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Boffins prove Queen ballad 'world's most catchy song'

We are the Champions hits right note

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Enterprising "music scientists" have declared Queen's 1977 cheesy power ballad We are the Champions as the world's catchiest song after thoroughly analysing it.

Certain features of Freddie Mercury's voice stir a primal urge in us, gush the boffins, and make us more likely to raise our voices in a chant and then, er, follow him into battle. So says musicologist Dr Alisun Pawley, who has just completed a PhD in "singability" at York University, and Goldsmiths music psychologist Dr Daniel Müllensiefen.

They believe that singing along to a song is "a subconscious war cry" that keys into an inherent tribal part of our consciousness. And that's why songs sung by men tend to be catchier: "Psychologically we look to men to lead us into battle, so it could be in our intuitive nature to follow male-fronted songs."

But not any old male-fronted song. A higher male voice with noticeable vocal effort indicates high energy and purpose, say Pawley and Müllensiefen, particularly when combined with a small vocal range. Both Mercury and rock boss Bon Jovi seem to have the requisite voice qualities.

Otherwise phrase length and pitch complexity are the attributes that make a song catchy.

"Longer and detailed musical phrases – the breath a vocalist takes as they sing a line is crucial to creating a sing-along-able tune," their overtly technical statement explains. "The longer a vocal in one breath, the more likely we are to succumb to a sing-song."

And a final crucial characteristic is the number of pitches in the chorus's hook. And the more the better. "The more sounds there are, the more infectious a song becomes" say the researchers. The ultimate catchy songs combined longer musical phrases and a hook over three different pitches.

The research, based on Pawley's PhD, has been published as part of a campaign to get the kids interested in science and engineering and to encourage entries to the National Science & Engineering Competition for 11-18 year olds.

Top 10 most annoying songs

By their reckoning, these are the top ten catchiest songs of all time:

  1. We are the Champions, Queen (1977)
  2. Y.M.C.A, The Village People (1978)
  3. Fat Lip, Sum 41 (2001)
  4. The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)
  5. Monster, The Automatic (2006)
  6. Ruby, The Kaiser Chiefs (2007)
  7. I’m Always Here, Jimi Jamison (1996)
  8. Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison (1967)
  9. Teenage Dirtbag, Wheatus (2000)
  10. Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi (1986)

Apologies, Reg readers: you'll probably be stuck with these in your head all day now. ®

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