Scientific Research – 163 of Bob Dylan’s 542 songs reference the Climate

JULY 7, 2015 – Climate scientists from five leading universities found that 163 of Bob Dylan’s 542 songs reference the climate (almost a third) making him the musician most likely to mention the weather in his lyrics. Dylan famously sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” while the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” includes the oft-quoted lyrics: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

It took climate scientists from five leading universities, including Southampton, Oxford, Newcastle, Nottingham and Reading to come up with the findings, and the researchers suggested Dylan may have been so influenced by weather because he grew up in the harsh climate of the northern state of Minnesota.
The Beatles came in at #2, mentioning the weather in 48 of the 308 songs they recorded (16 per cent) including “Good Day Sunshine.” “Rain” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney was inspired by a trip to Melbourne when Lennon said “he had never seen rain like that except in Tahiti” and was intrigued by “people moaning about the weather all the time.” George Harrison wrote “Here Comes the Sun” after he left a business meeting in April 1969 on what he said was the “first sunshine of the year”. The scientists noted that April 1969 had 189 hours of sunshine, a record not surpassed until 1984.

The researchers, who were working in their spare time, analyzed database KaraFun, which stores 15,000 songs. They found 419 songs about the weather, 190 times as a main theme and 229 where it was a theme, repeated line or chorus. But only 7 per cent of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time for example compiled by Rolling Stone magazine mention the weather.

Lead author Dr Sally Brown, from the University of Southampton, said: “We were all surprised how often weather is communicated in popular music, whether as a simple analogy or a major theme of a song, such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ or the Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ where a couple fall in love under an umbrella.”
Sun and rain featured in 37 per cent of the references to weather, with wind in third place. The researchers found more extreme weather, such as tornados and blizzards, barely featured, and said they found the sun “portrayed positive feelings and is more likely to be in a major key, whereas rain could frame either good or bad emotions, so has a higher likelihood than sun of being in a minor or mixed key’.” Many of the songs with secondary references in the database had little or nothing to do with the weather, such as” Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “Daddy Cool” by Boney M, and “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John.

 

No one had taken nearly as much inspiration from the weather as Dylan or the Beatles so the top two spots were the only ones to be listed, but other songwriters who refer to climate include Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys.

The researchers found that 30 bands had weather-related names, such as Coldplay and Wet Wet Wet.
They wrote: “Sun is the most popular weather type, appearing in seven band names, followed by cold (four) and heat (three).” They found that most songs are about emotions, particularly falling in love and break-ups. The researchers concluded: “Taken together, these findings suggest that there is a universal and strong effect of weather and popular musical culture. Further research could include a deeper analysis of weather-related music.”

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