McCartney and Lennon? Harvard statistician’s algorithm determines who wrote the famous Beatles hits



Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a direct connection

John Lennon first met Paul McCartney on 6 July 1957, and the world of music was inevitably changed forever as a result.

Like pals Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the Harvard statistician Mark Glickman and felllow researcher and Beatles fan Jason Brown together to solve a question that many loyal listeners have asked over the years: who wrote the melody of one of the band’s biggest hits?

While the famous duo usually wrote and produced music together, Glickman said that some of their popular songs, in particular “In My Life,” disputed authorship. So, to prove who is the most likely influence on the songs, Glickman and Brown, a mathematics professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, turned to an algorithm.

“We were wondering if you can make use of data analysis techniques to try to figure out what was going on in the song to distinguish whether it was by one or the other,” Glickman said in an online statement Friday.


The pair recruited Harvard statistics student, Ryan Song to help them in ‘decomposition’ of every Beatles song from 1962 to 1966 in one of five categories: frequencies of the common chords, melodic notes, chords, transitions, frequencies of continuous melodic note pairs and or melodic fragments were considered to be “ups” and “downs” or “the same.”

In total, they are divided Beatles songs in 149 “constituent components.”

“Think of the dissolution of a color in the constituent components of red, green and blue with different weights,” Glickman explained.


The group came up with the different components on the basis of what they already knew about Lennon and McCartney’s writing styles. Lennon generally fixed at a pitch, while McCartney’s varied.

“View the Lennon song, ‘Help!'” Glickman said. “The principle is that, ‘When I was younger, so much younger than today,” where the pitch does not change very much. It stays on the same note repeatedly, and only the changes in short steps. Whereas with Paul McCartney, you take a song like ‘Michelle’, and it goes, ” Michelle, ma belle. Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble.’ In terms of the pitch, it is all over the place.”

The researchers created an additional three-step tool to create an algorithm to determine the probability Lennon wrote a song about McCartney, or vice-versa.

They studied the frequencies of the 149 musical parts, using the Bayes’ theorem — a statistical law that defines the probability of an event on the basis of previous knowledge to investigate Lennon or McCartney-tagged songs and then the “results of [the] model was applied on the Lennon-McCartney songs and song sections in which the authorship is disputed,” a press release with details of the project states.

According to their calculations, the probability McCartney written in 1965 hit “In My Life” — a song he has long claimed to have written, despite Lennon’s name is attributed to it — was only .018.

“Those were the words John wrote, and I wrote the melody. That was great,” McCartney told broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, a decade after it was released, according to The Telegraph.

The algorithm, however, suggests McCartney “misremembers.”

While the group is convinced that their model is accurate, Glickman said that he did not try to paint McCartney as a liar.

“We don’t claim that we think that Paul was wrong, or rather, our model suggests that the patterns of the musical idiom in ‘In My Life’ matches more with Lennon’s writing style, in comparison with the patterns we recorded,” Glickman told Business Insider.

Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

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