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Music is an essential part of most people’s lives Discover New Music By Mapping Musical Genres & Artists Discover New Music By Mapping Musical Genres & Artists Mapping music isn't as bizarre as it may at first sound. In the same way locations can be mapped out, so can music genres and artists, with one style feeding into the next, one band... Read More . There have been millions of songs released over the years, many of which are utterly forgettable. However, there are a select few which remain forever memorable thanks to a catchy, instantly recognizable opening.

These are the earworms that burrow their way into your head and refuse to leave. You may not like them living inside your head, but they will insist on remaining buried deep within your mushy gray matter just waiting for an opportunity to reassert themselves.

Hooked On Music

Hooked On Music is a science experiment masquerading as a fun music game. Those of us playing Hooked On Music get a fun way of testing our music knowledge, but the boffins at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester, England, get to leverage the wisdom of the crowd to help them better understand what makes songs memorable.

There are four different games to play on the Hooked On Music website…

  • In Recognize That Tune?, you have to identify each song as quickly as possible, with a short silence testing whether or not you were just guessing.
  • In What’s The Hook?, you have to choose which one of two clips from the same song is catchier.
  • In Time Trial, you have to correctly identify as many songs as possible in the space of 3 minutes.
  • In In A Row, you have to correctly identify as many songs as possible in a row. As soon as you miss one, your game ends.

Hooked On Music contains 1,000 songs released over the past 70 years. Over the course of 12 months, 12,000 people played Hooked On Music, and the data collected gave us the list below. These are, according to science, the 20 catchiest songs ever released, and they’re all available to watch on YouTube.

The average person recognizes these songs in around 2-3 seconds. Can you beat that?

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20. Elton John — Candle In The Wind

Elton John’s 1973 tribute to Marilyn Monroe was shamelessly repackaged in time for the funeral of Prince Diana in 1997. But whoever it’s aimed at, those opening bars are instantly recognizable.

19. Boney M — Rivers Of Babylon

Boney M’s version of Rivers of Babylon was nothing more than a cover of a song released by The Melodians in 1970. But it’s this version that has remained popular to the present day.

18. Elvis Presley — Devil In Disguise

Devil In Disguise isn’t the best Elvis Presley The Tech Behind The Tupac Hologram & How It Could Rock The World [MakeUseOf Explains] The Tech Behind The Tupac Hologram & How It Could Rock The World [MakeUseOf Explains] When Tupac Shakur strode on stage at the 2012 Coachella Music Festival to perform a song with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, most of those in attendance were struck dumb with awe. Because Tupac was... Read More song by a long chalk, but it’s one that is highly recognizable thanks to that uptempo opening.

17. Britney Spears — …Baby One More Time

I’m guessing the version of this song that appeared on Hooked On Music began after the bell rings, otherwise people are recognizing Baby One More Time from nothing but Britney Spears tapping her foot.

16. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon

Culture Club hit it big with Karma Chameleon, topping the charts in countries around the world, including the United States. Its popularity coupled with that unusual opening helps it stick in your mind.

15. Michael Jackson — Billie Jean

Michael Jackson The Tweeting Dead: 5 Zombie Celebrities Active On Twitter The Tweeting Dead: 5 Zombie Celebrities Active On Twitter While there are some celebrities who tweet for themselves, there are many more who pay someone else to do it for them, either on a full-time or part-time basis. This bizarrely means that when a... Read More clearly had his faults (understatement of the year!) but he certainly knew how to write a good song. While Hooked On Music only focused on the audio, the music video for Billie Jean is pretty damn good too.

14. Bachman-Turner Overdrive — You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

As cheesy as a cheese sandwich made with four types of cheese sandwiched between two huge lumps of cheese, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is hard to forget. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

13. Elvis Presley — It’s Now Or Never

The second Elvis song featured, It’s Now Or Never has a catchy intro, a catchy chorus, and several catchy verses. No wonder it made the list.

12. Hanson — MMMBop

How could you ever forget that poptastic opening followed by the cherubic caterwauling of someone you’re not entirely sure is a boy, a girl, or a little of both.

11. Lady Gaga — Poker Face

Poker Face by Lady Gaga is certainly catchy. But then so are viruses. This was played so often for so long upon release that I started to wonder if it was actually a virus.

10. Aerosmith — I Don’t Want Miss A Thing

I have a personal hatred for this song that borders on the obsessive, but even I would recognize I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing within the first five seconds. It’s crap, but it’s catchy crap.

9. The Human League — Don’t You Want Me

Only songs from the early 1980s could begin with those horrible tinny synthesizers and get away with it. But Don’t You Want Me by The Human League is instantly recognizable no matter how hard you try to forget.

8. Whitney Houston — I Will Always Love You

Two short words is all you need to recognize I Will Always Love You as sung by Whitney Houston. “If I” are those two words, and they’re so moreish you’ll keep listening to the rest of the song.

7. Michael Jackson — Beat It

The second Michael Jackson song on the list, and it’s another that deserves to be seen as well as heard. If music videos are an art form then Michael Jackson is a veritable Leonardo Da Vinci.

6. Roy Orbison — Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman is another song for which I have a strange hatred. There’s no real reason for it, I just don’t understand the appeal. But I cannot argue against that opening riff being extremely catchy.

5. ABBA — SOS

It’s ironic that one of ABBA’s most depressing songs makes this list. It’s less that people are drawn to misery, and more that they’re drawn to that epic opening played on the piano. We hope.

4. Lady Gaga — Just Dance

The second appearance on the list by Lady Gaga. Say what you will about her — and I have been known to say some rather nasty things about her in private — she sure knows how to grab your attention as soon as a song begins.

3. Survivor — Eye Of The Tiger

Everyone knows this song. It’s catchy, etc. But I urge you to also watch the video, which features the band walking the streets with genuine menace displayed on their ugly 1980s faces. Terrifying.

2. Lou Bega — Mambo No. 5

It helps that Lou Bega mentions the name of the song in the opening few seconds. It helps too that this is very catchy indeed, despite it sounding like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Ludacris. On drugs.

1. Spice Girls — Wannabe

And so we come to the number one on the list. Wannabe by the Spice Girls is, according to science, the catchiest song ever released. It hasn’t aged well, but then neither have the Spice Girls.

How Did You Do?

Do you agree with the findings of the Hooked On Music study? Did you recognize all 20 of these songs as quickly as the average person? Can you think of a catchier song than those included in this list?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. All will be read, and most will earn a reply. Except the dumb ones. Unless I’m too busy listening to music to reply.

Image Credit: Petras Gagilas via Flickr

  1. lm
    December 20, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    How about "Macarena?

  2. Anonymous
    December 17, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Alas, this is wrong. "Dixie," in my opinion, shares the ill-matched titles of most offensive song and catchiest song. I got it stuck in my head a couple years ago by watching Ken Burns' documentary on the US Civil War, and it's been in there ever since. Initially, I had no idea that it was the Confederate anthem and not simply a song in a documentary. As you might imagine, this caused some misunderstandings. Gosh, if it weren't so catchy! Trust me though, it is IMPOSSIBLE to get that tune out of there, seriously.

  3. dragonmouth
    November 17, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    "These are, according to science, the 20 catchiest songs ever released,"
    Maybe according to junk science. The exercise might have entertainment value but has absolutely no serious scientific value. The methodology is highly suspect. If "there have been millions of songs released over the years", how were the 1,000 used in the experiment chosen, even excluding the "mostly forgetable ones?" It is obvious that most of the respondents in the experiment started listening to popular music in the 1980s and later, and that a majority are residents of the British Isles. So to claim that these are "the 20 catchiest songs ever" is unscientific and ludicrous.

  4. Saikat
    November 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

    A fair mix of the old and the new, but quite obviously many will have objections because of different tastes and ears. Just like the hula-hoop, one never knows the secret of why something becomes a rage.

    • Dave Parrack
      November 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Music is just about as subjective as it gets. So I can understand people not liking some of the songs on the list, just as I didn't :)

  5. Paddy
    November 16, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    I find it strange that I haven't seen this one on any list of catchiest tunes.

    http://youtu.be/Ldyx3KHOFXw

    To my ear it was like he took three or four earworms and hooked them all together and unleashed it on the radios of the world.

    • Dave Parrack
      November 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      I love that song. I was lucky enough to see Gary Numan perform it live a couple of years ago too. It is surprising that didn't make the list. The beginning is certainly highly recognizable.

  6. Buffet
    November 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Affirmative.

    • Dave Parrack
      November 17, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Well, I like making people laugh, so this is a good thing.

  7. Buffet
    November 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Is this supposed to be a joke?

    • Dave Parrack
      November 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      No. Why, did you find it funny?

  8. Dan
    November 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Are you kidding? Wannabe is a classic 90s pop song. Listening to it now, and it has not diminished at all. Still very earworm-worthy. Elvis is NEVER catchy, except perhaps the disco mix of A Little Less Conversation. Elton John's duet song Don't Go Breaking My Heart is catchier than Candle in the Wind. I must say I haven't heard of Boney M or the song they covered. BTO is cheesy alright (hehe).

    But I must defend The Human League (and 80s synthpop). The synthesizers are not horrible, especially how it was used in the early 80s. When it was overused and abused by laters acts in the late 80s is when it really went downhill.

    I'm also surprised by the ABBA song SOS being more catchy than, say, Dancing Queen. And no Aqua song on the list? Wow!

    • Dave Parrack
      November 16, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      I think you may be taking my snarky comments about each song a little too seriously. They were meant to be funny, but as music is totally subjective everybody reading this may disagree with my opinions on each song. And that's totally fine :)

  9. nobody
    November 16, 2014 at 4:26 am

    Gravy and Toast, Gravy and Toast, Toast and Gravy
    I eat it the most it's Gravy and Toast Oh, Baby.
    If there is a place where they are together then take me.
    (Take me there right now)
    Because I love Gravy and Toast!

    • Dave Parrack
      November 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      I must admit that is a catchy song. It's bonkers and dumb too, but that can be forgiven.

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