If you've ever found yourself singing along to the chorus of Queen's karaoke staple, "We Are the Champions," it's no wonder: new scientific research has discovered that you can't help it. Musicologist Dr. Alison Pawley and psychologist Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen of Goldsmiths, University of London monitored the behavior of thousands of subjects as they sang along to more than a thousand songs, and in doing so, uncovered four core traits that make a song "catchy."
First, longer and detailed musical phrases are key. The larger the breath a vocalist takes before singing a line, the likelier we are to sing along, pretending, like Freddie Mercury, that we're world champions of something or other.
Also important is the number of pitches in the "hook." The more varied the selection of pitches, the more infectious the tune. The combination of longer musical phrases and a hook with more than three different pitches was found to be crucial to sing-along success.
Interestingly, the presence of male singers was found to increase vocal participation, perhaps, it was speculated, because singing along may be a subconscious war cry, tapping into our tribal instinct to follow male-fronted songs. (Funny, then, how Axl Rose welcoming us to the jungle sounds almost feminine.)
Finally, higher male voices with noticeable vocal effort tend to have us wailing along. Researchers found that this indicates high energy and purpose, especially when combined with a smaller vocal range.
So Queen's iconic power ballad takes the cake, followed by the gesture-filled "Y.M.C.A." by the Village People, and "Fat Lip" by Sum 41. Queen guitarist Brian May said, "Fabulous. So it's proved then. We truly are the champions. Science is a wonderful thing!"
Here are the ten catchiest tunes according to the study:
1. "We Are the Champions" – Queen
2. "Y.M.C.A." – The Village People
3. "Fat Lip" – Sum 41
4. "The Final Countdown" – Europe
5. "Monster" – The Automatic
6. "Ruby" – The Kaiser Chiefs
7. "I'm Always Here" – Jimi Jamison
8. "Brown Eyed Girl" – Van Morrison
9. "Teenage Dirtbag" – Wheatus
10. "Livin' on a Prayer" – Bon Jovi