Is it possible to work out why some tunes get your feet tapping and your air guitar in action?

How come you hear something you haven’t heard for years - Don’t Ask Me Questions or something you’ve never heard Nation of Shopkeepers or something you don’t even like Since You’ve Been Gone and you’re up jumping around and playing air guitar but some songs you love don’t have the same effect.

If we can work this out riches await us.

Different songs work for different people, of course, but catchy, dance-inspiring, singing-in-the-shower-worthy, air-guitar-requiring songs have plenty in common.

  • A strong beat. Pandora, among other places, calls it “four-on-the-floor” : ONE two three four. You know where the emphasis is at all times. Easier to dance to than something with a changing meter, or even something without much of a strong beat (like piano-dominated pop music or something).
  • Catchy. The words, music, or both are repeated a lot. They’re easy to hear, understand and remember, they probably rhyme, and they’re about a popular theme - love, lust, heartache, dancing, drinking, parties…
  • Melodic and Memorable. Maybe it samples from a previous hit (borrows some text, some music or both) so you already half identify with it. Maybe the melody is really repetitive so it’s easy to learn and sing along to: even nerds like me don’t walk out singing many avant-garde pieces after a concert, the way you can walk out singing pop or rock or even the main theme to a symphony. It’s also just so catchy for some reason! Air-guitar stuff can be like this: the main part, or the solo, or both, are just SO prominent. Loud, strong, maybe repetitive like other parts, probably not extremely long so you don’t get bored, cool sound effect put on the instrument…

Just one nerd’s opinion. Sometimes hits fit all the cliches exactly but convince you through their cheesiness. Sometimes they subvert at least one cliche in a way that makes you have to tap your foot, bust out your air guitar or scream your lungs out in the car. It’s fun trying to decide what makes a hit!

When it has a great, memorable guitar riff that even a non-player can visualize, it’s a good start. Add a bit of swagger to the sales of the song and it’s a no brainer…