Леннон-Маккартни: Чьи песни сложнее? А каков синергический эффект? Ответы лингвиста.

автор: Денис Песков

В книжке The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us автор решает проиллюстрировать некоторые свои тезисы анализом текстов Битлз. Рассматривая их, он пытается дать ответы на вопросы как менялась их лирика с возрастом, кто на кого из членов группы больше влиял, кто был более креативным. Наконец, выясняется, чем отличаются те 15 песен, что Леннон и Маккартни действительно написали совместно, от остальных почти двухсот.

The Beatles were together for about ten years before breaking up in 1970. During their time together, they recorded over two hundred songs and influenced music, politics, fashion, and culture for the next generation. The lead songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, together or separately wrote 155 songs, and George Harrison penned another 25. Even today, scholars—and the occasional barfly—debate about the relative creativity of the band members, who ultimately influenced whom, and how the band changed over time.

Most of this book is devoted to the words people generate in conversations or write in the form of essays, letters, or electronic media such as blogs, e-mails, etc. Music lyrics, however, tell their own stories about their authors. My good friend and occasional collaborator from New Zealand, Keith Petrie, suggested that a computerized linguistic analysis of the Beatles was long overdue. Once we realized how complicated the topic really was, we invited another music lover and psychologist from Norway, Borge Silvertsen, to join us. What could we learn about the Beatles by analyzing their lyrics? Quite a bit, it turns out.

In many ways, the lyrics of the band reflected the natural aging process one usually sees in all working groups. Recall from the last chapter that as working groups spend time together, their conversations evidence drops in I-words and increases in we-words, with increasing language complexity, including bigger words and more prepositions, articles, and conjunctions. As the group aged together, the Beatles expressed themselves through their lyrics in the same way any group would in their conversations with each other.

In their first four years together, their songs brimmed with optimism, anger, and sexuality. Their thinking was simple, self-absorbed, and very much in the here and now. In the last years of the band, the group’s lyrics became more complex, more psychologically distant, and far less positive. Particularly telling was the drop in the use of I-words from almost 14 percent during their first years together to only 7 percent in their last three years. Lyrics also provide a window into the personalities of the various songwriters within a group. Although John Lennon and Paul McCartney had an agreement that all of their songs would include both men as authors, the order of authorship and extensive interviews has provided historians with a solid, albeit not perfect, record about who wrote what. Between the two, Lennon is credited as the primary writer for seventy-eight songs, McCartney for sixty-seven, and another fifteen songs are considered true collaborations where both were closely involved in the lyrics.

In the popular press, John Lennon was generally portrayed as the creative intellectual and McCartney as the melodic, upbeat tunesmith. The analyses of their lyrics paint a different picture. Lennon did use slightly more negative emotion words in his songs than McCartney, but the two were virtually identical in their use of positive emotions, linguistic complexity, and self-reflection. Interestingly, McCartney’s songs more often focused on couples—as can be seen in his higher use of we-words—than did Lennon’s.

Who was the more creative or varied in his lyric-writing abilities? We can actually test this by seeing how the lyrics from different songs are mathematically similar—both in terms of content as well as linguistic style. Whereas the popular press usually assumed that Lennon was the creative and stylistically variable writer, the numbers clearly support McCartney. Across his career as a Beatle, Paul McCartney proved to be far more flexible and varied both in terms of his writing style and also in the content of his lyrics.

And let’s not forget George Harrison, the quiet, spiritual Beatle who wrote about twenty-five songs, especially in the last years of the Beatles. Although somewhat more cognitively complex in his words than either McCartney or Lennon, he was the least flexible in his writing. In other words, both the content and style of his lyrics were more predictable from song to song. These same types of analyses also demonstrated that Harrison was more influenced in his songwriting style by Lennon than by McCartney.

Collaborations between writers is a funny business. When two people work together,  do they produce something that is the average of their usual styles or is the result something completely different than either could have written alone? Language analyses can answer this question for the Beatles. Lennon and McCartney had very close collaborations on 15 of their 160 songs.

Across the various dimensions of language and even punctuation, we can calculate what percentage of the time the collaboration produces an effect that is the average of the two collaborators working on their own. There are three clear hypotheses:

•  Just-like-another-member-of-the-team hypothesis. Collaborative writing projects produce language that is similar to that produced by a single person writing alone. Sometimes the work will use words like one author and other times like the other author.

•  The average-person hypothesis. More interesting is that collaborations produce language that is the average of the two writers. If Lennon uses a low rate of we-words and McCartney uses a high rate, it would follow that their collaboration would produce a moderate number of we-words.

•  The synergy hypothesis. Even more interesting is the idea that when two people work closely together, they create a product unlike either of them would on their own. Their language style will be distinctive in a way such that most people would not recognize who the author was. Wouldn’t it be great if the results supported this hypothesis?

And the winner by a mile is, in fact, the synergy hypothesis. When Lennon and McCartney were working together, they produced works that were strikingly different than works produced by the individual writers themselves. When collaborating, the Lennon-McCartney team produced lyrics that were much more positive, while using more I-words, fewer we-words, and much shorter words than either artist normally used on his own.

Note that collaborations produce quite different language patterns than what the individuals would naturally do on their own. What’s not yet known is if collaborative work is generally better than individual products. This is a research question that is begging to be answered.