What makes a catchy song? A few years back a UK study made the internet rounds by crowning Wannabe by The Spice Girls the catchiest song of all time, based on observations conducted on over 12,000 people.
Playing Top 40 hits from the last 70 years, volunteers were asked to smash a gameshow-style buzzer as soon as they recognised the song. Wannabee clocked in at an average 2.29 seconds before recognition, crowning it the victor.
But within the rest of the top 20, only one contemporary artist appeared; Lady Gaga. Where were all the newbies?
We know what the catchiest songs of all time are, but what about recent times? Even since 2010, there’s been a million new earworms to get lost in, so let’s check them out.
Another study gleaned four main factors which stand at the centre of a song’s catchiness. So here’s all four reasons you’ll always start humming along to The Final Countdown:
- Long and detailed musical phrases.
- Several pitch changes in the chorus or hook.
- As much as I hate to say it, a male singer.
- A noticeably high male vocal.
Said study crowned Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi their victor, with Queen, Wheetus and Van Morrison also appearing in the top 10 (We Are The Champions, Teenage Dirtbag, Brown Eyed Girl). But yet again, the absence of new music was staring us in the face.
It’s no secret that we romanticise the music of yesteryear… we really need a “rose-tinted glasses” equivalent saying for your ears. Rose-coloured Beats™? I’ll work on it. But the fact remains that about one billion catchy tunes have been released since 2010 alone.
So with rapid recognisability and the above four features in mind, let’s take a look at some recent standouts.
Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better
While Tame Impala were never really a band known for catchy hooks, Kevin Parker has shown his proclivity for a pop melody more than once. Probably their most powerful hit of this ilk is The Less I Know The Better, a followup single from their third LP Currents which, despite its later release, went on to reach a massive audience.
And while the chorus is an earworm in itself, nothing beats that guitar line.
Little Red – Rock It
Little Red may have dissolved, but this song never will. A catchy rock ‘n’ roll track at its peak, Rock It was their golden child.
While it never hit the mainstream as profoundly as some other songs on this list, it remains an Aussie favourite.
Sticky Fingers – Gold Snafu
Whether or not we’ll see the return of Sticky Fingers, their catalogue to date is one of the strongest Australian libraries in recent times. From the Newtown anthem Australia Street to more downtempo ballads in the vein of Liquorlip Loaded Gun, it seemed like they could do no wrong.
But Gold Snafu takes the cake in terms of catchiness. I’ll never forget 20,000 people whistling along to this jam the last time StiFi played Splendour in the Grass.
Flight Facilities – Crave You feat. Giselle
The work-to-date of Flight Facilities is a funny one. Releasing a slow burning series of singles over several years before dropping their debut album Down To Earth in late 2014, it was clear the duo were perfectionists from day one.
In 2010, it all started with Crave You.
PNAU – Chameleon
I’ll admit it; I wasn’t a fan of Chameleon the first time I heard it. I don’t know what I was expecting, I mean it was PNAU! They’re princes of pop.
Over the next few months it grew on me something fierce. Now, I’m hooked from the first second.
The Preatures – Is This How You Feel?
Soon enough they had prizes, grants and plays coming out their ears, and it’s really no surprise considering how catchy this lead single was.
Bag Raiders – Shooting Stars
One of the greatest hooks written in the last 20 years, hands down. Shooting Stars still worms its way into the ARIA and Billboard charts every now and then, whether it’s because the tune gets featured in a movie, or a score of memes.
100 percent, what a banger.
Vance Joy – Riptide
God damn it, Vance Joy, I still can’t hear your name without Riptide popping into my head. So damn addictive it was literally the best selling Australian single in 2013, it shot the young songwriter from local favourite to Taylor Swift support act in a matter of months.
The Rubens – Hoops
While many, myself included, will stand by The Rubens’ debut albums as absolute guitar music perfection, in terms of catchiness nothing beats Hoops.
Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks
Eerie subtext of the song aside, Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People took over the world when it was released in 2011. Especially Australia, where half their debut album landed within the Hottest 100 and this tune was even covered on Like A Version.
I tried to keep this list Australian, I really did, but don’t think I could live with myself if I left this hit out. The chorus is long and detailed, it’s a male vocal (as much as I hate that being a catchiness factor), it’s higher than average and the song is one continuous pitch change. Mark Foster did his homework.
If you want to experience it in the flesh, Foster the People are about to embark on their first Aussie tour in ages. Catch the details below.