The Catchiest Songs Of All Time, According To Science

If you only want to listen the pop songs that make you tap your feet and sing at the top of your lungs, you’ve come to the right place. A group of scientists from the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester, England, conducted an experiment built around a "Hooked on Music" game. Some 12,000 participants played four different kinds of games featuring the best-selling songs from each decade from the 1940s to today. The faster the they could recognize a song, the higher the song ranked on this list. The results revealed the catchiest songs ever made.

20. Elton John — "Candle in the Wind"

When we think of catchy songs, Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" isn't necessarily the first tune that springs to mind. It's certainly not an upbeat earworm of a pop song that makes you want to get up and dance.

Yet the re-release of "Candle in the Wind" in 1997 as a tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, made it one of the most-played songs in a generation. The single sold 33 million units around the world, more than any other song since records began.

Played again and again

That probably goes a long way to explaining why people could recognize "Candle in the Wind" in just 3.04 seconds. "You could hear a song 25 times a day," Penn State's associate professor of music composition, Paul Barsom, said in 2006. "If it has a short refrain that everyone can remember, it will stick."

But there could be other things at play. Dr. Ashley Burgoyne, a computational musicologist who was one of the "Hooked on Music" researchers, told the BBC, "There has already been some research that shows that if you can find the right piece of music, something that had a very strong meaning, playing that piece of music can be very therapeutic."

19. Boney M — "Rivers of Babylon"

Barsom argued that familiarity can make a song seem catchy. He offered the example of how the Beach Boys' "connection to their audience made the music more appealing." But Boney M raised the familiarity stakes much higher.

The "Rivers of Babylon" is not simply a cover song, after all. If you pay attention to the lyrics, you'll realize that they come from Psalm 137. And while Boney M certainly took the psalm in a catchy, disco direction, it had been put to music for centuries before they'd come along.

A million-selling masterpiece

MOSI, the group responsible for the catchy songs study, is based out of Manchester in the U.K., and Boney M's "Rivers of Babylon" was a monster hit on those shores. It has sold over 2 million copies since its release in 1978.

This is probably part of the reason why participants were able to recognize it in 3.03 seconds. But just because a song is popular, it doesn't automatically mean it is catchy. Otherwise, this list would be identical to the best-selling singles of all time list. And that simply isn't the case.