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‘80s Music is Boring, According to Science

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Most debates about pop music may be entirely subjective, but Matthias Mauch, an engineer at Queen Mary University of London, decided to take a more scientific approach to the subject. He and a team of colleagues put 17,000 songs spanning 50 years of the Billboard 100 list through data-mining software to generate a quantitative data set about the evolution of what’s topping the charts.

The computer took songs (the label of “pop” is more about popularity than genre) from 1960 to 2010 and measured things like harmony and timbre. The results, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, prove that it simply isn’t true that all mass music sounds the same.

One major finding: Music in the ‘80s was a snooze! That decade was the least diverse of any time period in the last half-century.

After Mauch and his team measured harmony, timbre, and chord changes, the researchers built a “fossil record” that tracked when particular stylings were more or less prominent. With that data, the team was able to see the decline of the dominant 7th chords as jazz and blues faded from the mainstream. In turn, the minor seventh chords found a place with the dawn of the disco era.

The team was also able to spot three musical revolutions in 1964, 1983, and 1991. These years marked large shifts in the pop music world where styles changed quickly. It’s pretty remarkable that a set of data would reflect the changes of what was in vogue from decade to decade, but the revolutions in the data make total sense. The British Invasion stormed pop music in 1964, while 1983 ushered in the era of new technology and synthesizers, and in 1991, rap and hip-hop started to take over. The last shift was the largest, according to Mauch, in part because rap and hip-hop are genres with very few harmonies.

There’s also some great news for those who are tired of hearing people say that all modern pop music sounds the same: Science disagrees. According to the data, today’s pop is just as diverse as ever. So if you must hate on something, you can hate the ‘80s, though my New Order t-shirt and I will just keep dancing over here.

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Police Recover Nearly 100 Artifacts Stolen From John Lennon’s Estate
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Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images

A collection of artifacts stolen from John Lennon’s estate, including diaries, glasses, and handwritten music, has been recovered by German police, the Associated Press reports. After arresting the first suspect, law enforcement is now working to apprehend a second person of interest in the case.

The nearly 100 items went missing from the New York home of the late Beatles star’s widow Yoko Ono in 2006. Years later, German police were tipped off to their whereabouts when a bankruptcy administrator came across the haul in the storage facility of a Berlin auction house. The three leather-bound diaries that were recovered are dated 1975, 1979, and 1980. One entry refers to Lennon’s famous nude photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, and another was written the morning of December 8, 1980, hours before he was shot and killed. In addition to the journals, police retrieved two pairs of his iconic glasses, a 1965 recording of a Beatles concert, a 1952 school book, contract documents for the copyright of the song “I’m the Greatest”, handwritten scores for "Woman" and "Just Like Starting Over”, and a cigarette case.

German authorities flew to New York to have Ono verify the items' authenticity. "She was very emotional and we noticed clearly how much these things mean to her,” prosecutor Susann Wettley told AP. When the objects will be returned to Ono is still unclear.

The first suspect, a 58-year-old German businessman from Turkey, was arrested Monday, November 21, following a raid of his house and vehicles. The second suspect is one of Ono's former chauffeurs who has a past conviction related to the theft. Police officers are hoping to extradite him from his current home in Turkey before moving forward with the case.

[h/t AP]

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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