Ever hear a song that’s just so catchy, you can’t get it out of your head no matter how hard you try? Sure, you have; the earworm plagues us all at some time. Earworms don’t even have to be songs we necessarily like or enjoy. There’s just something about those catchy songs that, for whatever reason, makes them stick in your mind and you can’t get them unstuck again. More than 91% of people report having an earworm at least once a week, while about a quarter of the people surveyed experience them once per day.
But which particular songs are most likely to play nonstop in our brains? The University of Amsterdam worked with Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry to determine what makes music so memorable and which songs boast the greatest number of these ‘catchy’ features.
To do that, they created Hooked on Music, an interactive game that asks players to try and guess the names of songs as quickly as possible, analysing those ‘hooks’ at the beginning of a song that gets us hooked. Turns out, the number one song on our list was guessed with an average time of only 2.29 seconds making it the number one catchiest song.
So which songs top the list? Read on and find out…
10. Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
Aerosmith is one of those bands that keeps on rocking year after year, decade after decade. They’ve been around since the 70s and continue to gain hordes of new fans to this very day. While they have had numerous hits throughout the years, their biggest hit by far, was 1997’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” which was recorded for the blockbuster film, Armageddon.
The song was on top of the charts for weeks in the United States and the UK among other countries. Chances are good that if you went to a high school dance in the late 90s or early 2000s, you slow danced to this love ballad. It’s still everywhere to this day, and with good reason, it’s syrupy sweet lyrics and melody makes for the perfect romantic slow dance.
9. The Human League, “Don’t You Want Me”
Had it been up to lead singer Philip Oakey, the world may never have heard the song, “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. Or at least it wouldn’t be the song we know today. When he originally recorded the song, it was much harsher than the version that was eventually released. Their producer softened it up a bit, and Oakey hated the new “poppy” sound so much, he included the song only as a B-side.
After the band had several hits from their Dare album, Virgin wanted to release another single and chose “Don’t You Want Me” as that single. But Oakey once again fought against the song, fearing it would hurt the band’s newfound success. He eventually relented, but asked that the single contain a poster so that fans wouldn’t feel ripped off by the “substandard single.” Fast forward a few years, and it’s the biggest hit of their career – and one of the world’s biggest earworms. So perhaps Oakey was wrong about it hurting their popularity any.
8. Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”
“I Will Always Love You” was originally sung by Dolly Parton, but Whitney Houston recorded a version for her movie, The Bodyguard, and it has become one of the best-selling singles of all times. Not to mention the fact that it’s a song that almost anyone can recognize the moment she starts singing it – whether you’ve seen the movie or not. Houston’s version was an international success, and it peaked at number one on the charts in many countries including Australia, Belgium, France, Norway, and the United Kingdom.
In fact, Houston set a record for the longest run at number one by a solo female artist in the history of the British charts. While the song was released in the early ’90s, it returned to the Billboard Hot 100 again after Whitney Houston died on February 11, 2012.
7. Michael Jackson, “Beat It”
“Beat It” was the third single from Michael Jackson‘s Thriller album, which became the best-selling album of all time. And it’s not hard to see why, when the album contains some of the King of Pop’s classics like “Billie Jean,” “The Girl is Mine,” and of course, the song that’s been voted as boasting one of the best music videos of all time, “Thriller.”
But “Beat It” is easily one of Jackson’s most recognizable and popular songs – and one that tends to get stuck in your brain. It’s a favorite the world over and has been covered, parodied, and sampled by everyone from Alvin and the Chipmunks to Eminem. Even Justin Bieber had to get in on the fun.
6. Roy Orbison, “Pretty Woman”
“Pretty Woman” is a simple song, really. The premise behind it is that Roy Orbison sees a pretty woman walking by and wonders if she’s as lonely as he is. The beat and chorus are catchy and the song is one that most of us can sing by heart. Orbison’s song was so popular that it even inspired a movie, Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. It was featured prominently in that smash hit and is so catchy, it’s been included in the soundtracks of many other films as well.
There have been many covers of Orbison’s classic, and those too have shown up in movies, making this song one that many generations will not only remember, but think they came up with it too.
5. ABBA, “SOS”
ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 giving Sweden its first win and being the most successful group ever to take part in the competition – which enabled them to go on to infect us all with earworms generations later.
4. Lady Gaga, “Just Dance”
Lady Gaga – love her or hate her, you have to admit, she comes up with some pretty catchy songs. And according to the survey, “Just Dance” is her catchiest and most memorable. Considering the song is about dancing the night away at a club, it’s no wonder that it’s a song you almost can’t help but dance along to.
If there’s one thing that Gaga is good at, it’s creating music that gets stuck in your head whether you like it or not. And with “Just Dance”, as well as with some of her other music, Gaga has talked about how she just wants to create happy music that is appreciated by people going through rough times. When asked why people respond so well to the song, she’s been quoted as saying, “Everyone is looking for a song that really speaks to the joy in our souls and in our hearts and having a good time.”
3. Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”
As you listen to “Eye of the Tiger,” try not to imagine Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. Not possible, is it? Well that was likely the point since old Sly Stallone was the one who requested the song be written in the first place. When he couldn’t get permission to use Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” for the theme song of Rocky III, he had Survivor put together, “Eye of the Tiger,” and the rest, as we say, is history. It was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks, and was named the number 2 single of 1982, second only to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.”
2. Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5”
If your name happened to be Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erika, Tina, Mary or Jessica in the 90s, you probably got tired of people singing “Mambo No. 5” to you. Then again, maybe you were one of the girls who secretly wished your name had been included in this catchy hit. Don’t worry, we won’t judge.
What many people may not realize is that “Mambo No. 5” owes some of its catchiness to the Cuban composer Damaso Perez Prado who recorded the music in 1949. The German musician, Lou Bega, sampled and completed the vocal version we know and can’t stop singing today, however. It got huge and showed up everywhere in the 90s, including the Disney Channel where a child-friendly version included the names of popular female Disney characters such as Minnie and Daisy instead.
1. Spice Girls, “Wannabe”
Any 90s girl who wasn’t living under a rock will remember this song by the British popstars, The Spice Girls. “Wannabe” was on their debut album, Spice, and was all about girl power. It was no coincidence that this song was their debut single – the band insisted upon it, saying it would be a great introduction to the personality of the band.
At first their record label argued, pushing to release a “cooler” track instead. But in the end, the Spice Girls won and “Wannabe” was their debut single, becoming their biggest hit ever. By the end of 1996, “Wannabe” was on top of the charts in twenty-two countries, and by March 1997, that number grew to thirty-one. It also became the best-selling single by a female group in the world. So chances are good, wherever you’re from, you’ve heard it countless times, and thanks to us, you probably can’t get the song out of your head now.