The Hit Songs That Have Been Completely Forgotten, in One Chart

Slate's Culture Blog
July 23 2014 4:23 PM

The Songs That Time Forgot

ST. PAUL, MN - JULY 8: (PEOPLE AND IN TOUCH OUT) American Idol season two finalist Clay Aiken performs during the first stop of a 39-city tour at the Xcel Energy Center July 8, 2003 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott Cohen/Getty images)

Photo by Scott Cohen/Getty images

This post originally appeared at Very Small Array.

Some pop songs are timeless classics. Some play endlessly at weddings and on oldies stations. Others find renewed vigor in movie trailers or because their lyrics can be applied to Golden Grahams. Still others just, well—disappear.


We started with the top 10 songs of each year from 1900 to the present (as calculated by the Whitburn Project), recording each song’s Google hits, Wikipedia presence, and scrobbles to calculate an obscurity score.


Least Obscure Hit Songs
1. Adele: “Rolling in the Deep,” 2011
2. Eminem: “Love the Way You Lie,” 2010
3. LMFAO: “Party Rock Anthem,” 2011
4. Gotye: “Somebody That I Used to Know,” 2012
5. Carly Rae Jepsen: “Call Me Maybe,” 2012
6. The Beatles: “Help!,” 1965
7. One Direction: “What Makes You Beautiful,” 2012
8. Fun: “We Are Young,” 2012
9. Macklemore: “Can’t Hold Us,” 2013
10. Maroon 5: “Moves Like Jagger,” 2011

Most Obscure Hit Songs
1. Mina Hickman: “Come Down, Ma Evening Star,” 1903
2. Big Four Quartet: “Good-Bye, Dolly Gray,” 1901
3. Olive Kline: “Hello, Frisco!,” 1915
4. Marguerite Farrell: “If I Knock the ‘L’ Out of Kelly (It Would Still be Kelly to Me),” 1916
5. Horace Wright: “My Own Iona,” 1917
6. J. W. Myers: “On a Sunday Afternoon,” 1902
7. Orpheus Quartet: “Turn Back the Universe and Give Me Yester Day,” 1916
8. J. W. Myers: “Way Down in Old Indiana,” 1902
9. Alan Turner: “Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold,” 1913
10. Roy Ingraham Orch: “Chant of the Jungle,” 1930

Surprise. With a few exceptions, songs popular during the adolescence of people still alive today are much more popular than songs and racist comedy routines recorded during the reign of Queen Victoria. So let’s adjust the scores by the year of release and see what shakes out:


Least Obscure Hit Songs, Adjusted for Time
1. Bing Crosby: “White Christmas,” 1942
2. Elvis Presley: “Jailhouse Rock,” 1957
3. Glenn Miller Orch: “In the Mood,” 1940
4. The Animals: “The House Of The Rising Sun,” 1964
5. The Rolling Stones: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” 1965
6. The Beatles: “Help!,” 1965
7. The Beatles: “Yesterday,” 1965
8. Elvis Presley: “Love Me Tender,” 1956
9. Elvis Presley: “Heartbreak Hotel,” 1956
10. Elvis Presley: “Hound Dog,” 1956

Most Obscure Hit Songs, Adjusted for Time
1. Roy Ingraham Orchestra: “Chant of the Jungle,” 1930
2. Hilo Hawaiian Orchestra: “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies,” 1930
3. Horace Wright: “My Own Iona,” 1917
4. Marguerite Farrell: “If I Knock the ‘L’ Out of Kelly (It Would Still be Kelly to Me),” 1916
5. Olive Kline: “Hello, Frisco!,” 1915
6. Orpheus Quartet: “Turn Back the Universe and Give Me Yester Day,” 1916
7. Horace Heidt Orchestra: “Ti-Pi-Tin,” 1938
8. Clay Aiken: “This Is The Night,” 2003
9. Mina Hickman: “Come Down, Ma Evening Star,” 1903
10. Don Bestor Orchestra: “Forty-Second Street,” 1933

55 of the 100 most obscure hit songs (those on Spotify) are available to listen to below. And don’t cry for them. All they need is one Wes Anderson movie to get back in the game.

Dorothy Gambrell is the cartoonist behind Cat and Girl and a contributing graphics editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. She blogs at Very Small Array.


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