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Memories of the Beatles -

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Memories of the Beatles

3,500 people responded to a web survey and emailed their memories of the Beatles. The most named
song was She Loves You. Others included Hey Jude, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. Music is processed
in various brain areas, including the temporal lobes which also process memory which could explain
why we often associate music with memory of past events.


Robyn Williams: And so where do you imagine we would finish this Science Show from Liverpool, the
BA Festival? Where else but...well, some people go to Mecca, some people go to Rome, other people
go to Lourdes, but folk of my generation come to this place, the Cavern Club where it all began
over 40 years ago.

I've come inside to a place where they're setting up actually to do a gig tonight, they're going to
play some music and they're going to talk about the ways in which these songs elucidate memories.
With me is Martin Conway from the psychology department at the University of Leeds.

Martin Conway, what's it like for you being in 'the Cavern'?

Martin Conway: I think you summed it up there well, it's tremendously atmospheric. It's a real
thrill for an academic to come to a fantastic place like this.

Robyn Williams: Have you been here before?

Martin Conway: No, I haven't. I did go to the replica Cavern Club that they'd built on Albert Dock.

Robyn Williams: But what about these memories, those songs that really bring people like us back to
memories of what it was like back in the 1960s? How many people did you talk to, to find out what
they felt?

Martin Conway: It was actually a web survey so we didn't talk, but about 3,500 people emailed in
with their memories and gave us some wonderful descriptions. The memories are so poignant, they're
so redolent of youth, of late adolescence and early adulthood, they're full of life, except, it has
to be said, for a group of memories which are related to the death of John Lennon and they're
actually the opposite, they're terribly sad memories.

Robyn Williams: I can imagine, yes. But which songs stood out? Did they name them?

Martin Conway: Yes, they did name them. There were some interesting findings there. The most named
song was She Loves You.

Robyn Williams: That's one way back at the beginning.

Martin Conway: It is way back at the beginning. Actually younger people in the survey (we're
talking about people in their 40s) tended to name Hey Jude more frequently than She Loves You but
overall it was She Loves You that won the race. And North Americans tended to name most frequently
I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

Robyn Williams: What do you think is going on there in the brain that has music-evoked memories in
a way that we kind of assume but is obviously wired in there somehow with nervous pathways and
chemicals...what's happening?

Martin Conway: Music is processed in various brain areas obviously. An important one is an area
called the temporal lobes which are kind of towards the middle of the brain on the floor, so you
won't be able to easily point to them. They're areas which are also very, very important in memory.
So, part of music is processed in areas which also process memory, and that probably facilitates
memory being a very powerful cue to recalling specific events from one's past.

Robyn Williams: It's amazing that it lasts so very long though, decades, it's still there in the
back of your head.

Martin Conway: Absolutely, and I recall some very well known cases of people who had brain damage
in the area of the temporal lobes, two people in particular, two very old ladies in their 80s, and
one of them suddenly (this is not uncommon in this disorder) thought she heard a radio on in her
home and it was playing old songs of her youth. She couldn't understand why it was playing this
music, and of course it was her memories of the music that were coming to mind. The same happened
for the other lady, and she started hearing all these jazz songs from the '20s which it turned out
she had really rather disliked at the time, so for her it wasn't a very pleasant experience at all.

Robyn Williams: Yes, Oliver Sacks talks about that, he's talked about it on The Science Show
before, and indeed the people who have brain damage, due sometimes to stroke or some other kind of
malady, where oddly enough the memory goes and the music is maintained somehow.

Martin Conway: Yes, it does, and it is quite a remarkable phenomena. We can't pretend we understand
it yet. I think probably what happens is when one's recalling a memory it engages many different
brain areas and so they're much more susceptible to brain damage because they're more complicated,
basically. So you might retain something like a tune or a song but lose the memories associated
with it.

Robyn Williams: What are you going to do tonight here in the Cavern Club?

Martin Conway: We've got a great night ahead of us. This is organised by the British Association
for the Advancement of Science, and my colleague and I, Dr Catriona Morrison, are going to report
back on our web survey of people's Beatles memories to the general public. We're expecting about
100 to 120 people here.

Robyn Williams: And there'll be music played too?

Martin Conway: There will be music played too, and I dare say there'll be a few Beatles songs
played in that music. It's live music and there'll be some food and wine as well.

Robyn Williams: Do you play?

Martin Conway: Actually I do, and I started to play in my early 50s. I have a music teacher who
could be my son, he's fantastic, and I can actually play Strawberry Fields.

Robyn Williams: Isn't that clever! From the later period somewhat. Is Strawberry Fields your
favourite song?

Martin Conway: It's one of my favourite songs from The Beatles era. I tend to be very much a John
Lennon sort of man, so I like Lennon's later work on his own, but I love the Beatles of the time,
and A Day in the Life remains to me one of the outstanding tracks.

Robyn Williams: What about All You Need is Love?

Martin Conway: That's a great track too, and the bit of French at the beginning has completely
inspired the French anthem.

Robyn Williams: Martin Conway from Leeds.