Many songs that are less than two and a half minutes are wonderful in their shortness but, at the same time, feel a bit over-short. Which is to say, it’s easy enough to wrap up a song in two minutes or so simply for the sake of punching out a short song; it’s another thing to give a short song some real oomph, to make a song that’s short in length but long in depth and feeling. With the delightful and succinct “Raggedy Man,” clocking in at 2:12, Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Haley Bonar, sounding not unlike Neko Case’s younger sister, gives us a deft lesson in how it’s done.
Her two primary tricks are melodic. First is the straightforward but underutilized technique of using a full complement of notes. In the first ten seconds of singing she covers six of the scale’s nine tones, counting the top and bottom of the octave as two separate notes, and she ranges across the entire octave. Melodies that incorporate a majority of the notes in the scale are inherently more expansive and interesting. A short song gains substance this way. The other melodic trick is her 16-measure melody line. Most pop songs involve melodies that are no longer than eight measures, and some are just four. A 16-measure melody feels complex and leisurely, and creates the aural illusion of more time passing—another great way to expand the feel of the song.
Bonar (rhymes with “honor”) further employs some subtler structural tricks that work to counter the song’s brevity, including her use of a series of unresolved chords (beginning at 0:57) right where the ear is expecting a chorus, and her stripped-down take on the main melody when it returns at 1:29. Short songs don’t usually have the time or inclination for this kind of presentational variety. Bonar even finds the wherewithal at the end for the introduction of a new wordless melody in the last 15 seconds, providing a coda for which short songs also don’t usually have time.
“Raggedy Man” is a track from Bonar’s album Golder, which was self-released in April, and funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Bonar was previously featured on Fingertips in 2008. Thanks to the artist for the MP3, which Fingertips is hosting.