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When Science and Research Are Wrong

Why the 'Most Unwanted Song' might be the best song ever.

Jordie Yow 18 Sep 2008TheTyee.ca

Jordie Yow is the editor of Discorder magazine. He writes about music and other forms of pop culture in and around Vancouver.

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A music research project's notes.

A science project from the late '90s is making the rounds on the Internet. In it, two researchers named Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid surveyed 500 people to find out what qualities would be found in their "most wanted" and "most unwanted" songs.

Their findings? The most wanted song would be about five minutes long, be about love, have saxophone in it and contain male-female harmonies. The least wanted song would be really long; be about cowboys and holidays; have advertising jingles in it; have everyone's least favourite instruments (banjo, accordion, tuba, harp, bagpipe) and contain elements of rap, opera and children's choirs. To prove their findings, Komar and Melamid teamed up with a composer named Dave Soldier and made both of the songs.

"The Most Wanted Song" is awful. It sounds like something you'd hear on soft-rock radio. All of the elements mishmashed together into something bland, boring and completely terrible. But in theory 72 per cent of the population should like it.

"The Most Unwanted Song," on the other hand, is actually so bad it's good. It takes all the qualities that make songs stand out and combines them together. While listening to it, I found that I actually enjoyed it. Even when an opera singer was rapping over a tuba. Even when small children were telling me to do all my shopping at Walmart this Labour Day. The makers believe that based on the qualities this song possesses, only 200 people on the entire planet would enjoy this song.

But I think that assumption is where they've gone wrong: true music fans often like music not because it is what everyone else likes, but because it challenges the way we think about music. "The Most Unwanted Song" is, by the definition of the authors, the most challenging song for the whole wide world to like. Therefore it might just be the best song ever written.

Music is great when it breaks rules. What I would consider to be my favourite artists today are musicians that I often initially hated. Tom Waits' raspy voice used to get me to angrily tell whoever had turned it on, to turn it off. Destroyer's dense, complicated lyrics used to annoy me. I have friends who've had similar experiences with the Pixies, Björk and pretty much everything people would define as "noise" music. Songs that take a distinct element and make it work are a step above the boring music you'd hear in a department store.

Is "The Most Unwanted Song" the best song ever written? Not really. Though an impressive endeavour, this song lacks the talent that makes a song really amazing. Is this song awesome though? You try listening to opera-rap and telling me it isn't.

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