In a transparent (and very much appreciated) effort to elicit a post from me, my co-contributor to OME challenged me to list my top ten maths songs. Over a month ago. Possibly inspired by the Guardian.

The reason for this is my recent foray into the world of teaching mathematics, as well as my long professed love for the subject. To be fair, it’s not that I haven’t wanted to post anything, it’s more that I’ve been short on time and energy to write anything.

But I am now writing something.

Top ten maths songs is a fairly easy list to start, but a harder one to finish. The main problem is how tongue in cheek to go and how religiously to stick to the topic in hand. I’d like to think I’ve walked this line pretty well, choosing a list that reflects both flippancy and slavish devotion to cataloguing songs that have a tangible mathematical connection.

Without further ado (and probably more gilding the lily) here, in no particular order, are my top ten:

Pi – Kate Bush
I mean, obviously, right?

The Magic Number – De La Soul
Sampling an old Schoolhouse Rock song (which I only discovered reading Ready Player One), this takes me way back. One of the CDs in my dad’s collection that got regular play from little Toby. “Welcome, to three feet high and rising!”. Disclaimer: three is not my favourite number.

2+2=5 – Radiohead
My first attempt to be a smart alec in this list. Not strictly mathematical, but I felt like it would be rude not to include a Radiohead song. Other possible contenders were The Numbers (arithmetic) or Pyramid Song (geometry).

Seven Day Mile – The Frames
Even more of a stretch this, but I’m going to claim that seven day mile technically represents a speed distance time equation (with a speed of 0.00595mph (3 s.f.)). That’s pretty slow y’all.

Roots Bloody Roots – Sepultura
Yeah, I’m way off the literal meaning path here, but given that I’ve been teaching surds to some recalcitrant year 10s this week I’m unapolagetic.

Mandelbrot Set – Jonathan Coulton
And with that I redeem myself. This couldn’t be more mathsy. I love that Coulton wrote this when Mandelbrot was still alive and included the line “Mandelbrot’s in heaven, at least he will be when he dies/right now he’s still alive and teaching math at Yale”. Since Mandelbrot’s death he omits all but “Mandelbrot’s in heaven” when he sings it live.

The Number Song – DJ Shadow
Have to confess, didn’t know this was called The Number Song, but I love this song/album and so it gets a place on the list.

Count to a Million – 3dBs Down
Actually a song about rich privilege and social mobility. But it kicks off with “you can’t escape the numbers”. I have this as a poster in my classroom which is either motivating or terrifying for the students. Haven’t decided which yet.

Butterflies and Hurricanes – Muse
Again, another killer song/album, and a reference to chaos theory so it makes the list!

You can’t handle this – Five Iron Frenzy
A song about being a nerd, but plenty of maths (math, I guess since FIF is American) references. And the line “Maybe even Texas Instruments thinks that I’m co-planar”, which is surely gold.

And of course if you’d like to hear these songs (apart from De La Soul apparently), give it a go on Spotify:

In finding these songs I also spotted Mathematics by Mos Def and Music is Math by Boards of Canada which are both good but I didn’t know them well enough to add them to the official list. But I’ve included them in the playlist cos I’m nice like that. I also (re?)discovered the genre maths rock, which I’ll need to dig into I think.

7 thoughts on “Maths!

  1. Well, I never saw the Guardian article actually. Van der Graaf Generator – now there’s unlistenable prog if you want it.
    Kate: She’s not actually going to sing pi? Only Kate would have the nerve. Love the Eberhard Weber bassline.
    DelaSoul: Always loved this song, bought the album, etc. Is it a theological statement?
    Frames: Glen is a passionate, emotional person I think. “I don’t have a choice in this” sums him up.
    Sepultura: I think I have a lozenge somewhere… I broke my ear.
    Jonathan Coulton:written especially for your playlist. Of course the audience must sing along, rude not to!
    DJ Shadow: a drum solo? what next?
    3dBs: positive energy, uplifting, love the little scamps.
    Muse: what is it about Muse, apart from their connection to my first ever record purchase? I think it’s the lack of spaces, but intense though, and the classical section seems to totally fit.
    FiF: bossing it as usual especially in the lyrics dept. I liked ‘babies get in line, I’ve got a protractor’.

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