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Sep 21 2011

If Cole Porter Were An Evolutionary Psychologist…

It’s a reproductive message
And I’m passing it along
I read it in my DNA
And wrote it in this song
It’s just a reproductive message
A reproductive message to you

It’s an imperative of nature
It’s not just my excuse
There is no greater calling
Than “survive and reproduce”
It’s an imperative of nature
A reproductive message to you

I’m enamored of your phenotype
I’d love to share your genotype
I never thought I’d see no type like you
Your lovely physiology
Has triggered my biology
And now, no simple “golly gee” will do

So now my message is embedded
In meter and in verse
With music as the medium
I guess it could be worse
So long as someone gets embedded…
A reproductive message to you

We all are in the bidness
Of reproductive fitness
But now I fear I’m witnessing the end
Biology is boom or bust
And when it comes to love and lust
No future comes from being just a friend

And that’s the purpose of my singing
You’ve probably deduced
The music is irrelevant
Unless you’ve been seduced
And that’s the purpose of my singing
My reproductive message to you

Sciency stuff after the jump:

Via @petersagal (host of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) on twitter, a challenge (not to me, but to actual real musicians Colin Meloy, John Roderick, and Jonathan Coulton), “which of you will be 1st to sing the phrase ‘reproductive message?’” and a link to a Washington Post story on a new evolutionary psychology study of hit songs (that last link is a pdf of the original study).

“Songs as a Medium for Embedded Reproductive Messages” argues that hit singles are a peacock’s tail of human behavior, a showy message of reproductive fitness. Eighteen different themes–essentially variations on reproductive strategies–from explicit mention of genitalia to offers of courtship, from bragging of sexual prowess to assurance of fidelity or resources or status, are coded for and examined (the paper is worth checking out merely for the examples given of each strategy). Successful vs unsuccessful songs (operationally defined by chart position in Billboard’s top ten or not) were predicted by the embedded reproductive messages across genres (initially Pop, Country, and R&B; eventually included Opera Arias and Art Songs).

Fun and fascinating… but. I had an acquaintance who was the drummer for a very low-level band–they made it to MTV, but only on the Basement Tapes show. Never anywhere close to the operationalized “success” of Billboard top ten. As the drummer for a hair band, though, he counted his sexual partners in the hundreds. And, frankly, that’s the “popularity” that a reproductive message should be measured by. We have no numbers in this paper to suggest that the singers or songwriters (now, there’s an interesting case of cooperation in the exploitation of resources!) who write more embedded reproductive messages have more … mating opportunities than those who write,say, aggressive messages.

But the authors don’t claim to have found that, so my complaint is a bit trivial. They simply demonstrate one factor among many that determine the success of a song, and note that “many of the topics of central importance to evolutionary psychology are a pervasive, almost ubiquitous feature of day-to-day human existence.”

By the way, I do have a very specific tune that this is sung to–it’s not written to a particular Cole Porter song, but it does have a bit of that feel (or Gershwin, depending on the particulars). If I ever actually figure out how to put it into a recording, you’ll be able to hear how lovely it really is.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Tim Eisele

    I’d like to hear your tune for this. I keep singing it to “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, which doesn’t scan quite right.

  2. 2
    ShavenYak

    As I read it, Louis Armstrong was singing it in my mind.

    Being a musician, I’d be happy to provide assistance getting your tune for it transcribed and/or recorded.

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    Ooooh, seriously, Satchmo is the perfect voice for this. Yak, I shall see if I can find a way to transcribe the melody; never took music theory, so the harmonies I hear might be beyond me to add, but that’s what musicians do, so I might have to give you a shout.

  4. 4
    JDStackpole

    “Yankee Doodle Dandy” fit just right for me.

    But thats Cohan, not Cole.

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