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Pop Song Titles are Losing the Love

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Love. It's the drug, and a battlefield, and a many splendored thing. It takes time, it will lead you back, and it don't cost a thing. Is there any topic that has inspired more pop songs than love? Judging by the words in song titles over the last 120 years, no. Love is the most frequent word (after function words like the, you, and I) in the tens of thousands of song titles contained in the Whitburn Project database of Billboard Chart hits.

But something has happened to the love. Linguist Tyler Schnoebelen and his colleagues at Idibon, a company specializing in extracting useful information from language data, stumbled upon the puzzling fate of love while looking for a way to identify titles in large language samples. As he describes in this fun and interesting post, they discovered that in recent years "the percentage of hits with love in the title has been only 30 percent of what it was in 1980, when people knew how to love."

You can see the fall-off in love in this chart of the percentage of songs with love in the title by year:

Idibon.com

Not only was the 2003 to 2007 period a low point for love, it was a high point for hate. There are only 30 songs with hate in the title in the entire database, and 11 of them occurred in this time period.

So what is going on? Have we become too cynical to sing our hearts out about love? Or have we perhaps started to call it something else? It's hard to say. It may only be that artists have intuitively picked up on another surprising detail revealed by this analysis. There is a statistically significant difference between the average number of weeks love and non-love songs stay on the chart, with love songs staying an average of 9.4 weeks and non-love songs staying an average of 11.4. Love may help get you there, but it won't keep you there, or, as Schnoebelen says, "you’re gonna have to love for love, not for platinum."

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Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
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Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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entertainment
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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