The other kind of math rock.
February 23, 2006 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Looking for songs about math! My girlfriend's sister just got into a Ph.D. program for mathematics and we're making her a mix CD to help celebrate. Poppy indie rock especially good.

I've done the song title searches on, and I've gone through these threads on numbers and educational songs. I've perused M.A.S.S.I.V.E. I've got Kate Bush's "Pi", Schoolhouse Rock Rocks ('natch), Modest Mouse's "Never Ending Math Equation", Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator", and I know about this one. What else?
posted by hydrophonic to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's the group name rather than the song title, but Math and Physics Club is definitely poppy indie rock; I love "When We Get Famous."
posted by occhiblu at 9:55 PM on February 23, 2006

I'm sure They Might Be Giants will have something...
posted by rachelpapers at 9:55 PM on February 23, 2006

New Math by Tom Leher is the best I can think of:
(To the equation 342-173)
"You can't take three from two, two is less than three, so you look at the four in the tens place. Now that's really four tens, so you make it three tens, regroup and you change the ten to ten ones and you add them to the two and get twelve, and you take away three, that's nine."

Mentioned briefly in one of the other threads, but it's absolute necessity.

(He goes over it again in base eight towards the end. Seriously.)

Email me if you're having trouble finding it.
posted by disillusioned at 9:59 PM on February 23, 2006

"One is the loneliest number" - Three Dog Night
"One and one make five" - Pet Shop Boys
posted by occhiblu at 10:01 PM on February 23, 2006

4 out of 5 - Soul Coughing
"Her knees thrust in one direction like a symbol of math, a symbol meaning Greater Than.
I come recommended by four out of five
I'm a factor in the whole plan
Four and five therefore nine
Nine and nine therefore eighteen
Eighteen and eighteen therefore thirty-six
Four and five therefore nine"
posted by karmaville at 10:02 PM on February 23, 2006

(Lord It's Hard to Be Happy When You're Not) Using the Metric System - Atom & His Package
posted by lemuria at 10:10 PM on February 23, 2006

Don't know much Trigonometry
Don't know much about Algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for
But I know that one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:11 PM on February 23, 2006

damn it, lemuria! my stupid 64 megs of ram refused to load mefi any faster. i was just about to post atom and his package
posted by nadawi at 10:20 PM on February 23, 2006

The greatest Math song ever recorded is The Math Song by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets (iTunes link).

When I played it for a math PhD friend, she solved for y.
posted by mathowie at 10:21 PM on February 23, 2006

Oh, and that band does some great tongue-in-cheek indie rock from Canada, to boot.
posted by mathowie at 10:21 PM on February 23, 2006

Never Ending Math Equation by Modest Mouse
posted by nuclear_soup at 10:23 PM on February 23, 2006

You need "New Math" by Tom Lehrer (who happened to be a mathematician in addition to a musician)
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:26 PM on February 23, 2006

Finite Simple Group (of Order Two) by the Klein Four Group (mp3, lyrics) is fantastic. They've got some others as well.
posted by The Pusher Robot at 10:27 PM on February 23, 2006

Three Is A Magic Number from Schoolhouse Rocks...also covered by Blind Melon.
posted by well_balanced at 10:28 PM on February 23, 2006

also: Deathray Davies hailing from Dallas (if not denton), TX have a side project called "I Love Math", but good luck finding the recordings.
posted by nadawi at 10:32 PM on February 23, 2006

2Gether: "U + Me = Us (Calculus)"

posted by granted at 10:35 PM on February 23, 2006

God Bows To Math by The Minutemen!
posted by joeblough at 10:36 PM on February 23, 2006

"Adding Up Numbers" by Kompressor should work well, and maybe "5546 That's My Number" by Sublime.

Also I second Soul Coughing, and third Tom Lehrer.
posted by anarcation at 10:39 PM on February 23, 2006

Not math, so it doesn't really qualify, but you should check out "The Method" on We Are Scientists' first album. You can download it for free from

"I watched you watching me from labotory five.
The breathing mask and safety goggles accentuate your eyes."
posted by pomchkn at 10:46 PM on February 23, 2006

I'm sure They Might Be Giants will have something...

You'd think so, but not really. They tend to lean more toward English/history-major nerdery than math. They do have a couple of number-related songs (Number Three, Four of Two, 32 Footsteps leap to mind), but math isn't really a component of any of those.

I'd suggest Ladytron's 'True Mathematics' and Spoon's 'My Mathematical Mind'.
posted by toddshot at 10:47 PM on February 23, 2006

You need Freezepop's song "Science Genius Girl". You might recognize the chorus:

"three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine seven nine three two three eight four six two six four three three eight three two seven nine"
posted by barnacles at 10:58 PM on February 23, 2006

It's 5! by the Architecture in Helsinki
posted by GilloD at 11:02 PM on February 23, 2006

"Inchworm," from the Hans Christian Anderson film, sung by Danny Kaye.

Two plus two is four. Four plus four is eight …
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 PM on February 23, 2006

"Algebra" by Soul Hooligans isn't really about math, but Algebra and Calculus are in the chorus.

"Music is Math" by Boards of Canada?

"16 Military Wives" by The Decemberists? Maybe not.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:03 PM on February 23, 2006

This thread might have some ideas for you too.
posted by jodic at 11:12 PM on February 23, 2006

oh man, BoC! how could i forget? almost every BoC song is itself... well.. math!

_the smallest weird number_ definitely fits the bill; very self-referential as well since music70 is their label.

A is to B as B is to C is another BoC track that comes to mind.
posted by joeblough at 11:19 PM on February 23, 2006

Keith Schofield's Pi.
posted by gramcracker at 11:23 PM on February 23, 2006

Murder By Numbers, by the Police
The Number One Song in Heaven by The Sparks
Sea of Numbers by Stylex
anything by either The Numbers or The Atomic Numbers
Microphone Mathematics by Quasimoto
anything by Cotton Mather (if you want to stretch it)
9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
Add It Up by the Violent Femmes
Fifty Two Percent by Glen Baxter
6/8 by Superdrag
The New Face of Zero and One by the New Pornographers
C30 C60 C90 Go! by Bow Wow Wow
My 2600 by Captain Funkaho

(I have a lot more general # songs if you're interested).
posted by klangklangston at 11:32 PM on February 23, 2006

"Carry the Zero" by Built to Spill is a good tune.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 11:33 PM on February 23, 2006

First of all, anything by the Mathematicians will work here. They're an indie pop/electronic outfit from upstate New York with members such as Pete Pythagorus and Albert Gorithim IV. Granted, they're a novelty act, but the music is real catchy and danceable!

Second of all, "Never-Ending Math Equation" is a great start!

Bikeride - "That's Math"
(this is essential - cute flute/woodblock/piano pop all about math and love)
Silver Jews - "Inside the Golden Days of Missing You"
(featuring the lyric, "what if life is just some hard equation
on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts?")
Cass McCombs - "Subtraction"
(upbeat pop with organ)
Mark Mothersbaugh - "Hardest Geometry Problem in the World"
(from Rushmore, classical-sounding instrumental)
Clint Mansell - "Pi R Squared"
(creepy chemical brothers theme to Pi - good intro?)
Built to Spill - "Carry the Zero"
(the best actual song in this list)
The Pixies - "Distance Equals Rate Times Time"
("looking into the sun" sounds like "like an integral... SIGN!")
Jamie Lidell - "Multiply"
The White Stripes - "Black Math"
(classroom rebellion!)
The Shins - "Your Algebra"
(creepy, hymnlike dirge from a usually peppy pop band)
65 Days of Static - "The Fall of Math"
(heavy electronic post-rock)
The Decemberists - "Of Angels and Angles"
(short cute acoustic pop guitar ditty)

Some equation ones:
Radiohead - "2 + 2 = 5"
Pavement - "5 - 4 = Unity"
Shining - "31=300=20 (It is by Will Alone I Set My Mind in Motion)"
Broken Social Scene - "Cause = Time"

Hmmm... I smell a MusicMobs playlist...
posted by themadjuggler at 11:49 PM on February 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I see Tom Lehrer's "New Math" has been nominated. I hope you'll also include his "Lobachevsky".
posted by orthogonality at 12:01 AM on February 24, 2006

I almost forgot!

Mogwai - "Sine Wave"
The Weakerthans - "Uncorrected Proofs"
Grandaddy - "Chartsengrafs"

(granted, many of these examples are more mathematical in spirit, the Mathematicians/Bikeride/Pi soundtrack excepted)
posted by themadjuggler at 12:05 AM on February 24, 2006


boards of canada - constants are changing
from the campfire headphase

built to spill - carry the zero
from keep it like a secret
-- a great indie rock song.

dj shadow - the number song
from endtroducing
(another great track! and great number samples)

kraftwerk - pocket calculator
a classic track
from computerworld

pet shop boys - two divided by zero
from please
posted by ori at 1:11 AM on February 24, 2006

anything by Caribou/Manitoba, aka Dan Snaith (same guy, name changed due to legalities), who happens to hold a Ph.D in math.
posted by heeeraldo at 2:00 AM on February 24, 2006

The Aislers Set - Long Division (legally downloadable for free here), it's math(s) as metaphor and totally dancable.
posted by featherboa at 2:09 AM on February 24, 2006

I think Tom Lehrer's Lobachevsky is a great song for teaching you what a math PhD is really like.
I am never forget the day I am given first original paper to write. It was on analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold.

Bozhe moi!
This I know from nothing.
posted by grouse at 3:26 AM on February 24, 2006

I give you: Geek Freak (and it's free!).
posted by Wolfdog at 3:31 AM on February 24, 2006

Mathematics, by Mos Def
Math Prof Rock Star, by Jim's Big Ego is my own personal theme song
posted by gleuschk at 3:45 AM on February 24, 2006

Can't believe someone would mention "Three is magic number" from Schoolhouse Rock, and not "Little twelvetoes".

Come on, people, it's about counting in base-12!

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, dek, ell, ten, "except my ten would be different from yours!"
posted by gregvr at 4:44 AM on February 24, 2006

Anything by Metric.
posted by purephase at 4:55 AM on February 24, 2006

Can't believe no one's mentioned the classic Eleven Twelve. OK, so it's not so much poppy indie rock, but there might be the retro appeal.
posted by d-no at 5:31 AM on February 24, 2006

Love and Mathematics by Broken Social Scene, and maybe the second track on Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker CD.
posted by misteraitch at 5:31 AM on February 24, 2006

"One on One" by Hall & Oates

"Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Hailey & the Comets (an oldie)

"Eight Days a Week" by the Beatles

"Ray's Dad's Cadillac" by Joni Mitchell

Ray's dad teaches math
I'm a dunce
I'm a decimal in his class
Last night's kisses won't erase
I just can't keep the numbers in their place...

When it comes to mathematics
I got static in the attic
"No sir, nothin's clear!"
I'll be blackboard blind on Monday
Dreamin' of blue runways
On the edge of here
A little atmosphere

Congratulations to your GF on her new adventure. Good luck in the coming years.
posted by bim at 5:43 AM on February 24, 2006

Check out a band from Albany NY called The mathematicians. every song is about numbers!
posted by webtom at 6:10 AM on February 24, 2006

Some will remember a TV show from the 80s called Square One... they had lots of 80s-style MTV music videos that were sendups or original songs. While extremely corny for a modern mix, I think you are unlikely to find any other song about combinatorics... if you can find anything at all.

Here, at least, are some realaudio files.
posted by cacophony at 6:26 AM on February 24, 2006

There was a "Mathlete Rap" on the Mean Girls soundtrack...

Yo, yo, yo,
All you sucka MC’s ain’t got nuthin’ on me
Not my grades, not my life
You can’t touch Kevin G

I’m a mathlete, so nerds of the earth
But forget what you heard
I’m like James Bond the Third
Sh-sh-shaken not stirred

posted by blackkar at 6:55 AM on February 24, 2006

Sifl and Olly, sockpuppets who had a show on mtv, had a stupid/funny Math Song. I have it if you're interested (email in profile).
posted by Flamingo at 7:33 AM on February 24, 2006

There are lots here. Some are a bit childish, but that could be part of the fun. Also, a lot of nerdcore hip-hop is math oriented.
posted by wackybrit at 7:42 AM on February 24, 2006

There was a mashup of Kanye West and the Beach Boys going around ("West Sounds") that had the producer, Lushlife, singing on a track ("Through the Wire", the 8th track, I think) with some clever math-terminology-laden lyrics.
posted by milkrate at 8:39 AM on February 24, 2006

Less obvious: "Patterns" by Simon and Garfunkel.
posted by Aknaton at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2006

You can find the surprisingly catch "Mandelbrot Set" at Jonathan Coulton's song page.

Matthew Matics isn't quite as musically talented as Mr. Coulton, but he is undeniably mathematic. Plus, you can get his songs in Swedish.
posted by yankeefog at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2006

(be sure to post the final tracklisting here!)
posted by ori at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2006

Zero Zero Zero! by Sam Phillips.
posted by nimsey lou at 9:07 AM on February 24, 2006

"I've got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . senses working overtime" by XTC

PS: Song is called "Senses Working Overtime" Seems like there might also be a hidden "X" factor in the song, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:30 AM on February 24, 2006

Hilary Duff "The Math"

You're always trying to figure out
What I am all about
If you don't know what the answer is
Then just shut up and kiss

It shouldn't take forever
To put it all together

If you can't do the math
Then get out of the equation
I am calling you back
This is * 69

Is it a minus or a plus
Does enough equal enough
If you can't do the math
Then nothing adds up
Tell me why I'm here

Sure I want someone to understand
But I don't need the stress
I'm not about being analyzed
Like it's some kind of test

Don't have to be a genius
To figure what's between us


You can spend your whole life analyzing
Justifying, quantifying, and dividing
'Till there's nothing anymore
Why don't you just close your eyes
And kiss my lips and let it go
Just let it flow
It's what I'm waiting for

Don't have to be a genius
To figure what's between us


posted by cillit bang at 9:44 AM on February 24, 2006

New Math by Tom Lehrer

18 Wheels on a Big Rig by Trout Fishing in America

Saved by Zero by The Fixx

Oopportunities by the Pet Shop Boys ("majored in mathmatics... studied at the Sorbonne....")

Adding Up Numbers by Kompressor

The entire number section of Schoolhouse Rock

that 1-2-3-4-5... 6-7-8-9-10... 11-12 song from Sesame Street.

One is the Lonliest Number by 3 Dog Night
posted by ilsa at 11:00 AM on February 24, 2006

Oopportunities by the Pet Shop Boys ("majored in mathmatics... studied at the Sorbonne....")

Doctored in math'matics, better yet. (He could've been a don.)
posted by Aknaton at 11:37 AM on February 24, 2006

18 Wheels on a Big Rig was written by Heywood Banks, and his is the definitive version.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 PM on February 24, 2006

Hey, I didn't know 23skidoo was 15-16 Puzzle. That guy rocks, as does much of Songfight. In fact, let me recommend Puce's tribute cover of Fuzzy Logic if you want a harder rock sound.
posted by jenovus at 2:06 PM on February 24, 2006

"Numbers" by Kraftwerk -- seems even more appropriate than "Pocket Calculator," mentioned above (it's just a recitation of numbers in various languages).

Also "Let X=X" by Laurie Anderson. Not particularly about math (though the title is in the lyrics), but a groovy song nonetheless.
posted by ROTFL at 2:25 PM on February 24, 2006

The Decemberists - "Of Angels and Angles"
(short cute acoustic pop guitar ditty)

...which has nothing to do with math.

Carry the Zero by Built to Spill is a great song, though.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:41 PM on February 24, 2006

The Butchies, "Forget Your Calculus" ("forget your calculus who will forget us")

Blue Dogs, "River Material" ("Is there nothing unpredictable something to hold on to except for math and science and all they know is true?")
posted by smash at 3:29 PM on February 24, 2006

Science Vs. Romance (Rilo Kiley) "Zeros and Ones"
Your Algebra (The Shins)
Three is a Magic Number, My Hero Zero, Figure Eight (School House Rock)
posted by Packy_1962 at 5:18 PM on February 24, 2006

Mandelbrot Set by Jonathan coulton.
posted by ThatSomething at 5:18 PM on February 24, 2006

I have to mention Algebra Suicide; unfortunately, their music is terrible.
posted by gleuschk at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2006

And for when her head starts spinning from all the numbers, Jimmy Buffett says it all in Math Sux!!
posted by MiamiDave at 6:23 PM on February 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your posts, everybody! Lot and lots of good stuff here.

For those keeping score at home, here are a few more we dug up:

A-Camp - Algebra
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - What's Your Angle?
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Beware
Beaumont - Girls and Maths
Bruce Stringbean And The S Street Band (Sesame Street) - Born to Add
Jets to Brazil - Bad Math
Nicolette - Wicked Mathematics
Supernova - Math
Beachwood Sparks - Pi and a Bee
Todd Clark - Mathematics Don't Mean a Thing
George Clinton - Mathematics
Drive Like Jehu - New Math
Ex-Models - Other Mathematics
Tom Glazer & Dotie Evan - How Do We Measure Energy?

For the cover we, er, appropriated Hiroshi Sugimoto's photos of plaster casts of mathematical forms.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:03 PM on March 8, 2006

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