Catchiest song of all time? A Spice Girls tune, say British scientists

The Spice Girls have the most recognizable pop song of all time, according to a survey of 12,000 people. What are the other top 20 most recognizable songs? 

(Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
From left, Mel B, Geri Halliwell and Emma Bunton arrive for a showing of "Viva Forever!," a musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls, at a theater in London, in 2012. A new study shows "Wannabe" as the catchiest pop song.

Scientists say if you wanna be the pop star with the catchiest song of all time, “what you want, what you really really want,” to have is a word "hook" that latches onto a listener’s mind super fast.

In the case of The Spice Girls’ hit "Wannabe," the study of 12,000 people found it takes just 2.29 seconds to recognize the song when it begins at the chorus "if you wanna be my lover…"

Anyone seeking something man-made and sold to the general public which operates at that kind of speed may have to leave the world of song and hit the race track in search of an Ariel Atom – which moves just a hair slower than a Spice Girl tune. The Atom is the fastest accelerating street legal road car on the planet thanks to its ability to go from zero to sixty miles per hour in just 2.3 seconds, according to 10 Most Today website

Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) published the results of a year-long study of what makes a song stick in your head – the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” came in at No. 1.

Researchers used the ‘Hooked on Music’ test, which is online for continued use by the general public.

The MOSI site offers two versions of the test. It asks listeners to try to name a song randomly selected from over 1,000 best-selling tunes when it began playing from the hook – or to take a time trial to see how fast you can recognize the song from the hook.

The second most recognized song was Lou Bega’s Mambo No.5, which the average panelist recognized in 2.48 seconds. In the fastest car circuit, that would make Bega more of a Bugatti Veyron Supersport that clocks-in at 2.46 seconds for making 0-60 mph as the fastest production road car in the world

Here is full list of songs that speed to work on a listener’s memory, according to the new study. The second time listed is where the song's catchiest "hook," like a refrain, falls in the song.

1. Spice Girls - Wannabe - 2.29 seconds (0:45)

2. Lou Bega - Mambo No. 5 - 2.48 s (0:50)

3. Survivor - Eye of the Tiger - 2.62 s (2:04)

4. Lady Gaga - Just Dance - 2.66 s (1:39)

5. ABBA - SOS - 2.73 s (2:25)

6. Roy Orbison - Pretty Woman - 2.73 s (1:07)

7. Michael Jackson - Beat It - 2.80 s (0:38)

8. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You - 2.83 s (3:09)

9. The Human League - Don't You Want Me - 2.83 s (3:05)

10. Aerosmith - I Don't Want to Miss a Thing - 2.84 s (2:22)

11. Lady Gaga - Poker Face - 2.88 s (0:57)

12. Hanson - Mmmmbop - 2.89 s (1:44)

13. Elvis Presley - It's Now Or Never - 2.91 s (2:14)

14. Bachman-Turner Overdrive - You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet - 2.94 s (1:48)

15. Michael Jackson - Billie Jean - 2.97 s (1:25)

16. Culture Club - Karma Chameleon - 2.99 s (0:41)

17. Britney Spears - Baby One More Time - 2.99 s (0:33)

18. Elvis Presley - Devil in Disguise - 3.01 s (1:21)

19. Boney M. - Rivers of Babylon - 3.03 s (0:23)

20. Elton John - Candle in the Wind - 3.04 s (0:39)

This study is reminiscent of the "hit potential" computer software work led by Dr. Tijl de Bie that used an algorithm designed to automatically analyze audio tracks and predict where a song is likely to fall on the Billboard charts

Based on the 50 years of UK top 40 singles, songs were checked for 23 features including loudness, tempo, duration, energy and "danceability."

While the computer made some very accurate selections, like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” it missed on Mumford and Son as the 2012 Grammy winners.

The Hooked on Music study relies completely on the ear of the fan and speed of human memory recall.

Perhaps, all of this may lead to the next big study: How to remove a song that’s stuck in a listener’s head.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.