Mystery Chords and Idols


“It’s been a hard day’s night
and I been workin’ like a dog…”

You can hear the chord, of course. But can you play it? Exactly?

Many have tried, all have failed, it seems, until now:

The opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night” is also famous because, for 40 years, no one quite knew exactly what chord Harrison was playing.

Four years ago…Jason Brown of Dalhousie’s Department of Mathematics decided to try and see if he could apply a mathematical calculation known as Fourier transform to solve the Beatles’ riddle. The process allowed him to decompose the sound into its original frequencies using computer software and parse out which notes were on the record.

It worked, to a point: the frequencies he found didn’t match the known instrumentation on the song. “George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, Lennon had his six string, Paul had his bass…none of them quite fit what I found…the solution hit me: it wasn’t just those instruments. There was a piano in there as well, and that accounted for the problematic frequencies.”

Dr. Brown deduces that another George—George Martin, the Beatles producer—also played on the chord, adding a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar. The resulting chord was completely different than anything found in the literature about the song to date”
(H/T to Jonah)

There is a mysterious alchemy in forming a band.
Lennon-McCartney wrote great, fresh music – even when it got cynical, it was still fresh; George Harrison had a mystical bent, and Ringo, for all he is derided, was the perfect drummer for the Fab Four (think of how instinctively his heavy stomps and triplets make their solid mark, imperfect drumming perfectly suited to the band) but it has always seemed a question worth pondering, to me: would the Beatles have been anything like the phenomenon that was The Beatles, without the quiet innovations of George Martin? Martin’s contributions are largely unrealized (the calliope in “Mr. Kite” was the result of Martin’s random cuts and splices in the tape), but after the tracks were laid down, he seems to have performed a wizardry of his own.

If you’d like to try comparing the studio chord to a live strike, here you go. I don’t know if they prove anything, though, since mic set-ups, equipment, different timbres and so forth can all make subtle differences. And my goodness how young and beautiful they all were…

Opening to the film AHard Day’s Night, with the magic chord

Live performance in Paris, 1965, perhaps more notable for the audience and the spare stage

Rock and roll has changed a great deal.
The world has, too. It is very interesting, indeed, to look back at the crowds. Funnily enough, we don’t even consider their behavior odd, anymore. We’ve become very used to the idea of mere mortals screaming for, adoring and idolizing other mere mortals.

Such outpourings for a rock star – or a “rock star politician” – are not looked at as aberrant or psychologically questionably behavior, whereas the (by comparison) relatively staid cheering for a pope is looked at, by some, as embarrassing, oogedy-boogedy weirdness.

Popes, like pop-musicians and pop-politicians, are also mere mortals
– but it could be argued that their impact on the world is quite different than the impact of what Flip Wilson used to call “The Church of What’s Happening Now”. Not greater or less, but profoundly different and, for the last 40 years or so, outright contradictory.

Cheering crowds are cheering crowds – but what we’re cheering matters. Even a “rock-star pope” is “in” the culture, but not “of” the culture – and as we see here, they tend to strike a different chord, altogether.

“Praised be Jesus Christ! Dear brothers and sisters, we are still all very saddened by the death of the very dear Pope John Paul I. And now the most eminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a far-away country, … far, but always near in the communion of faith and the Christian tradition. I was afraid in receiving this nomination, but I did it in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in his Mother, the Most Holy Madonna.

“I don’t know if I can express myself well in your – in our – Italian language. But if I make a mistake, you will correct me. And so I introduce myself to you all, to confess our common faith, our hope, our trust in the mother of Christ and of the Church, and also to begin again on this path of history and of the Church with the help of God and with that of men.”

And too, the crowds cheering for a pope are – often as not – cheering as much for the Office as the man:

Meanwhile, can we say it: rewriting a Christmas Carol to reference Barack Obama must be a kind of idolatry. It really must be.

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