2006-11-26

2006-11-26: What is Depeche Mode singing about?


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There is one thing that I have pondered for many years. In fact practically ever since I discovered their music some time in the middle of the 1980's. What is Depeche Mode singing about? Purely statistically, I mean.
     I have now, finally, stopped just thinking about it and actually counted the words in the 165 songs in the archive on depechemode.com. The result is presented below (at least the most common 250 words).
     It turned out that the lyrics consisted of a total of 18462 words and that these occurances are divided on 2379 different words. The most common are of course small binding words that in them selves do not say anything about the contents of the text. The most common significant word is found on 22nd place. In other words, love is the most common subject in these texts. I guess that was to be expected.
     It is hard to draw the line between the small words and the significant words and there can be different opinions on that subject. It is, however, pretty clear at least down to place 32. Down there, we find the words "know" and "feel" and it turns out that knowing is more common than feeling. It's pretty even, though.
     An other thing to notice is that "I" is more common than "you", "my" beats "your", "I'm" is ahead of "you're" and "I've" is more common than "you've". I'm not sure what this means, but maybe it can be infered that the texts are a bit introvert. By the way, "I'll" occurs twice as often as "you'll".
     Further more, we see that some words, that some people may associate with Depeche Mode, are not at all as common as one might have expected. "Pain" is found as far down as place 119. "Black" is on place 136. "Strange" shows up just 8 times, which is as many as "celebration", "nodisco" and "servant", but one less than "master". "Silence" occurs just 3 times in the whole mass of text (two "leave in silence" and one "words like violence break the silence").
     The lyrics do not contain that much sex either. Not in so many words anyway. The word "sex" occurs twice ("sex jibe husband murders wife" and "no sex, no consequence, no sympathy").
     For those who are interested in religion, I can say that "god" is mentioned 15 times (including two "god's" and one "gods") but that his sick sense of humour comes up only once. "Jesus" occurs six times and he's "personal" five of those. "Devil" shows up three times in different shapes.
     The word "sin", that we find on 162nd place and that, together with the variations "sinner" and "sinfulness", gets up to 24 occurances, exists in the neighbourhood between religion and sex. It is probably somewhere around there that many of the songs about these subjects end up.
     To get some kind of gender perspective on this thing, we have to compare the different gender markers that can be found. "Girl" is a bit more common than "boy" (25-24) in spite of Vince Clarke's contributions. As it turns out, neither "woman" nor "women" is mentioned at all, while "man" occurs a few times. "He" ends up on place 206 with 14 occurances and "she" is on place 113 with 26. Other variations of "he" and "she" shows a clear preference for "she".
     One common motif seems to be time, with "now" on place 47 and "time" on 50. Also, the words "never" on 54 and "again" on 57 can be said to deal with time. It's not as obvious a subject as love, but it still seems to be something significant.
1. the 774
2. i 611
3. you 584
4. to 497
5. and 448
6. me 370
7. a 353
8. in 305
9. my 297
10. of 277
11. your 236
it 236
13. for 192
14. that 179
15. all 171
16. on 157
17. is 155
18. i'm 151
19. be 124
20. when 119
it's 119
22. love 110
23. so 103
24. with 102
25. what 100
26. just 98
27. this 96
28. from 94
29. we 90
30. don't 87
but 87
32. will 85
33. know 84
can 84
35. have 81
feel 81
37. if 80
38. you're 78
39. do 77
40. want 76
41. not 74
i've 74
43. like 70
44. no 68
45. down 67
46. here 66
47. now 63
get 63
49. are 62
50. time 61
take 61
52. see 60
53. by 59
54. never 58
55. been 56
56. come 54
57. again 52
58. as 51
59. they 50
60. say 49
61. let 48
i'll 48
63. there 47
one 47
can't 47
66. things 44
got 44
68. you've 42
world 42
70. at 40
71. only 38
oh 38
need 38
give 38
75. something 37
could 37
77. up 36
out 36
more 36
heart 36
back 36
82. we're 35
little 35
84. our 34
eyes 34
86. where 33
someone 33
make 33
inside 33
before 33
91. way 31
there's 31
93. through 30
93. life 30
95. was 29
understand 29
still 29
feeling 29
away 29
100. try 28
hear 28
enough 28
day 28
change 28
105. us 27
right 27
put 27
go 27
free 27
110. too 26
think 26
soul 26
she 26
mind 26
how 26
an 26
117. walking 25
touch 25
pain 25
nothing 25
heard 25
122. you'll 24
won't 24
well 24
tonight 24
tell 24
127. we've 23
said 23
night 23
look 23
keep 23
132. who 22
turn 22
their 22
sometimes 22
black 22
137. that's 21
question 21
or 21
home 21
her 21
hands 21
believe 21
always 21
145. would 20
long 20
girl 20
better 20
149. words 19
reason 19
new 19
kiss 19
fire 19
ever 19
155. though 18
then 18
than 18
looking 18
find 18
fall 18
around 18
162. them 17
sin 17
should 17
room 17
myself 17
move 17
light 17
joy 17
hand 17
good 17
going 17
boys 17
body 17
175. why 16
waiting 16
together 16
tears 16
taking 16
shoes 16
play 16
had 16
even 16
easy 16
care 16
am 16
187. trying 15
tried 15
smile 15
seen 15
may 15
man 15
let's 15
head 15
has 15
everything 15
done 15
198. sure 14
stop 14
sky 14
running 14
pretty 14
open 14
knew 14
hey 14
he 14
fun 14
forget 14
first 14
comes 14
211. these 13
such 13
some 13
sister 13
same 13
moved 13
live 13
left 13
lay 13
him 13
higher 13
hard 13
feet 13
couldn't 13
bone 13
best 13
another 13
almost 13
about 13
230. we'll 12
truth 12
tora 12
stripped 12
stitch 12
stay 12
show 12
secret 12
sea 12
please 12
own 12
over 12
once 12
leave 12
hold 12
god 12
friends 12
favourite 12
every 12
burning 12
anything 12
I want to thank Depeche Mode for their wonderful music and deep poetry. I also want to thank the creators of the commands awk, grep, sed and wget. All of these people's contributions have been very important for making this study possible to complete.

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