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I’m & love: an analysis of the lyrics of selected David Bowie albums

For this assignment, I selected the lyrics from five albums of David Bowie’s corpus. Since this was an unscientific review of his work, the simple parameters were to choose an album from each decade that he published. I started with Space Oddity, looked at 1983’s Let’s Dance, moved to Outsider, then Reality, and finally, Blackstar. All the lyrics were taken from the website AZLyrics.com. Co-authored lyrics were not excluded, but should be for future studies.

I start by exploring each album and looking at the highest frequency words from each. Space Oddity is the earliest album I examine and find the highest frequency word or phrase is “I’m” used 27 times. The next closest word is “want” at 19 times in the album.

Moving forward to the 1983 album, Let’s Dance’s, we see the word “long” used 44 times, mostly in the song, “Cat People.” The next album is from 1997, Outsider. This album seems to deviate from the others in that there are no stand out words with the highest frequency word being “it’s at 28 followed by “filthy“, “heart’s“, and “lesson” all tying at 24 words. Then we see in the 2003 album Reality, a return not only to stand out words but also to “I’m” as the leading phrase; it being used 64 times in this album. Finally, when we look at his last album, Blackstar, we see “I’m” used most frequently at 71 times.

After looking at the most frequently used words, I want to see what they are linked to and found that in Blackstar “I’m” is linked to the words “dying,” “man,” “blackstar,” and “trying.” As we know, Blackstar is Bowie’s last album and the one that he worked on after he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Diagram of Blackstar.

Combining all the texts, I find that “I’m” is used 193 times which is almost 3 times more than the next phrase of “it’s” at 68 times or “love” at 66 times.  While love is not a consistent standout word, we can see by the trend line that it is used with some regularity.  I don’t use Stopwords, but would probably put “it’s” into the group, but that needs to be more closely examined.

And when we look at the final links diagram, we see that the three terms, “I’m,” “love,” and “it’s” are not related to each other at higher levels, but

Corpus links diagram level 3

even when we go several levels of word connections deep, it is hard to tie the terms together.

Corpus links diagram level 7

What could this mean that the terms are not correlated? Without thoroughly looking at the entire body of Bowie’s work (which is not the scope of the exercise), it’s difficult to draw conclusions. This could suggest that his lyrics embody different concepts and those concepts don’t overlap because they are embedded in each of his musical characters such as Major Tom, the Thin White Duke and his final, Blackstar.

Voyant is an easy to use tool.  Before I used Voyant,  I tried to use MALLET and have written something about that, too which I will publish at a later time. The biggest problem I’ve had is trying to get the images to show up. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I have to pay a visit to the fellows as I was about to lose my mind.