It had been a while since I last listened to a Beatles album from front to back. So on my drive to work this morning, I popped in a disc that holds both With The Beatles and A Hard Day's Night. My commute isn't long, and yet, by the time I returned home, I had finished both albums in their entirety, 27 songs all told. That I was able to do so prompted a moment of reflection on one of the chief virtues of The Beatles as songwriters: their seemingly instinctive attraction to the 2:30-3:30 minute pop song.
This is the running time I've come to not only prefer but celebrate. In my mind, the ability of a songwriter to focus in on the essentials of a song and have them play out tightly and efficiently but still in a way that entices the listener is something worthy of much praise. It's not easy, and the temptation to go in the opposite direction can be strong. But the main benefit is obvious: by keeping a song short, you can foreground the best elements and leave less room for anything that might detract from the final product.
What's most incredible about The Beatles in this regard is that they maintained devotion to the short song for all of their career. Across Beatlemania, the Dylan-influenced years, the studio-focused albums, and everything that followed, they crafted one welcoming, easy-to-consume pop song after another (with exceptions, of course). I still marvel at the fact that Revolver, the band's first foray into robust studio experimentation, contains just two tracks - "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Love You To" - over three minutes long, and both of them reach that mark with few seconds to spare. It's also worth pointing out that, while the songs off Revolver are, on average, shorter than those off Sgt. Pepper's, it isn't by much. Thus, even at their most experimental, during a period when they went through the motions of making albums more for themselves than for the fans, The Beatles remained diligent craftsmen of the short, accessible pop song.
I'd like to think this means (at least in part) that The Beatles had a democratic conception of what their music was to accomplish. That is, it was intended to please on a broad scale. Or maybe it just worked out that their tastes always matched (read: shaped) the public's. Whatever the case, The Beatles served themselves well by staying true to the short song. Throw on any of their albums, and you'll quickly be reminded of this.