I still remember the evening well. It was midnight during the summer of 1982. I was living in a thin-walled apartment, trying unsuccessfully to go to sleep while the people who lived upstairs were music bingeing on The B52’s Rock Lobster. They listened to the song continuously on repeat for hours, giving me the chance to ponder the rich world of undersea life, filled with manta rays, narwhals and dogfish.
We tend to binge on things we like – potato chips, Ben & Jerry’s, and Battlestar Galactica. Music is no exception. Sometimes we like a song so much, that as soon as it’s over, we want to hear it again. But not all songs are equally replayable. There are some songs that have some secret mysterious ingredients that makes us want to listen to the song over and over again. What are these most replayed songs? Let’s look at some data to find out.
The Data – For this experiment I used a week’s worth of song play data from the summer of 2013 that consists of user / song / play-timestamp triples. This data set has on the order of 100 million of these triples for about a half million unique users and 5 million unique songs. To find replays I looked for consecutive plays by a user of song within a time window (to ensure that the replays are in the same listening session). Songs with low numbers of plays or fans were filtered out.
For starters, I simply counted up the most replayed songs. As expected, this yields very boring results – the list of the top most replayed songs is exactly the same as the most played songs. No surprise here. The most played songs are also the most replayed songs.
Top Most Replayed Songs – (A boring result)
- Robin Thicke — Blurred Lines featuring T.I., Pharrell
- Jay-Z — Holy Grail featuring Justin Timberlake
- Miley Cyrus — We Can’t Stop
- Imagine Dragons — Radioactive
- Macklemore — Can’t Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton)
To make this more interesting, instead of looking at the absolute number of replays, I adjusted for popularity by looking at the ratio of replays to the total number of plays for each song. This replay ratio tells us the what percentage of plays of a song are replays. If we plot the replay ratio vs. the number of fans a song has the outliers become quite clear. Some songs are replayed at a higher rate than others.
I made an interactive version of this graph, you can mouse over the songs to see what they are and click on the songs to listen to them.
Sorting the results by the replay ratio yields a much more interesting result. It surfaces up a few classes of frequently replayed songs: background noise, children’s music, soft and smooth pop and friday night party music. Here’s the color coded list of the top 20:
Top Replayed songs by percentage
- 91% replays White Noise For Baby Sleep — Ocean Waves
- 86% replays Eric West — Reckless (From Playing for Keeps)
- 86% replays Soundtracks For The Masters — Les Contes D’hoffmann: Barcarole
- 83% replays White Noise For Baby Sleep — Warm Rain
- 83% replays Rain Sounds — Relax Ocean Waves
- 82% replays Dennis Wilson — Friday Night
- 81% replays Sleep — Ocean Waves for Sleep – White Noise
- 74% replays White Noise Sleep Relaxation White Noise Relaxation: Ocean Waves 7hz
- 74% replays Ween — Ocean Man
- 73% replays Children’s Songs Music — Whole World In His Hands
- 71% replays Glee Cast — Friday (Glee Cast Version)
- 63% replays Rain Sounds — Rain On the Window
- 63% replays Rihanna — Cheers (Drink To That)
- 60% replays Group 1 Crew — He Said (feat. Chris August)
- 59% replays Karsten Glück Simone Sommerland — Schlaflied für Anne
- 56% replays Monica — With You
- 54% replays Jessie Ware — Wildest Moments
- 53% replays Tim McGraw — I Like It, I Love It
- 53% replays Rain Sounds — Morning Rain In Sedona
- 52% replays Rain Sounds — Rain Sounds
It is no surprise that the list is dominated by background noise. There’s nothing like ambient ocean waves or rain sounds to help baby go to sleep in the noisy city. A five minute track of ambient white noise may be played dozens of times during every nap. It is not uncommon to find 8 hour long stretches of the same five minute white noise audio track played on auto repeat.
The top most replayed song is Reckless by Eric West from the ‘shamelessly sentimental’ 2012 movie Playing for Keeps (4% rotten). 86% of the time this song is played it is a replay. This is the song that you can’t listen to just once. It is the Lays potato chip of music. Beware, if you listen to it, you may be caught in its web and you’ll never be able to escape. Listen at your own risk:
Luckily, most people don’t listen to this song even once. It is only part of the regular listening rotation of a couple hundred listeners. Still, it points to a pattern that we’ll see more of – overly sentimental music has high replay value.
Top Replayed Popular Songs
Perhaps even more interesting is to look at the top most replayed popular songs. We can do this by restricting the songs in the results to those that are by artists that have a significant fan base:
- 31% replays Miley Cyrus — The Climb
- 16% replays August Alsina — I Luv This sh*t featuring Trinidad James
- 15% replays Brad Paisley — Whiskey Lullaby
- 14% replays Tamar Braxton — The One
- 14% replays Chris Brown — Love More
- 14% replays Anna Kendrick — Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”)
- 13% replays Avenged Sevenfold — Hail to the King
- 13% replays Jay-Z — Big Pimpin’
- 13% replays Labrinth — Beneath Your Beautiful
- 13% replays Karmin — Acapella
- 12% replays Lana Del Rey — Summertime Sadness [Lana Del Rey vs. Cedric Gervais]
- 12% replays MGMT — Electric Feel
- 12% replays One Direction — Best Song Ever
- 12% replays Big Sean — Beware featuring Lil Wayne, Jhené Aiko
- 12% replays Chris Brown — Don’t Think They Know
- 11% replays Justin Bieber — Boyfriend
- 11% replays Avicii — Wake Me Up
- 11% replays 2 Chainz — Feds Watching featuring Pharrell
- 10% replays Paramore — Still Into You
- 10% replays Alicia Keys — Fire We Make
- 10% replays Lorde — Royals
- 10% replays Miley Cyrus — We Can’t Stop
- 10% replays Ciara — Body Party
- 9% replays Marc Anthony — Vivir Mi Vida
- 9% replays Ellie Goulding — Burn
- 9% replays Fantasia — Without Me
- 9% replays Rich Homie Quan — Type of Way
- 9% replays The Weeknd — Wicked Games (Explicit)
- 9% replays A$AP Ferg — Work REMIX
- 9% replays Jay-Z — Part II (On The Run) featuring Beyoncé
It is hard to believe, but the data doesn’t lie – More than 30% of the time after someone listens to Miley Cyrus’s The Climb they listen to it again right away – proving that there is indeed always going to be another mountain that you are going to need to climb. Miley Cyrus is well represented – her aptly named song We can’t Stop is the most replayed song of the top ten most popular songs.
Here are the top 30 most replayed popular songs in Spotify and Rdio playlists for you to enjoy, but I’m sure you’ll never get to the end of the playlist, you’ll just get stuck repeating The Best Song Ever or Boyfriend forever.
Here’s the Rdio version of the Top 30 Most Replayed popular songs:
Most Manually Replayed
More than once I’ve come back from lunch to find that I left my music player on auto repeat and it has played the last song 20 times while I was away. The song was playing, but no one was listening. It is more interesting to find songs replays in which the replay is manually initiated. These are the songs that grabbed the attention of the listener enough to make them interact with their player and actually queue the song up again. We can find manually replayed songs by looking at replay timestamps. Replays generated by autorepeat will have a very regular timestamp delta, while manual replay timestamps will have more random delta between timestamps.
Here are the top manually replayed songs:
- Body Party by Ciara
- Still Into You by Paramore
- Tapout featuring Lil Wayne, Birdman, Mack Maine, Nicki Minaj, Future by Rich Gang
- Part II (On The Run) featuring Beyoncé by Jay-Z
- Feds Watching featuring Pharrell by 2 Chainz
- Royals by Lorde
- V.S.O.P. by K. Michelle
- Just Give Me A Reason by Pink
- Don’t Think They Know by Chris Brown
- Wake Me Up by Avicii
There’s an Rdio playlist of these songs: Most Manually Replayed
Why do we care which songs are most replayed? It’s part of our never ending goal to try to better understand how people interact with music. For instance, recognizing when music is being used in a context like helping the baby go to sleep is important – without taking this context into account, the thousands of plays of Ocean Waves and Warn Rain would dominate the taste profile that we build for that new mom and dad. We want to make sure that when that mom and dad are ready to listen to music, we can recommend something besides white noise.
Looking at replays can help us identify new artists for certain audiences. For instance, parents looking for an alternative to Miley Cyrus for their pre-teen playlists after Miley’s recent VMA performance, may look to an artist like Fifth Harmony. Their song Miss Movin’ On has similar replay statistics to the classic Miley songs:
Finally, looking at replays is another tool to help us understand the music that people really like. If the neighbors play Rock Lobster 20 times in a row, you can be sure that they really, really like that song. (And despite, or perhaps because of, that night 30 years ago, I like the song too). You should give it a listen, or two…