Music Dorkery

Computer Scientist: Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana Songs Among “The Most Iconic Ever”

  • Axl Rosenberg

50 most iconic songs
I’m a little late on reporting this because I’m behind on my e-mails. But hopefully you haven’t heard about this yet/still find it interesting.

According to the The Daily Mail, Fiat — yes, the car company — recently commissioned computer scientist Dr. Mick Grierson from Goldsmiths, University of London to figure out which song is “the most iconic of all time” for use in an upcoming ad campaign. Unsurprisingly, given how our music of choice is fairly niche, his resulting list of “The Fifty Most Iconic Songs of All Time” doesn’t contain much metal. It does, however, have a handful of hard rock tracks that will be of interest to metal fans: specifically, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (#15), Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” (#31), Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (#10), and, coming in at #1 — THE MOST ICONIC SONG OF ALL TIME, DUH-DUH-DUHHHHH — Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The article explains how Dr. Grierson compiled this list:

“Dr. Grierson examined songs featured in seven ‘all-time best’ lists produced by major music magazines including Rolling Stone, VH-1, NME and Q magazine, along with those produced by newspapers.”

He then used analytical software to examine what is that appears to make these tracks iconic, including their key, the number of beats per minute, chord variety, lyrical content, timbral variety and sonic variance.”

Dr. Grierson himself explains:

“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.”

Dr. Grierson also discovered that “around 80 per cent [of these songs] were in a major key and a similar proportion were in the keys of A, E, C or G.”

Obviously, this raises questions as to how we might define what makes a song “iconic.” Still… interesting!

Check out Dr. Grierson’s complete list below, then argue about its merits (or lack thereof) in the comments section.

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

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