People Liked Their Music Fastest in the ‘80s

September 19, 2013

Welcome to the third in our series of inquiries into how popular music has changed over time, based on research by The Echo Nest data alchemist Glenn McDonald. To figure this stuff out, he ran the 5,000 hottest songs from each year through The Echo Nest’s system for listening to music to determine its audio attributes (we also do plenty of other stuff, but that’s one thing we do). Previously, we looked into how popular music’s “danceability” and energy level changed over the same period.

That the pace of modern life has been accelerating is taken as a given. And in some ways, it’s actually true. Last year, people took 10 percent of all of the photographs ever created in the history of the world. And a mere glimpse at your email, Twitter, and Facebook feeds should confirm that information comes at us with ever-increasing frequency.

One exception: music. As everything else speeds up, the tempo (also known as “beats per minute”) of the music we like has remained fairly constant over past few decades.

There was, however, a time when the speed of our favorite music was accelerating. Starting in the ‘50s, the advent of rock n’ roll may have combined with our growing obsession with the automobile and/or other factors to propel the tempo of our favorite music to new heights, leading to highpoints in 1980 and 1983, as you can see here:

The “fastest” year for music was 1980, with 110 BPM. Here’s what that tempo sounds like, courtesy of Diana Ross’ disco anthem “I’m Coming Out”:

Meanwhile, the “slowest” year for music was 1960, with a BPM of 101. Here’s what that sounds like, as demonstrated by Louis Armstrong’s classic, “Blueberry Hill,” released that year:

As for the present day, music fans in 2013 prefer an average beats-per-minute of 107, which is the tempo of Lorde’s “Tennis Court”:

So, there you have it: Even as news cycles shrink to a matter of minutes, the rate of photography explodes, and information generally spreads and expands with historically unprecedented velocity, people have decided they like the speed of their music fairly consistent — for now, anyway.

See previous installments of our “audio trends over time” analysis: