Making a double album is easy – you just write more songs. But making an album that lasts less time than your average sitcom is much harder. We’re not talking about throwing together a few half-baked tunes – we’re talking about those records that rush breathlessly past and exit leaving you wanting more, something that takes real craft.
Let’s face it, size isn’t everything, as these gems prove…
The Beach Boys – Wild Honey (1967)
After the exertions and frustrations of Smile, shelved for the duration, Brian Wilson sought solace in the more traditional realm of R&B. Wild Honey was a concise distillation of Californian soul that barely broke the 20-minute mark. An underrated gem, songs like Country Air and Let The Wind Blow are wonderful evocations of 60s freedom.
The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)
The band’s masterpiece, all the more remarkable given the circumstances that produced it. David Crosby had been ceremoniously sacked, though not before contributing Tribal Gathering and the gorgeous Draft Morning. The album wed electronic invention and psych-folk to devastating effect.
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline (1969)
Dylan’s enduring fascination with Hank Williams and American roots music reached an inspired crescendo with this full-tilt country album, complete with a velvety new croon and a jangly duet with Johnny Cash. Swapping out sneering metaphor for honey-tinged love songs, it showcased 27 minutes of Bob Dylan at his happiest.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (1969)
America’s original roots-rockers trimmed away the indulgences of their earlier releases and delivered a polished clutch of swampy rockers. The album barely broke 28 minutes, but it boasted three of the most essential entries in the CCR canon – Green River, Lodi and Bad Moon Rising.
MC5 – Back In The USA (1970)
A hair-blowing joyride packed with growling riffs and punchy tempos, the MC5’s shortest album was as much a celebration of rock’n’roll as a tuneful ode to the pageantry of youth. Showcasing a revved-up 50s cover on each side, these 11 tracks supplied the DNA for the 90s power-pop revolution.
Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)
Drake’s third and final album, likened by one-time producer Joe Boyd to “the sound of someone hanging on by their fingernails”, is a masterclass in intimacy. Aside from some piano on the title track, it’s just Drake’s voice and acoustic guitar, his stark songs framed by unusual chord patterns and sublime rhythmic flurries.
Ramones - Ramones (1976)
Short, incisive and brutish – its message rammed home by a black-and-white sleeve that suggested its creators were hoodlums gagging for trouble in a back alley – the Ramones’ debut was the very embodiment of New York punk. It also ushered in a whole generation of uppity miscreants, on both sides of the pond.
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Descendents – Milo Goes To College (1982)
Gleefully aiming their contempt at drugged-out surfers, one-way crushes and hapless losers, the Descendents’ mosh-friendly amalgam of snarling punk riffage, meaty pop hooks and jackhammer tempos unfurled a new blueprint for LA’s burgeoning hardcore scene. The 15 tracks ran just over 22 minutes, but Milo’s panoptic influence remains utterly incalculable.
Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986)
Unerring evidence that less is definitely more, Reign In Blood’s furious 29 minutes are rightly revered as thrash metal’s definitive masterwork. Slayer’s Rick Rubin-produced assault threatens – no, promises – to traverse the fourth sonic wall and punch you squarely in the throat.
The Lemonheads – It’s A Shame About Ray (1992)
Deft hooks, breezy melodies and a sense of brevity that only made the songs more refreshing. It’s also the point where The Lemonheads went from messy also-rans to leading progenitors of post-grunge guitar pop. And in frontman Evan Dando, US alt rock now had a favourite poster boy.