Category Archives: Music

What are the Most Common Words Used in Songs?

alex atkins bookshelf music“What would you think, if I sang out of tune?…” Remember the words of that classic Beatles tune? If you’re the type of music listener that pays attention to the lyrics of songs, ever wonder what are the most commonly used words in all popular songs? Music lover Sam Moreton decided to find out. He wrote an algorithm that analyzed one million pop songs. Presumably if you used all of these words in a song, you might have a top-40 hit. Here is the list of the most commonly used words in songs:


Read related posts: Top Ten Movie Songs
Top Ten Most Relaxing Songs
How Famous Singers Got Their Names
How Rock Bands Got Their Names

Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?
Greatest Songs of All Time
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Song Titles That are Not Part of the Lyrics
What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading:

How Rock Bands Got Their Names 4

atkins-bookshelf-musicSome rock band names are very clever, and some are just plain odd. Regardless of how they sound, all were inspired by a magazine, toy, sexual terms, or even a passing comment. Below are a few interesting band names and their origins (some might earn an MA rating):

Goo Goo Dolls: The band was named after a toy, a Goo Goo Doll, that was featured in an ad in the magazine True Detective.

Scissor Sisters: The pop group began as Dead Lesbian, then Fibrillating Scissor Sisters, before they settled on Scissor Sisters. The name is derived from the lesbian sex act in which a woman rubs her vulva against her partner’s vulva, their legs intersecting like two scissors (the formal name is tribadism, the slang term is tribbing).

Smashing Pumpkins: Vocalist and guitarist Billy Corgan explained that he was in someone’s kitchen and they were having a conversation about something, and he heard someone talk about smashing pumpkins, and he thought to himself “Oh, that’s a pretty good mythical band name, ha, ha.”

Steely Dan: Founding members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker named the band after a strap-on dildo, the Steely Dan III from Yokohama, mentioned in the novel The Naked Lunch (1959) by William S. Burroughs. Really. (Incidentally, the novel, a series of loosely connected vignettes, is told from the point of view of a William Lee, a junkie. The book’s title was suggested by Jack Kerouac. Naked lunch is the “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”)

Stone Temple Pilots: During their youth, the members of the band were huge fans of the STP motor oil stickers. They wanted a band name that contained those same initials and considered Shirley Temple’s Pussy and Stereo Temple Pirates, before settling on Stone Temple Pilots.

SuperTramp: The band was initially known as “Daddy” but it sounded to similar to another band, Daddy Longlegs. The band members chose Supertramp from the title of the book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) by Welsh poet W. H. Davies.

Talking Heads: The band started out as The Artistics since three band members (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth) were alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design. Founding member Tina Weymouth explains “A friend found the name in the TV Guide, which explained the term used by TV studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as ‘all content, no action.’ It fit.”

Yes: Founding member and vocalist Jon Anderson initially suggested “Life” while bassist Chris Squire wanted “World.” Anderson explains “Yes got pulled out of the bag, I think. We wanted to display a strong conviction in what we were doing. We had to have a strong and straight title for the band.”




Read related posts: Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 1
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 2
How Rock Bands Got Their Names 3

For further reading: Rock Names: From Abba to ZZ Top by Adam Dolgins, Citadel Press (1998)

What Are the Most Popular Music Genres?

atkins bookshelf musicIf you visit Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of music genres — containing more than 1,650 types! — you get a real understanding of the extremely wide range of musical tastes. Back in the day when brick-and-mortar record shops existed (remember the iconic Tower Records?), could you imagine navigating aisles dedicated to 1,650 music genres? It would be, of course, overwhelming. Fortunately, for music stores and online music services, most people’s preference for music gravitates toward about two dozen music genres. Curious to learn what type of music most people like to listen to,, an online music discovery website analyzed the listening preferences of their subscribers over one year. Here is their list of the top ten most popular music genres:

1. Rock
2. Pop
3. Jazz
4. Ambient
5. Hip-hop
6. Hard Rock
7. Chillout
8. Blues
9. Rap
10. Trance

Read related posts: How Many Music Genres Exist?
How Much Do People Spend on Music?
Do Dogs Have a Music Preference?

For further reading:
Infographic Guide to Music by Graham Betts (2014)

Who Wrote the Song “The Christmas Guest”?

catkins-bookshelf-literature“The Christmas Guest” is a touching holiday song about Conrad, a humble shopkeeper whose acts of kindness highlight the importance of compassion and generosity. The song begins with Conrad relating to neighbors that Jesus came to him in a dream, saying that he would visit Conrad. It is implied that Conrad has recently faced some difficulty in his life — “his shop so meager and mean.” Throughout the day, three different people in need (a shabby beggar, an old woman, and a lost child) stumble upon his shop. Each time, Conrad invites them in and provides them with clothing, food, rest, and comfort. But as the day ends, and darkness comes over the village, Conrad laments why Christ has not visited as he promised; in prayer he asks: “What kept You from coming to call on me / For I wanted so much Your face to see.” Out of the silence comes a voice: “Lift up your head, for I kept My word / Three times My shadow crossed your floor / Three times I came to your lonely door / For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet, / I was the woman you gave to eat, / And I was the child on the homeless street. / Three times I knocked and three times I came in, / And each time I found the warmth of a friend.” Jesus concludes: “Of all the gifts, love is the best, / And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”

The song has been covered by Johnny Cash (released in 1980), Reba McEntire (1987), and Grandpa Jones (2003), an old time country and gospel music singer. As you listen to its beautiful lyrics, you may wonder: who wrote “The Christmas Guest”? Excellent question. Let’s step back in time to arrive at the answer.

First, we need to go back 25 years to the year 1991. The song “The Christmas Guest” is a musical adaptation of the poem “The Story of the Christmas Guest” by American poet Helen Steiner Rice, who wrote religious and inspirational poetry, earning the unofficial title of “America’s beloved inspirational poet laureate.” The poem, inspired by the short story of a famous author, was included in Christmas Blessings, a collection of poems published in 1991.

Now we need to go back in time over a century to the late 1800s. Rice was inspired by Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s (1828-1910) masterful short story, “Where Love Is, God Is” (also translated as “Where Love Is, There God Is Also” or “Martin the Cobbler”) written in 1885. In Tolstoy’s story, the cobbler is named Martin (or Martuin) Avdeitch. The title of Tolstoy’s story is based on the Catholic hymn Ubi Caritas that contains the antiphonal response “Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibis est,” which translated from Latin means “Where true charity is, there is God.” Tolstoy’s story was translated from Russian to English by American writer and translator Nathan Haskell Dole in 1887.

Tolstoy, in turn, was inspired by the French folk tale “Le Pere Martin” (“Father Martin” in English) written by Ruben Saillens (1855-1942), a musician and pastor, considered one of the most influential Evangelical Protestants in France. Saillens sought to evangelize through his hymns and fables. The story “Le Pere Martin” is included in a collection of fables and allegories, titled Rectis et Allegories, published in 1888; however, it must have been written earlier and spread via oral tradition (pastors often repeated each others sermons), which is how Tolstoy must have heard it years earlier. However, Tolstoy does not merely translate Saillens’ story from French to Russian, he changes the story in significant ways in order to make it more poetic and compelling. Brigitte Hanhart retold the story in a children’s book titled Shoemaker Martin published in 1997.

At this point in our story, we must now go back thousands of years because Saillens’ allegory of the shoemaker was inspired by one of civilization’s oldest books — the Bible, specifically the New Testament. Let us turn to Matthew’s gospel, written about 70 A.D., specifically to Chapter 25 (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus discusses who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven using the Parable of the Judgment (or the Parable of the Sheep and Goats): “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed theeOr when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

May the Story of the Christmas Guest inspire compassion and generosity during this holiday season and beyond. Merry Christmas — and may God bless us, every one!

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For further reading: Why are Red and Green Associated with Christmas?
Who Invented the First Christmas Card?
Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia
Mall Santas by the Numbers
The Atkins Bookshelf Literary Price Index: 2016

For further reading: O Christmas Three: Beloved Christmas Classics by O. Henry, Tolstoy, and Dickens (2010),_God_Is

The Story Behind Shannon by Henry Gross

atkins bookshelf musicThis post is dedicated to our beloved family dog who “slipped the surly bonds to earth to touch the face of God.” He was noble, sweet, and the most loving Golden Retriever we have ever had. He lives eternally in our memories and our hearts.

Although Henry Gross is a talented American musician, one of the original guitarist for Sha Na Na during the late 60s and toured extensively for three decades as a solo artist promoting 15 albums, he is best remembered for his one big hit, “Shannon” from the album Release (1976). Shannon is a tender ballad about the death of a dog that is heavily influenced by the legendary Beach Boys sound. Since its release, a story — in reality, a musical urban myth — quickly developed to explain the song’s inspiration. The story goes something like this: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was suffering from depression, refusing to leave his bed. A family friend thought of providing Wilson with the best therapy — a canine companion. The friend gave Wilson an Irish Setter puppy. The puppy, which Wilson named Shannon, was just what the doctor had ordered; the puppy helped the singer come out of the depression, leave his self-imposed isolation, and venture outside. Wilson and Shannon loved to play on the shores of the Malibu beaches, dodging the waves, running around in the sand. Sadly, tragedy struck — one day while Shannon was swimming in the ocean, a strong tide carried her away; Wilson never saw her again. Understandably, he was heart broken, but worse — he sunk into a deep depression, returning to the safe harbor of his bed.

This is a very poignant story; however it is not the true story behind Shannon. On his website,  Gross (he calls himself the “one-hit wanderer”) dispels the urban myth; he explains, “When I was twenty-one years old, a wonderful girl came into my life by the name of Kathy Reinmann. As if having her in my life as a friend, a wife, and a friend again for the next twenty three years until she died of lung cancer in 1995 was not enough, she brought along with her a two-year-old Irish Setter named Shannon. She was an uncannily human dog whose ability to manipulate her human counterparts cannot be understated. I was touring around the country quite a lot in 1975 promoting an album called Henry Gross [the one with the yellow cover on A&M Records]. I had the pleasure of doing long strings of dates with The Beach Boys, a group whose music always inspired me, Carl Wilson, lead singer on ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations,’ was warm and welcoming from the very first show I played with them. Carl invited me to his house in Los Angeles to spend a day talking guitars, cars and rock & roll. While he was preparing lunch his two Alaskan husky dogs reached up on the counter and inhaled our food. Carl was no nice he couldn’t stop apologizing but I told him, while admiring the military perfection of the raid executed by his huskies, that I had an Irish Setter at home named Shannon and had seen this act many times before! He was quite moved as he told me that he had an Irish Setter named Shannon that had been killed only recently when hit by a car. We spent the rest of the day jamming and driving around Carl’s world, which as a friend — and to be honest, a Beach Boy’s fanatic — was quite a thrill.”

“When I returned to New York City, where I lived,” Gross continues, “I began work on my second A&M album, Plug Into Something. A few weeks later, just as we were about to master the finished album I was sitting on my bed with Shannon strumming my guitar trying to write a song when I was disturbed by the loud bass sounds from the Latin music blasting from the apartment above me. Rather than complain I made an amazing discovery. If I tried to play records of my own choice I could drown out the intrusive bass sounds but was unable to concentrate. But I found that when I played an environments record called ‘The Ultimate Seashore’ I could drown out the bass and have a pleasing and relaxing background sound that didn’t interfere with my writing. In a matter of minutes with the ocean sounds guiding me, and my 1964 Gibson Hummingbird acoustic in my hands, my thoughts drifted to Carl, The Beach Boys and with a glance at my girl Shannon, the indescribable sadness that losing such a beloved partner in life must be. The song seemed to write itself taking no more than ten minutes and with almost no cross outs on the paper. I made a tape of it on my giant Sony cassette recorder and sent it off to Carl. I was hoping to stop the presses and record it for Plug Into Something which Carl had already sung on, adding background vocals to the opening song, One More Tomorrow, but it was too late. I had to wait for the next album to record it. I always wished I could have had Carl sing backgrounds on ‘Shannon’ but conflicting schedules dictated it wasn’t meant to be. I believed after it was recorded for my Release album, that it was destined to be a hit and lobbied hard for it to be the first single. You see, the man upstairs who had played the loud Latin music, beginning the entire chain of events, came down when he heard me playing mixes over and over to decide which I liked. However, rather than hearing the expected complaints, he said he loved the sound of the record and wanted to know where he could buy a copy. I reasoned if a salsa music fan who spoke little English loved the record through the ceiling, Shannon, Kathy and I had a hit on our hands. Fortunately, history and lady luck proved me right. And that is the true story of the song ‘Shannon.'”

Shannon by Henry Gross

Another day’s at end
Mama says she’s tired again
No one can even begin to tell her
I hardly know what to say
But maybe it’s better that way
If Pop-pa were here I’m sure he’d tell her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island with a shaded tree
Just like the one in our backyard
Mama tries hard to pretend
That things will get better again
Somehow she’s keepin’ it all inside her
But finally the tears fill our eyes
And I know that somewhere tonight
She knows how much we really miss her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island
With a shaded tree
Just like the one in our back yard
Ah, just like the one in our back yard
Just like the one in our back yard

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
The Story Behind Cats and the Cradle by Harry Chapin
The Story Behind Father and Son by Cat Stevens

The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
The Most Misinterpreted Songs

For further reading:

The Worst Songs of All Time

atkins bookshelf musicLists of the best songs of all time abound on the Internet. But what about those terribly annoying songs — songs you love to hate — that are the equivalent to the sound of fingernails across a blackboard? Don’t they deserve a list of their own? Thankfully, the editors of the New York Post believe they do. Recently, they gave their readers an opportunity to rank the worst songs of all time. Reviewing the list is like a stroll down memory lane, each song representing a memorable period of your life. In hindsight, of course, when you replay the song in your head (and believe me — you’ll know the melodies well), you will feel a wave of embarrassment wash over you when you secretly confess that you actually enjoyed listening or dancing to some of these songs. A bad song, like a really bad pun, evokes immediate groans and derision; some are even bad enough to make you “puke all over yourself” — to borrow one of Holden Caulfield’s favorite phrases. Taken together, these cringeworthy songs form the quintessential “island of misfit songs.” According to readers, here are the 20 worst songs of all time. Read at your own peril, since some are likely to become really annoying earworms:

Starship: “We Built This City”

USA for Africa: “We Are the World”

Barenaked Ladies: “One Week”

Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Terry Jacks: “Seasons in the Sun”

Berlin: “Take My Breath Away”

Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots: “Disco Duck”

Steve Miller Band: “The Joker”

Baha Men: “Who Let the Dogs Out”

Piko-Taro: “PPAP”

The Hues Corporation: “Rock the Boat”

Eddie Murphy: “Party All the Time”

Nena: “99 Luftballons”

The Beatles: “Hey Jude”

Bryan Adams: “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”

Men Without Hats: “The Safety Dance”

Los del Río: “Macarena”

Billy Ray Cyrus: “Achy Breaky Heart”

Europe: “The Final Countdown”

Desiigner: “Panda”

Read related posts: Top Ten Movie Songs
Top Ten Most Relaxing Songs

How Famous Singers Got Their Names
How Rock Bands Got Their Names

Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?
Greatest Songs of All Time
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Song Titles That are Not Part of the Lyrics
What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading:

Top Ten Most Relaxing Songs

atkins bookshelf musicAccording to a 2015 study by Stanford and Harvard Business Schools, health problems related to job stress (eg, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health) takes the lives of more than 120,000 Americans each year — more than the number of lives lost due to diabetes, influenza, or Alzheimers. The cost to the healthcare system? A staggering $180 billion per year.

So what can be done to reduce job-related stress? Short of climbing back into the womb, and immersing oneself in the most perfect environment of relaxation (weightlessness of amniotic fluid, warmth, and mother’s heartbeat), neuroscientists are prescribing a daily dose of super relaxing music. Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson and his colleagues at Mindlab International, a communication and brand research firm, conducted research to find out which songs had the greatest relaxing effect on participants. Subjects were connected to several sensors — measuring heart rate, rate of breathing, and blood pressure — and asked to solve challenging stress-producing puzzles while listening to music. One particular song, “Weightless” by Marconi Union, reduced the anxiety of participants by as much as 65%. Not surprisingly, Marconi Union worked with sound therapists to create a perfect blend of harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines to relax listeners, slowing down their heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

So when you are feeling stressed at work, or at home, put on a pair of headphones and tune out, and tune in to the top ten most relaxing songs in the world:

1. Weightless by Marconi Union
2. Electra by Airstream
3. Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) by DJ Shah
4. Watermark by Enya
5. Strawberry Swing by Coldplay
6. Please Don’t Go by Barcelona
7. Pure Shores by All Saints
8. Someone Like You by Adele
9. Canzonetta Sull’aria by Mozart
10. We Can Fly by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)

Read related posts: Top Ten Movie Songs
How Famous Singers Got Their Names
How Rock Bands Got Their Names

Origins of the Beatles Name
The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 40
Best Books for Music Lovers
How Many Music Genres Exist?
Greatest Songs of All Time
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Song Titles That are Not Part of the Lyrics
What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading:

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