Monday, September 15, 2008

13 Impossible Words

I'm a geek and a poet, a writer and an artist, a programmer and a statistician. Throughout my time as a fan, one of the major draws of the Cure's music for me has always been the literate, intelligent and beautiful lyrics of the songs.

A favorite tactic of Robert is to write songs based on books and poetry, and compress them into a coherent, lyrical form. The brilliant condensation of "Les Yeux des pauvres" into the song "How Beautiful You Are" is a perfect example of this. However, the vast majority of the lyrics simply come from Robert's own life experiences, thoughts and feelings. As I have explored previously in this blog, there are common themes which permeate the songs, such as descriptions of the ocean, the stars, sun, moon, nature, cities and of course, relationships and the vast range of human emotion. Taken together, they describe a life lived fully and offer an intriguing glimpse into the heart and mind of a modern-day poet.

As a geek, I have always been fascinated by the visual depiction of data, and when the Wordle applet was released upon the world this summer, I played with it several times but never had the chance to do what I always wanted to do with it, namely, run a dataset of all the Cure's lyrics through it! Well, now my Cure lyric geek / artist / statistician desires have been fulfilled, and I present to you two sets of Wordles. I'll give you some background on how the data was handled after you take a look at the following:

Top 13 Words in Cure Lyrics
(click to explore)

Knowing about the themes that recur in Cure songs, when I first ran Wordle with the Cure lyrics dataset, I was a little surprised to see the top 13 composed of these words! And a big shock was that the most common word in all of the lyrics was the word Never, followed closely (and not nearly as shockingly) by LOVE.

Here are the top 13 words in numerical order, with the word frequency count next to them.

1. Never (288)
2. Love (237)
3. Want (198)
4. Time (187)
5. Always (166)
6. Know (163)
7. Away (151)
8. One (143)
9. Ever (139)
10. Nothing (137)
11. Go (135)
12. Get (128)
13. World (124)

I love how poetically these words go together, and the way that the Wordle depiction puts them together creates an artistic vision that can be read in many ways. These words manage to distill many of the important themes in the Cure's music into short, 2-3 word sentences that convey a great range of meaning and emotion, in concise, haiku-like form.

Here is a larger dataset in Wordle, of the top 300 words in Cure lyrics
(click to explore)

About the data:

The Cure lyrics analyzed here were taken from a document available online. This document is fairly comprehensive, containing lyrics for demos and other rare tracks. I am not certain of the source or editor, or I would be happy to link back to them. In order to clean up the dataset for analysis, I removed most of the extraneous information such as brackets and album titles. I didn't spend an extreme amount of time cleaning it up however, as Wordle removes a lot of unimportant data such as often-repeated common words (and, the, if) and pronouns (you, me, my). I also manually removed the words "like" and "just" as common words. You can access the raw text that I created here, if you'd like to play around with it in Wordle or another analysis engine for yourself. I've also made the dataset available on Many Eyes if you'd like to try a tag cloud or word tree there.

Finally, just for fun, here's a Wordle of my blog :

Update: Cure Lyrics Word Doc by aussietiger - Thank you!


Mad Bob RJS said...

What an interesting article Rev. !!!!

( As all you´ve post )


Yor blog rules !!!.

See you soon.

Anonymous said...

Very cool, Rev. Interesting and fun.

Anonymous said...

Totally fascinating. Thanks.

Mr. Mandelbrot said...

What about "dream" and "kiss"? I though they would get a higher rank.

Unknown said...

it's so amazing! and interesting too.
great job!

caterpillargirl2 said...

That was awesome, Rev. And yes, very interesting! You don't mind if I copy the image of the 13 words for my myspace page do you?

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's my lyrics document! Well, sort of. It was originally created by, but only had the album songs and b-sides up until Wild Mood Swings. I re-designed and have been updating it since then.

Very interesting article. I hope you don't mind, but I posted the list of 13 words on my livejournal. [with credit to you, of course]

Rev. Heron said...

Thanks for the kind comments everyone! I'll try to answer everything here:

Mr. M, sorry to disappoint you, but Dream has only 64 mentions and Kiss has 55. That's what I meant about the shock of "never" being the most repeated word in the catalog!

Caterpillargirl2 - you can absolutely use the graphic!

aussietiger, that is a great piece of work! You should have put in some contact info etc. Thanks for taking on the task, as you made it much easier to do this analysis.

JupiterMain said...

Very interesting, indeed!
These Wordles would make good artwork to put on a wall, imo.

christl d. said...

im surprised by the lower ranking of kiss and dream as well!

colours, words, whatever else will you interpret next?

no doubt a number of those freuqnelty used words will make it on the next album :) i cannot wait to hear how they are used