Study: popularity of songs about love endures

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

High divorce rates and all, Americans still love love, or at least love songs.

Comparing top 10 hits between the eras 1968 to 1971 and 2002 to 2005, a University of Florida study found that about half of the hits in the earlier period were considered love songs while 60 percent of the recent hits were love songs.

"It's still the most prevalent type of music, and that will probably never change," said Chad Swiatowicz, who did the study for his master's degree thesis in sociology.

Though love songs are still as - if not more - popular, Swiatowicz found a number of differences between songs in the two eras: namely profanity.

Profane language is more acceptable now than it was, Swiatowicz said, and that's because artists are trying to push the envelope to sell albums.

"In order to shock people now, you're going to have to change the words," he said.

Though he said sex is clearly implied in the Rolling Stones' 1969 song "Honky Tonk Woman," the difference is diction, he said.

"Mick Jagger wasn't using any dirty words," he said. "But you know what he was talking about."

There is also a difference in the themes of today's songs, he said.

Infidelity is a topic brought up much more in modern songs, such as Kelly Rowland and Nelly's 2002 hit "Dilemma," he said.

Also, songs - even ones he categorized as love songs - are more self-oriented now, he said, whereas songs in the late '60s and early '70s more often touched on social issues, such as Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

William McKeen, chairman of UF's journalism department and a pop culture expert, said despite love songs' stable popularity, they just don't make them like they used to.

"Modern love songs have gone from the more traditional themes of love, admiration, maybe even adoration, to 'Back That Azz Up,' " McKeen said.

He said he prefers the work of Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, and rarely listens to today's hits.

"There's something about that music that's from the heart and not from the groin," he said.

McKeen, who teaches the course Rock 'n' Roll and American Society at UF, said he's not moved by today's music, and his students tend to agree. When he asks them about their favorite artists, their answers usually match up with his.

"Whatever's popular now musically, it's just irrelevant," he said.

Relevant or not, Swiatowicz thinks love songs will continue to be popular, no matter who is singing them or what words they're using.

"If we do this study in 50 years, it will be the same," he said.

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