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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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The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: A single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As Producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

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11 Surprising Facts About Irving Berlin
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Irving Berlin is famous for writing classic American songs such as “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” "Puttin' on the Ritz," and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Known as the King of Tin Pan Alley, he wrote more than 1000 songs that appeared in movies, TV shows, and Broadway musicals. In honor of what would be Berlin’s 130th birthday, here are 11 facts about the legendary songwriter.

1. HE WAS RUSSIAN BY BIRTH, NOT GERMAN.

Israel Isidore Baline was born May 11, 1888 in Mohilev, Russia. In the early 1890s, Berlin’s parents moved their family of eight (Israel, who was 5 at the time, was the youngest of six) from Russia to New York City’s Lower East Side to escape anti-Jewish pogroms. He went by Izzy in America in an attempt to assimilate, and when his first composition was printed, it bore the name "I. Berlin." Berlin allowed a rumor to circulate that it was a printing error that created his pen name, but biographers tend to note that he chose it because it closely resembled his birth name, but sounded less ethnic. In 1911, he legally made the change from Izzy Baline to Irving Berlin.

2. AFTER HIS FATHER DIED, HE QUIT SCHOOL AND BEGAN SINGING ON THE STREET.

Berlin's father, Moses Baline, had been a cantor (one who leads prayer songs) in Russia, but had trouble finding steady work in America. He died of chronic bronchitis when Berlin was just 13. Though the young boy had already been selling newspapers to try to help his family make money, Berlin quit school and, in an attempt to lessen the financial burden for his mother, he also moved out and lived in a ghetto on the Bowery, beginning when he was just 14 years old. To support himself, he busked on the streets and in back rooms of saloons for money, hoping that passersby and bar regulars would give him their spare change. He later worked as a singing waiter in Chinatown.

3. HE EARNED A HANDFUL OF COINS FOR HIS FIRST SONG.

In 1907, Berlin sold the publishing rights to his first song to a music publisher for 75 cents. Because he co-wrote the song, called “Marie from Sunny Italy,” with a pianist, Berlin only received half (approximately 37 cents) of the payment for the piece.

4. HIS RAGTIME SONG INSPIRED A TRENDY DANCE.

Long before the Macarena or the Harlem Shake, Berlin’s song “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911) topped the charts and sold more than 1 million copies of sheet music. Although it wasn’t an authentic ragtime song, it inspired people across the world to hit the dance floor. Over the decades, different singers including Ray Charles recorded versions of the song.

5. “WHEN I LOST YOU” WAS ABOUT THE DEATH OF HIS NEW WIFE.

In 1912, Berlin married Dorothy Goetz, but his new wife caught typhoid fever on their honeymoon in Cuba and died five months later. He wrote his first ballad, “When I Lost You,” about the experience: “I lost the sunshine and roses / I lost the heavens of blue / I lost the beautiful rainbow… When I lost you.” The song sold more than 1 million copies.

6. HE WROTE PATRIOTIC SONGS IN WWI AND WWII.

In 1917, during World War I, the U.S. Army drafted Berlin to write patriotic songs. In order to raise funds for a community building on his Long Island army base, he wrote Yip! Yip! Yaphank!, a popular musical revue performed by actual soldiers that later went to various theaters around New York. It included the popular song "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," which Berlin sang at each performance.

During World War II, Berlin wrote This Is The Army, which became a Broadway musical and 1943 film starring Ronald Reagan. Berlin chose not to personally profit from the show—he gave all the earnings, over $9.5 million, to the U.S. Army Emergency Relief Fund.

7. HE BOUGHT TRANSPOSING PIANOS DUE TO HIS LACK OF MUSICAL TRAINING.

Despite Berlin’s incredible songwriting success, he was neither classically trained nor educated in music theory. He only knew how to play the piano in F sharp, so in order to write songs that didn’t all sound the same, he bought transposing keyboards. These special keyboards changed the key, allowing him to play the same notes but produce different sounds. Berlin also paid music secretaries who notated and transcribed his music.

8. HIS INTERFAITH MARRIAGE GENERATED CONTROVERSY.


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In 1925, Berlin met and fell in love with a Roman Catholic debutante named Ellin Mackay. Her father, a financier named Clarence Mackay, disapproved of Berlin because he was Jewish. The couple’s interfaith relationship attracted major press attention, and Mackay’s father reportedly disowned her when she married him in a secret ceremony in 1926. One biographer noted that though Irving was Jewish and Ellin was Catholic, their three daughters were raised Protestant, "largely because Ellin was in favor of religious tolerance." Mackay’s father came around several years later, and the Berlins were together for 62 years until Ellin's death in 1988. He died the following year at age 101.

9. HE GAVE ALL ROYALTIES FOR “GOD BLESS AMERICA” TO THE BOY AND GIRL SCOUTS.

Although Berlin originally wrote “God Bless America” during WWI for Yip! Yip! Yaphank!, he didn’t use the song until 1938. Through its lyrics, Berlin expressed his gratitude to America for giving him everything, and “God Bless America” became an instantly recognizable, patriotic song.

He decided that 100 percent of the song’s royalties would go to the Boy and Girl Scouts and the Campfire Girls. Thanks to Berlin’s God Bless America Fund, which assigned royalties from “God Bless America” (plus his other patriotic songs) to the Scouts, the organizations have received millions of dollars over the years.

10. HE COMPOSED ANNIE GET YOUR GUN AFTER HIS FRIEND’S SUDDEN DEATH.

In 1945, composer Jerome Kern (best known for Show Boat) started working on the score for a new Rodgers and Hammerstein-produced musical, Annie Get Your Gun. But when Kern died unexpectedly within a week of starting to write, Berlin took over scoring duties. Berlin’s music and lyrics for the musical, which included songs such as “There's No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” helped make Annie Get Your Gun a massive success.

11. ALTHOUGH “WHITE CHRISTMAS” IS HIS BIGGEST HIT, CHRISTMAS WAS A TRAGIC TIME FOR BERLIN.

“White Christmas” has become a Christmas classic, selling more than 100 million copies. But Christmas was a time of sadness for Berlin and his wife: their only son, also named Irving, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on Christmas Day in 1928. The baby was three weeks old when he died, and the Berlins, along with their three other children, mourned his death each holiday season.

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