Music is an essential part of most people’s lives. 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?
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 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 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