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A mathematician has solved a 50-year-old Beatles mystery

The A.V. Club logo The A.V. Club 2018-08-13 Dan Neilan

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No, we’re not talking about Paul being dead. That one is still up for debate. But, according to a report from NPR, a mathematician recently settled the long-disputed question of who actually wrote the 1965 hit “In My Life.”

While the majority of Beatles songs are credited to Lennon-McCartney, the general rule of thumb has always been, “Whoever is singing is probably the one who wrote it.” So, most casual fans assumed John Lennon penned the music and lyrics. However, in a 1980 Playboy interview Lennon himself begrudgingly credited McCartney with writing the song’s “middle eight” only to have McCartney later claim that he wrote the entire tune himself with Lennon simply providing lyrics.

Finally, math is here to tell us what’s what. John Lennon, Paul McCartney posing for the camera © Photo: Fox Photos (Getty Images) After a decade of statistical analysis, Dalhousie University professor Jason Brown has devised a way to determine which of the Fab Four is most likely responsible for each song’s musical makeup. To do this, Brown used a statistical tool known colloquially as “bags of words.” 

Essentially, this is the process of cataloging the occurrence of every word in a sample of text and then counting how frequently these individual words are repeated. If you’ve ever seen one of those “word clouds” on Twitter, that’s what we’re talking about. Brown took this same concept and applied it to the musical phrases and transitions between chords that appear in every Beatles song.

“When you do the math by counting the little bits that are unique to the people, the probability that McCartney wrote [“In My Life”] was .018,” mathematician Keith Devlin tells NPR. So, despite their hazy recollections of those mid-’60s recording sessions, the math points to John Lennon being the song’s sole author.

Sure, there was undoubtedly a certain amount of intermingling of ideas throughout the Lennon-McCartney partnership, but each band member still had a catalog of musical tricks and techniques they would routinely fall back on. “In My Life” simply doesn’t have enough of McCartney’s sound to be McCartney’s.

Now, if you play it backwards, on the other hand…

[via Mashable]


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