Archive for November, 2016

At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”. This John Lennon song was recorded in late 1966, and released as a double-A sided single along with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane” in February 1967. Remarkably, “Strawberry Fields Forever” failed to get to number 1 in the Disunited Kingdom, kept from the top slot by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”. In my mind, this is one  of the best (worst?) examples  of a timeless song, a song which must be one of the best songs ever written, being kept from the top spot by a forgettable song which very few people would rate in their top 10,000 (rant over!)

“Strawberry Fields Forever” is one of my favourite Beatles songs, bar none; it is simply magnificent. In fact, words fail me to even begin to express how wonderful this song is. It is pure Lennon genius, one of the reasons he is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music.

To say that this song is innovative would be an understatement. Apart from all the backwards tapes, speeded up horn sections, and other amazing psychedelic stuff, George Martin, The Beatles’ producer, had to splice together two versions sung at different tempos. This necessitated his speeding up one section and slowing the other down, to get them to match. Easily done today with computers, but it required hours (days)of work by Martin in the days of 4-track tape. It nearly drove him to despair; Lennon just assumed it would be easy for him. Notice, in the text in the screen capture (from Rolling Stone Magazine), that the song took some 8 days to record! This was unprecedented at the time.


At number 3 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Strawberry Fields Forever”

“Strawberry Fields” is about a place behind Lennon’s childhood home, where he would go and play, Strawberry Field (no “s”). If you go on The Beatles tour of Liverpool, you can stop outside the gates to this place and see where he would disappear to dream and play, either on his own or with friends. It was his happy place, his place to escape, his Shangri-La. “Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see / It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out / It doesn’t matter much to me.”

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a “Yes” but it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree

Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever

Cranberry sauce

Here is the official Beatles’ video of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. On the plus side, as this is on their official YouTube channel, the link is not going to disappear. But, unfortunately it is only part of the song. The video gives a prelude of some of the psychedelic video techniques they would use in their movie Magical Mystery Tour, which came out in December of the same year. If you want to listen to the full song, you can listen to it on e.g. Spotify by following this link.

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Wales beat South Africa 27-13 to finish their 2016 autumn test series with 3 wins from 4. This is Wales’ most successful autumn test series since 2002 if one goes by results alone. But, none of the wins has been particularly convincing, and I think most Welsh rugby fans are left with a feeling that we need to improve a lot to stand a chance of winning the upcoming 2017 6 Nations. 

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Later today, at 17:30 GMT, Wales will take on South Africa in their fourth and final autumn test. Ironically, if we win today this 2016 autumn series will h ave been our most successful yet. And yet, few people have been impressed so far with Wales’ performances. We were thrashed by Australia in the opening test, in one of the worst displays I have seen by Welsh side in many years. Although we then beat Argentina and Japan, both were poor performances by Wales in my opinion. We only just won each of them. So, how well Wales play today will determine whether this 4-test campaign can be deemed a success or not.

South Africa are coming of two back-to-back defeats, to England a fortnight ago and to Italy last weekend. They have never lost to Italy before, and most experts are labelling this South African team as one of the worst ever. This, together with Wales’ stuttering performances, means the pressure is really on Rob Howley’s team to win, and to win well.

Although it is a loss to not have Sam Warburton leading the team, it is an area where we have a more than able replacement in Justin Tipuric. I am pleased to see that Holley is starting with Scott Williams at inside centre and not Jamie Roberts. I have never been a fan of Jamie Roberts, and if Wales are going to develop their attacking play beyond the “send a big man up the middle” approach I think we have to look beyond Jamie Roberts to someone like Scott Williams, who is more creative.

Whatever the outcome of today’s match, we then have a wait of just over two months before the 2017 6 Nations. I will blog more about the 6 Nations in the week before it starts, but Wales’ fixture list is

  • Sunday 5 February – Italy v Wales
  • Saturday 11 February – Wales v England
  • Saturday 25 February – Scotland v Wales
  • Saturday 11 March – Wales v Ireland
  • Saturday 18 March – France v Wales

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Continuing my blogposts about the Daily Telegraph’s list of the 30 best Bob Dylan songs, here are 25 to 21 in their list. Once again, I have put the text which appeared in the Daily Telegraph in block quotes, the other stuff written about each song is by me.


Bob Dylan granted his first interview since being awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in literature to Edna Gundersen.

  • 25 – Every Grain Of Sand
  • 24 – Just Like A Woman
  • 23 – Make You Feel My Love
  • 22 – Isis
  • 21 – Ain’t Talkin’

25. Every Grain Of Sand (1981)

For me, “Every Grain Of Sand” is far and away the best song of Dylan’s ‘Christian period’ (1979-1981). It is the last track on his 1981 album Shot Of Love, and is less bombastic and preachy than most of his Christian songs. The lyrics are sublime, the harmonica playing is majestic. It is one of my favourite Dylan songs, and I would place it higher than 25 in my personal list of the greatest Dylan songs.

The outstanding song of Dylan’s early-Eighties born again Christian phase achieves a stark, hymnal rapture. Riding on a gentle guitar arpeggio, Dylan detects the hand of God in everything, with a lyric worthy of William Blake at his most mystical.

24. Just Like A Woman (1966)

One of the most beautiful Dylan love songs, “Just Like A Woman” sets hauntingly beautiful lyrics against a wonderful waltz rhythm. If you want to convert people to Dylan, this is a good song to play them. It shows Dylan’s ability as not just a lyricist, but also as someone who can write a haunting melody too. It was recorded in March 1966, and released as a single in August of the same year. It is also the last track on the 2nd side of his seminal double album Blonde On Blonde.

Said to have been inspired by a brief encounter with tragic Andy Warhol starlet Edie Sedgwick, Dylan’s delicate waltz concocts a lyrical spider’s web equal parts cynical put down and heart-rendering desire. It even features a rare and perfect middle eight, a songwriting device Dylan once claimed he had no use for.

23. Make You Feel My Love (1997)

The song made famous by Adele, but for me Dylan’s original version is better. Don’t get me wrong, I like Adele’s version, it is wonderful. But, Dylan’s version has, for me, so much more depth and authenticity to it. Such lyrics seem to mean far more coming from an older person in their 50s than from a young lady of just 19. The lyrics to this song are beautiful, a wonderful example of why Dylan is completely worthy of a Nobel prize in literature.

An artist celebrated for his depth and complexity, Dylan also has a gift for beautiful simplicity. This ballad of loving devotion became a 21st-century karaoke favourite via Adele’s soulful 2008 cover. The corny sentiment is brought into focus by elemental imagery dovetailing perfectly with an elegant melody in a gorgeous falling cadence. It features another rare Dylan bridge.

22. Isis (1976)

“Isis” is the second track on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire. I love this album, I think if it hadn’t come out after Blood On The Tracks, it would be more highly thought of, but it lives in the shadow of that 1975 masterpiece. “Isis”, co-written with Jaques Levy, is a wonderful song full of fantastic imagery. To my mind, there aren’t any weak songs on Desire, but this song is one  of the highlights of a great album.

Co-written with theatre director Jaques Levy, Isis is a rattling narrative epic of myth and marriage, composed with the melodramatic flourish of Rudyard Kipling and delivered by Dylan over a pounding piano with grandstanding relish: “The wind it was howling and the snow was outrageous!”

21. Ain’t Talkin’ (2006)

“Aint Talkin'” appears on Dylan’s 2006 album Modern Times. It is the last track on the album, and opens with a haunting fiddle and piano. The song was recorded in April 2006, and is the  longest track on the album, at nearly 9 minutes. The opening lines grab the attention straight away – “As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden / The wounded flowers were dangling from the vines / I was passing by yon cool and crystal fountain / Someone hit me from behind.”. Where is this song going? It unfolds over the next 9 minutes, it is a beautiful song and one of my favourites on Modern Times.

During almost 9-minutes of restless yearning over a silky weave of fiddle, piano, picked guitars and percussion, the ageing bard cast himself as eternal pilgrim on an endless and bloody journey of spiritual hunger. “I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned / Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road.”

Just Like a Woman (number 24)

Of the songs from 25 to 21, today I am going to share this very interesting version of “Just Like a Woman”. Interesting in that it is the first take of the song; Dylan even tells the recording engineer the name of the song before he starts playing, and its name at this early stage is “Like a Woman”, not the title he finally gave it. For anyone familiar with the version on his seminal 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, you will notice quite a few differences in the lyrics in this first take of the song.

“Just Like a Woman” was recorded in March 1966 and released as a single in August of the same year. It is also on his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. It peaked at number 33 in the US singles charts. In the Disunited Kingdom a version was released by Manfred Mann in late July 1966 (before the US release of Dylan’s original version!) which got to number 10 in the singles charts. The lyrics that I have included below are the lyrics of the version on Blonde on Blonde, so see if you can spot where this first take differs from those lyrics.

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev’rybody knows
That Baby’s got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

Queen Mary, she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can’t be blessed
Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what’s worse
Is this pain in here
I can’t stay in here
Ain’t it clear that—

I just can’t fit
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don’t let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes, you do
You make love just like a woman, yes, you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl

According to his website, Dylan first performed “Just Like a Woman” in April 1966, before it had been released. In fact, if you listen to the radio programme about the Judas heckle, you will hear C.P. Lee saying that Dylan performed this song at that famous concert in Manchester in May 1966 (you can also hear it on the recording of that concert, which was released in 1997 as the CD Bob Dylan Live 1966 (subtitled the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ concert, even though it was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall).

Dylan’s most recent performance of the song was in November 2010, and he has performed it a remarkable 871 times at the time of my writing this blogpost.

Here is a video of this fabulous song. If the video will not play on your device (a message I kept getting when I tried to play it in the preview to this blogpost), then here is the link to the video. Because it is on Dylan’s official VEVO site, it should not disappear like most of his videos put on YouTube.


Of the songs from 25 to 21, which is your favourite?

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Tomorrow (Friday 25 November) I am boarding a plane which will eventually get me to Brisbane (Australia), via Seoul. Yes, I’m aware that Brisbane is not New Zealand, but in Brisbane I am joining a cruise which is going around New Zealand. The cruise will last for 14 nights, and I will give about 6 talks during the two weeks.


The Princess Cruise leaves Brisbane on 27 November and returns on 11 December. I will be giving astronomy talks on the 14-night cruise.

This will be the 5th cruise which I’ve done with Princess, and the 6th in total. The last time I did a cruise in the southern hemisphere was in February, when I cruised from Buenos Aires to Santiago around Cape Horn. Unfortunately, during that 14-night cruise, we had only one clear night! I am hoping for better weather this time, as in addition to my talks I run star parties to show the guests what is visible in the night-time sky. 

Many of the guests will probably be from Europe or the United States, and so will be very keen to see the Southern Cross. I will also show them the Magellanic Clouds if weather permits. The New Moon is on the 29 November, so the first week of the cruise will be ideal to see the Magellanic Clouds if the skies are clear. After that, the brightening moon will render them all by invisible. So, fingers crossed we get some clear skies during the first week!

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At number 4 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Yesterday”. This Paul McCartney ballad, recorded in 1965, has gone on to become the most recorded song in history, with thousands of versions in existence. “Yesterday” was never released as a single in the Disunited Kingdom during the time that The Beatles were together (it was later released in the mid-1970s). It features on their album Help as the penultimate track on the second side (in the DUK release of the album). In the USA, “Yesterday” was released as a single in September 1965 and got to number 1 in the US singles charts.


At number 4 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Yesterday”

The story of the composition of “Yesterday” is, by now, well documented. Apparently McCartney woke up one morning with this tune in his head, and when he played it to the other band members he felt sure that they would recognise it, feeling that it was not an original tune but rather a tune which was in his head from hearing it somewhere. It turned out that it was an original tune, which had somehow come to him during his sleep.

For quite a while, McCartney used the words “scrambled eggs” to stand in for the lyrics that he would eventually write, as he doodled, developed and played around with the song. Some of this was during the period that The Beatles were filming Help!, with Dick Lester directing the movie. Apparently, at one point Lester got so annoyed at hearing McCartney doodling on the piano at the back of the sound stage and humming the words “scrambled eggs” that he said to him “If you play that song any bloody longer I’ll have the piano taken off stage. Either finish it or give it up!”

When “Yesterday” was recorded, none of the other Beatles was present in the recording studio, just McCartney and a string quartet. When The Beatles played “Yesterday” in concerts, the other band members would usually leave the stage and leave McCartney to perform it on his own on his acoustic guitar. It was the closest thing to a solo McCartney song that The Beatles ever did.

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm

There has been considerable discussion as to whether McCartney is referring to his mother, who died when he was 14, in the line “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say”, even McCartney himself has said that it may have unconsciously been about her. The song is sufficiently vague that it has universal appeal; there is not one of us who does not long, at some point, to go back to a simpler time for some reason or another.

Here is  video of this most recorded song. I have no idea how long this link will stay active, so if it stops working my apologies. Enjoy!

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The other week I was asked to explain how a cylinder (or ball) rolling down a slope differs from e.g. a ball being dropped vertically. It is an interesting question, because it illustrates some things which are not immediately obvious. We all know that, if you drop two balls, say a tennis ball and a cannon ball, they will hit the ground at the same time. This is despite their having very different masses (weights). Galileo supposedly showed this idea by dropping objects of different weights from the tower of Pisa (although he probably never did this, see our book Ten Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of Reality).

With a tennis ball and a cannon ball, they clearly have very different masses (weights), but will fall to the ground at the same rate. This fact, contrary to the teachings of Aristotle, was one of the key breakthroughs which Galileo made in our understanding of motion. But, what about if we roll the two balls down a slope? If we build a track to keep them going straight, will a tennis ball roll down a slope at the same rate as a cannon ball? The answer is no, and I will explain why.

Rolling rather than dropping

When a ball rolls down a slope, it starts off at the top of the slope with gravitational potential energy. When it starts rolling down the slope, this gravitational potential energy gets converted to kinetic energy. This is the same as when the ball drops vertically. But, in the case of the ball dropping vertically, the kinetic energy is all in the form of linear kinetic energy, given by

\text{ linear kinetic energy } = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 } mv^{2}

where m is the mass of the ball and v is its velocity (which is increasing all the time as it falls and speeds up). The gravitational potential energy is converted to linear kinetic energy as the ball drops; by the time the ball hits the bottom of its fall all of the PE has been converted to KE.

If, instead, we roll a ball down a slope, the kinetic energy is in two forms, linear kinetic energy but also rotational kinetic energy, which is given by

\text{ rotational kinetic energy } = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 } I \omega^{2}

where I is the ball’s moment of inertia, and \omega is the ball’s angular velocity, usually measured in radians per second. The key point is that the the moment of inertia for the two balls in this example (a tennis ball and a cannon ball) have a different value, because the distribution of the mass in the two balls is different. For the tennis ball it is all concentrated in the layer of the rubber near the ball’s surface, with a hollow interior. For the cannon ball, the mass is distributed throughout the ball.

Two cylinders rolling down a slope

Let us, instead, consider the case of two cylinders rolling down a slope. One is a solid cylinder, the other is a hollow one with all of its mass concentrated near the surface. We will make the two cylinders have the same mass; this can be done by making the material from which the hollow cylinder is made denser than the material for the solid cylinder. So, even though the material of the hollow cylinder is all concentrated near the surface of the cylinder, and there is a lot less of it, if it is denser it can have equal mass.


A solid cylinder on an inclined plane. We will make the mass of this solid cylinder the same as that of the hollow cylinder, by making it of less dense material. Although it will have the same mass m and the same radius R, it will not have the same moment of inertia I.

We will start both cylinders from rest near the top of the slope, and let them roll down. We will observe what happens.


A hollow rolling down an inclined plane. We will make the hollow cylinder denser than the solid one, so that they both have the same mass m and the same outer radius R. But, they will not have the same moment of inertia I.

When things are dropped, the rate at which they fall is independent of the mass, but when they roll the rate at which they roll is not indpendent of the moment of inertia. In particular, it is not independent of the distribution of mass in the rolling object. As this video shows, the solid cylinder rolls down the slope faster than the hollow one!

But, why??

Why does the solid cylinder roll down quicker?

The reason that the solid cylinder rolls down faster than the hollow cylinder has to do with the way that the potential energy (PE) is converted to kinetic energy. Because the cylinder is rolling, some of the PE is converted to rotational kinetic energy (RKE), not just to linear kinetic energy (LKE). The only way that a cylinder can roll down a slope is if there is friction between the cylinder and the slope, if the slope were perfectly smooth the cylinder would slide and not roll.

The torque (rotational force) \tau is related to the angular acceleration \alpha in a similar way that the linear force F is related to linear accelerate a. From Newton’s second law we know that F = ma where m is the mass of the object. The rotational equivalent of this law is

\tau = I \alpha

where I is the moment of inertia. The moment of inertia I is different for a hollow cylinder and a solid cylinder. For the solid cylinder it is given by

I_{sc} = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 } mR^{2} = 0.5mR^{2}

where m is the mass of the cylinder and R is the radius of the cylinder. For the hollow cylinder, the moment of inertia is given by

I_{hc} = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 }m(R_{2}^{2} + R_{1}^{2})

where R_{2} \text{ and } R_{1} are the outer and inner radii of the annulus of the cylinder. We are going to make the hollow cylinder such that the inner 80% is hollow, so that R_{1} = 0.8R_{2} = 0.8R. We will make the mass m of the two cylinders the same.

Thus, for the hollow cylinder, we can now write

I_{hc} = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 }m(R^{2} + (0.8R)^{2}) = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 }mR^{2}(1+0.64) = \frac{ 1 }{ 2 }mR^{2}(1.64) = 0.82 mR^{2}

The cylinder accelerates down the slope due to the component of its weight which acts down the slope. This component is mg sin(\theta) where g is the acceleration due to gravity and \theta is the angle of the slope from the horizontal. To make the maths easier, we are going to set \theta = 30^{\circ}, as sin(30) =0.5.

Friction always acts in the opposite direction to the direction of motion, and in this case the friction F_{f} is related to the torque \tau via the equation

\tau = F_{f}R \text{ (1)}

so we can write

F_{f}R = \tau = I \alpha \text{ (2)}

where \alpha is the rotational acceleration. Re-arranging this to give F_{f}, we have

F_{f} = \frac{I \alpha}{ R }

The force down the slope, F (=ma) is just the component of the weight down the slope minus the frictional force F_{f} acting up the slope.

ma = mg\sin(30) - F_{f} = 0.5mg - \frac{ I \alpha }{ R } \text{ (3)}

The angular acceleration \alpha is given by \alpha = a/R where a is the linear acceleration. So, we can re-write Eq. (3) as

ma = 0.5mg - \frac{ Ia }{ R^{2} } \text{ (4)}

Now we will put in the moments of inertia for the solid cylinder and the hollow cylinder. For the solid cylinder, we can write

ma = 0.5mg - \frac{ 0.5mR^{2}a }{ R^{2} } = 0.5mg - 0.5ma

The mass m can be cancelled out, and assuming g=9.8 \text{ m/s/s}, we have

a = 0.5g - 0.5a \rightarrow 1.5a = 4.9 \rightarrow \boxed{ a = 3.27 \text{ m/s/s  (5)} }

Notice that Equation (5) does not have the mass m in it, as this cancels out. It also does not have the radius R of the cylinder in it; the acceleration of the cylinder as it rolls down the slope is independent of both the mass and the radius of the cylinder.

For the hollow cylinder, again using Eq. (4), we have

ma = 0.5mg - \frac{ 0.82maR^{2} }{ R^{2} } = 0.5mg - 0.82ma

This simplifies to

a = 4.9 - 0.82a \rightarrow 1.82a = 4.9 \rightarrow \boxed{ a = 2.69 \text{ m/s/s} (6)}

As with Equation (5), Equation (6) is independent of both mass and radius.

So, as we can see, the linear acceleration a for the hollow cylinder is 2.69 m/s/s, less than the linear acceleration for the solid cylinder, which was 3.27 m/s/s. This is why the solid cylinder rolls down the slope quicker than the hollow cylinder! And, the result is independent of both the mass and the radius of either cylinder. Therefore, a less massive solid cylinder will roll down a slope faster than a more massive hollow one, which may seem contradictory.


All objects falling vertically fall at the same rate, but this is not true for objects which roll down a slope. We have shown above that a solid cylinder will roll down a slope quicker than a hollow one. This is because their moments of inertia are different, it requires a greater force to get the hollow cylinder turning than it does the solid cylinder. Remember, the meaning of the word ‘inertia’ is a reluctance to change velocity, so in this case a reluctance to start rolling from being stationary. A larger moment of inertia means a greater reluctance to start rolling.

The solid cylinder will start turning more quickly from being stationary than the hollow cylinder, and this means that it will roll down the slope quicker. This result is independent of the masses (and radii) of the two cylinders; even a less massive solid cylinder will roll down a slope quicker than a more massive hollow one, which may be counter-intuitive.

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