As time has progressed, we’ve seen music become much more sleeker and refined, designed for mass appeal from the get-go. Songs have become polished products like trinkets you can fit in your breast pocket and admire from the palm of your hand. It used to be that music had splinters and rough edges and a spirit that could hardly be contained. As the values of yesteryear fade away, the modern times have made it so that positive reception is no longer a choice, but rather a primal impulse that’s been hacked into by a very careful science. While Motown and the Brill Building marked the apparent starting point of this mentality, the last decade alone has birthed a whole new breed of catchy-craftsmen, penetrating your private headspace much more quickly than Phil Spector could’ve ever even thought possible.
Here are the top ten songs that get stuck in your head:
Note: This isn’t a list of the ten most popular songs by any means, and genres known for their inherent repetitiveness (i.e. hip-hop and rap) will not be mentioned as they are a dime a dozen. What follows are some more recent samplings (from the last decade or so) of catchy songs that upon hearing, try as you might, simply cannot be pried from your thought-space.
10. Cruel by St. Vincent
It may be a lesser-known example on the list, but this track is incredibly infectious in the most positive way possible. Merging fairy-tale like orchestral swells and some hacksaw guitar work, this song blends beauty and repulsion and creates a palatable paradox that you cannot resist. The real draw is the uniquely textured chorus and cathartic lyrical refrain which make pure pleasure of cruelty. It gets harder and harder not to sing along with every subsequent listen. It may linger in your head, but the feeling is not intrusive.
9. Robot Rock by Daft Punk
The lyrics are this: “Rock, robot rock” (repeat). The song, in spite of its self-proclaimed genre, being rock for robots, is very much the most repetitive kind of dance tune imaginable. The rock element comes in the form of an affected-sounding guitar chord and robotically-monotone vocals, which play more like percussion. Around the riff dances little electronic fairy dust and artificial textures that work up an infectious groove that is hard to shake. Although, your feet may try.
8. Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes
Jack White is best known for reinventing the blues for a generation that thrives on simplicity and catchiness. And if a White Stripes tune is anything, it’s both of those. Any song of theirs can quickly be picked up on the guitar or piano, and “Seven Nation Army” from 2003’s Elephant takes simple song structure to all new depths: the whole song, aside from a two-chord bridge, is based entirely upon a seven root-note army (played as bass notes in the verse, as power chords in the chorus, and at a higher octave with a slider for an uber-simple guitar solo). It’s no wonder then that this song took off beyond its modest, lo-fi roots and blasted into a rare kind of mainstream, giving White all sorts of attention he’d rather not have. As a do-it-yourself success story with two other bands in his pocket, Jack White has remained dedicated to his self-created Third Man record label, taking in stray musicians and offering them guidance like a blues-punk Yoda.
7. Do You Want To by Franz Ferdinand
With their debut, Franz Ferdinand proved their irresistibility and catchy dance-rock sensibilities. In their second album, 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better, the same spirit is carried on, if not all over the album, in the single track “Do You Want To” which is catchy and incessant in the most cloistering way possible. The beat is more like a stomp, and the simple chorus refrain is sometimes replaced with brain-tickling “Doot-Doos” that doot-doo will not very soon escape the confines of your skull. Here is a band that has a hard time penning a forgettable tune.
6. Teenage Dream by Katie Perry
If “Teenage Dream” is one thing, it’s not very intricate. It inhabits a very familiar (i.e. very accessible) pop structure that resembles every other vocal-centric Katy Perry song: there’s a verse, a pre-chorus whereinwhich Perry builds tension, followed by an obnoxiously simple, synthetic three-chord chorus. The one gimmick is a little straight-into-the-mixer guitar riffing (which underscores the entire song) to simulate “rock music.” Otherwise, it’s your average garner-a-hundred-million-Youtube-views pop song that high school girls will sing a capella-style in any given situation their infection happens to act up. If it weren’t music, it’d be Tourette’s.
5. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
Back in 2006, you couldn’t avoid this song from Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. Everyone was covering it at music festivals, and everyone was singing it everywhere. From a collaboration between producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and rapper-turned-dramatic-singer Cee Lo Green, this song is the pinnacle of their seemingly jarring vision, mixing elements both classically beautiful, and modernly hip-hop. The way its simple bass line and bare-sounding drumbeat evolve into a crescendoing orchestral arrangement is incredibly affective. A song from the guy who saw how Jay-Z and the Beatles make sense together (via the “Gray Album”), this one makes left-field sound too interesting to get over quickly.
4. Kids by MGMT
Nine notes on a squirmy-sounding keyboard is apparently all it takes to blast a psychedelic electro-pop duo into overblown mainstream status. Ignoring their virtuosic, experimental song structures and musical erudition, their ironically simple tunes are what truly resonate with the masses, and this song is proof (and so is the lukewarm commercial reception of their follow-up, which contained notedly less songs like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend”).
3. Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
People like a good non-word hook. That is because they like to sing along without having to know the words, or what words even are for that matter. The “Ga-Ga-Ra-Ah-Ah” parts of this song are completely infectious, and are guaranteed to get trapped in your head, even in passing. While the chorus may be as swollen as necessary, and the empty-calorie synths may give the song a certain disaffected shimmer, those hooks are very carefully placed. Perhaps that is why the Youtube video has managed to rack up almost a half a billion views.
2. Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People
This song is very simple; just a few notes of a bass, and a repetitive chorus that is completely easy to sing along with. In a single listen, the melody has already been pounded into your head, enough to keep it spinning around your head until the next time it comes on the radio (i.e. roughly every five minutes). It should come as no surprise that the songwriter and mastermind behind Foster the People was formerly a jingle-writer, a job which is all about adhesive melodies. As for the the rest of the album, the amount of radio airplay virtually every other track has received is a testament to catchy-consistency.
1. Paradise by Coldplay
Coldplay never fail to deliver, or get more potent from album to album. While their latest offering is a little more in the way of electro, and self-consciously mainstream (Rihanna guests on a track), “Paradise” seems to have been crafted 100% with radio play in mind. The piano hooks, swollen synths, and chant-friendly chorus, and flawless pop song structure reveal musicians who know how to get in your heart and brain. And stay there.
What’s Song Gets Stuck In Your Head? Tell us in the comments and we might add it to our