60-Second Science

Finally, an Algorithm to Sort Your Beatles Albums

By analyzing the evolving structure of the Beatles’ music, the computer program was able to correctly place the Fab Four’s albums in chronological order. Karen Hopkin reports
If you’re a fan of the Beatles, you no doubt know that ["She Loves You"] came before ["All You Need Is Love"]. But what about ["Help!"] or ["Yellow Submarine"] or ["I am the Walrus"]? 

You may not know which came first, but researchers from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan created an algorithm that does. By analyzing the evolving structure of the Beatles’ music, the computer program was able to correctly place the Fab Four’s albums in chronological order. The work is in the journal Pattern Recognition Letters. [Joe George, Lior Shamir: Computer analysis of similarities between albums in popular music]

The researchers initially produced the algorithm to catalogue whale songs. [whale sound] And they figured what worked for killer whales should also work for the lads from Liverpool. 

The program converts audio data into a visual spectrogram, an image it then evaluates for texture, shape, and pattern. Based on this analysis, the algorithm could tell that ["Please Please Me"] was from the early days and ["She Came In through the Bathroom Window"] came near the end. It even correctly estimated that songs from Let It Be were recorded before those on Abbey Road, although Abbey Road was released first. 

The algorithm also worked for the albums of Queen, U2, and ABBA. But the computer came up short on Taylor Swift, whose tunes thus far are too similar to sort. But her style could still change over time. ["Time Is on My Side," by Bonnie Raitt and Irma Thomas]   

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription
as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >


Email this Article