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Archive for September, 2015

At number 40 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest Beatles songs is “For No One”. This is a beautiful love song, written by Paul McCartney and is one of my favourite love songs of his. It is on Revolver which is, as I’ve said before, my favourite Beatles album, which is rated the 3rd greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

“For No One” is, of course, a story of lost love; and as well as beautiful lyrics one of its stand-out features is the French horn which plaintively plays



At number 40 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "For No One".

At number 40 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “For No One”.




Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all the words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You want her, you need her
And yet you don’t believe her when she said her love is dead
You think she needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You stay home, she goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone but now he’s gone
She doesn’t need him

Your day breaks, your mind aches
There will be time when all the things she said will fill your head
You won’t forget her

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years







Which is your favourite track on Revolver?

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At number 27 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest songwriters is Ray Davies of the Kinks. I am a huge fan of The Kinks, and of Ray Davies’ songwriting; to me they are some of the best songs of the 1960s.



At number 27 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Ray Davies of The Kinks.

At number 27 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Ray Davies of The Kinks.



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At number 41 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Get Back”, which was released as a single in 1969. I have blogged about this song before here, to celebrate the anniversary of The Beatles’ famous roof-top concert. But, you can’t get too much of a good thing, so I am more than happy to blog about this wonderful song again. Also, the videos of them performing the song during the live roof-top concert do not seem to be available on YouTube anymore (and I’ve tried linking to two separate ones), Apple (The Beatles’ publishing company, not the tech company) keep removing it on copyright grounds.



At number 41 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "Get Back".

At number 41 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Get Back”.



“Get Back” is another example of Paul McCartney at his funky best; it is a wonderful song with such a fantastic driving rhythm from John Lennon’s rhythm guitar. Lennon always felt that it was aimed at Yoko, “Get back to where you once belonged” aimed at the woman whom McCartney maybe felt was coming between the two songwriting friends. I suspect we will never know, as it is not the sort of thing McCartney would ever confess to, but it is clear from the footage in the Let It Be movie that things were pretty strained between McCartney and the other members of the band by this time.


Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner
But he knew it wouldn’t last.
Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona
For some California grass.

Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
Get back Jojo. Go home
Get back, get back.
Back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Back to where you once belonged.
Get back Jo.

Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman
But she was another man
All the girls around her say she’s got it coming
But she gets it while she can

Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
Get back Loretta. Go home
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged
Get back, get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.


As the live version from the roof-top concert keeps getting removed, here is a link to the studio version of the single (which differs from the version on the album). Enjoy!





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At number 28 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters is Woody Guthrie. I wonder how many of you reading this, particularly non-Americans, have heard of Woody Guthrie? I first heard of him when I became interested in Bob Dylan; he was a hero of the young Dylan and, in fact, Dylan wrote a song of tribute to him on his first album, “Song for Woody”.

Guthrie was born in Oklahoma in 1912, and so lived through the depression of the 1930s in a state which was particularly blighted by the depression and the ‘dust-bowl’. This led to thousands of farmers and their families from Oklahoma leaving for California (this story is the basis of John Steinbeck’s wonderful novel The Grapes of Wrath). Living through these dismal years had a long-lasting effect on Guthrie, and he spent a career as a folk-singer and activist championing the rights of downtrodden people.



At number 28 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Woody Guthrie.

At number 28 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Woody Guthrie.



Probably Guthrie’s best known song is “This Land is Our Land”, a song which has been translated into many languages, including into Welsh. Guthrie wrote this song in 1940, basing the lyrics to fit with an existing melody. He then altered the lyrics in 1944, which is when he first recorded it, and it was released in 1945. You can read more about the two different versions of the song here on its Wikipedia page.


This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.




Here is a video of Guthrie performing this song. Enjoy!




Which is your favourite Woody Guthrie song?

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At number 42 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Feel Fine”. This song was released as a single in 1964, with “She’s a Woman” on the B-side. It is a John Lennon composition, and is one of the first songs to feature feedback. Lennon always claimed it is the first rock record to feature feedback, something that artists like Jimi Hendrix would make their trademark. “I Feel Fine” got to number 1 in both the Disunited Kingdom and the US, and many other countries around the World.



At number 42 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "I Feel Fine".

At number 42 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “I Feel Fine”.



Although I am very far from being an expert, according to the blurb above from Rolling Stone Magazine, Ringo’s drumming shows an evolution beyond simply keeping rhythm on the track. I won’t repeat was is said in the screen capture above, so take a read of it; but what I do know is that Ringo is often considered by those who know as one of the best drummers in rock music.


Baby’s good to me, you know
She’s happy as can be, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm, mmm


Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!




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By the time you read this I should be on an aeroplane flying from London to Los Angeles, and then on to Honolulu. I am returning to Honolulu for the first time since 1990; and both then and now my visits are for astronomical reasons. This time, I am joining a cruise to give astronomy lectures; the cruise goes from Honolulu and ends (for me) in Tahiti, twelve days later. Here is the route.





I have been asked to give four talks, and these will be during the “sea days” which come as we sail south from the Hawaiian islands to the southern Polynesian islands. Given that there are five sea days, I am not sure why I haven’t been asked to give five, but I always plan to do a few extra just in case. The lectures I will be giving will be

  • What we can see in the sky during this cruise
  • Why is Hawai’i such a good place to do astronomy?
  • The oldest light in the Universe – what is it and how was it discovered?
  • Why was Captain Cook in Tahiti in June 1769?

I also, on the days that I give lectures, run star parties on the top deck so that people can see the stars and planets. The only planets visible really during this cruise are Saturn (in the evening) and Venus (in the morning). This will be my fourth cruise, and my third with Princess, and I have found previously that the main problem in running the star parties is that they won’t turn off the lights on the top deck (for safety reasons), so seeing faint things like the Magellanic clouds becomes essentially impossible. I will see if I can persuade them to turn them off in specific places for my star parties this time.

I will, of course, take lots of photographs of the beautiful islands I will be visiting, so expect a few blogs to come about from those in the future.

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With the Rugby World Cup nearly upon us, and the final stages of the qualifiers for Euro 2016 (football) also approaching, I thought I would post this famous poem by Rudyard Kipling – If. It is often quoted relating to sport, and I think I am right in saying that the words “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same” are inscribed above the doors that lead out onto Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an English short-story writer, poet and novelist. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. He grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in colonial India, his father was a professor at a newly founded school of art in the city. Because of his upbringing in a “colony”, but as one of the colonial masters, Kipling developed the typical view of Indians that most Europeans sadly held at the time, that they were inferior to white people.



A photograph of Rudyard Kipling

A photograph of Rudyard Kipling



In 1894 he wrote the book on which one of my favourite films is based “The Jungle Book”. I have only ever seen the Disney version of this film, but I absolutely love it and when I had children it was one of the first films I bought to show them! How close the film is to the book I have no idea, as I have never read the book – it is on my ‘to-do’ list though.

Here is If, which Kipling wrote in 1895, and it was first published in Rewards and Fairies in 1910.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


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Continuing with my countdown of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest songwriters, at number 29 is Buddy Holly. Now, I am far from an expert on Buddy Holly (step forward John Gribbin!!!), but I do know a little about him. I believe it is true to say that he was one of the first singers to lead a band/group who also wrote songs, or at least in a white band (Chuck Berry springs to mind as someone who was already writing songs and performing them). Elvis Presley never wrote a song, but Buddy Holly not only wrote his own songs, but led the band The Crickets who backed him when he sung them.

Considering that Holly died so young (he was only 22), his output of songs is remarkable. His record company, Coral, were able to carry on releasing original material some ten years after his death, such was the backlog of unreleased songs he had written and (partially) recorded. I have already blogged about his song “Words of Love” here, along with the great Beatles cover of it.



At number 29 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Buddy Holly.

At number 29 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time is Buddy Holly.



The song I have decided to share today from Holly’s many great songs is “That’ll be the Day”, quite a poignant song given his premature death. Interestingly, it was also the first song ever recorded by the nascent Beatles, but before they were The Beatles and when they called themselves The Quarrymen (named after Quarry Bank High School which John Lennon had attended before going to art school). The fact that this was the first song Lennon, McCartney and Harrison chose to record is testimony to the very high regard in which they held Buddy Holly, he was both Lennon and McCartney’s favourite artist.


Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die

Well, you give me all your lovin’ and your turtle dovin’
All your hugs and kisses and your money too
Well, you know you love me baby
Until you tell me, maybe
That some day, well I’ll be through

Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die

[Instrumental Interlude]

Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die

Well, when Cupid shot his dart
He shot it at your heart
So if we ever part and I leave you
You sit and hold me and you tell me boldly
That some day, well I’ll be blue

Well, that’ll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that’ll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you’re gonna leave, you know it’s a lie
‘Cause that’ll be the day when I die

Well, that’ll be the day, hoo-hoo
That’ll be the day, hoo-hoo
That’ll be the day, hoo-hoo
That’ll be the day


Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!






Which is your favourite Buddy Holly song?

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Today I was planning to post the fourth and final part of my series of blogs about the derivation of Planck’s radiation law. But, I realised on Sunday that it would not be ready, so I’m postponing it until next Thursday (17th). Parts 1, 2 and 3 are here, here and here respectively).

One of the reasons for this is that my time is being consumed by writing articles for 30-second Einstein which I talked about on Tuesday. Another reason is that I am scrambling to finish a slew of things by the 15th (next Tuesday!!), as I have been asked to go on another cruise to give astronomy lectures. More about that next week 🙂

There is a third reason, I have realised that I have not yet done a blog about harmonic oscillators, which is a necessary part of understanding Planck’s derivation. So, that is the subject of today’s blogpost.

Harmonic oscillators is another term for something which is exhibiting simple harmonic motion, and I did blog here about how a pendulum exhibits simple harmonic motion (SHM), and how this relates to circular motion. Another example of SHM is a spring oscillating back and forth. Whether the spring is vertical or horizontal, if it is displaced from its equilibrium position it will exhibit SHM. So, a spring is a harmonic oscillator.

The frequency of a harmonic oscillator

The restoring force on a spring when it is displaced from its equilibrium position is given by Hooke’s law, which states

\vec{F} = - k \vec{x}

where \vec{F} \text{ and } \vec{x} are the force and displacement respectively (vector quantities), and the minus sign is telling us that the force acts in the opposite direction to the displacement; that is it is a restoring force which is directed back towards the equilibrium position. The term k is known as Hooke’s constant, and is basically the stiffness of the spring.

Because we can also write the force in terms of mass and acceleration (Newton’s 2nd law of motion), and acceleration is the second derivate of displacement, we can write

m \vec{a} = m \frac{ d^{2}\vec{x} }{ dt^{2} }= - k \vec{x}

If we divide by m we get an expression for the acceleration, which is

\boxed{ \vec{a} = - \frac{k}{m} \vec{x} }

which, if you compare it to the equation for SHM for a pendulum, has the same form. The usual way to write equations of SMH is to write

\vec{a} = - \omega^{2} \vec{x}

where \omega is the angular velocity, and as I mentioned in the blog I did on the pendulum, \omega is related to the period of the SHM, via T = 2 \pi / \omega.

For our derivation of Planck’s radiation law, the parts which we need to know about are that the frequency of a harmonic oscillator, \nu is given by \nu = \omega / 2 \pi, and so depends only on \omega, \; \boxed{\nu \propto \omega }. So the frequency of the spring’s oscillations depends only on k/m, we can write \boxed{ \nu \propto k/m }. A stiffer spring oscillates with a higher frequency, more mass (in either the spring or what is attached to it) will reduce the frequency of the oscillations.

The energy of a harmonic oscillator

The other thing we need to know about to understand Planck’s derivation of his blackbody radiation law is the energy of the harmonic oscillator. This is always constant, but is divided between kinetic energy and potential energy. The kinetic energy is at a maximum when the spring is at its equilibrium position, at this moment it actually has zero potential energy.

The velocity of a harmonic oscillator v can be found my differentiating the displacement x with respect to time. The expression for displacement (see my blog here on SHM in a pendulum) is

x(t) = A sin ( \omega t )

where A is the maximum displacement (amplitude) of the oscillstions. So

v = \frac{dx}{dt} = A \omega cos ( \omega t)

This will be a maximum when cos( \omega t) = 1 and so

v_{max} = A \omega

which means that the maximum kinetic energy, and hence the total energy of the harmonic oscillator is given by 

\text{Total energy} = E = \frac{1}{2}mv_{max}^{2} = \frac{1}{2} m A^{2} \omega^{2}

As the frequency \nu is just \omega / 2 \pi, this tells us that, for a harmonic oscillator of a given mass, the energy depends on both the square of frequency \nu and the square of the size of the oscillations (larger oscillations mean more energy, double the size of the oscillations and the energy goes up by a factor of four). Mathematically we can write this as \boxed{ E \propto A^{2} } and \boxed{ E \propto \nu^{2} }.

As we shall see, the theoretical explanation which Planck concocted to explain his blackbody curve involved assuming the walls of the cavity producing the radiation oscillated in resonance with the radiation; this is why I needed to derive these things on this blog today.

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At number 43 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Drive My Car”. This is one of my favourite Beatles songs from this period, it is such a groovy track (to use a phrase from those times). “Drive My Car” is the opening track on The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul, a superb album which I blogged about here, it is rated number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.



At number 43 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "Drive My Car".

At number 43 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Drive My Car”.



The song is a Paul McCartney composition, with a small but significant contribution from John Lennon who came up with the idea of the phrase drive my car as a sexual metaphor. “Drive My Car” shows Paul McCartney at his rocking best and his voice is great too; showing a raspiness and texture that you also hear in e.g. I’m Down”, the B-side of the 1965 single release of “Help”.


Asked a girl what she wanted to be
She said baby, “Can’t you see
I wanna be famous, a star on the screen
But you can do something in between”

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I love you

I told a girl that my prospects were good
And she said baby, “It’s understood
Working for peanuts is all very fine
But I can show you a better time”

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I love you
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I love you

I told that girl I can start right away
And she said, “Listen baby I got something to say
I got no car and it’s breaking my heart
But I’ve found a driver and that’s a start”

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I love you
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah (fade out)


Here is a video of this wonderful song. Enjoy!


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