Over the last couple of weeks Adele’s new single "Hello" has been reaching new records on music streaming services. Some listeners have accused it of being lyrically similar to Tom Waits’ "Martha".
Here at Musixmatch, we decided to take a closer look at the two songs to see if this accusation packs any punch. For those who haven't read both the lyrics yet, here they are side by side.
As is apparent, Tom Waits’ lyrics are a bit shorter than Adele’s. Adele repeats the chorus quite a few times with slight variations and thus overall it seems to be longer.
But the number of unique words used by both of them is almost the same (118 vs 117). The number of unique words common to both the songs is 34, which shows that the vocabulary used is quiet different.
To compare the context for the usage of the same word in both the songs we can use a word tree.
A word tree depicts multiple parallel sequences of words. It could be used to show which words most often follow or precede a target word or to show a hierarchy of terms.
We can see a theme of longing for an old lover. While Adele is apologetic, Tom Waits confesses that he is still in love with Martha. We can also see that Waits is aware of the well being of Martha but Adele doesn’t know much about her old flame. Also this is not the first time that Adele is calling him and we know that her calls are being ignored.
They are both longing for their younger days. While Tom Waits admits that they have matured with time, Adele is someplace else (‘other side’) dreaming about her past.
A common theme of having wronged their lovers. Adele still hasn't gotten over their split ('I ain't done much healing') and mentions that she broke his heart while Tom Waits blames his ego and impulsiveness for the breakup.
Both songs touch common themes of calling an ex, reminiscing about younger days, having wronged a lover and being apologetic. While Tom Waits still hasn’t gotten over his lover Adele seems to be in need of reconciliation and perhaps longs for forgiveness. The songs share a lot of thematic similarities but the vocabulary used and the structure of the lyrics is quite different. I hope this data visualization restates that one song is not an imitation of the other, although it is clear that Adele was heavily influenced by Tom Waits' writing style.
She didn’t want to just go through and write a pop song with any particular formula. We talked about Tom Waits, and different storytellers like that. I think that was the idea, that we wanted to do something that was very honest about where she was at right now, and she wanted to do something that was real and believable.Greg Kurstin (co-author/co-producer of Hello)