Why did Janet Jackson's 'Rhythm Nation' crash certain laptops?

Janet Jackson during the Rhythm Nation tour
Windows developer Raymond Chen revealed all in a blog this week.

Since its release in 1989, Janet Jackson's iconic 'Rhythm Nation' has been played millions of times at clubs and discos all over the world.

But it turns out the dance pop classic had an impact beyond driving people wild on the dancefloor - it also had the power to crash laptops.

Long time Windows developer Raymond Chen revealed the unlikely cause in his blog 'The Old New Thing' this week.

Chen said the story came from a colleague who worked at Windows XP product support after a "major computer manufacturer" discovered the song could crash some of its laptops.

"One discovery during the investigation is that playing the music video also crashed some of their competitors' laptops," Chen wrote.

"And then they discovered something extremely weird: Playing the music video on one laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn't playing the video."

Given laptops aren't able to make decisions based on taste in music, why exactly did a song by one of the famous Jacksons have such a strange impact?

According to Chen the song contained a natural resonant frequency for the model of laptop hard drive they and other manufacturers used.

Essentially, the 5400 rpm drives used at the time were vibrating in response to the frequency, to the point where they would fail.

Chen said the manufacturer solved the issue by "adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback".

As the developer pointed out, resonant frequencies are known to have caused damage in the past.

Of course there's the old stereotype of bad singers causing glasses to smash by hitting high notes, but it also played a part in a bridge collapse.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened.

Just four months after it opened, the bridge collapsed into the Puget Sound.

Leonard Coatsworth, news editor at the Tacoma News Tribune, was one of the final people on the bridge.

"Just as I drove past the towers, the bridge began to sway violently from side to side," he wrote.

"Before I realised it, the tilt became so violent that I lost control of the car… I jammed on the brakes and got out, only to be thrown onto my face against the curb."

"Around me I could hear concrete cracking. I started back to the car to get the dog, but was thrown before I could reach it. The car itself began to slide from side to side on the roadway."

The bridge started breaking up, and plunged into the waters below with his daughter's cocker spaniel, Tubby, the only victim of the collapse.