Scientists at the University of Bristol devised an algorithm to do just that: They analyzed songs from the U.K. Top 40 chart from the last 50 years. It takes into account 23 variables -- time signature, duration, tempo, loudness variability, etc. -- and from that they programmed software that could chew up any song and spit out the probability that it would become a hit with the public.
According to the researchers, the software has around a 60 percent accuracy rate for picking out songs that will make it to the top five and ones that won't even go above 30 on the U.K. Top 40 singles chart. That's a stunning figure, considering that it can't account for so many other variables, such as how heavily the label promoted it, or whether there was some other factor in the song's success (i.e., if the song was featured in a hit movie).
The algorithm's accuracy is also dependent on cultural context -- what worked in 1970 won't necessarily work now:
Which is why the Rolling Stones have basically become the herpes of music.
You see the way the blue line is starting to shoot back up? Simplicity is coming back. "Loudness," however, is on the decline after four decades on the rise:
You hear that, Enya? Now's your chance.