The contested origins of The Beatles’ hits penned under the writing partnership of Paul McCartney and John Lennon could be put to bed by artificial intelligence software, which can identify each artist’s musical influence.
Researchers from Harvard University trained a machine learning algorithm on hundreds of the Fab Four’s hits to build a “musical fingerprint” for each songwriter. It was then asked to assess eight iconic songs, or musical fragments, recorded between 1962 and 1966, where debate rages over who was the major influence. This includes tracks like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “In My Life” which are credited to the “LennonMcCartney partnership”, but are widely believed to be entirely written by one or the other of the pair.
The findings, published in Harvard Data Science Review, allow for each artist’s influences on the song to be assessed, and predicts the probability that either McCartney or Lennon were chiefly responsible.
Most of the eight songs of contested authorship were predicted to be predominantly in Lennon’s style, including tracks like “Ask Me Why” and the bridge to “A Hard Day’s Night” which McCartney sang and has suggested in previous interviews he had a role in. “In My Life”, which Rolling Stone magazine ranked, in 2011, the 23rd greatest song of all time has “garnered the greatest amount of speculation about its true author”, the researchers said.
Lennon wrote the song’s lyrics, but McCartney has claimed he wrote all the music — something Lennon’s account disputed. The algorithm determined with 81.1 per cent certainty that Lennon wrote the verse, but McCartney’s influence in the song’s bridge was given with 43.5 per cent certainty. This would corroborate Lennon’s account that McCartney contributed to the song’s middle-eight melody.