What would happen if a computer scientist, who also happened to be a musician, made a study of fifty iconic songs and worked out which one of the fifty would come out on top?
Well, the study happened, and the song that made it to the top was none other than Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
It seems, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ticked every box and was named as “the most iconic song ever made,” following a study that analyzed the tracks that were most often singled out by critics.
The study, according to the Daily Mail, was conducted by Dr Mick Grierson from Goldsmiths, University of London. He examined fifty of the most popular tracks to see what similarities they shared.
With that in mind, he produced his definitive list of the top 50 iconic songs ever written.
For the study, Dr Grierson broke down songs featured in seven all-time best lists, including ones from Rolling Stone, NME, Q magazine, and VH-1 and other newspapers.
Dr Grierson then used that information and put it through analytical software to examine the variables of what indeed makes these tracks iconic. The study included the track’s key, the number of beats per minute (BPM), chord variety, lyrical content, timbral variety and sonic variance.
With this information at hand, the doctor was able to calculate which songs made the best use of this iconic cocktail.
Dr Grierson said: “We looked at a range of measures for each song and compared them to see if there were similarities in these recordings which occur less in other songs.
“We found the most significant thing these songs have in common is that most of them use sound in a very varied, dynamic way when compared to other records.
“This makes the sound of the record exciting, holding the listeners attention.
“By the same token, the sounds these songs use and the way they are combined is highly unique in each case.”
Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”, with its distinctive four chord riff, came out particularly high for the various features Dr Grierson identified.
By analyzing the fifty songs that appeared most often in the greatest ever lists, Dr Grierson found that close to 80 per cent were in a major key and a similar proportion were in the keys of A, E, C or G. The average tempo of these songs were 125BPM, and around 40 per cent hovered around 120BPM.
Dr Grierson said most of the songs had around 500 beats in the entire song. Although, some stood out like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Even though Jon Bonham doesn’t start drumming until halfway through the track, the song has more than twice that number.
For most of the songs chosen, it was found that chord changes were low in most of the songs, with between six and eight chord changes being the most popular.
However, Dr Grierson said there was no “magic formula” for writing an iconic song. He said: “Ultimately there is no ‘formula’ for this, other than to make your song sound as different, diverse and exciting as possible.
“Even by applying scientific process, what is considered iconic is ultimately up to the individual.
“My conclusion is that if you want a formula for creating great music, there is one: you just have to make something that sounds great.”
Here’s the top 50 list as compiled by the good doctor. What do you think?
- 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, Sky And The Family Stone
- Dancing Queen, ABBA
- Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
- Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
- Yesterday, The Beatles
- Jonny B Good, 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