Enterprising "music scientists" have declared Queen's 1977 cheesy power ballad We are the Champions as the world's catchiest song after thoroughly analysing it.
Certain features of Freddie Mercury's voice stir a primal urge in us, gush the boffins, and make us more likely to raise our voices in a chant and then, er, follow him into battle. So says musicologist Dr Alisun Pawley, who has just completed a PhD in "singability" at York University, and Goldsmiths music psychologist Dr Daniel Müllensiefen.
They believe that singing along to a song is "a subconscious war cry" that keys into an inherent tribal part of our consciousness. And that's why songs sung by men tend to be catchier: "Psychologically we look to men to lead us into battle, so it could be in our intuitive nature to follow male-fronted songs."
But not any old male-fronted song. A higher male voice with noticeable vocal effort indicates high energy and purpose, say Pawley and Müllensiefen, particularly when combined with a small vocal range. Both Mercury and rock boss Bon Jovi seem to have the requisite voice qualities.
Otherwise phrase length and pitch complexity are the attributes that make a song catchy.
"Longer and detailed musical phrases – the breath a vocalist takes as they sing a line is crucial to creating a sing-along-able tune," their overtly technical statement explains. "The longer a vocal in one breath, the more likely we are to succumb to a sing-song."
And a final crucial characteristic is the number of pitches in the chorus's hook. And the more the better. "The more sounds there are, the more infectious a song becomes" say the researchers. The ultimate catchy songs combined longer musical phrases and a hook over three different pitches.
The research, based on Pawley's PhD, has been published as part of a campaign to get the kids interested in science and engineering and to encourage entries to the National Science & Engineering Competition for 11-18 year olds.
Top 10 most annoying songs
By their reckoning, these are the top ten catchiest songs of all time:
- We are the Champions, Queen (1977)
- Y.M.C.A, The Village People (1978)
- Fat Lip, Sum 41 (2001)
- The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)
- Monster, The Automatic (2006)
- Ruby, The Kaiser Chiefs (2007)
- I’m Always Here, Jimi Jamison (1996)
- Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison (1967)
- Teenage Dirtbag, Wheatus (2000)
- Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi (1986)
Apologies, Reg readers: you'll probably be stuck with these in your head all day now. ®