40 Facts About Music That Really Sing
No, it's not all about that bass.
They say music is a universal language. And, you know, they’re probably right. After all, who doesn’t love a great, foot-tapping tune? (If you believe the plot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, even aliens do!) But as much as you love music and music theory in all its forms—and as much as you think you know about your favorite songs and artists—there are still plenty of opportunities to be totally floored.
Don’t believe us? Read on. We’ve rounded up 40 totally rockin’ facts and bits of trivia that will blow any music fan’s mind.
One study, conducted by a University of Sydney professor, titled “Stairway to H*ll: Life and Death in the Pop Music Industry,” examined the deaths of artists which took place between 1950 and June 2014. The study specifically looked at longevity and the proportion of suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths. Longevity was determined by calculating the average age of death for each musician by sex and decade of their death. These averages were then compared with averages by sex and decade for the general U.S. population. The results? Musicians’ lifespans are 25 years shorter.
In fact, Mozart sold the most CDs in 2016, beating out Adele, Drake, and Beyoncé, even though all of those artists had Grammy-winning hits that year.
So, how’d an 18th-century composer sell more than pop music’s greatest names? Well, in October 2016, the Universal Music Group released a box set commemorating the 225th anniversary of Mozart’s death. Each disc included in the box set counted as one CD sold, and each set contained 200 discs. Throw in the proliferation of streaming—which has significantly dampened CD sales—and voila. Plus, the box set itself flew off shelves: As of this writing, there are only four remaining on Amazon ($686).
Multiple studies have been conducted that prove singing as a part of a group provides numerous physical and emotional benefits. Researchers have discovered that singing is soothing and does indeed raise one’s spirits and mood. When you sing with others, the body releases feel-good hormones, like oxytocin, and reduces stress-causing ones, like cortisol.
Per the results of one study conducted at the University of Barcelona, 5 percent of participants did not feel any emotion whatsoever—didn’t feel any chills or want to tap their feet—when listening to music. Before you start calling these study subjects monsters, know that they’re totally normal in other ways: they received pleasure from other things, like food and sex, and had no other evident psychological issues. These were happy, healthy college students who just naturally did not care for any kind of music.
Research has consistently shown that the synchronization of music with repetitive exercise provides enhanced physical performance, helping people both work out for longer and train more efficiently. In one study, participants who cycled in time to music found that they required 7 percent less oxygen compared to cycling with background (asynchronous) music. In other words, music provides temporal cues that have the potential to make more efficient use of physical energy.
Several free concerts have been reported to have an audience of one million (or more), but such numbers tend to be exaggerated. However, according to Guinness World Records, Rod Stewart’s 1993 New Year’s Eve concert on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, remains the most-attended free concert that ever took place. An estimated 4.2 million people were in attendance at this performance. The second most-attended free concert was Jean-Michel Jarre’s September 6, 1997, performance at the University of Moscow, which reportedly had an estimated audience of 3.5 million.
In 2014, a group of researchers from The Museum of Science and Industry in England released an online test called “Hooked on Music.“ It contained one thousand quips from pop hits, going all the way back to the 1940s, and it asked 12,000 participants to identify songs as fast as possible. They found that “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls was the catchiest song: people were able to recognize it in about 2.3 seconds, which was way below the 5-second average of identifying other popular songs.
Perhaps head-banging an effective way to keep warm. According to a Reddit user who created a map using data from Encyclopedia Metallum’s archive of metal bands, Finland is home to the most bands of this genre, with 53.5 metal bands per 100,000 people. Second place was tied between two other Nordic nations Sweden and Norway (27.2), while Iceland stole third (22.7). Though heavy metal music originated in the United States and the United Kingdom, their numbers for those countries were 5.5 and 5.2, respectively.
In 2015, a Canadian astronaut named Chris Hadfield released his first album, which was entirely recorded while he was in orbit. Not only was he the first Canadian to walk in space, he’s also a talented musician whose went viral with a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Hadfield spent 144 days at the International Space Station recording his 11 original songs for his appropriately-titled album, Space Sessions: Songs for a Tin Can.
According to reports, British naval officers play Britney Spears songs to scare away Somali pirates off of Africa’s eastern coast. Her songs “Oops I Did It Again” and “Baby One More Time” are the songs which are used. The rationale of playing these songs is because, supposedly, Somali pirates have a strong dislike for western culture and music, which make Britney Spears’ songs a perfect fit to make the bandits move on as quickly as possible.
“Jingle Bells” is a Christmas classic, but it didn’t originate that way. Written by James Lord Pierpont and published in 1857, it was meant to be sung during Thanksgiving. The song’s original title was “One Horse Open Sleigh” then it was changed to “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was reprinted in 1859. There is a plaque in Medford, Massachusetts, at the former site of a tavern, where the song is said to have been written, in an area where, and an era when, sleigh races were popular.
“I Write the Songs” was made famous by Barry Manilow, but he didn’t write it. The song was written by Bruce Johnston in 1975. The original version was recorded by The Captain & Tennille on their 1975 album Love Will Keep Us Together. The first release as a single was by teen-idol David Cassidy in his 1975 album “The Higher They Climb.” Later that same year, Manilow released his version on his album, Trying to Get the Feeling, and it reached the top of the Billboard music chart in early-1976.
A 2011 study conducted at the University of Groningen showed that music not only affects mood, but it has an even more significant effect on perception. Subjects who were tested were influenced by the music they heard, based on what they saw; participants were asked to listen to music and identify corresponding smiley faces. Smiley faces that matched the music were identified much more accurately. And even when no smiley face was shown, the subjects thought they recognized a happy face when listening to happy music, and a sad face when listening to sad music.
A study conducted by South Korean scientists from the National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology found that plants grow faster when music is played around them. The study used 14 different classical pieces, including Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” in rice fields. Findings were that the music helped the crops grow at a faster pace, and pointed to evidence that plants have genes which enable them to “hear.”
There had been some speculation for decades, but Paul McCartney finally admitted during a 2018 60 Minutes interview that neither he nor any of his Beatles bandmates were able to read or write music, and they never understood music theory. McCartney said that the music just came to him and his bandmates John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, and it was never written down. Clearly, knowledge needn’t beget success.
For the past couple of decades, the market for fine Italian string instruments—namely, violins, violas, and cellos—has been hitting the highest notes… in value. In 2011, the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius violin sold for a world record $15.9 million, which was four times the previous auction record for a Stradivarius. Industry experts put returns on Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu violins at about 10 percent to 12 percent annually, which should music to any wise collector’s ears.
In 2013, rock band Metallica achieved a new Guinness World Records title after becoming the first musical act to play a concert on all seven continents. They set this record after performing for 120 scientists and competition winners in a transparent dome at Carlini Station in Antarctica. The band actually held concerts on all seven continents within one calendar year, following tour dates in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
In 1893, the Hill sisters needed a song for their kindergarten class to sing on birthdays. Today, “Happy Birthday” is the most profitable song of all time. The song’s ownership had changed hands a few times over the past 100 years. But music holding company Warner Chappell bought the rights for $15 million in 1990, and have held them since. Today the song brings in $2 million a year in royalties, which comes to $5,000 per day. Another fun fact: the song costs $25,000 to use it in a movie or TV show.
Students who have experience with music performance or taking music appreciation courses score higher on the SAT. One report indicated that they score, on average, 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math. Music students also tend to show higher self-confidence, are responsible risk-takers, good team players, have increased coordination, are more creative and emotionally developed, and have a healthy sense of achievement.
In 2011, Finnish researchers had developed a groundbreaking new method to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, including rhythm, tonality, and timbre (sound color) in a realistic listening situation. The study was pioneering in that revealed for the first time how wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity, are all activated while listening to music. This new method helped better understand the complex dynamics of the brain and the many ways in which music affects us.
Michael Jackson so badly wanted to play Spider-Man in a movie that he attempted to buy Marvel Comics—the company that created the character and owns the rights to Spider-Man—so he could make it happen. Stan Lee, Marvel’s chairman up until his death in 2018, has recalled this story publicly. The comic legend said that he thought Jackson would’ve been a good Spider-Man. However, Lee felt that Jackson was not a very good businessman, so it’s a good thing the rights were never sold.
A 639-year performance based on avant-garde composer John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible” started in September 2001 and is still running at St. Buchard Church in Germany. (Cage is also the guy behind “4’33”,” a composition that consists of four-and-a-half minutes of whole rests—or, in normal parlance, silence.) The performance by an automated organ progresses so slowly that visitors have to wait months for a chord change, and is scheduled to conclude in 2640. The performance is so slow that the organ it’s played on was not even completed before the concert began. Pipes were added to keep the music steady in 2008.
A study conducted at the University of Pavia in Italy showed that music promotes a healthy cardiovascular system by triggering physiological changes that modulate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory functions. Researchers also found that “rich” classical music phrases, lasting 10 seconds long, caused the heart rate and other parts of the cardiovascular system to synchronize with the music being played. The study tested 24 subjects, half who were experienced singers and half who had no musical training. The musicians showed stronger physiological responses than the non-musicians.
International Strange Music Day was created by a New York City musician named Patrick Grant, to encourage people to play and listen to new types of music they’re not familiar with or appreciate music you might otherwise consider to be strange or bizarre. The mantra is to “listen without prejudice.” To celebrate this particular day, there are concerts, and movements to introduce new types of music to children in an effort to broaden their musical horizons.
After Zadar, Croatia suffered devastation in World War II, reconstruction included transforming a part of the city’s seacoast into an unbroken, monotonous concrete wall. Completed in 2005, the Sea Organ is an architectural sound object which plays music when hit by sea waves through tubes which are located under large marble steps. The steps, which offer both protection and allow tourists and locals a place to sit or stand while listening to the music caused by the wind and sea, were built later.
In 2008, a French study found that loud music in a bar setting leads to more drinking in less time. The research was conducted in bars with 40 males, 18 to 25 years of age, who were unaware that they were being observed. Only those who ordered draft beer were included. With permission from the bar owners, the researchers would manipulate the music sound levels before choosing a participant. Results proved that higher sound levels led to increased drinking, within a shorter amount of time.
An earworm, also sometimes called “a brainworm,” “sticky music,” or “stuck song syndrome,” refers to catchy music that continually repeats through a person’s mind, even after it’s no longer playing. There have actually been studies done on earworms, including one out of the University of London, which found that earworms could also be triggered by experiences that bring up a memory of a song, such as seeing a word that reminds you of the song, hearing a few notes from the song, or feeling an emotion which you associate with the song.
A 2001 study by two psychologists at the University of Leicester suggested that cows who listened to slow, soothing songs like “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” produced 3 percent more milk than a control group. Cows that listened to rap and techno music showed no increase in milk production. When a cow is stressed, it slows down the release of oxytocin, which is crucial for producing milk, so playing music that relaxes them helps them produce more milk.
While their appearances may be different, heavy metal fans and classical music fans actually have a lot in common with each other. The findings came from research conducted by Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, which examined the personalities of more than 36,000 music fans from all over the world. Apart from the age differences, lovers of these two types of music genres were virtually identical. Both groups tend to be creative, at ease with themselves, and introverted.
While Guns N’ Roses were struggling to make an impact on the Hollywood music scene in the mid-1980s, Axl Rose held down some interesting jobs, including the position of night manager at the Tower Records location on Sunset Boulevard. He and his bandmate, Izzy Stradlin, also participated in a scientific study at UCLA, where they smoked cigarettes for reported wages of $8 per hour (equivalent to $19 an hour today).
James Lilja, who was the original drummer for the pop-punk band The Offspring, was with the band for 3 years in the mid-1980s. He played on the group’s first demo tape, their debut single, “I’ll be Waiting,” and the band’s debut album The Offspring. However, he departed the group on friendly terms to attend medical school, and eventually became double board-certified as an obstetrician-gynecologist and gynecologic oncologist.
In 2013, the very first study of its kind examined music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) in patients with acquired brain injuries. Songs from the patients’ lifespans were played, and also played to control subjects with no brain injuries. All were asked to record how familiar they were with a given song if they liked it, and what memories it invoked. The frequency of MEAMs were similar for both groups, which showed that music is an effective stimulus for recalling personal memories, even with a brain injury.
Commodore Records produced several of Billie Holiday’s songs, and one of the label’s owners was Jack Crystal, Billy Crystal’s father. Billie Holiday often visited Crystal’s home and would babysit Billy Crystal. In his HBO Special 700 Sundays, Crystal recalled that the first time he went to the movies in 1953, it was Billie Holiday who took him. The two of them saw Shane, starring a young Jack Palance, who would later become Crystal’s friend and City Slickers co-star.
Monaco’s army has just 82 soldiers. Its military orchestra has 85 musicians. This makes Monaco the only country whose army is smaller than its military orchestra. This is not surprising, though, seeing as its army has only been put on alert once throughout the country’s history—when French President Charles de Gaulle threatened to cut off Monaco’s electricity and water in 1962 if Monaco’s Prince Rainier III did not impose an income tax to Monaco’s residents. (Eventually, Rainier complied.)
Prince’s debut album For You was released when he was just 20 years old, and he played 27 musical instruments on it. Included in the album’s notes, he’s listed as the musician behind all vocals, as well as (deep breath) electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, bass synth, singing bass, Fuzz bass, electric piano, acoustic piano, mini-Moog, poly-Moog, Arp string ensemble, Arp Pro Soloist, Oberheim four-voice, clavinet, drums, syndrums, water drums, slapsticks, bongos, congas, finger cymbals, wind chimes, orchestral bells, woodblocks, brush trap, tree bell, hand claps, and finger snaps. Phew!
Bruce Springsteen wrote “Born in the USA” about his anger towards the country’s treatment of Vietnam vets. He told Rolling Stone, “You think about all the young men and women that died in Vietnam, and how many died since they’ve been back. You have to think that, at the time, the country took advantage of their selflessness.” The song was misinterpreted by many, even by President Regan, who used it during his 1984 re-election campaign.
The Spice Girls are commonly known individually by their nicknames, Posh, Baby, Scary, Sporty, and Ginger. However, they didn’t come up with those names on their own. In fact, the editor of teeny bopper magazine, Top of the Pops, named the girls after interviewing them. Even though they were already established as The Spice Girls, their individual nicknames stuck and were accepted by the band, who thought the names were funny.
Jawed Karim was one of the three founders of YouTube, even though he later assumed an advisory role after leaving the company in 2005 to study at Stanford University. He has said that his idea for what became YouTube was inspired by two very different events that happened in 2004. One was Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during her Super Bowl performance that year. The other, however, was a bit more sober: The devastating 2004 Indian earthquake and tsunami, which caused an estimated 227,000 deaths.
The popular song “Irreplaceable” has a story behind it that involves multiple famous artists. For starters, it was written by Ne-Yo, who wrote it as a country song with Faith Hill or Shania Twain in mind to record it. But Beyoncé heard it, loved it, and made it her own. The catchy song went on to grab the number-one spot on four different Billboard charts the year it was released in 2006.
In the early-1990s during the heyday of The Simpsons popularity, the people behind the show decided it was time for the cartoon family to start churning out pop hits, and “Do the Bartman” was one of those songs. There were rumors that the track was ghost-written by Michael Jackson, who was a huge Simpsons fan, but the show’s producers denied it. It wasn’t until many years later that the show’s creator, Matt Groening, finally confessed Jackson did indeed co-write the song, but had to do in secret, as he was contractually forbidden from writing for an outside label.
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