Archive for February, 2015

The famous opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night

The famous opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night

George was playing his  Rickenbacker 360 12-string. John was on a Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic. Paul used his Hofner violin bass. The notes they struck simultaneously from these three instruments became one of the most instantly recognisable     sounds   in rock music: the mysterious opening chord   of A Hard Day’s Night..

‘We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch.’ GEORGE MARTIN

A chord struck fifty years ago, and people are still arguing about what it was.

Many quote  Dominic Pedler’s 800 page The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles  which lists   21 possibilities, these being but  a few   of the exotic and extravagant ideas he encountered during  his research. Here’s an attempt to reconstruct some of them. The mistakes are mine, the guitar is a Gittler.

“A dominant 9th of F”?






“C-Bb-D-F-G-C in the key of C”?


“A polytriad ii7/V in Ab major”?


or ??


“G7sus4” (open position)?


or 2nd positionG7sus4-2

“D7sus4 (open position)”?


“G7 with added 9th and suspended 4th”?


“A superimposition of Dm, F, and G”?








“Dm11 with no 9th”?






My own guess (no idea what you’d call it)


Joe’s chord F6/9


Thanks to Joe Atkinson and everyone else who commented and offered suggestions.

Professional musician and educator David Wilkens (,  in a long discussion of the chord, mentions that in 2008  a mathematician, Jason Brown, tried to obtain an accurate transcript of the notes using a   Fourier analysis   (basically a set of waveforms).

However the  frequencies thus obtained  didn’t match the instruments   known to have been played on the song.  Brown hypothesised that   George Martin had  played some notes on   the studio’s Steinway grand, these accounting for the anomalous Fourier frequencies.

According to Brown,  George Harrison’s  12 string contributed  a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney bass added a d3,  George Martin struck  d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon ‘played a loud c5′ on his Gibson J-60’.

Wilkens says, ‘For fun I took the pitches in this chord and used them to compose a melody and then wrote a short fugue using that melody as a subject (because composing fugues are what I do for fun). It’s in the style of Hindemith, not a baroque style fugue, so I had some fun with dissonance.   Listen for the Beatles quote near the end.’

[Thanks to Dave Wilkens for this material, for his full account of the magic chord, visit his article.]

Here’s a video which  appears to illustrate Brown’s Fourier analysis:



Why am I not convinced?

Perhaps because Randy Bachman (remember Bachman Turner Overdrive) got a listen to the original sounds. The video below tells his story of being invited to the Abbey Road studio by George Martin’s son, Giles, who offered to play him any Beatles track he wanted to hear.

According to Randy (all this is on the video below) Paul played a D note while John played a Dsus4, and as for George with the all-important 12-string, ‘it’s an F chord but you put a G on top and you put a G on the bottom and you put C next to that G’.

This last chord is  beyond me. As far as I can tell it would be pretty much impossible for anyone with fewer than six fingers, especially on a 12-string. If you know better, please tell me how. (Chord below has   impossible C in  green.)

“Randy Bachman chord”


Randy and his friends try  putting all this together   and  presto, the magic chord hangs   shimmering in the air. But listen   for yourself. 

Finally, here’s what George Harrison himself had to say during an online chat on 15 February 2001:

Q: Mr Harrison, what is the opening chord you used for A Hard Day’s Night?

A: It is F with a G on top, but you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story. (According to The Beatles Bible, ‘Paul added a D note, played on the fifth fret of the A string on his Hofner violin bass. This note is an octave lower than an open D string on a six-string guitar, and had a crucial effect on the overall sound of the chord.’)

Nowhere, note, does he mention Bachman’s bottom G nor the C next to it .


“George’s chord,   Fadd9”


Note added Feb 26:

Just found this video of the Beatles playing the song live in 1964. Very blurry as with most of the surviving footage from those days, but John clearly kicks the song off with the chord described by George, the Fadd9. He is using his thumb to play the bottom F.




The following information is courtesy of The Beatles Bible (Not Quite As Popular As Jesus).

Recorded: 16 April 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
George Harrison: Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar
John Lennon: Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: Hofner violin bass
Ringo Starr: snare drum, cymbal (in there somewhere)
George Martin: Steinway grand piano
Norman Smith: bongos
Released: 10 July 1964 (UK), 26 June 1964 (US)

A Hard Day’s Night was recorded at EMI Studios in a session taking place from 7-10pm. It took nine takes to record, and completed the number of songs needed for the film soundtrack.

The backing track – two rhythm guitars, bass guitar and drums – was recorded onto track one of the four-track tape, and Lennon and McCartney’s lead vocal were recorded live on track two. They added more vocals on three, along with percussion, more drums and acoustic guitar; and George Martin’s piano and the jangling guitar that ended the song were on track four.

Just five of the nine attempts were complete performances. Take one was complete, and had slightly different lyrics (“Feeling you holding me tight/All through the night”). However, it was unusable due to mistakes in the bass guitar part during the second bridge.

Takes two and three were both false starts, but take four – began before engineer Norman Smith could announce it on the talkback – was complete. However, George Harrison’s guitar solo was poor, and it was decided that he would overdub it once the backing track was complete.

Take five, wrongly announced as take four, was also complete, but six broke down during the third verse. Paul McCartney was the culprit, getting some bass notes wrong. Some studio chatter followed in which Ringo Starr was told to tap a beat on the hi-hat between the opening chord and the first verse.

Take seven was complete, but John Lennon broke a guitar string during the performance and McCartney was still having trouble in the middle section.

Lennon counted in take eight, but McCartney put a stop to it in order to practice the middle eight once more. There followed take nine, which was perfect, and became the basis for the released song.

Track three of the four-track tape was filled with acoustic guitar, bongos played by Norman Smith, more vocals by Lennon and McCartney, and cowbell. The recording was finished with a solo, played by George Martin on piano and George Harrison on guitar, on track four, plus an extra bass guitar part after the solo, underneath the line “so why on earth should I moan”.




Gittler Instruments [more on this coming soon]

In the Sierra dos Orgaos

In the Sierra dos Orgaos




“We reached Mr. March’s fazenda early in the forenoon.” Gardner wrote in his diary.   “It being Christmas-day, we found his slaves, who amount to 100 in all, performing a native dance in the yard before the house. His estate embraces an extent of country containing sixty-four square miles. The greater part of it is still covered by virgin forests ; what is cleared of it consists of pasture land, and several small farms for the cultivation of Indian corn, fiagrens (French beans), and potatoes. Plentiful crops are yielded by the two former, but the produce of the latter is neither so abundant nor so good as it is in England. He has also near to his house a large garden, under the management of a French gardener, in which all the European fruits and vegetables grow tolerably well. Many of these he has been at much trouble and expense in introducing from the Old World. From this garden he sends regular supplies of vegetables to the Rio market, and they are by far the best that are to be found in it.  “


From here over the next few months Gardner set out on regular expeditions exploring the region for twenty or thirty miles in each direction.


pool in sierra dos orgaos




Laurus nobilis flowers


The various species of Laurus form fine large trees, and when growing, as they often do, in an open part of the forest, they remind the European of the oaks of his native country. They flower in April and May, loading   the air with the rich perfume of their small white blossoms. Their  ripened fruit  forms the principal food of the Jacutinga, (Penelope Jacutinga  Spix) a fine large game bird.


penelope jacutinga

Penelope Jacutinga Spix


 Some of the largest trees of the forest are species of Ficus ; one, with an enormous height and thickness of stem, is called by English here the buttress tree, from several large thin plates which stand out from the bottom of the trunk. They begin to jut out from the stem at the height of ten or twelve feet from the bottom, and gradually increase in breadth till they reach the ground, where they are connected with the large roots of the tree. At the surface of the ground these plates are often five feet broad, and through out not more than two inches thick.


ficus buttress roots




Above: Ficus buttresses Below: Flowering canopy with Cassia and Tibouchina trees


The large Cassia have a striking appearance when in flower ; and as an almost equal number of large trees of Lasiandra fontanesiana [now renamed Tibouchina] and other species belonging to the same natural order are in bloom at the same time, the forests are then almost one mass of yellow and purple from the abundance of these flowers.

When rainforests are not protected 

Wild plants  have provided humans with  everything from quinine, aspirin and morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. Seventy percent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest. 

When rainforests vanish, they take with them  hundreds  of as yet undiscovered plant species, many of which may have had life-saving medicinal properties. One near recent miss was Calanolide A, a compound with significant anti-HIV effects. Calanolide A is derived from Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum, a very rare member of the Guttiferae or mangosteen family. Samples  were first collected in 1987 on a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored expedition in Sarawak. Having discovered that the plant   was active against HIV, excited researchers rushed back to the original kerangas forest near Lundu … but the tree was no longer there.

The tree was gone — likely felled by locals for fuelwood or building material. The disappearance of the tree lead to a furious   search by botanists for further specimens. Good news finally came from the Singapore Botanic Garden which had several plants collected by the British over 100 years earlier. Sarawak banned the felling and export of Calophyllum shortly thereafter.

Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum

The importance of Gardner’s explorations

What of the many medicinal trees and plants discovered by Gardner? A team of Kew researchers  decided to revisit the collection. They searched George Gardner׳s exhaustive  Catalogue of Brazilian Plants deposited in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.

Each plant was re-identified and/or updated by consulting the preserved botanical collections that  Gardner gave to   the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and expert inspection of  other collections  to which  Gardner had given  duplicates. The team scoured the  PubMed database for whatever  pharmacological studies had been done on the plants. Gardner׳s diary entries and published letters were consulted and 63 useful plants were  recorded from the Catalogue and a further 30 from Gardner׳s book Travels in the Interior of Brazil. 

Take just one tree discovered by Gardner:  Cissus erosa. The French Guianan Palikur use the stem and leaves to make a plaster with pain killing  and healing   properties  that they apply to  the ulcers of leishmaniasis and  to wound s inflicted   by  of river rays of Paratrygon species.


The stem sap of is drunk to reduce fever. Crushed leaves are applied externally to treat snakebite, ulcers and thrush. The liana is crushed and rubbed on centipede bites  by the Surinam Akuriyo. (Shown here Scolopendra viridicornis viridicornis, two-thirds     life size.)



Of the recorded names in the Catalogue, 46 (73%) could be identified to species by consulting specimens collected by Gardner and held at Kew. Thirty-six different traditional uses were registered for the identified plants, the most common being as febrifuges, to treat venereal complaints and as purgatives. Fewer than 50% of these species have been the focus of published pharmacological studies, yet for those which have been thus investigated, the efficacies reported by Gardner were confirmed.

The data recorded by Gardner, the Kew study rather blandly concludes, represent a rich, relatively unexplored source of information regarding the traditional uses of Brazilian plants which merits further investigation.  Yes, because the forests he explored have largely all gone. Get on with it!


Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

Rare bird book makes an Abebooks record of $191,000

AbeBooks has sold a rare 1765 ornithology book  for $191,000, making it   the most expensive item in its 19-year history.


The book,  Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale,  normally translated and shortened to A Natural History of Birds,  was published in Florence in Italian in five volumes. It  contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete. This copy’s fine condition coupled   with the fact that only ten  complete copies have been offered at auction in the past 40 years,  helped assure  a record price.


Here is the bookseller’s description: Together 10 volumes. Folio (19 x 15 inches). 6 plate volumes: 600 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE engraved plates with original hand-colour after Manetti, Lorenzi and Vanni (a few plates loose, one or two marginal stains, top outer corner of plates 100 and 101 affected by damp, plates 197 and 198 torn in upper margin, plates 221 and 225 with repaired tears (without loss), plates 267 and 336 slightly shorter,). 4 (of 5) text volumes: elaborately engraved half-titles by Lorenzi after Giuseppe Zocchi, 2 letterpress title-pages with engraved vignettes, one in Latin and one in Italian in each volume, parallel text in Latin and Italian, engraved allegorical plate by Lorenzi in volume IV, descriptions for 480 birds (small wormhole on first leaf in text volume I without loss, r1 and T1 of text volume I with marginal repairs).


Contemporary speckled calf backed marbled paper boards, the spines in six compartments with five raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second, the others with gilt-ruled borders and small decorations (a bit scuffed, but attractive). Provenance: with the contemporary gilt initials “F.B.” at the foot of each spine; remains of later printed paper shelf labels at the foot of each spine, early shelf-marks to endpapers. First edition of a great 18th-century ornithological book. Manetti was a physician and director of the Florentine Botanical Gardens from 1749-1782.


Manetti worked almost exclusively from real specimens, beginning with the extensive collection of Marquis Giovanni Gerini. The result was one of the largest surveys of ornithology attempted up to that date, a work which became ‘the flamboyant forerunner of the splendid ornithological folios which were to appear in the nineteenth century. The production of its five massive folio volumes must have been one of the most remarkable publishing ventures ever undertaken in Florence. Begun in 1767 and completed ten years later, it was larger, better engraved and more vividly coloured than any previous book on birds’, notable for its lively posturing of the specimens which seem to reflect ‘the habits and mannerisms of contemporary Italian society’ (Dance p.70); Nissen IVB 588; Wood p.450; Fine Bird Books p.10; Zimmer I, 241. Bookseller Inventory # 72nhr128


Certainly all of this is worth following up. Feather by feather, leaf by leaf, tome by tome: this is how we discover   the world.


Ornithological flights leave in all directions from this page:

Oiseaux Exotiques
A Walk   Through H:   Reincarnation of an Ornithologist


War on Whores

War on Whores

Collector’s Weekly is never dull. A few weeks ago it gave us an entertaining article about the art of the fairground shooting arcade target. Who would have thought those dismal little bits of tin, so hard to hit with a carefully unsighted airgun, could be so beautiful when their rusting, bullet-battered shapes are   treated as works of art?

In its latest edition CW serves up another dose of the unexpected, this time wartime posters from both the First and Second World Wars, exhorting servicemen to stay away from loose women.


CW had come across a 2014 book, Protect Yourself, by Ryan Mungia, featuring a collection of VD posters found at places like the US National Archives and the National Library of Medicine.  Mungia had been visiting the National Archives looking for photographs of wartime Honolulu when he chanced on a folder marked “VD posters”.


‘Inside,’ says Mungia, ‘I found a stash of 35mm slides of these posters, most of which ended up in the book. I guess you could say the subject chose me, since I didn’t set out to make a book on venereal disease, but became interested in the topic because of the graphic nature of the posters. The designs were really reminiscent of film noir or B-movie posters from the ’40s, those pulpy-style poster designs, and they also reminded me of the Works Progress Administration artwork, which I love.’


‘On any given day during World War I, there were approximately 18,000 men who were taken ill with VD,” Mungia explains. “So when we started gearing up for the next major war, the U.S. military launched a pretty aggressive propaganda campaign including posters, pamphlets, and films to try to curb those numbers and keep soldiers healthy and able to fight.’


Before the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, syphillis and gonorrhoea were serious illnesses that could kill as could some of the treatments prescribed for them. According to Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), a German knight who wrote about his trials with syphilis and its treatment with mercury. Patients were shut in a “stew”, a small steam filled chamber, for up to thirty days on end, having first been smeared from head to toe with a mercury-based ointment. Many died, but it was mercury poisoning rather than syphillis that killed them.

stay away

Less extreme but no less dangerous methods of administering mercury to syphillitics was to use the liquid metal stirred into hot chocolate, although one doctor warned that chocolate was too risky. A genius whose ideas today would almost certainly find their way onto crowdfunding websites was the doctor who sold underpants coated on the inside with mercury ointment. These fascinating facts come from a book The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present by Peter Lewis Allen, which I thoroughly recommend.

Pre-sulfonamide Gonorrhoea treatments were scarcely less hazardous, utilising metallic compounds of arsenic, antimony, bismuth, gold, and mercury. Having become less of a threat since the invention of antiobiotics, resistant strains of Gonorrhoea have now emerged and some doctors warn it is now on the verge of becoming incurable.

wrath of god

But we digress. In its efforts to inform servicemen about sexual health, the US government first used advertisements created by the Works Progress Administration, mentioned by Mungia above. But these were easy to ignore, so they turned to comic book styles and realistic public service announcements.

Axis Agents

According to Mungia, ‘In the beginning, around 1941 or ’42, they hired a lot of artists through the WPA who had produced public-health posters a decade earlier,” says Mungia. “But there were several studies done to determine what kind of poster would be the most effective in delivering this message, and they concluded that people really responded to those which were more realistic and struck an emotional chord.


‘The WPA created beautiful posters that used a lot of bold shapes and colors, but they relied on symbolism. These studies showed that some guys were actually confused by the WPA-style posters. The military’s solution was to go to Madison Avenue and consult some successful ad men, and they had those guys produce VD posters. The style of the posters changed over the course of the war from bold and symbolic to more realistic, almost magazine-style advertisements.’

they are waiting



Although venereal diseases affect both men and women, and in general cannot be caught unless a member of one sex passes it to another, in these posters it is usually woman who is depicted as the seductive temptress (misogyny, of course, comes packaged with   Genesis) and sometimes even depicted as an agent of the enemy powers, a toxic handmaiden to Hitler and Hirohito.

Only one ambiguous image, perhaps not daring speak to its message out loud, seems to hint that men can catch VD from other men.


60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache

60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache

In my piece    about Paper Sun, Traffic’s debut single from May 1967, I noted that the song might have climbed higher than #5 had it not been for Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, which hogged the top spot for several weeks and could not be budged.

As part of my Paper Sun research I looked for Procol Harum’s original performance on Top of the Pops.

Watching this old black and white footage, a faint and disturbing memory stirred: another group of the era, late sixties or early seventies (despite Sergeant Pepper, this was before groups started being called ‘bands’). Probably, like Procol Harum, they had been pushed into the limelight by an unexpected success, because I only remember seeing them on TOTP  once or twice.

I couldn’t name the group, nor the song. What I remembered about them was not their standard shaggy haircuts and pop star flamboyance, but their keyboard player: a gaunt man with a strange little toothbrush moustache and slicked back hair. He wore trousers hitched well above the waist,  a white  shirt and tie, and apart for his hands on the keys never moved at all. He  stared  straight ahead, oblivious to the beat and the capering of his band mates. Whenever the cameras found him he would give the TV audience a creepy leer.

Who was he and what was the group? I asked my wife if she remembered anything like that. It rang  a bell, she said: someone who looked as if he had stepped out of a Monty Python sketch.  Why didn’t I look on the internet. Yes, but where to begin?

This note takes its title from the search terms I typed into Google – 60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache.  



This brought up a great many references to Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and moustaches.  I tried an image search. Bingo! 


My man was   in five of  the first fifteen images! His name is Ron Mael. He and his brother Russell founded the band Sparks.  The song was This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both  of Us, written by Ron and sung by Russell. It was #2 on the UK singles chart  on   5th May 1974. Here  they are  as I remember them   off the telly.


Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

It is two hundred years since the  Battle of Waterloo. In commemoration,   H.M. The Queen has opened  Windsor Castle’s famous Waterloo Chamber  to the public for  a special exhibition of Waterloo-related artefacts from the Royal Collection. The exhibition opened on 31st January 2015 and will run for a year.  Throughout 2015,  visitors will be able to  walk into and around the chamber  for the first time.

The pieces on display, many of them acquired by  George, Prince Regent (the future George IV), include contemporary prints, drawings, maps and ‘souvenirs’ from the battle.


The Imperial Cloak, modelled on an Egyptian burnoose

Among these are  Napoleon’s red cloak, made of felt and embroidered in silk with elaborate scrolls and arabesques around the hood and breast, was removed from the Emperor’s baggage train in the aftermath of the allied victory and presented to the Prince Regent by Field Marshal Blücher, who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington. Lined with yellow brocade, it is appliquéd with Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle.

Napoleon’s silver-gilt porringer, a small bowl used for food, was also taken from the Emperor’s train.

waterloo-chairThe Waterloo Chair, made from the elm tree that marked the Duke of Wellington’s command post on the Waterloo battlefield, was presented to George IV in 1821. Commissioned by John Children from Thomas Chippendale the Younger, it is carved with a lion trampling the vanquished French standard in the village of Waterloo.  A drawing of the elm tree by Children’s daughter Anna, made during a visit to the battlefield with her father in 1818, will go on display for the first time.

table-des-grands-capitainesThe Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Great Commanders),  commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate  his   victories, is decorated with the profile of Alexander the Great and other great generals   and philosophers. Considered one   the finest works of Sèvres porcelain ever produced, it never left the factory but was presented to George IV by the restored French king, Louis XVIII, in gratitude for the allied victory. The table appears in all of George IV’s state portraits, including the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence which hangs in the Waterloo Chamber.
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