The Top 10 List: Alan AtKisson’s Most Popular Songs (as of August 2015)

Top-ten-songsRecently I reviewed a combination of iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and live-performance-request data, crunched the numbers through a secret algorithm, and came up with a “Top Ten” list. These are the songs that seem to be the “most popular” (at the moment) of those on the six albums I currently have in public release. The exact order may vary, depending on what’s currently happening on social media etc. Album links take you to iTunes website — because I actually earn money there, you can preview all the songs, and from there you can get to the iTunes app. But you can also search and find these songs on any major streaming service.


  1. Set the World Right Again (from American Troubadour)

A hard-driving, “surprisingly hopeful” (as one listener put it) folk-rock song, with a hint of Japanese influence, that was selected as “Climate Song of the Week” by the UNFCCC in August 2015 as part of the run-up to the Paris climate summit. Torbjörn Fall plays a killer guitar solo in the middle. Got a big boost from multiple Twitter feeds. (For the background story to this song, click here.)

  1. Exponential Growth (from Believing Cassandra)

The iTunes most-popular song on this album — released in 1999 as a “musical companion” to the book of the same name — is also one that I have used widely in presentations around the world. Anybody who hears it never forgets the chorus (people tell me). It’s better when you see it live.

  1. Nothin’ At All (from Testing the Rope)

This is the most popular song from my debut album — according to iTunes, at least. It’s a relationship break-up song, and as bleak as they come. (“Take off, and I’ll just stay here / I’ve got more than enough, with nothin’ at all.”) But I still enjoy performing it.

  1. The Strangely Popular Lichen Song (from Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On)

The highest-selling song from my comedy album is true to its name: even I find it strange that the “Lichen Song” became so (relatively) popular. I guess it’s because it is used as a teaching aid, to explain the symbiotic biology of the lichen, with the chorus built around the old line, “Freddy Fungus and Alice Algae took a LICHEN to each other.”

  1. The Parachuting Cats (from Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On)

An oft-requested ditty in live situations, and also the second most popular song on this comedy album (says iTunes). The Parachuting Cats tells the supposedly (and mostly) true story of the WHO’s attempt to eradicate malaria on Borneo in the 1950’s, using DDT, with systemically disastrous results. It also closes my TEDx talk. (For the real scientific story, revealed in glorious academic detail, click here.)

  1. God Speaks (from Falcon, Storm, or Song)

This song has sold more the most copies on iTunes of any other song from this exceedingly simple guitar-and-voice demo-album, which sets 12 poems from Rilke’s “Book of Hours” – as translated into English by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows – to music. The album is also the musical score to a one-man musical play about Rilke’s life and letters. While Rilke’s poetry is written in a religious voice, I think he is writing about life in general. The song could easily be called “Life Speaks.”

  1. What Kind of World (from Believing Cassandra)

An upbeat, inspirational pop song, which got some airplay on the American TV show “Good Morning America” (in 2011 and 2012) and was also used by friends in Indonesia as the soundtrack to their slideshow on visioning. Surprisingly (to me) it was also the second most-sold song on the “Believing Cassandra” album. Thanks to the TV airplay, I even made a little money on it.

  1. Dead Planet Blues (from Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On)

My first envirosong, written way back in 1990, and still a frequent request at live performances … even though its core message is over 25 years old. The problem that the song mostly addresses — through the imagined voice of a deity, drinking in some cosmic bar for deities, complaining sarcastically about those “little life-forms that became self-aware” — is now mostly solved: we rescued the planet from the ozone hole. But hey, with a few lyrical tweaks, it’s a new song, focused on global warming … and it’s current once again.

  1. Balaton (from Testing the Rope)

“The ancient engines turn their gears / The sound of fire swiftly nears …”  This song of lament, memory, and hope does not show up in any of my sales data. But it makes the list, because among the people for whom it was written — the members of the Balaton Group, a network of sustainability researchers and practitioners — it has become a traditional “must-sing” at every annual meeting. I also translated this song into French for a similar meeting of sustainability thinkers and doers; it worked en français, too.

  1. System Zoo (from Believing Cassandra)

While this song is not so popular in digital sales, an old live performance from 2001 (filmed in Australia) is far and away my most-watched-video on YouTube. Over 10,000 people have viewed it. I think people who are trying to explain systems thinking to other people like this song.

   Also 10 (This was a tie). The GDP Song (from Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On)

This one makes the list because of the frequency with which it has been requested at live performances: people seem to enjoy singing along, in “Latvian”, to an upbeat folk tune about terrible happenings that perversely drive up our primary measure of economic growth. I stole the melody from a Latvian drinking song. Thanks, Latvia! I’ll send you some money someday.

Honorable Mention:

Maxie (the Manatee) (from American Troubadour)

Based on the true story of the wild manatee that befriended my family when I was a child. This song sits on the top of the “Bestsellers” ranking for the American Troubadour album — at least, when iTunes sorts it that way. I can’t say I’ve seen that popularity reflected in the actual sales figures, but some people love that song. I certainly loved that manatee. In fact, I love manatees generally, and they truly are in trouble. Ergo, the “honourable mention.”

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