They then picked the top two artists who had been on the Billboard Hot 100 list for the most number of days. And the winners were: the Beatles and Elvis Presley in the '60s; Rod Stewart and the Bee Geesin the '70s; Paul McCartney and Diana Ross in the '80s; Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men in the '90s; and Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce in the first decade of this century.
According to the researchers, the turbulent years of the 1960s were marked by themes such as pain, nostalgia, and rebellion. During the troubled 1970s, themes of nostalgia, rebellion, and jadedness ruled. In the quieter 1980s and 1990s, loss, aspiration and confusion reigned and similarly, loss, inspiration, and escapism captured the '90s. Inspiration, pain and desperation were most successful in the first decade of 2000, which the researchers attribute at least partly to 9/11.
"There is substantial fluctuation in the use of rebellion across the 50 years, indicating that its usage ties closely with environmental cues," the study notes. "The desperation theme generally is underrepresented until the 2000s, where it dominates."
Ask yourself if they are right on that one. Do people feel desperate these days? I suspect that's largely true.
The artist who remained at No. 1 on the Billboard list for the most days was Mariah Carey, whose songs frequently are based on love and togetherness. Carey beat out the Beatles, with 225 days, and Presley, who was far down the list with 99 days (although this study did not include his success in the '50s) but Presley had the greatest number of hit songs at 133.
The findings are limited in that the researchers looked only at the No. 1 songs.
"It would take years to go through all songs," Henard said.
Here's something to think about: Among the 10,556 words that the researchers studied, which word dominated throughout that 50 year span? It depends on the decade.
During the turbulent '60s and '70s, and the relatively quiet '80s, it was, not surprisingly, '"love." But love dropped to third place in the still quiet '90s. In the last decade, it dropped all the way down to ninth place. Even the N-word outranked it.
It would be interesting to know what works today. Maybe love is coming back.