For most of history, it has been impossible to measure the popularity of older music. This is because Billboard charts and album sales only tell us about a song’s popularity at the current time of its release. But now, Polygraph has utilized Spotify to change all of that.

Since Spotify is a library of all music, both new and old, unplayed tracks are fading into oblivion while popular tracks gain traction in the listening environment. Polygraph has utilized this to see which popular hits have stood the test of time.

Based on their findings, some of the most popular songs from the 90s are attributed to Sting (“Fields of Gold”), Beck (“Loser), and Alanis Morisette (“Ironic”). Are we bringing back some memories here? The only issue with Spotify’s methodology for this study is that they included listeners of all ages, meaning we can’t be sure if people from the 90s are responsible for the plays or if the younger crowd is getting their 90s on too.

The tracks that hardly charted on Billboard in their day are some of the most played songs now, like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Sorry Kurt. By looking more in depth at Spotify plays we can decipher a few more things, such as the fact that Biggie has a higher play count than Tupac. But, Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” takes the cake for top-played hip-hop songs.

The present-day popularity of every billboard hit from 1950-2005 is also weirdly comforting, but maybe that’s just because I like Eminem.

  1. Lose Yourself— Eminem, 2002 (59,039,765 plays)
  2. Mr. Brightside— The Killers, 2005 (54,367,533 plays)
  3. Numb— Linkin Park, 2003 (52,969,898 plays)
  4. Don’t Stop Believin’— Journey, 1981 (50,855,135 plays)
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit— Nirvana, 1991 (50,657,282 plays)

The same idea works backwards too. Some of the most popular songs of their time are nowhere to be heard today. In 1961, Bobby Lewis’s “Tossin’ and Turnin’” spent weeks at #1. Yet, have you ever heard of it? Probably not.

If you head to the details of the study on Polygraph, you can see more fascinating facts such as which songs from 2013 are still killing it today. This in-depth look at Spotify has taught us that it can take decades for a song to gain popularity, or decades for it to die; pretty interesting if you think about it.


Performers Mentioned In This Article