When musicologist Dr. Alison Pawley and psychologist Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen teamed up, they formed an ambitious goal: to prove which 10 songs were the most catchy. OF ALL TIME! OUT OF ALL SONGS EVER CREATED!!! (I added the caps and exclamation points – Pawley and Mullensiefen aren’t the most excitable pair).
But, they did come up with a very specific list of songs. After analyzing thousands of volunteers and suffering through innumerable hours of volunteer karaoke, Pawley and Mullensiefen determined that the following songs take the cake:
The 10 Catchiest Songs Of All Time:
1. “We are the Champions” by Queen (1977)
2. ‘”Y.M.C.A” by The Village People (1978)
3. “Fat Lip” by Sum 41 (2001)
4. “The Final Countdown” by Europe (1986)
5. “Monster” by The Automatic (2006)
6. “Ruby” by The Kaiser Chiefs (2007)
7. “I’m Always Here” by Jimi Jamison (1996)
8. “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison (1967)
9. “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus (2000)
10. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (1986)
How Did They Come Up With These Songs?
Pawley and Mullensiefen asserted that “catchy” songs contain the following elements:
1. Long and Detailed Musical Phrases
Catchy vocalists take fewer breaths between phrases, and the tune is detailed and varied.
2. Hooks With Many Pitches
The chorus or hook is likewise complicated, with at least three different pitches
3. Male Singers
Umm, what now? That’s right, all 10 songs are sung by male singers. Apparently that’s what people like. See my arguments below.
4. High-Pitched Male Voices
Apparently high-pitched male voices require more effort, making the song sound more energetic.
Every musical hit is reliant on maths, science, engineering and technology, from the physics and frequencies of sound that determine pitch and harmony, to the hi-tech digital processors and synthesisers that can add effects to make a song more catchy. We’ve discovered that there’s a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, maths and cognitive psychology can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song. We hope that our study will inspire musicians of the future to crack the equation for the textbook tune.
Are These Results Total Bull?
There’s no question that many of Pawley and Mullensiefen’s songs are extremely catchy and popular, particularly “We Are The Champions”, “Living On A Prayer”, and “Y.M.C.A.” (I’m singing at least two of those mentally right now). However, other songs on the list like “Monster” and “Ruby” are quickly fading from public consciousness. If they were so insanely catchy, enough to merit a place on the top 10 of all time list, would that be the case?
Also, I object to the assertion that male voices are exponentially more catchy than female voices. You could argue that a large element of “catchiness” is the ability to sing along with a song, and it certainly is easier for both men and women to sing along with a high male voice vs. a female voice. Plus, there’s a certain irritation factor to a high male voice that makes it memorable. Yet female singers easily vie with male singers for the top spots on pop charts and in records for bestselling album of all time and most singles from a single album. Could you not argue that Michael Jackson and Katy Perry are tied for catchiest artists of all time, since each released an album with a record-making 5 singles sticky enough to make it to #1?
My conception of “catchiness” includes more than just the immediate effect on the human brain. Real catchiness has an effect on the culture as a whole. The absolute catchiest songs of all time become iconic, unforgettable, ground-breaking, they cycle around again and again. From this standpoint, “We Are The Champions” well deserves the top spot of all time. But other songs may be more deserving of the remaining 9 spots, including some female-centric hits.