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Paste's Most-Played Songs in iTunes

April 28, 2013  |  10:03am
<i>Paste</i>'s Most-Played Songs in iTunes

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iTunes music store, and while it’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since Steve Jobs’ game-changing program first launched, it also kind of feels like it’s been around forever.

To celebrate iTunes’ 10th birthday, we asked Paste staff, writers and interns for the one song with the most plays in their iTunes library—no matter how embarrassing. The results are fascinating, with people’s most-played ranging from favorite workout songs to random tracks off a mix CD. A few even discovered their most-played songs were ones they had written themselves. Check it all out below.

Josh Jackson, co-founder/editor-in-chief
“A-Punk,” Vampire Weekend

Date Added: 4/4/08
Total Plays: 50
My most-played track in iTunes is really a team effort. Sure, those first 25 plays had a lot to do with a penchant to start several days in 2008 with two minutes and 18 seconds of Vampire Weekend at its punchiest. It’s also a key part of my “Running Playlist,” which accounts for at least…um…four or five plays. But I’d estimate the final 20 come by request from the backseat, where my middle child asks for it anytime we’re in the car for more than 20 minutes (she discovered it via some terrible Brendan Frasier-meets-vengeful-animals movie). Maybe it’s because the song is so short or maybe because it’s just such a perfect jolt of energy, but after 50 plays, I’m still happy to oblige.

Bonnie Stiernberg, assistant editor
“Tiny Dancer,” Elton John

Date Added: 9/14/06
Total Plays: 59
The fact that my most-played song has a mere 59 plays spread across nearly seven years is a pretty accurate indication of how often I use iTunes to listen to music—these days it’s physical media or streaming services for me—but the fact that said song is Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” also speaks to just how important the Apple music store was to me at a specific time in my life. 2006 was my freshman year of college, the year I got my very first laptop—a crucial tool that meant not only would I have something to hammer out Intro to Journalism stories on, but I’d also finally be able to stop sharing the family computer and have a place to store my mp3s that was all my own. Transferring all my music to my laptop was something both exciting and necessary—when you share an 11’x12’ dorm room with another person, bringing a sound system and a bunch of albums along isn’t really feasible. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those 59 plays got racked up that first year of school; I was away from home for the first time and pursuing a career in music journalism, so of course—cliché alert—I was convinced that Almost Famous was The Greatest Movie Of All Time. I’m sure a good amount of “Tiny Dancer”’s plays come from its sheer sing-alongability, but for me, listening to it and being reminded of that movie’s famous tour bus scene was more about taking those first steps on my chosen path and needing to hear Penny Lane offer some reassurance as she waves her hand in William’s face and tells him “you are home.”

Tyler Kane, assistant editor
“Falling Man,” Blonde Redhead

Date Added: 10/18/10
Total Plays: 104
Looking back, I have a ton of iTunes songs that got an unfair bump from my skipping forward, rewinding and replaying while trying to pick out guitar parts. While Blonde Redhead’s jarring “Falling Man” absolutely fits that bill, there was something else about the Misery is a Butterfly cut that kept me mashing in that repeat button later for pleasure listens. Rightfully judging from the name alone, “Falling Man” can be an intense, labored listen. Its sound is defined by its dissonant, wandering piano noodling and a wiry, offsetting guitar part. Its title immediately recalls scenes of 9/11 (or Don Draper, depending where your head is at), but deeper, harder listens tell (and this is my interpretation) a more introspective tale of a man on a terrifying path to self-discovery.

But unsettling characteristics aside, guitarist/singer Amedeo Pace makes “Falling Man” feel familiar by the end of listen No. 1, allowing the audience lean its anxiety on his high-register, familiar hooks. You’re practically locked into everything this song is about by the last time he echoes “I am just a man still learning how to fall,” and part of that is thanks to the driving, urgent rhythm bassist Kazu Makino and drummer Simone Pace lay down. It’s a song that’s immediately satisfying, but one that I still find new reasons to get excited about with every listen.

Laura Medina, graphic designer
“Do You Want it All?,” Two Door Cinema Club

I’m not a natural runner. It takes a certain amount of motivation to get me through the miles that I track every week—mainly, a whole lot of arguing with myself through all the seven stages of grief (from shock and denial all the way through acceptance and hope).

In the past, it took a lot more than some (slightly psychotic) self-talk to complete my runs. Hence, my most-played song on iTunes. I listened to Two Door Cinema Club’s 2010 album Tourist History hundreds of times one summer, matching my every step to the beat.

These days, I much prefer the soothing voice of Ira Glass or just the sound of my own steps hitting the pavement, but I’ll always thank Two Door Cinema Club for their help in getting me through my early, labored running attempts.

Sean Doyle, marketing manager
“I’m Amazed,” My Morning Jacket

Date Added: Unknown: Transferred from too many computers
Total Plays: 47
Going into this I was pretty nervous that my most-played song was going to be something harking back to angry punk rock years (sorry Hot Water Music, NOFX and Strung Out, we had some great times but you didn’t make the cut). But my most-played song to date is My Morning Jacket’s “I’m Amazed.” This is one song that has always inspired me to get up and do something, which is likely why I play it so often. It’s rare a song can have lyrics that lift your spirit and make you excited to be alive, while still thrashing in a storm of ripping guitar solos perfectly punctuated by cymbal crashes. It always amazes me how distinctly Southern MMJ sounds, without falling into the typical trappings of Southern rock. Every time I meet someone who doesn’t know MMJ, I know just the song to play for them to get them hooked. It also doesn’t hurt that we share the same hometown.

Mack Hayden, writer
“The Greatest,” Cat Power

Date Added: Unknown
Total Plays: 50
Top on my iTunes play count is “The Greatest” by Cat Power. It says it’s played 50 times, but I’ve only listened to it twice. How? Well, I got my Cat Power albums from a friend’s iPod, and little did I know her affection for Our Lady Chan. Her plays transferred over to mine, and I made sure to round out the 48 listens to a more even number. So it stands as a reminder of the brighter side of music sharing; namely, the kind between two people who actually know each other. And who wouldn’t want their number one iTunes song to be “The Greatest?”

Nathan Huffstutter, writer
“Dancing On My Own (Radio 1 Live Lounge Version),” Robyn
Date Added: 7/20/10
Total Plays: 182
The contrarian in me wants to sputter some nonsense about how I mostly listen to CDs (badass CDs!) and that my iTunes skews heavily in favor of the playlists I write to—but who am I kidding, I spend more time writing than doing anything else and the tally’s not even fucking close. Robyn’s acoustic version of “Dancing On My Own” stands alone at 182 plays, a full 50 more than Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” and nearly double the barely triple-digit plays for tracks by Perfume Genius, Strand of Oaks and Sibylle Baier. And that 182 doesn’t account for all the times I’ve swallowed deep, whispered “sing it sister” and hit replay before the closing notes triggered an official “play.”

The LP version of “Dancing On My Own”? 18 plays. Stripping the track’s Autobahn throb, the acoustic version prods from rib to rib with an oh-so-blue piano while Robyn nails a complex spill of emotions with perfect pitch. Unnoticed in the corner, watching the one who passed her over kissing a new flame, she can’t belt the lyric to the rafters with gaudy diva brass—instead, she taps into reserves of jealousy, heartbreak, doubt, and perseverance to deliver the kind of performance you can listen to a hundred times over.

Tom Speed, writer
“Buffalo Soldier,” Bob Marley

Date Added: 5/21/12
Plays: 47
Like everyone, I received a copy of Bob Marley’s Legend at my college orientation and have listened to it thousands of times since then. I’ve delved much deeper into the Marley catalog since then, and have developed a deep appreciation for Bill Laswell’s Ambient Translations of Bob Marley In Dub record in addition to the rest of Marley’s catalog proper. Still, Legend was among the first CDs I ripped onto my computer, and it still doesn’t get old for me. But the most probable reason “Buffalo Soldier” is the most played song in my iTunes is because it’s my 5-year-old son’s favorite song. Every morning on the drive to pre-school and later kindergarten, we’d listen to this song first. He’s since added Jack White and the Star Wars theme to his request list, but this remains the first song that we shared and sang together (sometimes very loudly) and will always be a favorite. [The number 47 seems really low, and the add date of just last year seems really late, so someone more technically proficient than me can tell me if that’s because I transferred all of my music files from an external hard drive at that time or not.]

Dan Weiss, writer
“Give Me Your Eyes,” The Cardigans

Date Added: 11/21/2006
Total Plays: 123
This song is what these aggregators were designed to discover; it’s completely inconsequential in every way except that it is perfect. The Cardigans are not my favorite band, the parent album Super Extra Gravity didn’t mean much to me personally and at the time I was in college and simply downloading every new album in sight. And even on there this song is a bonus track. Couldn’t tell you why though—my first observation was that this runaway riff-and-chorus explosion was better and more assertive than anything on the album proper. Slowly it became a favorite of that year; now I’m sure it’s the sweetest Nina Persson’s ever sang, against the most slashing guitar her anonymous backers have ever wielded, down to the buzzing climactic solo. Seven years later it’s an all-time comfort food favorite, perfect for gift mixtapes. And these things feed off each other in weird ways: not being a band I play that much otherwise, I might not have discovered it was a favorite at all without the data telling me I was playing it so much.

Douglas Heselgrave, writer
“Sobre O Amor E Seu Trabalho Silencioso,” Ceu

Date Added: 8/2/09
Total Plays: 137
Like a lot of people who write about music for a living, I play iTunes constantly—while I’m working, brushing my teeth, cooking meals and doing laundry. Sometimes I listen intently and nothing gets by me—at least nothing that the poor quality of MP3s is allowing me to hear—but other times, I don’t even notice what’s playing and leave what plays to the shuffle gods. Well, apparently the shuffle deities love Latin music with a reggae tinge. I like Latin reggae, too, especially at this time of year, but I was surprised to find out—at Bonnie’s request—that the song that was most often played on my iTunes account was “Sobre O Amor E Seu Trabalho Silencioso” by the Brazilian singer Ceu. At 56 seconds in length, it’s gotta be one of the shortest of the 2600 songs in my library. I like to listen to it when it comes up—it’s got a great backbeat, nice dub effects, all sung with a seductive sultriness that’s really appealing. Still, it’s surprising—the song is not on any of my playlists or genius mixes—yet it’s been selected over 137 times and by the end of the day, it’ll probably have played at least once more. I guess Ceu doesn’t take a backseat to anyone.

Sean Gandert, writer
“Could Well Be In,” The Streets

Date Added: 8/22/07
Total Plays: 68
In college, after the prolonged and messy end of my first real relationship, I soon realized I had no idea how dating worked. I still don’t, but at that age this seemed less like a minor setback and more like a problem of apocalyptic proportions. I felt destined to a life of loneliness and despair in the melodramatic, overwrought way that only a high school or college student can. Eventually, though, after much prodding from friends, I got over myself a bit and realized that regardless of how awful I seemed to be at the whole dating thing, I had to give it a try. “Could Well Be In” was the song I listened to on repeat when psyching myself up to call someone up or head out for the evening.

There are, of course, many, many (many) songs about falling in love and meeting the right member of the opposite sex, and when things were going well I listened to these and enjoyed their sweet sentiments as much as the next person. But what I liked so much about “Could Well Be In” wasn’t that they ended up together at the end of the night—although that certainly helped—but the way the song’s narrator broke the entire experience of a date into an understandable code during the chorus line. “I saw this thing on ITV the other week / said, that if she played with her hair, she’s probably keen.” Like my siblings, I’ve always had trouble reading anyone, let alone the opposite party on a date, and the narrator’s simple method of reducing this small action into an explainable phenomenon appealed to me. I was always a rationalist, a person who needed to know what an experience meant before I could enjoy it, and the way Mike Skinner’s character did so with ease appealed to me. The narrator was who I wanted to be, ably navigating the dross of their conversation and social cues until he found something to indicate that things were going well, then using this to guide the rest of the night.

Aside from when it’s occasionally popped up at random, I haven’t listened to “Could Well Be In” for years, largely, I would assume, because I haven’t been dating. I still like it, though, not just because of the memories of that anxious period that it always dredges up, but because of the literary focus it brings to the minutiae of these two characters’ evening, the clear image I have of how they moved from an awkward meeting to a Hollywood ending. I never had anything remotely approximating this song happen in my life, but believing it was possible gave me the will to leave my room and actually give dating a try.

Evan Rytlewski, writer
“Cameras / Good Ones Go (Interlude),” Drake

Date Added: 11/7/11
Total Plays: 17
First a quick disclaimer: I am horrible at maintaining a digital music library. My mp3s are scattered across iTunes programs on several computers, and none of the play counts on any of them come anywhere close to capturing my actual listening habits. This isn’t to say that I’m embarrassed by the most-played song on my primary computer, though. Barely edging out a Divine Fits song I don’t especially like that somehow tallied 16 plays, “Cameras / Good Ones Go (Interlude)” ushers in the most naked stretch of Take Care, the mope-rap chronicle that performed the miracle of making me feel invested in Drake, not just as an artist but as a human being. Though “Cameras” gets top billing, it’s the disposable half of the track, a light anecdote about Drake’s half-hearted efforts to calm a jealous girlfriend. As he often does throughout Take Care, he comes across as a bit of a dick, but that only makes the devastating tenderness of the track’s closer hit that much harder. In a reluctant display of compassion, he finally cuts his beleaguered lover loose on “Good Ones Go,” and he’s crushed by the weight of what he’s losing. “When it’s all done baby, I’m yours if you’re still around,” he sings, trying to convince himself as much as her, even though they both understand that their window is closing. It’s a theme he returns to frequently throughout Take Care, the idea that you can’t bookmark a relationship and return to it at a later convenience. Drake has been rapping about the tradeoffs of fame since almost before he was truly famous, and I can’t say I much empathize with the estrangement he feels or the temptations he faces, but when he sings about giving up a love he knows he’ll never be able to reclaim, I feel it in my gut. Maybe fame really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Ryan Bort, writer
“Nevertheless,” The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Date Added: 10/6/09
Total Plays: 104
There are plenty of songs on my iTunes “Most Played” list that make me wonder what kind of phase or weird trauma I could have possibly been going through to have hit “play” on the same thing so many times, but the song in the number one spot is not one of them. The Brian Jonestown Massacre remain one of the most criminally under-appreciated bands of the past 25 years, and “Nevetheless,” off 2001’s Bravery Repetition & Noise, is one of their most powerful songs. It’s not my most-played because I listened to it on repeat for hours on end after a breakup (cough#2cough, coughMazzyStarcough); it has accumulated its plays steadily over time because it’s just an amazing song that never gets old and always sounds as good and hits me just as hard as it did the first time I heard it, which must have been sometime shortly before I added it to my library in October of 2009.

Mark Lore, writer
“Wash Your Mouth Out,” Lott Lyzzyrd
Date Added: 7/10/11
Total Plays: 29
I’ve learned a couple of things during this little exercise: a) I don’t use iTunes very much, and b) when I do, I listen to myself. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I was in a band called Lott Lyzzyrd (you read that correctly) about eight years ago, and we recorded 11 or so cruddy garage rock songs. So, a couple years ago I was dumping a bunch of CDs into iTunes after buying a new computer, and I found myself listening to the Lott Lyzzyrd stuff through headphones, mostly from a critical/production/nerd standpoint. I’ve since listened to the song “Wash Your Mouth Out” 28… make that 29 times. I guess I’m a narcissist who loves a good song? Maybe I’m really putting the “I” in iTunes? “Since U Been Gone” would have been so much easier to explain.

Hilary Saunders, writer
“Bring It On Home To Me,” Sam Cooke

Date Added: 7/15/10
Total Plays: 22
I grew up listening to Sam Cooke. When I was little, I used to make my stuffed animals dance to “Having a Party.” When I got a little older, I related to Sammy in “Wonderful World,” for I, too, did not know much about history, biology, a science book, the French I took, and so on. It took me an extra decade, however, to discover Cooke’s blistering live album One Night Stand: Live at the Harlem Square Club.

Recorded in Overtown, Miami in the middle of a tumultuous 1963 (the year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and John F. Kennedy’s assassination), the entire album deeply affects me as an adopted Miamian. But one song, “Bring It On Home to Me,” stopped me cold on first listen. This blues-ridden rendition replaces the studio version’s demure piano with up-tempo guitars and fervent saxophones, but it’s Cooke’s strained voice that brings a sincerity to yearning that I’ve never heard before. Mr. Soul makes heartache tangible on “Bring It On Home To Me” and the rapturous audience reciprocates by screaming every word back at him, offering a reminder of joy to listeners more half a century later.

It’s this song, and this version of this song, that triggers the most intense memories for me—of my childhood, of my first love and hollowing heartbreak, and of the dichotomous, yet, alluring city I now call home.

Holly Gleason, writer
“Better As A Memory,” Kenny Chesney

Date Added: 2008
Total Plays: 1184
Eleven hundred and eighty-four plays. Since 2008. What could possibly inspire that obsession? That kind of crazy?

“Better As A Memory” isn’t just a song to me: it’s my slightly ravaged childhood. Honestly. As a 14-year old in the closing-time-hours of various late night Cleveland bars, “I’m so much better as a memory than as your girl” was a deflector to all the would-be lotharios who didn’t need to understand how egregiously beyond legal I was. In that gentle rejoinder was an ego-saving rejection, which stayed with me.

When I sat down to write my first song, I wanted to bring something to the appointment. So I did: the refrain of my ill-spent youth. No one was ever meant to cut the song that basically tells you everything about who I am; somehow Kenny Chesney did, without knowing I was a co-writer.

In the beginning, the awe and shock of it saw me playing “Memory” on eternal repeat. Later, it was to share the secret of “Lady Goodman”* with my friends, who’d often want to hear it more than once once they knew. Later, on sad days when I didn’t know who I was any more, it was an anchor and reminder of “never sure when the truth won’t do” and being “pretty good lonely night;” though I confess, I still seek a man who will “laugh as your [my] stories ramble on.”

Fact is: “I am just a dreamer, nothing more.”

Any time I want to remember sometimes dreams can be real, I know just what to do. Go to iTunes, pick that one song… and add yet another play to the entirely too many rotations “Better As A Memory” has already had.

*my nom du chanson, which I write under

Beca Grimm, writer
“Hypnotize,” The Notorious B.I.G.

Date Added: 9/16/04
Total Plays: 83
I really don’t use my computer’s iTunes for a significant percentage of my listening, but I’ve had this song in my iTunes catalogue since age 16 (its album attribution validates this [10 Things I Hate About You Soundtrack (AKA the song playing when Cat drunkenly whacks her head on a chandelier at The Party)]). Its bombastic, groovy vibe—even 10 years later—is irresistible. I love Biggie’s smooth flow re: sleeping around and nice cars, especially “Come through, have sex on rugs that’s Persian.” For whatever reason, it continues to emit the tiniest, most necessary amount of swagger to help me tackle whatever. Confession: It’s always on whenever I need to pump myself up for something scary—first date, big interview, buying a larger pair of pants, etc. If only iPhone plays were included in the count… oh boy.

Mark Rozeman, editorial intern
“Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Date Added: 1/2/08
Total Plays: 215 (approximately)
Figuring out my most-played iTunes song turned out to be a much more arduous, Bob Woodward-esque task than expected. As of now, I’ve gone through three computers since first signing onto iTunes back in 2008—my family PC, my crappy college laptop and my current MacBook. After consorting with inside contacts (i.e. my parents) regarding the PC count, extracting intel from my previous laptop and tallying up the results on my current laptop, the result was as expected. My most-played song is “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The reasons are simple. One, it’s a great song and perhaps the band’s most well-known and well-regarded. Second—and this is much more embarrassing—for years, I was hopelessly fixated on someone who didn’t return my feelings. And certainly nothing soundtracks romantic longing better than hearing Karen O coo “they don’t love you like I love you” over Nick Zinner’s beautiful guitar work. It’s a fairly simple formula: (moody teen indie rock) x (unrequited love access to an iPod) = a non-stop barrage of lovelorn pop music. The person in question and I are good friends now, but nevertheless she has left a permanent mark on my digital library.

Stephanie Sharp, editorial intern
“I’ve Got This Friend,” The Civil Wars

Date Added: 2/18/11
Total Plays: 52
When introduced to The Civil Wars two years ago, I was initially entranced by the hauntingly beautiful “Poison and Wine.” My folk-loving heart easily gravitated towards the impeccable harmonies of John Paul White and Joy Williams on their debut Barton Hallow. Though the play count may be influenced by the fact that I bought the album during the so-called “month of love,” the second track “I’ve Got This Friend” became an early favorite that garnered much attention from the repeat button on my iPod. With a simple melody, this song has continued to receive plays due to its hopeful optimism and my addition of it to practically all spring or summer-inspired playlists. Like so many of you, I am eagerly awaiting the May 1 announcement from the band in hopes to find my next possible most played song.

Krystle Drew, editorial intern
“We Ain’t Them,” Childish Gambino
Date Added: 7/4/12
Total Plays: 68
This may or may not be cheating since my crash-proof Mac crashed a couple of years ago and I lost everything. With that considered, my most-played song since 2011 is Childish Gambino’s “We Ain’t Them.” As the first full song off his July mixtape R O Y A L T Y, the track presented the first look at a Gambino with a harder rapping style than we had ever seen. The lyrics are most to blame for why I had the song on repeat. With no chorus, the song plays like one long verse in which his personal lyrics address his thoughts on Community, advice from his parents, nights hanging out with ?uestlove and his low Pitchfork rating. Additionally, the song features a couple of Eastside Atlanta shoutouts, always a plus for a girl from Stone Mountain. Since writing this, I’ve bumped the song from 62 plays to 68, so it’s safe to say I still love it.

Tyler Bowden, marketing intern
“Electric Relaxation,” A Tribe Called Quest

Date Added: 2/8/09
Total Plays: 87
A number of songs might come to mind when the Queens N.Y. hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest is brought up in conversation, but throughout their career, one song especially stands out. “Electric Relaxation” makes its appearance halfway through the 1993 album Midnight Marauders and shines bright on a record full of hits, remaining to this day as one of my favorite tracks of all time. I discovered Tribe during my freshman year of college, and this sensually relaxing song felt like opening a time capsule, depicting a scene of the New York streets from an era passed. I would play it over and over in my apartment, imagining the mysterious girl described in the song and picturing the game the rappers would spit, trying to win her over. Hearing the song today still serves much the same retrospective purpose, bringing me back to that early period in life when just a mere song could have such a profound impact on my outlook (and I didn’t mind hearing it on repeat 87 times). It may not be the most tactful love song, but it toes the line just enough to remain not quite lewd, which I find admirable even now.

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