Recent Results in Groovology
I recently turned my attention back to groovology, in an attempt to find a scientific answer to
an age-old question: who was the greatest band of all time? There are
lots of opinions out there, of course, but unlike those musical
pundits, I have data. Hard, hard data, and the numbers never lie.
I tried numerous formulae to aggregate the grooviness data for
various artists, and finally settled on a formula that rewards not
quantity nor quality, but quantity of quality. Furthermore, the formula
punishes producers of inane drivel. A band with 3 consistently good #1
hits can outscore a band with 6 number ones of varying quality, and
both will outscore a band with 9 hits that were pure drivel. The basic
method is to sum the grooviness quotient for all of the band's #1
tunes, adjusted so that drivel counts as negative groove. The median
score ("tolerably bland") is slightly positive, so a high number of
hits should, on average, count as positive groove. For reference, a
score of 100 is equivalent to 2 holy-shit-that-was-awesome number 1
hits, or 10 meh-that-was-okay-but-ultimately-forgettable number 1
hits. Since this measures quantity of quality, this is really a
measure of how good the artist was at making good music, and not a
direct measure of the quality of the music itself.
On to the results, then. The 25 grooviest acts of all time are shown below. Aggregate grooviness scores are shown; ties are broken using average grooviness (this favours artists that make fewer but better #1 hits over artists that churn out more, but blander #1 tunes).
- Beatles (640)
- Elvis Presley (270)
- Abba (220)
- Rolling Stones (210)
- Blondie (200)
- U2 (180)
- Eminem (160)
- Madonna (160)
- Kinks (130)
- Police (130)
- Slade (120)
- Frankie Goes to Hollywood (110)
- Louis Armstrong (100)
- Queen (100)
- Oasis (100)
- Connie Francis (90)
- David Bowie (90)
- Mud (90)
- Shadows (90)
- Pet Shop Boys (80)
(tie) Guy Mitchell (80)
- Everly Brothers (80)
(tie) All Saints (80)
(tie) Rod Stewart (80)
- Manfred Mann (70)
(tie) John Lennon (70)
(tie) Gary Glitter (70)
(tie) Lonnie Donegan (70)
The Beatles took the #1 spot, by a shockingly large margin. Rumours of them being the greatest band ever appear to be confirmed. Elvis, who is also claimed to be the greatest rock-and-roller ever, actually had more #1 hits (23 to the Beatles' 18), but he also churned out a huge amount of drivel, which negatively impacted his overall rating. Abba turned in a surprisingly good performance at #3; they weren't musically great (not even making the top 10 in terms of average song grooviness) but they were very consistent, and they cranked out more #1 hits than the Stones, who came in at #4. Eminem beat Madonna for the #7 spot, on account of achieving a grooviness score of 160 with only six #1 hits, whereas Madonna's blander music required twelve #1's to achieve the same score. The Kinks got to #9, right below Madonna, on the strength only three songs.
Some other interesting facts:
- Elvis' score was inflated because of a string of posthumous #1 hits in 2005, which were re-releases of previous hits. Removing these from his results pushes him down to 5th place.
- With one formula for measuring anti-grooviness (average grooviness of the artists worst #1 songs, not shown here), Elvis is also #2 on the worst artist of all time list. This is because the sheer volume of Elvis' #1 hits means he also has one of the largest numbers of bad #1 hits. The Beatles did not have this problem.
- Although the Stones have put out albums in every decade since the 1960s, all of their #1 hits were in the 1960s. Their grooviness rating is based entirely on those 60's hits.
- Not counting Elvis' posthumous hits, the only artists on this list with hits in 3 separate decades are Blondie, U2, and Madonna.
We can attempt to normalize the grooviness of the band by dividing their score by the number of hits. This basically removes quantity from the above equation, allowing us to compare the actual grooviness of the music, rather than the artists' ability to produce grooviness. To exclude one-hit wonders, I only considered acts with at least 3 #1 hits. In this case, our top-10 are:
- Frankie Goes to Hollywood
- David Bowie
(tie) Connie Francis
- Rolling Stones
Interestingly, this list contains only two American acts, both with female leads - Blondie and Connie Francis. The other eight are European, 6 from the UK, one Irish, and one Swedish. This is partly due to the data being UK #1 hits, of course. But it's not that Americans are under-represented: Elvis has 23 #1 hits in this data set, more than any other artist. But when we normalize grooviness, Elvis falls to a distant 35th place. The UK acts are more consistently groovy--the British Invasion was not for nothing.
If we reduce the threshold for inclusion to artists with at least 2 #1 hits, the top spot is taken over by Louis Armstrong. Other acts that sneak onto the bottom of the list are New Seekers, Outhere Brothers, Don Maclean, and Duran Duran.
Most Overrated Acts of All Time
We can apply the same general approach for determining the most overrated acts of all time. If we set a limit of at least three #1 hits to be considered for the title of most consistently awful hit musical act, we arrive at the following list:
- Westlife (-40)
- Ronan Keating (-30)
- Gerry & The Pacemakers (-30)
- George Michael (-20)
- Bee Gees (-10)
- Gareth Gates (-10)
- Peter Andre (-10)
- Cliff Richard (0)
- B*Witched (0)
- Robson & Jerome (0)
(tie) S Club 7 (0)
- Elton John (10)
(tie) Boyzone (10)
- Usher (10)
(tie) Steps (10)
(tie) Jason Donovan (10)
(tie) Donny Osmond (10)
(tie) David Cassidy (10)
For the record, I was a bit surprised that George Michael and Elton John appeared on this list, since they have both produced music that I like. But none of their better stuff made it to #1, apparently, so it's not in my data set. The UK public preferred different stuff than I did, and man was it awful. Really awful.
For the record, here are all the artists who are best at producing #1 hits, but who are neither groovy nor awful, in order of number of hits. This can be interpreted as a list of the most mediocre acts of all time.
- Spice Girls (10)
- Take That (9)
- Kylie Minogue (6)
- Michael Jackson (6)
- Frankie Laine (5)
(tie) Britney Spears (5)
(tie) Robbie Williams (5)