David Bowie’s Ideal Song Composed By Hertfordshire Professor

So you want to be a songwriter. How do you go about that?

Do you go to music school, study real hard, graduate, start writing as many songs as you can, form a band to perform your compositions, practice incessantly so you’ll be signed by a record label, then once you’re signed record all your songs and release them hoping they will sell millions of copies and you’ll be called the greatest songwriter of all-time?

Dr. Nick Troop (right) composes ideal song for legend David Bowie (left).

Dr. Nick Troop (right) composes ideal song for legend David Bowie (left).

Or do you become a lecturer in healthy psychology, use a program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) to break down all the songs of a famous British singer, use what you learned to write and record that song and then upload the video of you performing the song onto YouTube in the guise of an scholarly experiment?

Okay, you don’t have to answer our question. We know it’s silly—like they have schools that teach music. Besides we all know Burt Bacharach’s career didn’t blossom until he got that elusive masters in childhood psychology.

A doctor and psychology expert from the University of Hertfordshire (the British equivalent to the University of Miami) examined the songs of David Bowie and came up with what he calls the “ideal Bowie song.” This doctor believes this song would lead to chart success and “improved health for the singer.”

This idea belongs to Dr. Nick Troop, the Principal Lecturer in Health Psychology at the aforementioned university. The doctor is an avid Bowie fan just like the Land of Punt.

“Although my interest in Bowie started as a hobby, I was motivated by studies which I and others have carried out that prove that writing about trauma and life goals have long-term benefits to health.”

He analyzed the Thin White Duke’s 26 albums and 266 songs to find links between words and chart success (what a great excuse to listen to Bowie’s music, hopefully he got paid for this).

“I looked at the link between the language used and how long Bowie’s albums had spent in the charts.”

It should be noted that Bowie (including his days with Tin Machine) had twenty-three top ten albums in the U.K. (seven No. 1’s) but only five in the U.S.

Troop used a program developed by James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas. This program “investigates psychological constructs represented in text.” Meaning the program breaks down Bowie’s words based on psychological processes not on what his lyrics actual mean.

“I found that the songs with positive emotion and social processes were more successful than the songs that talked about mortality.”

Troop does point out that there are some slight variations. For instance, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” contains the negative word “suicide” but it’s a great and popular Bowie song.

The good doc put all this hard work together and wrote a song called “Team, Meet Girls; Girls, Meet Team.” He believes if Bowie recorded it he would have great success.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muMcWMKPEWQ]

You can hear the doctor give a brief explanation of his experiment and hear him sing the song below. If you already have your psych degree and have no desire to sit through a lecture, the song starts at 4:24.

Be forewarned, while it does sounds like Bowie, Space Oddity era, it’s extremely long and monotonous (keep your hand on the volume knob too). Also the words don’t seem to flow very well or make any sense. Perhaps if Bowie tinkered with it a good song might be salvaged after all.

The reason we believe Dr. Troop is using his experiment to increase traffic to his YouTube page and maybe spark some interest in his music career is he only takes into account the lyrics.

We understand why, it’s hard to examine the psychological processes of a guitar riff. Yet there are many other aspects of music besides the lyrics, like the rhythm and the melody. Both of which could be easily analyzed. The rhythm could be boiled down to beats per minute and melody lines could be charted on a graph and averaged out.

An original song that has been created using an analysis of lyrics, rhythm and melody would be utterly fascinating.

Furthermore, the doctor seems to make the assumption that chart success is a sole product of quality songwriting, perhaps even just lyrics. There are many factors that go into making a song a chart success such as when it’s released, the current music scene at the time, marketing, and technology.

In the video the doctor goes into deeper detail about the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. He reveals that songs containing words about social processes (talk, share) and/or positive words (join, love, elegant) did better than albums with words relating to motion, travel, the senses, and death.

A curious conclusion considering popular music is dominated by the whims and fancy of young people. And young people seem more motivated by words relating to motion, travel, the senses and death then they do by words relating to social or positive processes.

That contradiction is part of why Troop’s work is so interesting and clever. Not only that but the potential for studying of other artists (The Beatles in particular) is quite intriguing.

Has Dr. Troop created the ideal Bowie song? No, but he has given us something to think about and another way to think about music. That’s always a good thing.

Team, Meet Girls; Girls, Meet Team (© Nick Troop, 2009)

Buddy loves good loving : Calm and proud while peace wins
Warmth and conversation : Heaven’s energy and an elegant charm
Truth wins – an adult love to win awards
Sweet faith : Secure in the affection of a better boy
Feeling admiration : A cheerful kiss, kiss the phone
Truth wins – an adult love to win awards
Team, meet girls; girls, meet team
They met and were loving : Perfectly amazed, comfort and cared for
A loyal companion : Share, relax, creating humans XXX
Dear charm, playing nice give paradise smiles
Truth wins – an adult love to win awards
Team, meet girls; girls, meet team
Team, meet girls; girls, meet team
Special persons with casual ease enjoy the band
Lucky and rich, a special guest hero
Team, meet girls; girls, meet team
Team, meet girls; girls, meet team
Girls, meet team; team, meet girls

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