According to new research, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit has added a new accolade: most iconic song. A new study by Goldsmiths, University of London singled out the grunge rocker that headlined the band’s 1991 smash hit LP Nevermind from a list of 50 top songs.
Helmed by Dr. Mick Grierson, the study set out to determine musical similarities between the 50 songs, which were selected by culling “all-time best” lists from seven music publications, including Rolling Stone and VH1. The researchers then used analytical software to suss out the popular songs’ primary traits, including key, beats per minute, lyrical content, timbral variety, and sonic variance, according to The Daily Mail.
“We looked at a range of measures for each song and compared them to see if there were similarities in these recordings which occurred less in other songs. We found the most significant thing these songs have in common is that most of them use sound in very varied, dynamic ways when compared to other records,” said Grierson. “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 hit topped the list because it had the most key elements that make a song “iconic.” John Legend’s Imagine placed at number two, with U2’s One, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody following. Grierson also found that 80 percent of the top 50 songs were in a major key, and about as many were also in the keys of A, E, C, or G. The songs also tend to include certain words: “baby,” “feel,” “love,” and, of course, “nah.”
In case you’re planning on using Grierson’s findings to create the next iconic hit, he notes that it’s not that simple. “Ultimately, there is no ‘formula’ for this,” he said, “other than to make your song sound as different, diverse and exciting as possible.”
Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, the remaining members of Nirvana, shouldn’t celebrate the accolade too much though. As Spin notes, the study used only a small selection of songs — many of them British, as they pulled from multiple publications from across the pond — and was commissioned by car manufacturer Fiat. (The car company was looking for a song to promote the upcoming FIAT 500).