Written By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry," Johnny Cash's "Ghost Riders In The Sky," and Interpol's "Length of Love."
In 2002 I was involved in a comedy show where the style was quick hits, one right after the next. That show was partially inspired by the random acquisition of Short Songs For Short People, a punk compilation where 99+ artists gave 99+ songs, all of which ran under 30 seconds long. Like most punk rock, this challenge seems both simple and impossible. Simple: all you need to do is fill 30 seconds (or less), which is enough for a quick set up and a chorus. Impossible: you only have 30 seconds to work with, and if you make a song too great then the time limit will limit your potential. You have to make a song which is perfectly suited for this length without wearing out its welcome or asking to stay longer than it can. I thought it was impressive that so many bands could restrain themselves in this way, until I recently found a "full" version of Gwar's "Fish Fuck," causing me to doubt the legitimacy of all the artists.
That is until I rediscovered "I'm Doin' Fine" by the Groovie Ghoulies.
It's been years since I've heard the Short Songs CD in its entirety. I never actually owned it and I've only recently heard a handful of the songs thanks to a mix CD I found in a drawer. Many of the songs on that mix were the best of the lot, so that might sway my feelings, but "I'm Doin' Fine" still somehow manages to reign supreme. It never made it as part of our show -- due only to our technological limitations where we couldn't edit off the spoken-word intro -- and maybe that has helped it maintain its mystique. I never associated it directly with the show, or with the forgotten lines, dropped cues or other times. Any time I hear D.I.'s "Comin' To Your Town", I am return to another time period. "I'm Doin' Fine" stood out way back then, but magically avoided any kind of labels.
I remember resolving to become a Groovie Ghoulies fan, a resolution which proved difficult and ultimately fruitless. I didn't have an easy way to get to them, they weren't that popular and -- let's be honest here -- I just didn't care that much. I don't dislike them; I've only really heard these 30 seconds (29 seconds, technically). I never followed through on my pursuit until I heard this song again. I tossed it in my playlist and it has perked up my day every single time it decides I'm worthy of its greatness. Unlike past G.S.A.T.M.'s, you cannot play this song endlessly in a loop. I need a two minute minimum to let my brain settle down and exist in this mono-song world. However, "I'm Doin' Fine's" repeatability limitations do not directly relate to its awesomeness. It might not be a world creator, but it is the perfect mid-mix pick-up. "Doin' Fine's" power comes from its immediacy, its ability to perk up its surroundings and the anticipation of such a left-field jolt to arrive at any time.
I'm sure many people throw in odd ball bits hear and there to perk up a shuffle, and many times these perk-ups come from Eddie Cochran songs or weird TV themes. But before I had any kind of mp3 player, I would drop "I'm Doin' Fine" into the middle of any mix CD. It was like I was afraid I'd lose it. It was so small and the Ghoulies weren't that popular, so if I didn't place this 30 second nugget on the end of 14 CDs (most of which were ripped albums from artists ranging from Oasis to The Hives to Outkast to The Mamas & The Papas), it would disappear. Now it exists as a series of code on my computer, ready to top any song it follows or precedes.
The song itself should be a TV series theme, and if I wasn't positive the series would be horrible, I would mount a campaign to see this through. It actually reminds me of the old "Malcolm In The Middle" theme, especially for its ability to tie a catchy phrase to a relatable theme. In other words, I'm often doing fine and I would like to be left alone about it. Don't keep pushing. You asked how I'm doing, I told you "Fine," you should stop right there and don't ask, "Just fine?" 1. It's annoying, and 2. Yeah, 'just fine.' What's wrong with that.
I was pleased to learn that the Ghoulies had a few videos up on YouTube and that would-be-fans with more energy than I have can find their work with ease. It is puzzling to me, however, that they seem to perform "I'm Doin' Fine" live, and this takes me back to the whole mystery behind making short songs in the first place. Call me a traditionalist, but if a song is under one minute (even under two minutes, really), then it begins to lose its grip on legitimacy. Now you're getting to joke-song territory. You have something to say, but it would get annoying/unfunny if it went too long, so you cut it short rather than pushing through to make it evolve into something fulfilling. Oddly enough, the "Fish Fuck" song I mentioned earlier does both the wrong way -- it's a joke song that's full length -- but Gwar begs for a different set of rules. The problem lies with me though. It's my problem. I am needy. I hear good things, I need more of it. It's my fault I can't enjoy the song for what it is and leave it at that. Sustained by you, oh blessed readers who never leave comments, I have this habit of studying pop songs over and over and over like I'm testing them or subjecting them to experiments. I seem to be asking, "Can this song hold up to this scrutiny?" A better question would be "Should it have to?"
Attached is a video of the Ghoulies performing "I'm Doin' Fine" live. Don't get too excited by the one minute time span -- that includes a fare share of banter. The best part is the dude standing front and center (the mic stand look like it's coming out of his neck). His nickname at school is certainly "Lurch," but when the song kicks in, the thumbs come out and he and I agree.