Almanac Music: Catchy

 

 

Catch as Catch Can, oil on canvas, 100.6 x 81.6 cm, by Francis Picabia, 1913, Philadelphia Museum of Art. [Wikimedia Commons.]

 

Almanac Music: Catchy

 

What is a catchy song? To me, in basic terms, it is a song that has the knack of staying in your head, sometimes for days on end, as well as one that makes you want to sing along. It does not automatically follow that the song is – or will become – a personal favourite.

 

Why is a song catchy? A simple survey of online material shows an enormous amount of writing on the topic. One basic explanation that resonated particularly with me appears in Wikipedia. There, ‘a 2014 study by the University of Amsterdam and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester found Wannabe by the Spice Girls to be the catchiest pop song of the last 60 years in the UK. The study found that having a simple and relentless melody was the key to a song being ‘catchy’.’ A ‘simple and relentless melody’ – yes, this is certainly a dominant trait in songs that I find catchy. Wikipedia also refers to ‘many documented techniques that recur throughout catchy music, such as repetition, hooks and alliteration’.

 

Following, then, are four of the catchiest pop/rock songs ever written, in my opinion: Come and Get It, performed by Badfinger, written by Paul McCartney (1969); Rabbit, performed and written by Chas and Dave (1980); Tubthumping performed and written by Chumbawamba (1997) and Call Me Maybe, by Carly Rae Jepsen, written by Carly Rae Jepsen, John Ramsay and Tavish Crowe (2011). In melodic terms, there is definitely something ‘simple and relentless’ about all of them.

 

Come and Get It

 

Come and Get It is the musical equivalent to being utterly entranced by a mouse running around inside a spinning wheel – the song possesses a hypnotic magic. Structurally, it is brilliantly balanced, too, with a lovely touch of psychedelia in the closing bars.

 

 

 

 

Rabbit

 

Rabbit is rhythmically driving, possesses a compelling, busy bass line, and repetitive (note its use of the word ‘rabbit’ in this context). In general, it is especially notable for its hooks – and a great example of the genre called ‘Rockney’, too!

 

 

 

 

Tubthumping

 

Tubthumping, fundamentally, has a male chant, ‘war cry’ feel: ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down … ‘. The ZME Science website indicates this war cry feature is a key aspect of a great deal of catchy music. (Consider Queen’s We are the Champions as another fine example in this respect.) The song is also repetitive and wonderfully ‘hooky’, in the latter respect possessing so many bits that grab the attention of the listener.

 

 

 

 

Call Me Maybe

 

This dance-pop song, a major international hit for Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen, is not a personal favourite, but must be a candidate for the catchiest song of the last half-century or so, mainly due to its irresistible beat and infectious chorus: ‘Hey, I just met you and this is crazy / But here’s my number, so call me, maybe ….’

 

 

 

 

So, Almanackers, now it’s over to you. Please put forward your own examples of particularly catchy songs.

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    She Loves You by The Beatles probably just shades Carly-Rae for cultural significance and catchiness.

    Closer to home, a couple from the Hoodoo Gurus – I Want You Back and What’s My Scene?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Swish, for these. Yes, of course, many songs fall into the ‘catchy’ category – I just put forward a small number to get the ball rolling. Carly Rae got in because I wanted something within the last decade for my piece.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Oops … well, Carly Rae’s song is close to ‘the last decade’ – ‘Call Me Maybe’ was released in 2011.

  4. Excellent Kev. Groove is in the Heart by Deeelite , Praise You by Fat Boy Slim, Hey Ya by Outkast and Cannonball by The Breeders.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Jeez, Ian, your song selections are so darn catchy that I’m having to restrain myself from dancing – as opposed to typing on the computer keyboard! Wonderful and interesting stuff!

  6. Thanks Kev. I was just thinking of another one Rise by Public Image. Songs like these become annoying ear worms strangely enough. I have a default ear worm Losing my Religion by REM and I have no idea where its come from. I like REM but its not my favourite of theirs. That song appears in my head as soon as I wake up every bloody day!

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks again, Ian. If I had a default ear worm, I suppose it would be ‘Come and Get It’ performed by Badfinger (written by McCartney), but, interestingly, in the light of what you’ve written about yours, it doesn’t appear in my head every morning and also happens to be one of my favourite songs!

  8. Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt says

    My default earworm is Suspicious Minds by The Sports, when tinnitus takes a rest,

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, Swish – the notion of a ‘default earworm’ is gaining some traction here in the responses to this post. This is interesting. I really like Sports, like you seem to, also. The Sports songs that make it most regularly into my head are ‘Don’t Throw Stones’ (1979) and ‘Strangers on a Train’ (1980). As well, I really like ‘Another Kick in the Head’, from Stephen Cummings’ solo album, Senso (1984).

  10. The discussion of default earworms made me wonder where mine come from. I was going to ask how long other folks earworms last. Mine are only ever a day and get wiped overnight. Recently had one that sustained overnight. Noticed it because of the rarity.
    Thinking that my earworms are reinforced by the Apple Music algorithm. I look forward to the Tuesday update of the My Favourites playlist. Something I hear there most mornings generally becomes my earworm du jour. Now that I rarely listen to radio, albums or CD’s.
    Are streaming algorithms just earworms of my earworms?

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting contribution, as usual, Peter. I’ll need to think further about what you’ve said about earworms and default earworms. My head often contains something musical – I don’t get too preoccupied about what it is generally, and the earworrm/song du jour usually changes enough not to be too bothersome.

  12. Escape (The Pina Colada Song). I’ve an unhealthy interest in this. If I see a vague coincidence I’ll say to Claire, ‘See, Pina Colada Song,’ even when I know it’s not remotely analogous to Rupert Holmes’ (not really) celebrated tale of marital discord and redemption. It’s a meta-joke. I’m almost confident it’s inspired a (dreadful) made for TV movie, but don’t want to google it and destroy the magic of knowing either way.

    I do love a crappy/catchy pop song and this one is at the top of my long list. Thanks KD, another excellent topic.

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Mickey – many thanks for your response.

    Ah yes, the ‘Escape’ song … I can certainly understand this one staying inside a person’s head – for a range of reasons!

  14. Rick Kane says

    Great idea KD, I love songs with a catchy melody. Apart from the obvious (Beatles, ABBA, Motown) there are some great one hit wonders that standout.

    You Better Move On, by Arthur Alexander
    Get Together, The Youngbloods
    Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman
    Sukiyaki, Kyu Sakamoto
    and A Little Time by The Beautiful South

  15. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks so much, Rick, for your songs – a fine bunch, to be sure! (Just listened to them all.) Glad you liked the concept behind my piece, too. And your ‘Something in the Air’ reminded me of a different song with the same name that’s also pretty catchy. This one by Kane and Walmsley features Melinda Schneider – and is the theme song from the ABC series called ‘Something in the Air’ which ran from 2000-2002.

  16. I’d long wondered about the guitar intro to ‘How to Make Gravy’ by Paul Kelly and recently read of its similarity to ‘Something in the Air.’ I can certainly hear it. Upon hearing Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ I wondered about it too until google go the better of me and yes, in part it’s homage to ‘Seven Bridges Road’ most famously covered by the Eagles.

  17. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the additional material, Mickey – quite a few songs share similar chord progressions/patterns, of course – along the lines of your comparison of ‘How to Make Gravy’ and ‘Something in the Air’. Nothing inherently wrong with this kind of thing, unless the matching up between songs directly relates to a melody line, in which case other considerations come into play. (And I don’t want to sound too much like a copyright lawyer here – the subject can be a complex one.)

  18. DBalassone says

    I’m know I’m a bit late to this. Good get Mickey re that guitar intro, but I also hear that intro in the great Mike Scott (The Waterboys) song ‘Long Way to the Light’ which was released the year before (1995).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlZ9g7O8_Sg

    I’m amazed more people haven’t noticed this.

  19. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, DB – always good to hear from a fellow poet.

  20. Kevin Densley says

    And a good one at that, Sunshine!

  21. DBalassone says

    Way too kind, KD! But what about that ‘Long Way to the Light’ ‘How to Make Gravy’ similarity. I wonder if Mike Scott and Paul Kelly are aware.

  22. Kevin Densley says

    Hi DB – I can’t answer your question – but basically, with Kelly and Scott’s mid-1990s songs we’re talking about a chord sequence, not a melody, and it’s also a chord sequence readily recognizable in the much earlier ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman (1969).

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