When I was a kid, one of my favorite activities was to listen – rapturously – to my Beatles albums. And every time I played “Abbey Road”, I would count out the seventeen second silence dividing the last two tracks, “The End” and “Her Majesty” (actually, I still do). It delighted me no end that the most popular of commercially successful music groups would defy convention by throwing such a luxurious amount of complete silence – a calm natural preserve of zen space – into what was, in essence, some of the most expensive sonic real estate on Earth.

The effect is greatly enhanced by the fact that “Her Majesty” starts with a resounding D/A major chord. A lovely historical accident of editing – it was originally meant to be the final chord of “Mean Mister Mustard” – this chord turns out to be a perfect intro to McCartney’s slyly folksy little 23 second masterpiece – which was, by the way, the very last song on the Beatles’ very last recorded album.

Only recently did I consciously realize something I had understood for years on a subliminal level – that the start-up chord we hear in Apple computers (and occasionally in Pixar films) – a full-bodied F# chord designed by Jim Reekes in 1991, originally for the Quadra 700 – is eerily similar in its sound and effect to the chord that begins “Her Majesty”.

Not only do the two chords sound remarkably alike, but they serve roughly the same purpose – as a way to announce: “Here is something quirky, friendly and slightly unexpected – something meant to appeal to your inner child, but in a sophisticated and grown-up way.”

At the time this chord was being deployed, Apple Computer was living under the shadow of a lawsuit by Apple Records – a lawsuit intended by the Beatles to stop Steve Jobs’ outfit from diluting Apple Records’ brand as a company known for distributing music.

The Beatles initially won that battle, but now of course Apple Computer has won the war – distributing music has become one of its most high profile and lucrative activities. I find myself wondering whether Jobs, when he made the decision in 1997 to make Reekes’ feisty little chord the universal start-up sound for all Apple computers, was actually firing a winking salvo at the Beatles – a sonic thumbing of his nose at their lawsuit. Not that Apple Records could do anything about it. After all, one can’t very well go after a rival company for using an F# major chord, when one’s original chord was a D/A major.

Considering how highly the Beatles were valued in England for their contributions to their nation’s ailing post-war economy (in 1965 they were appointed “Members of the Order of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth II herself), it is somewhat surprising that the British Government would allow an upstart computer company from across the pond to yank the chord of the Fab Four.

Or maybe not so surprising. From what I hear, Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.


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