This study proposes and demonstrates “insistency-based analysis” as a research tool for the study of popular music lyrics. Insistency analysis supports content analysis by considering lyrical repetition (motifs) over time as significant of artistic intent within a given body (population) of lyrics, in this case, those of Tom Waits. Literary review shows this study among a minority using computer-aided analytics in content analyses, while indicating the unrealized potential of structuralist literary analysis for studying popular lyrics. The method is a two-stage design in which the study sample (high frequency lyrics with strong distribution) provides rich content for structural analysis (qualitative). Opposing paradigms signify core issues such as “emptiness” or “solitude” whose particular, diachronic articulation across the discography may be studied for consistencies or developments in artistic expression. A practical demonstration of the method uses insistent lyrics and motifs to both signify artistic preoccupation and ultimately to test hypotheses regarding the development of Waits’ lyrical style.
Keywords: lyrical analysis, popular music, songwriting, Tom Waits, content analysis, structuralism, insistency, recording industry, research methodology