Blog Excerpts

"Love, Love, Love": The Beatles Kept It Simple, Word-Wise

Adding to our collection of Beatles linguistic analysis (we've written about the iconic band's pronouns"Goo goo ga joob", and gear language) and in a manner reminiscent of recent analysis of rappers' vocabularies, the Liverpool Echo has conducted a vocabulary survey of British pop music, and concluded that the Beatles (at least in their early days) "have one of the smallest vocabularies in pop music." The paper writes:

The Fab Four used just 688 words in their first three albums compared to 1890 used by Elvis Costello and 1748 by David Bowie.

'Love' really is all they needed though, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney using the word 151 times - the most for any artists in the poll.

In the Beatles' defense, it can be noted that they used these words effectively — and that they used them correctly (which is more than you can say for the lyricists whose usage slips Adam Cooper catalogs in "Lyrical Accidents: When Pop Music Vocab Goes Wrong").

The Beatles can claim no generational excuse, as bands of their era were using richer vocabularies than they are today, following a steady, decade-by-decade decline. Perhaps the Beatles's early verbal economy might be chalked up to regional custom? The Echo describes the lyrics of other British bands, breaking down vocabulary consumption by region, and where you're from appears to make difference in the way you write songs. 

The poll showed bands in Wales had the biggest vocabulary, using an average of 1316 different words across their first three albums with The Manic Street Preachers displaying the greatest lyrical prowess by using 2056 unique words, the largest number for any band in the poll. …

Bands from Birmingham tended to be far more economical with ELO, Black Sabbath and UB40 using the fewest words in total over their first three albums but they used the highest proportion of unique words with nearly one in three of UB40's lyrics being unique.

Check out the full results of the Echo's survey here, or just listen to your favorite early Beatles track instead. In songwriting, vocabulary size (and grammatical correctness) may not always be the most important thing.

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