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Smells Like Nirvana


What would happen if a computer scientist, who also happened to be a musician, made a study of fifty iconic songs and worked out which one of the fifty would come out on top?

Well, the study happened, and the song that made it to the top was none other than Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

The track, which became the anthem for the Grunge generation, and angst-ridden teenagers everywhere, was the biggest hit for the band during their short, but enormously influential, career.l288-nirvana-nevermind-logo-42853

It seems, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ticked every box and was named as “the most iconic song ever made,” following a study that analyzed the tracks that were most often singled out by critics.

The study, according to the Daily Mail, was conducted by Dr Mick Grierson from Goldsmiths, University of London. He examined fifty of the most popular tracks to see what similarities they shared.

With that in mind, he produced his definitive list of the top 50 iconic songs ever written.

For the study, Dr Grierson broke down songs featured in seven all-time best lists, including ones from Rolling Stone, NME, Q magazine, and VH-1 and other newspapers.

Dr Grierson then used that information and put it through analytical software to examine the variables of what indeed makes these tracks iconic. The study included the track’s key, the number of beats per minute (BPM), chord variety, lyrical content, timbral variety and sonic variance.

With this information at hand, the doctor was able to calculate which songs made the best use of this iconic cocktail.

Dr Grierson said: “We looked at a range of measures for each song and compared them to see if there were similarities in these recordings which occur less in other songs.

“We found the most significant thing these songs have in common is that most of them use sound in a very varied, dynamic way when compared to other records.

“This makes the sound of the record exciting, holding the listeners attention.

“By the same token, the sounds these songs use and the way they are combined is highly unique in each case.”

Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”, with its distinctive four chord riff, came out particularly high for the various features Dr Grierson identified.

By analyzing the fifty songs that appeared most often in the greatest ever lists, Dr Grierson found that close to 80 per cent were in a major key and a similar proportion were in the keys of A, E, C or G. The average tempo of these songs were 125BPM, and around 40 per cent hovered around 120BPM.

Dr Grierson said most of the songs had around 500 beats in the entire song. Although, some stood out like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Even though Jon Bonham doesn’t start drumming until halfway through the track, the song has more than twice that number.

For most of the songs chosen, it was found that chord changes were low in most of the songs, with between six and eight chord changes being the most popular.

However, Dr Grierson said there was no “magic formula” for writing an iconic song. He said: “Ultimately there is no ‘formula’ for this, other than to make your song sound as different, diverse and exciting as possible.

“Even by applying scientific process, what is considered iconic is ultimately up to the individual.

“My conclusion is that if you want a formula for creating great music, there is one: you just have to make something that sounds great.”

Here’s the top 50 list as compiled by the good doctor. What do you think?

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
  2. Imagine, John Lennon
  3. One, U2
  4. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson
  5. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
  6. Hey Jude, The Beatles
  7. Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
  8. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Rolling Stones
  9. God Save The Queen, Sex Pistols
  10. Sweet Child O’Mine, Guns N’ Roses
  11. London Calling, The Clash
  12. Waterloo Sunset, The Kinks
  13. Hotel California, The Eagles
  14. Your Song, Elton John
  15. Stairway To Heaven, Led Zeppelin
  16. The Twist, Chubby Checker
  17. Live Forever, Oasis
  18. I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston
  19. Life On Mars? David Bowie
  20. Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley
  21. Over The Rainbow, Judy Garland
  22. What’s Goin’ On, Marvin Gaye
  23. Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen
  24. Be My Baby, The Ronettes
  25. Creep, Radiohead
  26. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
  27. Respect, Aretha Franklin
  28. Family Affair, Sky And The Family Stone
  29. Dancing Queen, ABBA
  30. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
  31. Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
  32. Yesterday, The Beatles
  33. Jonny B Good, Chuck Berry
  34. No Woman No Cry, Bob Marley
  35. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley
  36. Every Breath You Take, The Police
  37. A Day In The Life, The Beatles
  38. Stand By Me, Ben E King
  39. Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, James Brown
  40. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones
  41. What’d I Say, Ray Charles
  42. Sultans Of Swing, Dire Straits
  43. God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
  44. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, The Righteous Brothers
  45. My Generation, The Who
  46. Dancing In The Street, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  47. When Doves Cry, Prince
  48. A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke
  49. River Deep Mountain High, Ike and Tina Turner
  50. Best Of My Love, The Emotions


Photos: Getty

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