This Story Rocks
BY Kevin Litman-Navarro
Published August 10, 2018
I had just turned nine years old when Jack Black's School of Rock hit theaters. Like Black and his motley crew of middle-school musicians, I wished to pick up a guitar — which I would call an axe — and shred till my fingers bled. I wanted to bang out face-melting solos, gut-busting riffs, and bone-shaking chords.
My mom decided it would be best if I took piano lessons.
Still, you can't stop fate, and I was destined to become an extremely mediocre guitarist. When I was able to steal away from the watchful, Puritanical eyes of my rock-fearing parents, I would grab my brother's guitar — which my parents would call a devil stick — and furtively log on to the computer, navigating to Ultimate Guitar dot com.
Since the turn of the century, Ultimate Guitar has been the main online resource for guitar learners. The website is home to some 1.2 million tabs (sheet music for people who can't read sheet music) all uploaded by fans. Because Ultimate Guitar is fan-driven, it can also be seen as a rich database: a living document that measures the popularity and longevity of bands based on how many people want to play their music, to be like them.
Ultimate Guitar Royalty
Who are the kings of this universe, the ones we turn to woo a love interest, or express our deepest feelings?
Look no further than the all time top 100 rated tabs. The list factors in how many hits a song gets to some degree, so it really highlights the most appreciated songs on the site.
Most represented artists in the 100 top rated tabs
I know. You don't care who is in the list; it's not very punk rock to get that kind of validation from the internet masses.
I also know what you really want to know: in what keys are the most popular songs played?
Popular keys of 100 top rated tabs
But let's focus on me here
Enough of these jokers on the top 100 list. I'm more interested in, well, the bands I'm interested in. The ones that made me want to learn the guitar and dedicate countless hours to crooning into my closet.
In order to satiate my interests, I'm going to look at a small sample of bands that inspired me, and some foils for comparative purposes. In no particular order: The Beatles, Blink-182, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Swift, Radiohead, Ed Sheeran, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Death Cab for Cutie, and Pink Floyd.
Is my enthusiasm for emo music of the aughts shared by others? Let's find out!
Number of tabs for each band
Fans upload multiple tabs of the same song for different instruments and to correct mistakes.
Okay, no surprise there. Of course The Beatles have been tabbed out, they are the greatest band of all time. But maybe amount of tabs is a bad metric for determining which bands people really are loving on here.
Average tab rating
Okay, just kidding, I take it back. Maybe comparing Ed Sheeran to The Beatles is just apples and elephants. Instead, let's look at when these tabs were uploaded, and get some hints about the longevity of these artists. The best guitar songs will be one sthat people want to keep learning, and keep tabbing, ad nauseum.
You get the gist. In large measure, the number of tabs uploaded per year tracks with a band's output and general popularity. Still, I think it's a separate metric. How does the phrase go? Show someone a song and they will listen for a day. Teach someone a song, and they will play it for a lifetime.
Tell me more, tell me more
Wow, you got very far! Since you're so interested, feel free to scroll down for more information on the bands in my sample. For each band, I've expanded the timeseries showing tabs uploaded every year, and provided some context for the peaks and valleys.
In addition, I've included the most tabbed songs for each band, so you can see how the enthusiasm among the guitar-playing community stacks up against general popularity.
Number of Blink-182 tabs uploaded over the years
Most tabbed Blink-182 songs
Number of Taylor Swift tabs uploaded over the years
Swift is back with guitar
anthems on 2017’s Reputation.
Swift’s sound gets more
pop-ish on Red and 1989.
Swift fever spreads after the
2010 release of Speak Now.
The old Taylor dies, presumably.
Most tabbed Taylor Swift songs
Number of My Chemical Romance tabs uploaded over the years
The band’s popularity peaks after the release
of its third album The Black Parade.
My Chemical Romance’s next album,
Danger Days portends a 2013 breakup.
Most tabbed My Chemical Romance songs
Number of Ed Sheeran tabs uploaded over the years
Sheeran appears on Game of Thrones,
much to the chagrin of all viewers.
Ed Sheeran introduces himself with
the relase of + in 2011.
Sheeran becomes a household name
after x tops the charts in 2014.
Most tabbed Ed Sheeran songs
Number of Beatles tabs uploaded over the years
Despite their having not releasing music for decades, people keep posting tabs.
Most tabbed Beatles songs
Bonus! Most viewed Beatles tabs
Number of Red Hot Chili Peppers tabs uploaded over the years
When Ultimate Guitar launched in 2000,
the Chili Peppers are atop the rock game.
The release of Stadium Arcadium in 2006
creates a new generation of fans.
2011’s Rain Dance Maggie doesn’t
make a big impression on the
Most tabbed Red Hot Chili Peppers songs
Number of Green Day tabs uploaded over the years
Green Day’s tab popularity peaks with
2009’s 21st Century Breakdown.
Well into their forties, the members
of Green Day are hardly slowing down.
When Ultimate Guitar launched in 2000,
Green Day was coming off its 6th album.
In 2004, American Idiot sweeps into
garages across the nation.
Most tabbed Green Day songs
Number of Death Cab for Cutie tabs uploaded over the years
After releasing Narrow Stairs in 2008,
Death Cab’s popularity peaks.
Codes and Keys fails to excite audiences
like previous Death Cab albums.
The relase of Plans catapults
Death Cab into the mainstream.
The decline continues with the
2011 release of Kintsugi.
Most tabbed Death Cab for Cutie songs
In conclusion, go learn how to play the guitar.