Pop Music Mystery Solved

Mathematician (finally) finds opening chord to "A Hard Day's Night"

Imagine All the People

Taylor Hengen

The opening chord to "A Hard Day's Night" has reached an almost mythical status. For years, no one knew what it actually was. People would come close, through trial and error, watching Ed Sullivan performances, and studying advanced music theory, but no attempts ever quite captured the exact chord.

Enter Dr. Jason Brown, from Dalhousie University in Canada. An avid Beatles fan and amateur musician, Brown had tried for years to play that chord, but it never seemed quite right. "It sounds outlandish," said Dr. Brown, "that someone could create a mystery around a chord from a time when artists used such simple recording techniques."

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Brown decided to use the Fourier calculation to decompose the song into its original frequencies and figure out the notes from there. It almost worked, save for one not- so- minor detail; the instruments didn't match up. Oh, George was definitely playing his 12 string Rickenbacker, Lennon was was playing his six string, and Paul (oh Paul) was there on bass, but there was also an unaccounted-for F note that was impossible to play with just the instruments there. "Then 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."

Brown decided that there was a second George (George Martin, the producer, to be precise) who played that piano chord with the F note. This was never mentioned in any of the literature about the song, making it impossible for others to figure it out until Dr. Brown did. He just might be the only mathematician to ever have been published in Guitar Player magazine.