Spotify playlists reveal oldies' staying power

A file picture taken on September 18, 1984 showing Rock star Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock group "Queen", during a concert at the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy (POPB).

JEAN-CLAUDE COUTAUSSE/AFP/Getty Images

A New York music writer created a new way to find out how songs keep their staying power. He's taking classic hits from the Billboard Hot 100 chart and comparing them to the number of times they streamed on Spotify last year. The result brings the past and future of music together in harmony, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

When the 1976 rock 'n' roll ballad "Bohemian Rhapsody" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 list, it came in at number 27.

Fast forward nearly 40 years: Queen's rock song was the 19th most-played on Spotify in 2014.

"There are many songs throughout history that never did well in their day. Maybe they were ahead of their time and culture and music taste didn't line up with that song until much later," said Matt Daniels, who runs the website Polygraph.

He recently looked at thousands of songs on Billboard's top 100 chart since 1950 and compared them to Spotify play counts. He wanted to learn why some hit songs have gained popularity with Spotify listeners. Younger audiences often don't know how the song was perceived when it debuted.

"The thing about how younger generations interpret older generations' music is that they don't have any associations with it," Daniels said.

Music fans today are moving beyond the radio and relying heavily on streaming services. An oldie can now remain a "goodie" thanks in part to big pop-culture moments: think "Bohemian Rhapsody's" appearance in "Wayne's World," "Eye of the Tiger" in "Rocky," or when "Glee!" covered "Don't Stop Believin'" in its first episode.

Music journalist Alan Light said Spotify listeners skew younger and already know what landmark songs they want to hear.

"These are songs that people are either actively seeking out or at least more actively looking for, rather than just putting on the radio station and seeing what comes to them," he said.

Nirvana pioneered the '90s grunge movement, but despite their popularity, none of the band's songs ever broke the Billboard top five. But "Smells like Teen Spirit" was the most streamed song from the 1990s on Spotify in 2014. To date, its been played nearly 109 million times.

"Go to any mall in America and there's some high school kid in a Nirvana t-shirt," Light said. "For a band to be able to hold that, those are ones that survive generation after generation."