In an essay published last week, Chuck Klosterman wondered what artist people 300 years from now will think of when they think of the genre known as “rock ‘n’ roll.” His conclusion, after running through the Beatles, Elvis, Rolling Stones and others: Chuck Berry.
To which I heartily concurred.
But what if Klosterman had asked a different question: What songs will people remember, or want to hear, 300 years from now? Or even 30 years from now?
A data-crunching site called Polygraph has some answers — or, at least, some theories. As editor Matt Daniels writes:
(N)ow we have Spotify, a buffet of all of music, new and old. Tracks with fewer plays are fading into obscurity. And those with more plays are remaining in the cultural ether.
Polygraph took information from Spotify and graphed it out to see what songs from the 1990s still pop up in people’s request lists. The results, as they say, will shock you.
OK, maybe not shock. But they’re certainly intriguing.
No. 1 on the list: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. No surprise there; it’s probably one of the most influential songs of the rock era, credited with ushering in the grunge movement and inspiring half the alternative bands of the decade. But second is “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. No. 3: “Wonderwall” by Oasis. No. 4: “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And fifth is “No Diggity” by Blackstreet.
These are the “oldies” the kids are listening to. (“Iris”?)
It gets even more interesting. As Daniels observes, Notorious B.I.G. far outdoes Tupac. Will Smith’s late ’90s material still has a following. And if you open up the list to include every song by its Spotify playcount — not just songs from the ’90s — you get such tunes as the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and Coldplay’s “Fix You” in the Top 10.
There are some caveats: Some artists, including the Beatles and Taylor Swift, aren’t included because they don’t (or didn’t) allow their material on Spotify. And Spotify, for all its reach, is an imperfect vehicle to measure these things … though, of course, the old Billboard charts were imperfect, too.
Anyway, makes me wonder what will fill the 2050 equivalent of the oldies airwaves, and what will have long since been forgotten.
(Incidentally, if you have time to poke around, also check out Polygraph’s audio/graph of every song to make Billboard’s Top 5. It’s also imperfect — the audio is just of the No. 1s, and some of it is incorrect [that’s not Sinead O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”] — but it’ll keep you occupied and, perhaps, puzzled or elated.)