A Hard Days Night was released in the summer of 1964 and opened with the cutting, discordant ring of a guitar chord that forced the listener to sit up and pay attention. It’s maybe the most famous single chord in pop music and for some it is a source of great debate. Enter: the music dorks.
Full disclosure: I count myself among the throngs of obsessives who are enthralled by the cult of Bealtedom. I have been to BeatleFest—multiple times (image). I have read countless books on the band and once stopped talking to Jake when he refused to support my position that John was the coolest Beatle instead of Paul (the correct answer, we both now realize, is George…obviously). I GET it.
There is of course another level of freakiness that even I identified at those Beatlefest nights. There’s a level of obsession that boggles even my mind, and the Internet has provided the perfect home for these knobs to promote their weirdness and compete for the title of Fab Five Cyber Stalker. If you know too much about the personal lives of people you don’t know, isn’t that just a little bit creepy?
But then there are those who move beyond the cult of personality and focus on what it was that captured our imaginations in the first place: the music. Musicologists and composers have been dissecting the Bealtes’ music for almost 45 years now, yet it seems there is still a fair amount of mystery out there. That opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night” was the subject of such a recent debate on the Velvet Rope. What is it about that chord that has people so wound up?
The identification of the chord itself should be fairly simple. The most complex music in the world has been notated and transcribed for the world to see so this ONE CHORD should be a no-brainer. And yet, and yet…
The conversation started simply: Hard Day’s Night Mystery Chord Solved…or so it seemed. That simple declaration links to an article that posits that the chord in question was somehow “mysterious” and “unknown” but had finally been “solved” not by a musician but by a Dalhousie mathematician (PDF).
Four years ago, Jason Brown [no known relation to GLONO founder Jake Brown—ed.] was inspired by reading news coverage about the song’s 40th anniversary – so much so that he 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 break the sound into distinct frequencies using computer software to find out exactly which notes were on the record.
Um…what? It’s ONE CHORD of music. Yes, it’s played on a 12-string guitar, which gives it an added layer of complexity, but how hard can this be? Read on.
What he found was interesting: the frequencies he found didn’t match the instruments on the song. George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, John Lennon played his 6 string, Paul had his bass – none of them quite fit what he found. He then realized what was missing – the 5th Beatle. George Martin was also on the record, playing a piano in the opening chord, which accounted for the problematic frequencies.”
Not so simple after all. Brown says that the addition of a piano part that included an additional F note, mixed with Harrison’s 12-string, Lennon playing a different configuration on 6-string, and then supported by McCartney’s bass are all the secret ingredients to the chord that has perplexed music fans all these years.
Try it yourself:
So how was the chord played you ask? George Harrison was playing the following notes on his 12 string guitar: a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney played a d3 on his bass; producer George Martin was playing d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon played a loud c5 on his six-string guitar.
So, the mystery is solved, which should end the arguments. But Beatles fans being what they are, this opened a whole new round of debate.
Bullshit. There’s an F in the chord the way I play it.
It’s a basically a G minor bar chord with your pinky moved up to play a C on the G string. My music theory is a little rusty so whatever the proper name for that chord, that’s what it is.
Whether there’s a piano playing under it or not, the chord is no big mystery. Certain types of science and Math nerds love to over-mythologize anything to do with the Beatles.
I would agree with that last comment, the question is why do they over-mythologize? Why do any of us? Because they were magic and some of us simply sit back and enjoy the tricks while others want to see behind the curtain. I fall into the latter category, except with less technical skill. Sure, I want to know how they made that fucking bass sound and how in the hell Ringo’s drums sound the way they do or why it is the transition at the end of “She’s Leaving Home” sends me spiraling into depression, but I don’t have the technical know-how or the musical skill and training to get too far into it. Combine those hard skills with the soft madness of a fanatic and you get statements like this:
“OK, time to geek-overboard on this. I have some serious disagreement with some of the articles premises, though I think some of the conclusions are valid.”
The fact that you’re on a bulletin board even reading this stuff is going geek-overboard, never mind the fact that you then dedicate 450 words to arguing with a mathmagician over the premise of his article. Where it gets funny though is when Beatle freaks start arguing with each other.
“I’m sure that you have some sort of record of accomplishment that may account for taking a snotty tone, but you may wish to toss that tone aside in order to have your point taken more seriously. Snotty one-liners suggesting fake-book playalongs is tough for me to respect from either a musical or personal POV.” Brilliant.
This all leads back to why I stopped talking to Jake in high school over a trivial argument had while playing quarters at a friend’s house. We take our fandom personally. I was a JOHN man and defended his honor while walking a fine line so as not to dismiss PAUL (I was—and am—actually a group proponent. One look at the Fabs’ solo catalog justifies it). That I was 17 and an aspiring musician myself certainly propelled my commitment to the argument, but I still engage in these discussions and can align myself with kooks on bulletin boards for whom I otherwise have nothing but contempt if the topic of discussion were something more or less timely or serious. What can I say? The Beatles make me feel alright.