Given a Stormy 2017, Prepare for 'Darker' After Affects in Popular Song

Here's how a recent report begins in the Atlantic Monthly:

Over the past half-century, climate scientists have learned that the weather leaves behind a hidden history of itself. Through evidence preserved in tree rings, in the gunk at the bottom of lakes, and in towering stalagmites that rise from cave floors, researchers have learned how to read thousands of years of weather history, inferring the existence of long-forgotten rainstorms, hurricanes, and mega-droughts.

Recent research suggests that there may be a similar account hidden in popular music, too. Thursday, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the meteorologist Paul Williams presented evidence that a spate of intense hurricanes imprinted themselves on the American songbook...

When times were stormy in the real world, the weather in pop music was darker, too. Almost three-quarters of the weather-themed songs from the 1950s and 1960s had lyrics that emphasized storminess, with frequent use of words like rain, wind, and hurricane.

The researcher is Prof. Paul D. Williams of the University of Reading. In the paper "Is there a Rhythm Of The Rain? An Analysis of Weather in Popular Music," Williams and his co-authors conclude:

 A distinct example is from the Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, who, in 1976, wrote and composed the song ‘The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’ in tribute to the eponymous freight ship that sank with the loss of 29 crew the previous year. However, finding evidence of other songwriters who were directly influenced by a weather event, rather than writing more generally about the weather, is challenging. For songs with a central weather related storyline, inspiration could come from a particularly sunny day or a series of events (weather-related or otherwise)...

Of the 33 songs in the subset from the 1950s and 1960s, 73% (24 songs) mention storms, wind, rain, or hurricanes. By contrast, of the 26 songs in the subset from the 1970s and 1980s, when there were fewer hurricanes, only 46% (12 songs) mention these keywords. In the USA during the 1950s and 1960s, there was much severe weather, including hurricanes Betsy, Hazel, Carol, Donna and Carla... But during the next two decades, only 46 percent of the weather-related songs featured stormy themes. The difference is pronounced enough to be statistically significant.  

Download the Williams paper.

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