Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - Getting Around a 3 Minute Song

June 17, 2016


Today’s Ooh, Interesting! fascinating fact takes us all the way back to the sixties and the seventies, where everything was conducted amidst a summer haze of free love, great music and questionable fashion. It was also the time that the radio reigned supreme when it came to getting your record heard and any song over 3 minutes just wasn’t going to be a hit. So how did Simon & Garfunkel get round that fact?

Billy Joel laments the 3 minute song on his record, The Entertainer, explaining that:

You’ve heard my latest record
It’s been on the radio
Ah, it took me years to write it
They were the best years of my life
It was a beautiful song
But it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit
You gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05

It’s a song about the fickle nature of the music industry and how fleeting fame can be. The song Joel is referring to in The Entertainer is his earlier hit, Piano Man, which many perceive to be his most famous song. It was well over 5 and a half minutes on his album but was cut down to 3:05 for radio air play.

It was a problem that many musicians faced in the seventies – The Entertainer was released in 1974 – but was even more of a problem in the sixties. Record stations heavily favoured songs under 3 minutes in order to fit their programming schedule. This was the same problem faced by all artists and most simply cut their songs in order to comply and receive the possibly lucrative air play slots. One group however, found a more interesting work around.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a song called Fakin’ It. Unfortunately for them, it was over 3 minutes by 14 seconds and that’s a rather annoying chunk of time when it came to be released because it’s a bit too long for the radio station to allow but also terrifically difficult to edit down. In Billy Joel’s case with Piano Man, execs simply omitted a verse or two. With 14 seconds though, there’s nothing you can really do.

Unless you think of a creative solution, which Columbia Records did.

The 7” release is pictured above and clearly displays the running time of 3 minutes and 14 seconds. You might not be able to spot it though, because what they actually printed was 2:74. That’s still 3:14, just written in a different way. The record company hoped that DJs and station managers would see the time, figure it was a typo and play the song anyway. They were literally 'fakin' it'! The ruse seems to have worked as Fakin’ It spent 6 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 during the summer of 1967.

Clever stuff. Oh and Billy Joel’s The Entertainer? Well, his record company must have a cruel sense of humour because although the album version clocks in at 3:41, the official single came in at – you guessed it – 3:05.

 

 





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By Henry Fosdike