What is it about the music of Queen that lifts our spirits? Just how do those power ballads send us into raptures upon every pickup of the tempo? Some accredit Mercury’s superhuman vocals while others point to nostalgic value. The truth my lie...in science.
Dutch cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jacob Jolij recently devised a formula that determines to what extent a song has a “feel-good” quality. Naturally, Dr. Jolij found that Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” is the ultimate feel-good song, to which we respond, “Duh.” The initial research was commissioned by the British electronics company Alba, which conducted customer surveys in the UK and Ireland about which songs best improved mood. It was then up to Jolij to root out some commonality.
Jolij distilled his findings into three key variables: key, tempo, and number of positive lyrical elements to a song. The average feel-good track has a very high tempo of around 140 to 150 BPM -- appreciably higher than the average pop song with 118 BPM. They are also almost always in a major key, and these songs are typically about positive events, such as hitting the beach, going out on the town, or meeting a swell gal. Jolij then fashioned a mathematical formula -- the number of positive lyrical elements in a song divided by how often a song deviates from 150 BPM and from a major key. The results were used to bring you the ultimate feel-good scorecard.
Jolij left some room for further research. “The truly interesting questions are still open," he writes. "Is this model predictive...can it be used by composers to write specific feel good songs? What is so special about the major key that it makes us feel good? Why do fast songs work so well?”
While the music industry's eager hit-makers wrestle with these imponderables, Jolij has used his data to create one hell of a top 10 list. Here, your new no-fail, scientifically-backed, feel-good playlist:
1. “Don't Stop Me Now” by Queen (1978)
2. “Dancing Queen” by Abba (1976)
3. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys (1966)
4. “Uptown Girl” by Billie Joel (1983)
5. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (1982)
6. “I'm a Believer” by The Monkeys (1967)
7. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper (1983)
8. “Livin' on a Prayer” by Jon Bon Jovi (1986)
9. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (1978)
10. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves (1983)
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