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Magical History Tour: Sifting Through 50 Years of Beatles Studies

Fifty years ago, the world was in the throes of Beatlemania, when all eyes were on the charming young British rock 'n' roll band. But it wasn't just teenage girls: Sociologists and musical minds alike have been analyzing the Beatles and their music for decades. A look back reveals some interesting studies.

This magical mystery tour through 50 years of academic journals was done by Thomson Reuters' ScienceWatch, which posted the top 10 papers about the Beatles, as measured by the number of citations in later papers.

The top paper, with 25 citations and entitled "Memorabeatlia," is from 1990. The study tasked undergrads with recalling the title of a Beatles track given a single line from it. The researchers found that while the recall rate wasn't particularly high, the subjects "rarely violated the rhythmic, poetic, or thematic constraints of the songs." In other words, if you do remember the song, you remember it note for note.

Next, a "Traditional and stylometrics analysis" of songs written by Paul and John came to the same conclusion any Beatles fan would have: Lennon's songs were "less pleasant and sadder," while McCartney's darkened over time.

Another paper, focusing on the reception of politically charged music, took for its primary example the band's song "Revolution," in which Lennon altered a lyric for the single version, emphatically saying "you can count me out" rather than the album version's ambiguous "out... in."

Some might think these dissections of musical art miss the point, but it's clear that the Beatles, in addition to being influential artists, were part of a larger political and social phenomenon that was — and continues to be — worth studying.

More papers and information on where to find the originals can be found at the ScienceWatch post.