The Stories Behind 15 Albums Named After Numbers, Featuring a Lot of Van Halen

When you think about it, most album titles are a little cryptic (Fiona Apple, I love you, but that's a lot of title). But there’s something especially intriguing about a record that goes by nothing but a few digits. Those digits are usually anything but random, so here are a few of those musical mysteries, unraveled.

1. The Beatles: 1. All 27 songs on the 2000 album were #1 hits in either the U.S. or the U.K. (though some made it as the B side of a hit single). You may have noticed the exclusion of two extremely popular Fab Four songs: “Please Please Me” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Both of those classics only made it to #2.

2. Pearl Jam: Ten. Before they were big stars, Eddie Vedder and company were just some young dudes with an affinity for basketball player Mookie Blaylock. In fact, they even named the band after him, until Mookie’s lawyers kindly asked them to cease and desist. Unwilling to give up the ghost, they named their first album after his jersey number.

3. Van Halen: III. It’s technically Van Halen’s 11th album, so what gives? The title actually represents the fact that this album was the band's third lineup, this one featuring Gary Cherone, the ex-lead singer of Extreme. It just goes to show you - the third time isn't always a charm.

4. Beyonce: 4. Released in 2011, the album was Beyonce’s fourth - but that’s not the only reason she named it 4. “We all have special numbers in our lives, and 4 is that for me,” she explained. “It’s the day I was born. My mother’s birthday, and a lot of my friends’ birthdays, are on the fourth; April 4 is my wedding date.”

5-7. Joan Baez, Lenny Kravitz and the Steve Miller Band all released fifth albums named after the accomplishment: Joan Baez/5, 5, and Number 5, respectively.

8. Usher: 8701. The Usher album featuring “U Remind Me” just happened to be released on August 7, 2001. You’d think that’s the end of the story, but you'd be wrong - the album’s release date was apparently a happy marketing coincidence, not the impetus for the title. The title actually marked the length of Usher’s singing career at that time: he started singing at his church in 1987, and ‘01 was the current year.

9. U2: 7. The explanation for this one is pretty simple: the Target-exclusive EP of rare B-sides and remixes contained seven songs. It was also a wink to their first-ever release, Three. That 1979 release consisted of - you guessed it - three songs.

10. Van Halen: OU812. If you say it out loud, of course, it sounds like “Oh, you ate one too?” Most people think it’s a rather crude joke, but another theory is that it’s a spoof on David Lee Roth’s previous album, Eat ‘Em and Smile. (It could also be both.)

One thing's for sure: whatever the album title refers to, other musicians have had a good time spoofing it. Boston punk band Gang Green came out with I81B4U the same year as the Van Halen album and an experimental band called Mr. Bungle released a demo tape called OU818 the following year.

11-12. Adele: 19 & 21. At the ages of 19 and 21, most of us are eating ramen noodles and drinking way too much crappy beer. Adele was busy writing a couple of hit albums, which she celebrated by naming them after her age at the time she wrote them. To be fair, it’s possible that she was drinking Keystone and eating ramen while she was writing them.

13. Van Halen: 5150. It’s the name of Eddie Van Halen’s home recording studio, where the album of the same name (and every Van Halen record since then) has been recorded. The studio got its name after Van Halen engineer and friend Donn Landee heard it come across on his police scanner: it’s the California penal code for “involuntary confinement of a person for purposes of psychiatric evaluation”.

14. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Twenty. On April 29, 1997, the Southern rock band released their ninth album but named it after another significant number. Twenty is a tribute to the six band and crew members who died in a plane crash two decades earlier.

15. Rush: 2112. If you’ve already listened to this album, you’ve likely figured out from the title track that “2112” refers to a year in the future. It’s just part of the whole concept album about a futuristic dystopian society. But you may not have known that Ayn Rand may have been its inspiration:

“It's difficult always to trace those lines because so many things tend to coalesce, and in fact it ended up being quite similar to a book called Anthem by the writer Ayn Rand. But I didn't realize that while I was working on it, and then eventually as the story came together, the parallels became obvious to me and I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't want to be a plagiarist here.' So I did give credit to her writings in the liner notes."

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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AI Remade Old Music Videos, and You'll Never See 'Sabotage' the Same Way Again
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iStock

From rewriting Harry Potter scripts to naming guinea pigs, getting artificial intelligence to do humans' bidding is the latest trend in internet entertainment. Now, we can all enjoy AI remakes of iconic music videos such as "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, and "Take On Me" by A-Ha.

As spotted by Co.Design, these "neural remakes" were uploaded to YouTube by Mario Klingemann, an artist-in-residence at Google Arts. The AI model he created is capable of analyzing a music video and then creating its own version using similar shots lifted from a database of publicly available footage. The results are then uploaded side-by-side with the original video, with no human editing necessary.

"Sabotage," a spoof on '70s-era cop movies, might be the AI's "most effective visual match," at least by Co.Design's estimate. The AI model found accurate matches for vintage cars and foot chases—and even when it wasn't spot on, the dated clips still mesh well with the vintage feel of the original video. Check it out for yourself:

"Total Eclipse of the Heart," a bizarre video to begin with, spawned some interesting parallels when it was fed through the AI model. Jesus makes a few appearances in the AI version, as does a space shuttle launch and what appear to be Spartan warriors.

And finally, 11 years after the original rickroll, there's now a new way to annoy your friends: the AI version of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," featuring John F. Kennedy and Jesus, yet again. This one is presented on its own in full-screen rather than split-screen, but you can rewatch the original video here.

To see more videos like this, check out Klingemann's YouTube channel here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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