Let it Be, Apple, 1970).
Always loved this one. If all their songs were this short what would the world be like?
9: Neil Young – Crippled Creek Ferry (After the Gold Rush, Reprise, 1970).
This LP ends Side A and Side B each with a minute and a half gem giving the album a feel of continuing even after ending. See also: "Till the Morning Comes."
10: Popol Vuh – Devotion I (Hosianna Mantra, Celestial Harmonies, 1972).
Surrounding the final lengthy piece on this album are "Devotion I" and I"Devotion II." The two versions sound nearly identical to my ear, only the second perhaps louder and more resonant I chose the former because it is even more faint and nearly vanishing--an element found throughout Florian Fricke’s beautiful music.
A few words of music, a continuous hum with no direction, a nursery rhyme. It’s why I like to say out loud to myself, “How Green Was My Valley” rather than something longer, too inner-ly quarrelsome, and excessive. Too much is just too much. And this is just enough.