These ‘San Francisco’ songs are the most popular, danceable and saddest, according to Spotify data


In 2009, high school friends Michael Vincze and Colin Louis Dieden traveled from Calabasas to San Francisco on a whim. One night, while staying at a cheap motel, the pair stayed up late to write an energetic musical tribute to the city, with a chorus where its subject loses its mind “in San Francisco / Waiting for the fog to roll in. unfolds”.

They didn’t know it at the time, but Vincze and Dieden – who went on to form alternative rock band The Mowgli’s – had just written what would become today’s most popular song “San Francisco”, at least according to data from Spotify. The infectious 2013 hit has now been streamed over 70 million times, propelling the band to a respectable level of indie stardom.

To determine the most popular “San Francisco” song, The Chronicle searched Spotify for tracks containing the term “San Francisco” in the title, combing through nearly 1,000 songs to curate a playlist of approximately 250. songs with the name of the city in their titles, but excluding songs recorded “live in San Francisco”.

There are a number of songs that don’t have San Francisco in the title but are clearly about the city, like Decemberists’ “Grace Cathedral Hill” and Devandra Banhart’s “16th & Valencia Roxy Music.” So our list may not be the most comprehensive set of songs from San Francisco, but at least the methodology is consistent.

While total stream counts aren’t available for all of these songs, Spotify does provide a “popularity” index for each song, which is based on frequency and recent air date. It is on the basis of this metric that the Mowgli come out on top. Songs by Mac Miller, Foxygen and Train also made the top 20.

While most popular songs are relatively new, some, including crooner Tony Bennett’s “(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco,” have stood the test of time – 68 years, to be precise. The nostalgic standard, first recorded in 1954, also served as the San Francisco Giants’ victory theme song and has been covered dozens of times by artists ranging from Brenda Lee to Bobby Womack. Also featured is the hippie-era hit “San Francisco (Make sure you wear flowers in your hair)”, sung by Scott McKenzie in 1967.

In addition to tracking current popularity, Spotify also offers data on the musical characteristics of each song in its library. One of these characteristics is the “danceability” of a song, which is based on the smoothness and regularity of its tempo. This characteristic is determined by the music intelligence company Echo Nest, which Spotify bought in 2014.

The most danceable song “San Francisco,” according to the algorithm, is a bit of a surprise: Titled “San Francisco Office Music,” by ambient artist “Morning Jazz,” at first glance it doesn’t seem like the genre of song that would make you tap your feet. But see if you can stop yourself from swinging when it lights up.

Other particularly danceable San Francisco songs include Sun Rai’s sweet and pleasant “San Francisco Street”; “San Francisco Hustle” by 70s disco band Silver Convention; and “San Frandisco” by Australian techno artist Dom Dolla.

Of course, no San Francisco playlist would be complete without Andre Nickatina. The famous local rapper makes it the most danceable category, with “San Francisco Bay” from the album “Booty Star – Glock Tawk”. The artist’s lyrics reflect his love for the city and its landmarks, though we can’t condone his speeding: “As my driver goes 90 on the Bay Bridge // It’s like smoking weed in Paradise.”

Echo Nest also created a “valence” metric for each song, which basically measures how “happy” a song is. The company asked a music expert to rate the positivity level of certain sample songs and their characteristics, then applied machine learning techniques to extend those rules to other songs.

San Francisco’s most “highly valence” or positive song is “San Francisco,” a relatively unknown but undeniably enjoyable song by lo-fi pop artist Jude Shuma. Other positive songs include film composer Henry Mancini’s thrilling “Streets of San Francisco” and Train’s “Save Me, San Francisco” (from the famous “Drops of Jupiter”).

If your energy is less “awesome at the view from Bernal Hill” and more “awesome at how the tech industry drove my favorite bars out of business,” try playing “San Francisco” by the country band- Lucero rock. The song’s energy is perfect for a rage-filled walk through your neighborhood as you listen to frontman Ben Nichols blame “the waves and fog” for dooming his romantic relationships, and consider moving somewhere sunnier and less Dear.

Although the valence metric can capture some attributes of songs, it doesn’t sum it all up. For example, one of the most “positive” songs about San Francisco according to the algorithm is “San Francisco Bay Blues” performed by Paul McCartney, likely due to its catchy, driving beat. But the lyrics of the song are actually quite depressing:

I had my baby blues that left me near San Francisco Bay,

The liner has gone so far.

I didn’t mean to treat her so badly, she was the best girl I ever had,

She said goodbye, I can cry, I want to lie down and die.

But even if the data isn’t perfect, it still produces a fun musical bag of San Francisco tunes that will have you falling in love with the Golden City all over again. And if you want to pick your own favorites, check out the full playlist with all the songs The Chronicle has analyzed here.

The 20 most popular songs can be found in the playlist below:

Susan Neilson (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]


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