What's the No. 1 feel-good song of all time?

Musicians, take heed: a fast tempo, happy lyrics, and key with major thirds are all you need to write a feel-good pop hit, according to a Dutch scientist.

Joe Schaber
From left, George Michael of Wham!, concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith, Bono of U2, Paul McCartney, concert organizer Bob Geldof and Freddie Mercury of Queen join in the finale of the Live Aid famine relief concert, at Wembley Stadium, London, July 13, 1985.

Using a formula and a survey sample, neuroscientists may have discovered the happiest, most rousing song ever written.

Here are a few hints: It’s from the 1970s, and the band is British. You might remember it from the cinematic peak of the 2004 cult comedy, 'Shaun of the Dead.'

Yup, the most feel-good song of all time is Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” a exuberant 1979 tune. Though the song was a British chart-topper, it only reached No. 86 in the United States.

Frequently covered on TV singing competitions, the hit contains all the components of a bona fide feel-good song: a major key, happy lyrics, and a very fast tempo of 155 beats per minute, which is significantly faster than the average pop song.

These three elements were determined by Dr. Jacob Jolij, assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who began his research by examining a survey that asked 2,000 British adults what their favorite uplifting song was.

“A feel-good song is very personal. Music is intimately linked with memory and emotion,” Dr. Jolij told the Daily Mail. “However, there are some key criteria for composers to consider when creating feel good songs.”

Using the variables L for positive lyrics, BPM for beats per minute, and K for a musical key that features heavy major thirds, Jolij created an equation to measure each of the 126 songs from the survey results.

While “Don’t Stop Me Now” came out on the very top, the nine runner-ups are also mostly oldies. Here’s the list from the study:

1. "Don't Stop Me Now," by Queen (1979)

2. "Dancing Queen," by Abba (1976)

3. "Good Vibrations," by The Beach Boys (1966)

4. "Uptown Girl," by Billy Joel (1983)

5. "Eye of the Tiger," by Survivor (1982)

6. "I'm a Believer", by The Monkeys (1966)

7. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," by Cyndi Lauper (1983)

8. "Livin' on a Prayer," by Bon Jovi (1986)

9. "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor (1978)

10. "Walking on Sunshine," by Katrina & The Waves (1983)

Of course, the age and location of the British survey-takers probably affected the results. Jolji also released a list the top feel-good song of each decade, with Pharell Williams’ “Happy” for the 2010s, Toploader’s cover of King Harvest's “Dancing in the Moonlight” (which was never released in the US) for the 2000s, and Robbie Williams’ “Let Me Entertain You” for the 1990s.

Alba, the British electronics company that conducted the initial survey, found that about 75 percent of people in Britain listen to music as a way to perk up their mood, and 54 percent use music to motivate themselves.

"My analysis confirmed very nicely what we already knew from the literature: Songs written in a major key with fast tempo are best at inducing positive emotions," Jolij wrote in an email to the Huffington Post. “The more data we have available, the more we can learn about how music affects our moods."  

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.