The shortest song to ever grace the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart? “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, which clocks in at a heartfelt, but brief 98 seconds. While today we enjoy songs that average somewhere between 3 and 4 minutes (and follow the typical intro/v/c/v/c/b/c/outro structure, with extended flourishes), back on November 21st, 1960 when “Stay” topped the charts for one week, in general, songs were much shorter.
To start, the technology used to listen to music was strictly bound by time. A typical 45 in the early 60s could hold up to about 6 minutes of running time on each side, but, a longer single was more costly to produce in terms of studio time. Not only that, DJs were reluctant to play longer songs because they were afraid that teenagers who weren’t fond of the song would switch off their radios/shy away from jukeboxes to go do something else. Keeping songs brief and to the point minimized cost and maximized the chance that the song would get heard over and over again. It wasn’t until The Beatles “Hey Jude” (7:11) and Don McClean’s “American Pie” (8:33) that the idea of a longer running single became more typical and mainstream.
The fact that “Stay” is coincidentally such a short track actually does it wonders. Catchy enough for repeat listens, but long enough to get the point, “Stay” was actually written 7 years prior to topping the charts in 1953, and was based off a story that lead singer Williams wanting a girl to stay with him past the late hour of 10 PM (the original recording had the words “Let’s have another smoke,” but this was taken out in order to appeal better commercially). There are some classic doo-wop vibes here, with my favorite being the higher vocals in the 2nd chorus in the same vein as Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes.” Everything comes together so well in this song in such a short amount of time that you’ll be queuing up that 45 – I mean – hitting repeat at least once.
As it happens, “Stay” is so indicative of the sound of the late 50s/early 60s, it was afforded a second (and third) chance long after it’s reign on top of the charts ended when it was featured in the movies, Dirty Dancing (a movie I haven’t seen, but probably should) and American Graffiti (a movie I have seen, and would recommend).