The Influence of Lyrics on the Law

The Influence of Lyrics on the Law

One of the things I was most surprised by during my first year of law school was the copious amounts of legal writings.  Opinions, journals, law reviews…  The list goes on and on. The blogosphere certainly provides its fair share of “white noise” information, but I would submit that it doesn't hold a candle to that generated by the legal community.

It's not at all uncommon for law professors to spend the better part of a year or more drafting a 50-plus page article dissecting the narrowest legal topic imaginable.  And not only is it not uncommon – often times it is the standard by which a professor is judged. 

Practicing attorneys, eager to satisfy their penchant for prose, often throw their literary hats in the ring as well.

On occasion these efforts are validated by a Supreme Court cite or even a publishing contract. But more often, these writings end up gathering dust on the shelves of the handful of law libraries around the country.

So, it is with great joy that I stumbled across this 2007 Washington and Lee University law review article by Professor Alex B. Long which tackles, at least by implication, an issue I believe we can all appreciate: who the most influential songwriter is of all time.

I believe we can all agree that the law has a sigificant influence on culture. The abolition of slavery. Desegregation of schools. Bush v. Gore. Gay marriage. Each of these culture defining events were and are the result of the legal process. This begs the question, what song writer has had the most influence on the law?

According to Prof. Long's analysis, the answer is clear.  Bob Dylan wins by a mile. Dylan's lyrics have been cited some 186 times in judicial opinions and legal journals. The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen came in a distant second and third with 74 and 69 sites respectively. Rounding out the top ten are Paul Simon, Woody Guthrie, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and REM. According to Long, Dylan’s knack for “outward looking observations about the human condition,” such as “when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose” and “you’ve gotta serve somebody” helped propel him to the top spot.

It fascinates (and encourages) me to think how what was known as “the devil's music” just 50 years ago has become so integrated into virtually every facet of our culture. But then again, as predicted, “the times, they are a changin’.”

ObservationsKurt Beasley