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Neuroscientist calculates feel-good Top 10 playlist

Left to right: Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and John Deacon of QueenFile/1978

It’s a no-brainer to suggest that a couple of verses of “We Are the Champions” might enthuse even the most morose listener, but now one scientist has proved Queen’s standing as purveyor of the greatest “feel-good” song of the past 50 years — using a a mathematical formula.

Dutch cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jacob Jolij pronounced Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” music’s number one feel-good track after the British electronics brand Alba reached out to him to analyze their customer survey exploring music preference. Dr. Jolij explains on his website that Alba asked UK and Republic of Ireland respondents which songs improve their moods the most, then passed the data along to Dr. Jolij to identify some pattern.


“A ‘feel good song’ is rather tricky to define,” writes Dr. Jolij on his website. “Music appreciation is highly personal and strongly depends on social context, and personal associations. In that respect, the idea of a ‘feel good formula’ is a bit odd — factoring in all these personal aspects is next to impossible, in particular if you want to come up with a quantita[ti]ve feel good formula. Basically, what you need are song features that you can express in numbers.”

Dr. Jolij decided on a formula that combines lyrics, tempo, and key to calculate the strength of a song’s feel-good nature. In rough terms, he divided the number of positive lyrical elements in a song by the amount a song deviates from 150 beats per minute (an average tempo for upbeat songs) and from the major key.

While the study makes for a fun weekend soundtrack, Dr. Jolij believes its findings just brush the surface of what is left to explore. “The truly interesting questions are still open,” he says. “Is this model predictive, that is, can it be used by composers to write specific feel good songs? What is so special about the major key that it makes us feel good? Why do fast songs work so well? Stuff to work on in the future. . .”


Top 10 feel good songs (as reported to the Daily Mail):

1. Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen)

2. Dancing Queen (Abba)

3. Good Vibrations (the Beach Boys)

4. Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)

5. Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)

6. I’m a Believer (the Monkees)

7. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

8. Livin’ on a Prayer (Jon Bon Jovi)

9. I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

10. Walking on Sunshine (Katrina & the Waves)

Mallory Abreu can be reached at