We Analysed Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks album

Published in
3 min readMar 2, 2020


Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

Where is music today?

With developments in the tech world came new means of musical expression. We live in an era where we have music composed by AI. The creation of many music production softwares (some of them free to download) has made venturing into music more accessible — no longer is there a need for vocal or instrument mastery.

It’s an age where everyone from billionaire tech moguls (cc: Elon Musk) to regular people are producing their own music and uploading it onto Soundcloud.

The music world is speeding ahead, and it seems like there might be the formation of a new musical tradition far removed from the framework of ‘traditional’ contemporary music.

The old souls at the Quilt.AI office are trying not to think too deeply into this. Instead, we prefer to look back at some key figures in the 20th century music canon. Bob Dylan, for example.

Last month, Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks (1975) album turned 45. Some of the album’s songs like ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Tangled up in Blue’ continue to be covered and re-interpreted by pop artists today.

It’s hard to explain why Dylan’s songs continue to hold such weight in music communities today, and so we turned to our Cultural AI for some help on this. We passed this album’s lyrics through our textual models to see what it saw.

Looking through our Emotion AI model which detects the top emotions present in the songs, here’s what we got:

Turning to our word analysis models, we obtained word clouds containing the album’s top used verbs and adjectives.

What’s Bob Dylan’s particular brand of folk-rock?

Looking at the top adjectives used in songs in this album, we see that they generally skew towards the negative. Among the top used words were terms like “blue” and “bad”, which bear connotations of heaviness and moodiness.

Within the negative spectrum, there are these nuances:

We see words that indicate harshness, like “idiot”, “lethal”, “distorted”, and “unkind”. These emotions come across as more skewed towards anger and forcefulness, words that would have been at home in music of another genre, like rock or punk, brought in by Dylan into this album’s folk music.

On the other hand, there are softer expressions of negativity — we see a cluster of words expressing a yearning for an ideal state, containing words such as “lonesome”, “unresolved”, and “uneasy”.

As forceful as his words are, they show themselves to be simultaneously weak in some moments. Adjectives like “hopeless”, “broken” and “futile” express an air of dejectedness, and in contrast to expressing anger at the persona’s current state or circumstance, expresses an acknowledgement and acceptance of it.

Looking at the word cloud of verbs used in his album, we see that Dylan’s lyrical storytelling is very action-centric. More verbs were detected than adjectives — easily double the amount.

Harsher verbs like “ravage”, “poison”, “strike”, “hunt”, and “fight” further show us how Dylan’s music has an edge to it — he is far from the crooning troubadour. Rather, his songs have an element of brutality and darkness in them.

We see a big cluster of verbs indicating the tendency for introspection: two of the top used verbs are “feel” and “know” — verbs which relate to thinking. Other verbs in this cluster include “wonder”, “wish”, “daydream”, “believe” and “imagine”.

In line with the strong oral tradition present in folk, singer-songwriter music of his era, Dylan’s music is a pensive, reflective one — although, one with a bite.

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