In The Beginning...
Somewhere in the dim and distant past of the Internet, a young Beatle enthusiast called Michael Weiss had no idea what he was starting when he posted this message to the assembled hordes in the USENET newsgroup rec.music.beatles ...
From: Michael Weiss (email@example.com) Subject: Beatles Recording Anomalies Newsgroups: rec.music.beatles Date: 1992-10-28 09:29:26 PST Quite some time ago, I started to compile a list of any anomalies that people find on Beatles recordings. For the most part, they can be categorized in the following manner: 1) Flubbed lyrics/notes/beats/etc. 2) Sounds other than the instruments/vocals/etc., such as squeaks or clicks 3) Vocal direction, such as counting, or some other means of vocal tagging. This does not include such count-ins as "I Saw Her Standing There" 4) Mixing errors, such as places where a track was brought up at the wrong time. 5) Vocal comments/jokes/etc. that were not intended for direction. Here's what I have compiled thus far: [...] I'm sure there are others. If you happen to hear any, let me know!
"Every Little Thing" (as it became known at the time) grew into an impressive list of oddities and curiosities within the works of The Beatles. After a change of name and a transfer of ownership it became "What Goes On", and it continued to evolve as a living document on the Internet under the guidance of myself. Over the last 12 years many new entries were found, old entries were disputed, arguments were rehashed, explanations added, and finally some level of stability was reached.
Through a concerted effort by Michael Weiss and myself, plus many contributors from the Internet, "What Goes On" has become one of the definitive collections of The Beatles' melodic mishaps.
anomaly: n. something that deviates from the general rule or the usual type, an inconsistency. [OED]
That's only part of the story, because in this case there is also a subjective element! But I would say it is any part of a recording that some people feel shouldn't really be there. Maybe, in a perfect world, it wouldn't be there! Something which, years later, people are finding and saying "So what caused that?" or "What did he say again?"
Examples, as Michael's posting indicated, are edits which stick out (where takes have been joined together), vocal chatter which is not directly part of the record, recording glitches, structural inconsistencies ...
Anomalies are not only limited to mistakes - a mistake is an anomaly, usually, but not all anomalies are mistakes. I've updated a few entries where people seem to have regularly missed the point of the anomaly listed. For example, the count in on "Dig A Pony". "That's not a mistake, they meant to do a count in!" say some contributors. Well, I know there is meant to be a count in there, but does this little shambles sound like a regular count in? No! So here's a transcript of that weird count in, make of it what you will!
So don't think of this as a list of mistakes. Just to be clear, it is a list of anomalies.
Why so many anomalies?
Something that has never been adequately explained, is the big "Why?"
Comparing the work of The Beatles to modern music is unfair: The Beatles were innovating, experimenting, and working beyond the limits of the equipment. Equipment that at the time was the best available, but now looks very dated and clumsy. Modern recording technology allows the tiniest anomalous sound to be erased flawlessly, and performances to be reconstructed by engineers and producers after-the-fact. So modern music doesn't suffer from these anomalies. It's too carefully polished.
However, I don't believe it's all down to the "old way" of doing things, after all other groups of the 60s and 70s don't seem to have these features in their recordings. So what is it about The Beatles?
I have no good answer to that.
Many people, who didn't contribute to the list directly, point out that John, Paul, George, Ringo (and those working around them) were human. They made mistakes. Everyone does. In no way does this project mean to knock The Beatles. For those who interpret the existence of this project as an anti-Beatle statement, you've missed the point. Spending so long listening to and analyzing every last moment of the Beatles over a period of 12 years is something you could only do if you were a fan.
Anthology And Newer Releases
There are no anomalies listed from Anthology 1-3, or the singles "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird". The same applies to the recent "Let It Be - Naked" release. None of the material was really intended to be heard (unlike the released singles and albums), and I don't see it as fair game. They are alternative (read: rejected for release) and incomplete tracks, and so it is to be expected that there are anomalous things there. This is in complete contrast to the finished tracks.
In the case of Let It Be Naked, and to some extent, Anthology, tampering and cleaning up has been done to provide a particular presentation of the material.
Having said that, transcriptions of some of the chatter in Anthology can be found in the Extras section. It can be quite hard to hear these, and no official transcripts were provided with the Anthology booklets. I have transcribed the ones that have caused the most misunderstandings over the few years since Anthology was released. Any errors in these transcriptions are purely my own.
Speaking In (Foreign) Tongues
While compiling entries for "What Goes On", I received a number of emails posing the question :-
"I can hear a French/German/Swedish language anomaly, am I mad?"
Probably. But you're certainly not alone. Most of these are (in my biased opinion as an English speaker) English with poor intelligibility. However, when heard by a speaker of another language it can sound like a sensible "foreign language anomaly". Some may even appear to make sense in context. For curiosity, I have retained these entries. V. Lichere sums this up well ...
Sometimes John used to compare himself with Jesus Christ, but the whole of them are like the apostles in Acts 2, every listener hearing them speak in his own language !!!
Tips On Hearing Anomalies
Here's probably the best excuse you've got for listening to your entire Beatles collection again! Seriously, some are easily heard but others only come after being pointed out. Others may need a little technical wizardry to bring them out, even for sharp ears - more on this in a moment. Frustratingly some are only audible in the original vinyl versions of the albums. This is due to cleaning up and remixing done in producing the CDs. Where possible, I've noted if that is the case.
A good pair of headphones, a clean record (or a CD) and often plenty of treble make the little details stand out. In the Sounds section, some of the anomalies have been extracted and processed to make them more audible. These are available as short MP3 clips.
Due to the unusual and experimental use of stereo in the mixing of many Beatles tracks, it is possible to dissect the audio. In this way, some sounds can be brought out very clearly by cancelling out others.
For example, it is easy to listen to just the left or right side of tracks such as "Day Tripper", using only the balance control on your stereo. Sometimes though, it is helpful to be able to remove the "centre" channel to hear details off to the sides.
An effect known as OOPS (Out Of Phase Stereo) can be used to do this. By taking the left and right signals from a stereo source and adding them, you get an ordinary mono signal. However, if you invert the polarity of one channel, and then add the channels back together, you have an OOPS'd signal. It means that any material in the centre of the stereo image will cancel out, and any material that has been panned left and right will still be present.
This technique is often used in vocal eliminators (as used in Karaoke machines) to zap the audio in the centre of the stereo field. Usually this is where the vocals are placed. The Beatles didn't keep to this rule, fortunately, and so for example "Birthday" OOPS's into just the vocals and no music!
I used to use a home-built analogue electronic unit to do this as it allowed me to adjust the cancellation position to remove more than just the centre. Eliminating a signal that is a little off to one side is possible.
You can often do it cheaply (but less effectively), with no extra equipment at all by temporarily re-wiring your headphones or speakers.
You can also sample the sound into your computer and use an audio editor program like Syntrillium CoolEdit (now known as Adobe Audition). With this you can invert one channel and then sum them together. This removes the sound common to both channels, and there is even a preset for doing this called "Vocal Cut". This is very effective if the sound is sampled well (centred correctly and in phase). Alternatively extract ('rip') the track from a Digital Audio Extraction capable CD-ROM drive, or CD writer. See the Extras section for more details on OOPS.
Do not confuse with ...
The Beatles Variations List by Joe Brennan, another excellent Internet Beatle resource, which deals with changes between different releases (UK, US etc) and between different media (LP/CD/Cassette). I only list some of these variations (e.g. mono only, CD only) where I know there is an anomaly that is only present on one or the other format.
Contacting The Author
If you feel that you have heard an anomaly that isn't listed here, or wish to add your input to one or more of the entries, then you can contact me by e-mail Any additional facts or sources of information connected with entries in the list would be appreciated.
I always try to acknowledge incoming e-mails, even if I can't go into a detailed response to your submissions.
What Goes On V3.09 © 2010 Mike Brown. Visit the website at http://wgo.signal11.org.uk for the latest version and contact details.