An Answer For Everything: Marcus Webb’s favourite infographic
Marcus Webb chooses an infographic from our new book, An Answer For Everything, which visualises the data on everything from the best sportsperson of all time to how to become prime minister, how to save the planet and the best thing since sliced bread
Marcus Webb lived, breathed and dreamt infographics for the first eight months of this year. But now that Delayed Gratification’s co-editor has a well-deserved break from digging through data and staring at spreadsheets, he’s ready to dive back into the pages of An Answer For Everything to choose his favourite infographic from the book. He’s gone for ‘Which songs have stood the test of time?’
We’re giving away a special print of this infographic. Head here for information on how to enter – and make sure you get your entries in before 28th October 2021.
Where did the inspiration for ‘Which songs have stood the test of time?’ come from?
Marcus Webb: Originally we considered doing this as a best song of all time infographic and we started looking through critics’ lists of best-ever singles to create a meta list, but critics’ tastes aren’t necessarily in sync with the public’s listening habits. This, to me, is more interesting – it’s not necessarily the best songs, but it’s the ones that people keep returning to over the years and decades, ones with a timeless appeal for a lot of people. We worked with Spotify to collect the data and they were fantastic. They looked at the number of global plays songs had in 2020 and identified which song from each year since 1950 is the most popular today.
Did anything in the data surprise you?
MW: I was pleasantly surprised by how good a lot of the music is. I put together a Spotify playlist so that I could listen to 70 years of pop songs while making the infographic, and a lot of the early stuff is great. ‘Le vie en Rose’, by Louis Armstrong in 1950, is particularly wonderful. That said there’s a couple of songs that had me reaching for the skip button.
A change occurs around the mid-noughties in the genre of the songs…
MW: Yeah, it was mostly rock music in the seventies, eighties and nineties, but in the last 15 years there’s been a big swing towards pop and dance. It’s also interesting to see the shift away from groups to solo artists. For 30 years from 1964 onwards, there are only four solo artists represented. But eight of the past ten years have been songs by solo artists.
What else did you discover about how to make a song that stays popular?
MW: Make Christmas songs. There are six on the list, which is almost ten percent – we’ve illustrated these with snowflakes.
How did you come up with the visual approach for this infographic?
MW: Our art director Christian Tate led the way with the design. We spoke a lot about creating non-written cues – what could we do visually to create a sense of this being about music. He made the innermost section look like the bars on a graphic equaliser. You don’t need to read the headline to sense that it’s about music. It’s almost subliminal.
Why is this your favourite infographic in the book?
MW: I love infographics that are very accessible but that also reward readers who lean in and look a bit more closely. At first glance this is a beautiful timeline, full of nostalgia, but there’s a lot more going on here too. It was also one that I helped with the design on. Don’t get me wrong, Chris did all the hard work with the template but I went through adding in the elements. It was a bit like paint by numbers – only for an infographic.