Book and Theory Background
Daniel J. Levitin wrote an absolutely brilliant book called The World in Six Songs, supported by a great website with the many music samples referenced, among other great related material.
My basic paraphrasing of the concept is this. All the songs in the world could be fit into at least one of six categories providing an evolutionary benefit to humanity, often ultimately tied to our social nature.
The book and website offer far more detailed interpretations, of course, but I will expand on my paraphrasing with each post and the associated topic.
In a series of posts, I will describe each of the six categories in brief, one at a time:
I will describe what the categories are about because they are not as limited in scope as the category names suggest. I will then supply one of my choices and ask all readers to do the same if they so wish. In the seventh post of the series, I will offer the chance to put the song choices all together so readers can read the entire set on one post. I do this because it would be a long post to describe all six categories at once, but to have all the answers in one place might be nice.
This post focuses on Songs of Love
July 30th add-on in italics, from Dan Levitin in a summary article
Love songs serve as an expression of emotion, commitment, and honesty. They play a role in mating and bonding. Love provides an evolutionary advantage because it is altruistic, and corresponds with commitment, which leads to better care of children, which is an obvious fitness advantage. With altruism, the greater good comes before the individual, strengthening infrastructure.
Some may question whether there would be much to say in this chapter because intuitively, I don’t think anybody would say they couldn’t name a “love song”. But that’s a love song in their definition, or a romantic love song, not a song of love as Daniel defined it, backed up by some very prominent names. Indeed, the chapter opens with a quote by Frank Zappa that says “Romantic love songs are a sham that perpetuate a lie on unsuspecting young kids”.
Somehow, I don’t think it stops at young kids.
Frank further follows up with “I think one of the causes of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on ‘love lyrics’.”
Polar opposite Joni Mitchell then jumps in to agree with “There’s no such thing as romantic love. It was a myth invented in ancient Sumeria, repopularized in the Middle Ages, and one that is clearly not true. Romantic love is all about ‘I’ this and ‘I’ that. But true love is about ‘other’.”
And if I were anybody, I’d have jumped in to agree, but I’ll just have to agree on my blog. Songs of love by Daniel Levitin’s theory, and in the purest sense of the word, are about intense feelings for another of any kind. That could be parental, friends, god (no caps on purpose), country, idea, etc. It is about something external and bigger than the self, and bigger than even we, never mind just me, like so many love songs are often about. And it is this something bigger and external to the self, the ideals we have in many aspects of life that develops pillars in our lives and society, that help create the social structure necessary for society and raising children (along the same belief that it takes a village to raise a child).
A note should be added here to clarify that while religion is also about something bigger and external to the self, it is about a search for meaning. Love songs are about the motivation and the doing, without that greater meaning of placement, using the something greater towards creating a favourable social architecture for increasing our chances of survival and evolution.
As for how romantic love songs fits into all of this, they are just a smidgeon of songs of love, and likewise, romantic love of love in the greater sense. The world is full of bad love songs, then, if you think of romantic love songs as representatives of the love song category, for the most part. They are still important, but think of it as strength in numbers rather than true strength within for the few. Many romantic love songs are just for the here and now, to get us there and hold us a bit until either another one comes along or something else comes along to help us. I don’t mean their popularity on the charts, but rather their relevance to us for a moment. They are also an “honest” signal harder to fake than language because it’s harder to hide an emotion via a song than in speaking a phrase. By the way, keep in mind we have only had recording devices to use songs the way we do today in about 0.0001% of our evolutionary history, so the honest signal theory that we sang the songs ourselves to communicate, comparing to speech to say something, applies well to our history. Most of our ancestors could not request or play a song for someone like we can today.
To defend his point that romantic love is just a tiny part of love in the bigger sense, Daniel Levitin presented a very compelling physiological and neurological argument of how romantic love is just a chemical high. In contrast, the idea of love being about the “other” and not the self, is what truly drives us to raise our children, who take far longer and far more resources to develop into a self-sustaining adult than any other babies in the animal kingdom. Romantic love songs only use the “conveyance” component of language, the easy one to get to the here and now, not the computational component that is much longer term. Romantic love songs are about the moment, not the long-term future.
Love, in the real sense of the word that is about the “other” and not the self, is easily just as deep as religion, and the chapter shows it with a lot of deep material touching everything from the psychological, physiological, neurological, philosophical, evolutionary and other aspects of love. It is not challenging to read for reading level required, but the ideas will take time to think about and absorb if you read it seriously. Religion only seems deeper because of its theoretical boundlessness, and because simple romantic love songs have made love seem so trivial. However, I don’t think anybody would disagree that love is what ultimately binds us all together most, and to that end, the Beatles may well have been right that all you need is love. Well, maybe not all as life might still be difficult if that was all you had, but for sure, love is the most imporant thing we need.
Audio sample of songs from the Love chapter in The World in Six Songs can be found on the website. No direct link was available, but click on the Songs menu option and appropriate page number range link carrying pages 229 to 289. Please note that not all songs are meant as samples of Love songs. Some are just referenced material in the book text.
Author Daniel Levitin chose
Bring ‘Em All In, by the Waterboys, not just as an example of a love song suitable to his theory, but also as the ultimate love song to fit the example (lyrics).
My choice for Song of Love is
We are the World, written by Michael Jackson and performed by a collective of artists (listed with lyrics).
Of the many songs I love as love songs, all are of the romantic love song nature that is but a petty part of the songs of love defined by Daniel Levitin in his World in Six Songs theory. It is really tough to think of a song that unites us all in a caring cause, for the future as much as now. However, I think this one does pretty well, talking about the world, the children, in a call to action (now) for a brighter day (future). I am just very saddened listening to it to see how far Michael Jackson has fallen from a pop star with the often cited Greatest Album of All Time in Thriller (MTV, even in Apr 2009), to someone who could write a song as this, to what he is now.
What is your choice for Song of Love?
Please leave your choice as a comment.
Lyrics and YouTube/audio link would greatly enhance your answer so readers can know more about your choice. They are not necessary, though, and not possible if no lyrics or version exist.
You can include songs you wrote as a choice, too!
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 10.1