Methodology Project: Lyric Analysis

Analysis

Table A shows us that the Born to Run album has the least amount of songs and the highest vocabulary density. Vocabulary density essentially means how rich the vocabulary in the album is. According to Perseus Digital Library, vocabulary density is “ratio of the number of words in the document to the number of unique words in the document”. The larger the vocabulary density score, means that the album has less unique words in it. Therefore, Born to Run has the least amount of unique words with a score of .287. The vocabulary in The River is more complex, with a vocabulary density score of .200. The River came out 5 years after Born to Run and has 12 additional songs on it. Therefore, the higher vocabulary density score makes sense.

Knowing that many of Springsteen’s songs involve themes of love, I compiled the terms I thought related to love. The trends for the words “baby”, “girl”, “love”, and “heart” are shown in Graph 2. The words “baby” and “girl” are already in the top 5 for most frequent uses. The word “love” is used 28 times throughout the three albums, and “heart” is used 23 times.

Graph 2 shows that the words are used constantly throughout the albums. This makes sense as Springsteen has songs about love in all three albums. The graph shows that words that relate to love are slightly more frequent in The River album. The graph shows that all of the love related words peak in The River. In The River, “Baby” is used 42 times, “girl” is used 32 times ,”love” is used 16 times , and “heart” is used 15 times . It should be taken into account that The River has more songs than the other two albums. There is also more songs specifically about love in The River: “Two Hearts”, “Hungry Heart”, “Crush on You”, “I Wanna Marry You”. (The River contains more songs about love as well).

Why do songs about love peak in The River? An article in the New Yorker, explains that The River was “Springsteen’s most anxious album” . The article explains that at the time The River came out Springsteen was “not yet married but questioning the institution” and the songs describe “how hard it is not to love but to be loved”.

The most interesting data I found was about the word repeated most throughout the three albums: night. The word “night” is used 79 times. Likewise, the word “tonight” is used 46 times. The combination of the frequency of “night” and “tonight” is equal to 125. A word used 125 times across three albums has significant meaning, and I decided to analyse it further.

Night is used as a setting in the songs. Most images and events Springsteen sings about take place at night. For example the song “Backstreets” from Born to Run paints a scene where the characters are  “Running for our lives at night on the backstreets.”Similarly, in “Born to Run” from the Born to Run album: “at night we ride through mansions of glory”. Events and actions are taking place at night. These events depicted are particularly active: running through the streets, going out, and driving through the streets at night. 

So why do these actions happen at night, and not during the day time?  When we think of day we think light, and the sun. Day time is when the whole world is up and working. The sun provides light for people to go to work.

When we think of night we think of darkness. This night time darkness is usually when the world sleeps and rests. In Springsteen’s songs, however; night is not a time for rest. The night provides a cloak of darkness, where people and things become hidden from the world.  So, the actions that take place at night are purposefully concealed under the darkness of the night. These are actions that might not normally be done in the light of day, like when Springsteen sings “meet me tonight on the top of the hill” in the song “Ramrod” from the album The River.  Many of the events that take place at night in Springsteen’s songs  have to deal with driving or running away, and the night provides a perfect setting to conceal these actions.Examples of this can be seen in songs like “Born to Run”: “ Everybody’s out on the run tonight, but there’s no place left to hide”. 

Springsteen would want to use the night to run away. He often criticized his hometown, Freehold,NJ, for being “a small, narrow-minded town”, according to The Atlantic article Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream” .Getting out, and being “born to run” is what he did.

Night provides an escape for the youth from a small town and potentially a small life. It also provides, much as night implies, a time for dreaming. The dreams of Springsteen are amplified in the night, so it makes sense that is  where the songs take place.

Graph 3 shows that the word “night” is repeated most in Darkness on the Edge of Town. Specifically, it is used 31 times in the album.  Why does “night” peak in Darkness on the Edge of Town?  It is very fitting that the word “night” is frequently used in an  album with the title “darkness”. This amplifies the connection between night and dark. Two of the songs in the album include the word “night” in their title: “Something in the Night” and “Prove it all Night”. Darkness on the Edge of Town expresses ideas of hope and dreams of getting out of a poor town with songs like “Badlands” and “The Promised Land”. 

I decided to see if there were any interesting trends between night, and the opposite of night, day. Graph 4 shows the trends of the words night and day. The clear contrast between night and day is that day is for work, and night is an escape,or at least a time to dream of escaping. Some lyrics also suggest this message. 

  • “All day you’ve been working that hard line, Now tonight you’re gonna have a good time” from the song “Out in the Street” from The River
  • “Holding on for your life ’cause you work all day” from the song “Night” from Born to Run
  • “Workin all day in my daddy’s garage, driving all night chasin some mirage” and  “I get up every morning and go to work each day” from the song “The Promised Land” from Darkness on the Edge of Town

Why does the word “day” peak in The River  and the word “night” is lowest in The River? Here we see the repetition of this juxtaposition at two different points. In the earlier albums, Born to Run and Darkness of the Edge of Town, there is a greater sense of urgency in wanting to leave. This can be seen  in songs like “Born to Run” ,and “The Promised Land”. Whereas, The River contains more songs about love, and so the dreams of the night are slightly put on the back burner. Springsteen was also older when The River came out. The sight shift from night to day, as time passes parallels the maturity of growing up.

Conclusion

Springsteen writes songs full of imagery and deep meaning. Voyant tools allowed me to see the correlations between words in his three albums, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River. Looking through all of the data about these albums gave me a deeper appreciation for how talented he is as a songwriter, and how strategic Springsteen’s word choice is.

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