There are fewer things more human that being able to write (and appreciate) music that has a deep emotional effect. Yes, it’s possible to deconstruct various elements of songwriting and to employ the finer points of music theory to achieve that, but you also need that special indescribable human element to make it work. Or do you?
According to a post at Hypebot, a researcher at the University of London has figured out the building blocks of an iconic song. Not only that, but Dr. Mick Grierson sought to find the most iconic song out there. Keep in mind that he wasn’t looking for the best or the most moving song; the key word here is iconic.
Okay, so what does that mean? To Dr. Mick, an iconic song has to be well-known and distinctive, standing out amongst all others thanks to its inherent sonic attributes.
Dr. Mick compiled a list of fifty of the best-known songs from various music magazines–i.e. songs with some degree of, er, iconic-ism. Those songs were then filtered through some computer analysis. Here’s what he found.
- 80% were written in a major key, predominantly A, E, C, and G,
- Average tempo was 125 BPM
- The perfect length was exactly four minutes.
- And the average number of chords used per song was between six and eight.
Next was determine “spectral flux,” which is “how the power of a note varies from one to the next.” And then there was the matter of “tonic dissonance,” which measured non-harmonic tones outside standard pitches used in the notes.
The computer then had to choose a famous song that was yet different from everything else in terms of key, tempo, length, number of chord changes, variations in timbre, and a lot of sonic fuzziness.
So what did the computer choose as the most iconic song of all time–at least from this selection of 50 songs? This one.
Naturally, there’s a fight. To see how other songs on this list shaped against Dr. Mick’s computer, go here. Meanwhile, here’s his list of iconic songs ranked in order by the computer.
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana
- “Imagine,” John Lennon
- “One,” U2
- “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson
- “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen
- “Hey Jude,” The Beatles
- “Like A Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan
- “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones
- “God Save The Queen,” Sex Pistols
- “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses
- “London Calling,” The Clash
- “Waterloo Sunset,” The Kinks
- “Hotel California,” The Eagles
- “Your Song,” Elton John
- “Stairway To Heaven,” Led Zeppelin
- “The Twist,” Chubby Checker
- “Live Forever,” Oasis
- “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston
- “Life On Mars?” David Bowie
- “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis Presley
- “Over The Rainbow,” Judy Garland
- “What’s Goin’ On,” Marvin Gaye
- “Born To Run,” Bruce Springsteen
- “Be My Baby,” The Ronettes
- “Creep,” Radiohead
- “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon & Garfunkel
- “Respect,” Aretha Franklin
- “Family Affair,” Sly And The Family Stone
- “Dancing Queen,” ABBA
- “Good Vibrations,” The Beach Boys
- “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix
- “Yesterday,” The Beatles
- “Jonny B Goode,” Chuck Berry
- “No Woman No Cry,” Bob Marley
- “Hallelujah,” Jeff Buckley
- “Every Breath You Take,” The Police
- “A Day In The Life,” The Beatles
- “Stand By Me,” Ben E King
- “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” James Brown
- “Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones
- “What’d I Say,” Ray Charles
- “Sultans Of Swing,” Dire Straits
- “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys
- “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” The Righteous Brothers
- “My Generation,” The Who
- “Dancing In The Street,” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
- “When Doves Cry,” Prince
- “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke
- “River Deep Mountain High,” Ike and Tina Turner
- “Best Of My Love,” The Emotions