We crunched the numbers for the biggest names in music and determined there is indeed wisdom in crowds: People unconsciously selected some pretty forgettable songs to skip
Back in the dark ages, when you actually had to trudge out to a mall and slap down $20 to buy a CD, it was next to impossible to know which tracks people enjoyed the most on a given album, and which ones they quietly kinda hated. But now that we live in a crazy future where the world’s biggest record store lives in our phone and costs just $9.99 a month to access in full, we know precisely what people are playing and what they’re skipping past. That’s because Spotify tells you exactly how many times every individual song out there has been played.
Using that information, we combed through the Spotify library of 18 superstar acts, from the Beatles and Queen to Taylor Swift and Rihanna, to learn the single least popular songs in their core catalogs. The criteria we used were rather simple: A song had to appear on the original release of a studio album to count. That means no remixes, bonus tracks, B sides, live songs, soundtrack tunes, non-album singles, or anything else that didn’t come out on an actual studio album. We also discarded sketches, instrumentals, interludes, spoken-word segments, and even cover songs. (There was a lot of debate over that last one, but it didn’t seem quite fair to measure these sometimes random choices against an artist’s own songs.)
Our big takeaway: There is indeed tremendous wisdom in crowds. With a few notable exceptions, the user base of Spotify, making billions of unconscious decisions over the course of a decade, settled on some pretty lousy songs to hit “skip” on.
Since we’re talking about some of history’s hugest, most beloved superstars here, nothing on this list is truly a flop in absolute terms — the numbers are still quite large in most cases. And a few of these songs are actually good. But relatively speaking, these are the lowest points in some of music’s best catalogs. Please, don’t get too mad if you see one of your favorite artists on here. No matter how many hits you make, something still has to miss the hardest. See for yourself.
(Note that the exact number of song plays fluctuates by the second. The ones noted here were accurate as of the time we made these tallies.)
The Beatles: ‘Little Child’ (6,119,345 plays)
Why It’s Here: John Lennon and Paul McCartney were on a major hot streak when they began penning songs for 1963’s With the Beatles, churning out instant classics like “All My Loving,” “It Won’t Be Long,” and “All I’ve Got to Do,” all of which have total play counts north of 30 million. But even the greatest songwriting partnership in rock history sometimes produces a dud. That’s the case with “Little Child,” which centers around a lonely man asking a young woman to dance with him. It hasn’t appeared on a single compilation album since then, which likely explains why it ranks so low here. (Their version of Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” from Beatles for Sale has slightly fewer spins, but we’re not counting covers.)
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Yes. The collective wisdom of Spotify is spot-on with this one. The early Beatles records were made extremely quickly between tours and other promotional obligations. Under-cooked tunes like “Little Child” would never have made the cut after they slowed down in 1966, stopped touring, and focused on making sure there were no weak moments on any of their albums. McCartney himself has admitted that “Little Child” is mere “album filler.” Most groups would sell their souls to write “filler” like “Little Child,” but by Beatles standards, this is a very forgettable tune.
The Rolling Stones: ‘Pretty Beat Up’ (392,364 plays)
Why It’s Here: Reports of the Rolling Stones sucking in the Eighties after Tattoo You have been greatly exaggerated. If you don’t believe us, check out “Undercover of the Night,” “She Was Hot,” “Mixed Emotions,” “Slipping Away,” and “Rock and a Hard Place.” But they didn’t tour for the majority of the decade, and eventually the albums started feeling like contractual obligations they banged out between solo albums and solo gigs. The singles were often strong, but the album tracks felt like afterthoughts. “Pretty Beat Up” is buried on Side Two of 1983’s Undercover. It has a nice groove, but Jagger is basically phoning it in. Much of the song is just him repeating the title over and over.
Does It Deserve to Be Here? Not really. Many Stones aficionados would point to the Nineties as the lowest point in their recording career, perhaps choosing something from the padded CD-era tracklists of Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon. They have a good case to make when you listen to songs like “Sweethearts Together” and “Already Over Me.” Are those songs worse than “Pretty Beat Up?” We’ll let you decide.
The Weeknd: ‘Belong to the World’ (44,217,763 plays)
Why It’s Here: The Weekend is the fourth most popular artist in Spotify history, coming behind only Drake, Bad Bunny, and Taylor Swift in terms of total streams. He’s released only five proper studio albums, but he’s racked up more than 46 billion streams. In other words, his least popular album track is still going to be bigger than the complete catalogs of many other artists on the streaming platform. In this case, it’s “Belong to the World” from his 2013 debut LP, Kiss Land. This was actually the album’s second single, so it’s somewhat surprising to see it here, but it was a total bomb that didn’t chart anywhere on the planet. (Note: We’re not counting spoken-word tracks from Dawn FM like “Phantom Regret by Jim” and “Every Angel is Terrifying.”)
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Basically. When you compare it to the Weeknd singles that followed, “Belong to the World” stands out as a dud. In fact, its underwhelming performance is arguably part of the reason why he started collaborating with Max Martin on a string of unquestionable pop smashes immediately after Kiss Land. As soon as he gave us “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” there was no going back.
Taylor Swift: ‘The Outside’ (21,632,515 plays)
Why It’s Here: Taylor Swift recorded her debut LP before she fully came into her own as an artist. “The Outside” is one of the few songs on the album she created without the aid of a co-writer. She actually wrote it when she was just 12. “I was a complete outcast at school and never fit in, never felt like I belonged,” she has said. “In the case of ‘The Outside,’ I was writing exactly what I saw. I was writing from pain.” Not many 12-year-olds can write a song anywhere near the level of “The Outside,” but the ones she would go on to create after this proved to be far more enduring.
Does It Deserve to Be Here? Most likely. There’s a reason the first album doesn’t get an era of its own on her current record-setting tour. There are songs on that album that OG Swifties will forever love, but it’s been eclipsed by everything that’s followed. She’s dragged out all sorts of deep cuts during the bonus song portion of the Eras setlist, including many songs from the first album, but she hasn’t touched “The Outside” since 2008.
Rihanna: ‘Now I Know’ (1,454,684 plays)
Why It’s Here: Rihanna was just 17 years old when she released Music of the Sun in 2005, but she’d already formed a girl group in her native Barbados, impressed Jay-Z with her song “Pon de Replay,” and signed a six-record deal with Def Jam. “Pon de Replay” was the first single from Music of the Sun, and it charted all across the world, peaking at Number Two on the Hot 100 in America, but the rest of the album has some songs that feel very much like filler. It wraps with the sparse piano ballad “Now I Know.” Aside from effectively showcasing Rihanna’s amazing voice, there’s little to remember about it.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Yes. “Now I Know” is so generic that it’s easy to imagine any other R&B or pop star of the Nineties or early 2000s singing it. Rihanna can do much, much better, and she proved it not long after this.
Lady Gaga: ‘Electric Chapel’ (16,627,975 plays)
Why It’s Here: This is a weird one. “Electric Chapel” appears on Born This Way, which is her biggest album after The Fame/The Fame Monster. The pop-metal song wasn’t a single, but it was a critical favorite and part of the successful Born This Way Ball tour. But consider the timing: Born This Way hit in the spring of 2011, a month or so before Spotify launched in the U.S. Many fans were still pirating music or downloading MP3s when it came out. Gaga’s subsequent albums arrived after Spotify dominated the landscape, which likely explains why all their songs rank higher than “Electric Chapel.” It just sort of got lost, even though it just barely beat out Artpop‘s “Jewels N’ Drugs” for this dubious honor.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? No way. There are moments on Artpop, Joanne, and Chromatica far worse than “Electric Chapel.” And if we check back in a few months, it’s quite possible “Jewels N’ Drugs” will have fallen to its rightful place as her least-played song on Spotify.
Adele: ‘Tired’ (38,169,085 plays)
Why It’s Here: It was inevitable that Adele’s least-played song would appear on her 2008 debut, 19, which is largely remembered for “Chasing Pavements” and her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” She became a global superstar two years later with 21, and she hasn’t stopped since, with follow-up blockbusters 25 and 30. Many songs on these albums have been played more than half a billion times each. Plenty of fans have gone back to 19 to hear her early work, but the least loved is “Tired,” near the end of Side Two. It’s a serviceable song about a fading relationship, but nothing remarkable. She hasn’t played it live since the the summer of 2009.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Yes. “Tired” is far from a bad song, but she explored these themes in a lot more emotional depth once she left her teenage years. The song is noteworthy largely because it hints at the greatness that would come later.
Bruce Springsteen: ‘Souls of the Departed’ (523,329 plays)
Why It’s Here: Bruce Springsteen reached the nadir of his recording career on March 31, 1992, when he released Human Touch and Lucky Town at the same time as an unofficial double album. The records are packed with truly great songs, like “If I Should Fall Behind,” “My Beautiful Reward,” “Better Days,” and “Real World,” but the production often sounds dated, especially on Human Touch, and several of the best songs from these sessions were left in the vault. Many of the least-played Springsteen songs on Spotify appear on these albums, but “Souls of the Departed” has the fewest spins. The song is a prayer for those who died before their time, including a seven-year-old shot down in a Compton schoolyard.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? No. “Souls of the Departed” is actually one of the better songs on Lucky Town, though it has the misfortune of appearing near the end of the tracklist, after many listeners probably gave up after wading through “The Big Muddy” and “Book of Dreams.” “Souls of the Departed” really came to life onstage, especially when the E Street Band got their hands on it. There’s a particularly fiery version with special guest Neil Young on the 2004 Vote for Change tour. It just barely beat out “Real Man” and “The Long Goodbye” as Springsteen’s least-played song on Spotify, but those songs are far, far worse. “Real Man” may indeed be the worst song in Springsteen’s core catalog. All we need is about about 13,000 people to play “Souls of the Departed” and not “Real Man,” and we can fix this injustice.
Elton John: ‘Memory of Love’ (73,672 plays)
Why It’s Here: Cocaine. Lots and lots of cocaine. Elton managed to craft some big hits on coke throughout the early Eighties, like “I’m Still Standing,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” and “Nikita,” but the wheels came off the cart by the time he went into the studio to create 1986’s Leather Jackets. It was his first album of the decade that didn’t produce a single hit. It’s tough to pick a low point, but “Memory of Love” is a fine contender. Written with lyricist Gary Osborne instead of Bernie Taupin, the song is deeply forgettable.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Yeah. Any other song on Leather Jackets would have sufficed, but “Memory of Love” is an inspired choice. And if you think we’re being too hard on Leather Jackets, let’s hear from Elton himself. “Leather Jackets has a lot of awful songs on it, and there’s some very uneven work in the ’80s and ’90s due to the fact that I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing,” he said in 2001. “And because of the drugs, of course.”
Radiohead: ‘I Can’t’ (6,105,824 plays)
Why It’s Here: It’s no surprise that the least-played Radiohead song on Spotify comes from Pablo Honey. They sold a ton of these records back in 1993, but most of those people simply wanted to hear “Creep.” That’s true in the Spotify era, too, where “Creep” has been played nearly 1.3 billion times, followed by album opener “You” with a mere 26.8 million. The one with the fewest spins is “I Can’t,” probably because it falls near the end of the album, after many modern-day listeners have already skipped ahead to the The Bends. It’s followed by “Lurgee” and “Blow Out,” but those are the rare non-“Creep” songs that Radiohead was still playing live after the turn of the millennium. They haven’t touched “I Can’t” since Oct. 27, 1992, before Pablo Honey even came out.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Yes. “I Can’t” is a song of self-loathing that you forget about 20 seconds after you hear it. (“Please forget the words that I just blurted out/It wasn’t me, it was a strange and creeping doubt.” Sure, if you insist.) The band took a quantum leap forward with The Bends a couple years later, and they never again produced anything even remotely as weak as “I Can’t,” even if a vocal minority of fans might feel Pablo Honey is a stronger effort than The King of Limbs. To those haters, we have a single question: Name one song on King of Limbs worse than “I Can’t?” Exactly.
Bob Dylan: ‘Driftin’ Too Far From Shore’ (164,110 plays)
Why It’s Here: Dylan fans have spent decades debating whether the low point of his recording career came in 1986 with Knocked Out Loaded or in 1988 with Down in the Groove. We can settle this debate right now by saying that both camps are right. The albums are equally shitty. Knocked Out Loaded may have one genuine masterpiece with “Brownsville Girl,” but it’s weighed down to Down in the Groove levels of dreck by every other song. The good people of Spotify agree, and they’ve played “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore” less than any other original song in Dylan’s core catalog. (His cover of June Alexander’s “Sally Sue Brown” from Empire Burlesque has been spun even fewer times.)
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Absolutely. The song may share a title with a folk song that inspired Dylan as a child, but everything else is painfully Eighties. The shotgun-snare drums and cheeseball synths reek of 1986. The lyrics are not his finest effort. (One choice series of mixed metaphors: “I ain’t gonna get lost in this current/I don’t like playing cat and mouse/No gentleman likes making love to a servant/Especially when he’s in his father’s house.”) Dylan played it live a few times in 1992 with a much better band, but even they couldn’t make this turkey fly.
U2: ‘Is That All?’ (884,258 plays)
Why It’s Here: U2 recorded 1981’s October under less than ideal circumstances. They were burned out after spending massive amounts of time on the road promoting Boy, under immense pressure to cut a successful follow-up, and struggling to come up with lyrics since Bono lost his notebook shortly before recording started. They were also torn in two since Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr. had become part of an evangelical Christian group that Adam Clayton had no desire to join. The result was a compromised album of spiritual songs that largely didn’t connect with a mass audience. It ends with “Is That All?,” which showcases what happens when your lead singer loses his lyrics right before recording starts. “Oh, to sing this song makes me happy,” he sings. “I’m not happy with you/Oh, to sing this song makes me dance.” He then repeats “Is that all?” over and over. By this point in the tracklist, judging by the paltry number of Spotify spins, many fans have given up on the album.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Arguably. October gets a bad rap since U2’s other Eighties albums are practically flawless. There are some great moments on it, like “Gloria,” “October,” and “Tomorrow.” But there’s a reason “Is That All?” is the one of the two songs from October that they’ve never once played live, even on the October tour. (The other one is “Stranger In a Strange Land.”) It feels like an unfinished sketch of a song they never really finished. But is it worse than “Miami,” “The Playboy Mansion,” “American Soul,” “Stand Up Comedy,” and “Get On Your Boots?” It’s a very close call.
Queen: ‘Keep Passing the Open Windows’ (386,405 plays)
Why It’s Here: Queen’s 1984 LP The Works is packed with hits like “Radio Ga Ga,” “Tear It Up,” and “I Want To Break Free.” It wasn’t a big success in America, which is why they opted out of touring stateside for the rest of their career with Freddie Mercury, but it was massive all across the rest of the world. This doesn’t seem like a likely candidate for the album where you’d find their least-played Spotify song, but “Keep Passing the Open Windows,” a Mercury-penned tune on Side Two, is the winner here. Mercury took the title phrase from John Irving’s 1981 novel The Hotel New Hampshire. Queen were briefly attached to create a soundtrack for a big-screen adaptation of the book, but the project totally fell apart. This song is the only thing to come out of it.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? No. And the Spotify number is so low at 386,405, while all the other tracks on The Works are over three million, that something weird might be going on here. Was there a glitch somewhere in the Spotify system? Was it unavailable for long periods of time? There’s no evidence of this, but we can’t think of any reason why it would rank so much lower than every other song in the band’s catalog, underperforming even the songs on little-loved albums like 1995’s Made in Heaven. But until we get solid evidence there’s a fuck-up somewhere, “Keep Passing the Open Windows” has the record here. Maybe some day the movie will actually get made, and the song will get a second life.
Beyoncé: ‘Hip Hop Star’ (6,212,382 plays)
Why It’s Here: From the minute that Destiny’s Child hit in 1997 with “No, No, No,” it was apparent that Beyoncé Knowles was destined to become a solo star. It was only a matter of time. The moment came in 2003, when all three members of the group took time off to make solo albums. Beyoncé kicked off her solo campaign by dropping “Crazy in Love” in May 2003. It became one of the year’s biggest songs, and her solo debut, Dangerously in Love, sold by the millions. But not every song on the album measures up to “Crazy in Love.” And “Hip Hop Star,” which features Big Boi and Sleepy Brown, doesn’t come close. This album hit years before Spotify, so only the most devoted fans have gone back and revisited it.
Does It Deserve to Be Here? With all due respect to Big Boi, yes. Outkast were at a high point in 2003, and his guest verse here is fun. You could even say that this would be a solid track on a Big Boi solo album — but it doesn’t really work on a Beyoncé one. There’s a reason she hasn’t performed it live since 2004, and that so few fans have gone back to it. She’s capable of so much more, as she’s proven over and over and over throughout the past 20 years.
Miley Cyrus: ‘Evil Is But a Shadow’ (1,352,142 plays)
Why It’s Here: The huge success of 2013’s Bangerz meant that Miley Cyrus had the freedom to do whatever the fuck she felt like for her next project. What few saw coming was Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, where she teamed up with the Flaming Lips to make a wildly uncommercial record they released for free online. Fans hoping to hear another “Wrecking Ball” or “We Can’t Stop” were bitterly disappointed, as were many OG Flaming Lips listeners who saw this as a lame attempt to grab a younger fan base. So it’s not surprising that many of Miley’s least-played songs on Spotify appear on this record. The lowest one is technically “Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz,” but we’re not going to count it, since it’s largely an instrumental interlude without any vocals from Cyrus beyond a bit of moaning. That means “Evil Is But a Shadow” is the winner. (We’re also not counting Hannah Montana songs here, because they weren’t released under Miley’s name.)
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Not really. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz was greeted with befuddlement by many fans back in 2015, but it’s aged pretty well. It’s hard to imagine any other pop star of her era doing anything that bold. “Evil Is But a Shadow” likely appears here since it falls near the end of the album, but it would be a totally solid track on a latter-day Flaming Lips album. We dig it.
Madonna: ‘In This Life’ (1,174,246 plays)
Why It’s Here: We assumed the least popular song in Madonna’s long, iconic career would appear on one of her more recent albums, like Madame X, Rebel Heart, or MDNA. But it actually comes from 1992’s Erotica, which hit near the peak of her fame. The album, however, wasn’t a big hit compared to the rest of her hugely successful work in the Nineties. Most people just remember “Erotica,” “Deeper and Deeper,” and “Rain.” The album tracks have been largely forgotten, including the sorrowful ballad “In This Life” from the second side. It’s a heartfelt tribute to everyone Madonna knew who died in the AIDS crisis.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Nah. There are definitely worse songs scattered throughout Madonna’s career. Still, this is a heavy listen on one of her less-popular albums, so it’s easy to understand why people might have passed it by. “Have you ever watched your best friend die?” Madonna asks listeners near the end. “Have you ever watched a grown man cry?/Some say that life isn’t fair/I say that people just don’t care/They’d rather turn the other way.” Good for her for speaking out, and the emotion in those words is touching, but it’s a long way from the kind of catchy pop music that gets the most spins in the streaming era. (“Act of Contrition” from Like a Prayer received slightly fewer plays, but it’s just bits of “Like a Prayer” played backwards featuring uncredited guitar noodling by Prince. It’s pretty cool, but didn’t feel like enough of a real song to count here.)
The Who: ‘Trilby’s Piano’ (109,633 plays)
Why It’s Here: The Who reunited in 1989, seven years after their farewell tour, but they didn’t get around to creating a new record until 2006’s Endless Wire. By this point, bassist John Enwtistle was dead, file-sharing had largely destroyed the record business, and most of their fans had little interest in hearing anything but the oldies. But Pete Townshend soldiered ahead anyway with an ambitious album that ties into the Who’s aborted Lifehouse project from the early Seventies and his 1993 solo effort Psychoderelict, though only the most devoted fans were able to follow any of this. There are nevertheless some very fine moments on the record, like “It’s Not Enough” and “We Got a Hit,” but there are also some weak spots, especially on the Wire and Glass mini opera that occupies the second half of the tracklist. That’s where “Trilby’s Piano” comes into play. It’s a sparse piano ballad with vocals by Townshend that moves the story along, but doesn’t do much for listeners as a stand-alone song. (Note: A couple of the Tommy interlude numbers like “Do You Think It’s Alright,” “Miracle Cure,” and “There’s a Doctor” scored even lower Spotify numbers than “Trilby’s Piano,” but they’re all under 30 seconds and don’t count here in our estimation.)
Does It Deserve To Be Here? Most likely. The Who certainly had some craptacular songs on 1981’s Face Dances and 1982’s It’s Hard, including “Did You Steal My Money” and “Why Did I Fall For That,” but those songs fail in more interesting/we-took-too-much-cocaine ways. “Trilby’s Piano” fails in ways that are simply boring. They never even attempted it live, including on their 2006 Endless Wire tour, where they played way, way too much of the record.
Ed Sheeran: ‘No Strings’ (8,293,244 plays)
Why It’s Here: Ed Sheeran is the fifth-most streamed artist on Spotify. All six of his albums have racked up enormous numbers of spins. The guy is a superstar. But Subtract came out just a little over three months ago. “No Strings” is the second-to-last track, meaning it’s probably here mostly because not everyone plays the album all the way through whenever they put it on. Produced by Aaron Dessner of the National, it’s a ballad about accepting your partner without any conditions.
Does It Deserve To Be Here? No. It’s simply unfair to compare an album that’s been on Spotify since May with ones that have been sitting there for years and years. It hasn’t had nearly enough time to compete. Let’s all check back in two years and see where Sheeran’s catalog stands. In the meantime, sorry, “No Strings.” You’re the loser for now.