VSL:SCIENCE // Forty-year-old Beatles mystery solved!

When the Beatles recorded the unearthly crash chord that kicks “A Hard Day’s Night” into gear, they inadvertently posed one of rock’s great riddles: What notes were John, Paul, and George actually playing? The question’s stumped guitarists for 44 years — and now a mathematician-slash-guitarist named Jason Brown has solved it.

Interviews with the musicians themselves had led others to believe that the main chord — some sort of G, or perhaps an F or a D — was struck on George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker electric, supplemented somehow by John Lennon’s 6-string Gibson acoustic and Paul McCartney’s iconic, violin-shaped Hofner bass. But Brown used an algorithm called Fourier transform and concluded that those instruments couldn’t possibly have produced the frequencies that the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, captured on tape. A hunch and more testing led him toward the missing element — a nearly inaudible piano chord, most likely played by Martin himself, that duplicated several key guitar notes and added an F.

Brown, who sees math and music as two sides of a coin, says the discovery had a certain symmetry to it: As a boy, he’d heard the Beatles and traded his piano in for a 6-string. As a man, he hit upon the solution by reconsidering the keyboard. Who says life can’t be as tidy as math?

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.

VSL:SCIENCE // Forty-year-old Beatles mystery solved!