Friday, August 6, 2010

388 A Hard Days night- The first great soundtrack.

Album: A Hard Days night
Artist: The Beatles.
Year: 1964
Genre: Early Beatles.

Number 388 sees a continuation of the march of the Beatles- an unstoppable progression that began at number 420 and will contain a lot more steps between now and the end of the list. Once again I will try and contain myself and again I'll probably fail dismally because I'm a massive fan of the fab four, hopefully however I'll go some way to pointing out why I think you should be too.

A Hard Days night has thirteen songs every one of which is a Lennon/McCartney composition. By today's standards that's nothing special, we expect the new Radiohead album to be a Radiohead composition, but back before the Beatles reinvented the album this sort of thing was a real rarity. Albums were basically a way of persuading people to fork out money for some filler to accompany a single they probably already owned. Most pre-Beatles albums were made up of covers with the only original compositions purchased from a professional songwriter who worked for a company that sold hits to producers. Buying an album made up of entirely new compositions written for the record was a rarity in 1964 and the fact that we expect it today is thanks to Mr Lennon and Mr McCartney. And while we're praising the world's greatest songwriting duo lets remember that this album was the first of two they recorded in 1964 having released two the year before and cranking out two more the following year, along with EP's and singles. In the first 3 years of their recording career Lennon and McCartney wrote 71 original songs, something most bands couldn't manage in 15 years. As if writing and recording of those original compositions wasn't enough the lovable liverpuddlians traveled across the UK and then the world performing the songs for hordes of screaming fans and appearing on countless radio and TV shows.

Perhaps the biggest miracle in amongst all of this was that they found time to make movies. People forget that A Hard Day's night is more than just a new Beatles album it's also the soundtrack to their first motion picture. If you haven't seen the movie then can I recommend you check it out. A Hard Day's Night isn't just the quick knock-off movie that lots of bands made throughout the sixties, which is basically just an extended video clip with hastily thrown together linking pieces. It's a well scripted and enjoyable comedy movie with great lines and four great performances from the Beatles who proved surprisingly natural in front of the camera. The great film reviewer Roger Ebert described it as "one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies" which is high praise for someone who's been reviewing movies for over 40 years.

And so to continue a tradition here's a track by track run down of the 13 Lennon McCartney Compositions that make up A Hard Day's Night.

A Hard Day's Night.

It's no surprise to find some indications of weariness creeping into the Beatles catalogue by 1964. It's a subject John would often return to but in this early outing he's eager to counter his fatigue with a joyous indication that the woman he lives with is like a female can of Red Bull. The album version is great but I have to say I'm a big fan of take 7 which replaces the lead break with a great instrumental passage.

I should have known better.

Track two isn't much of a trip away from the opening track with a similar tempo and feel and John again taking lead vocals. It's a good track for appreciating how good a singer Lennon was.

If I fell

The pace slows down for track three which cruises along as Paul sings another insincere narrative about his love life. While people around this time poured over Dylan's lyrics to get some insight into what the man himself was thinking there wasn't anyone alive who thought McCartney was actually relating his true feelings in his lyrics. He could be in a happy relationship, pining for an unrequited love and lamenting a tragic break up all in the space of an album's length. Paul kept his private feelings private and instead gave his fans lyrical themes that they could readily identify with.

I'm Happy just to Dance with you

George sings this track and gives us a perfect example of why the Beatles were popular with mums as well as their daughters. Can you imagine a band today singing a song about how they were quite content just dancing? "No thanks, I'm not interested in oral sex I'm finding this foxtrot more than fulfilling enough." The Stones were making it clear that they only had one thing on their mind while the Beatles were interested in more innocent least in their lyrics. Anyone who believes they were only interested in dancing out of hours is frankly fooling themselves.

And I love her.

A tender ballad possibly ruined by the presence of someone incessantly tapping a piece of wood. I don't know if it's just me but overdubbed percussion like that really overwhelms the rest of the song. I'd love to track down the original master for a track like this without the overdubbing. If anyone has it please let me know.

Tell me Why

Another up-tempo rocker that seems to lack the wealth of ideas that John gave all his other compositions. It tends to wear out its welcome pretty quick and only has a weird falsetto part for variety. Not a bad track by any stretch of the imagination but not nearly as good as the rest of the album.

Can't buy me love.

Another rocker but this time it's one of Paul's and he provides the highlight of the album. It hasn't dated at all and still sounds as infectious today as it did almost fifty years ago. You know it and you love it.

Any Time At All

Side two of A Hard Day's night are tracks recorded in order to make a full album's worth of material. These songs didn't make it into the movie but are an added bonus. Any Time At All is one of those hidden Beatle gems that make their album so rewarding. You won't hear this on the radio and it doesn't make any compilations. The only way to hear this song is on this album and it's worth seeking out. It's a glorious piece of sixties pop/rock that anyone else would have been delighted to release as a hit single.

I'll cry instead.

John goes pseudo-country and gives us some jangly pop. It's worth hearing the remastered version of this track to appreciate Paul's basslines. All the focus on his songwriting and vocals tends to overshadow his contributions on the bass but it's worth hearing him out. He's a lot more creative than people give him credit for.

Things we said today.

A wistful track by Paul which has a sudden trek into darker and heavier passages when the chorus strikes. People tended to praise their later experimental albums so much that they dismissed these early efforts as a bit by-the-numbers. Tracks like this prove that the Beatles always had an adventurous edge, even when confined by the guitar-drums-bass limitations of their early studio works.

When I get home.

Even if you've never heard this track you could identify the band after about 5 seconds. Possibly even earlier. In fact this song is so Beatley it's possible that it's fab-fourness permeates beyond the boundaries of the disc and you could actually identify this just by smelling the CD. Even an MP3 rip gives off a Beatles odour.

You can't do that.

Apparently in his later, more sensitive days John regretted the ugly lyrics in this song which suggest he's going to inflict physical harm on his girlfriend if he catches her talking to another man again. Nobody was batting an eyelid at the time but it didn't really gel with his image later in life.

I'll be back again.

Another song sung by John who really dominates this album. Another track suggesting he's got a precarious hold on the woman he's with who seems to be constantly flirting with the notion of infidelity. Ironically John's wife at the time was a stable rock in his life and it was John who was cheating and would later abandon her completely.

A Hard Days' night is definitely the most consistent album by the Beatles in their earlier period. There aren't as many highs as their other releases but then there are no songs that drag the whole thing down. It's just 13 well-crafted and superbly performed songs.

Highlight: Can't buy me love.
Lowlight: Any Time at all, not that it's that low.

Influenced by: Soul groups. Wilson Picket for example.
Influenced: Everyone.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this album let alone the stupidity of beatle lovers is outragous. this isn't that great and NEITHER was the POP group you losers like so much. in case you don't know THERE WERE OTHER ACTUALLY BANDS IN THE 60'S not strictly these losers as the media impleays. the media what do they know NOTHING they know NOTHING about or between a REAL ROCK band or the diferrence between a POP group and A ROCK GROUP. the beatles a "rock" group AS IF. they were BEARLY in the studio and whenever they played live you know right away that they are ALL studio. the beatles were NEVER a rock band just A TEEN IDOL POP GROUP WITH BORING SONGS THAT ALL SOUNDED THE SAME."

-It just goes to show that you can't please all the people all of the time. Although I have to point out that most of the negative reviews for this album were related to mastering and not the actual content.

So would you listen to this album any time at all or would the disc be a hard days night for you? Tell me why below.


  1. Hi David,
    As this is my 4 year old daughter's favourite album we have listened to it about 200 times since I got the remastered box at Christmas. It definitely helped me rediscover the early fabs and I have to say, it is the best pre-Revolver album.
    We all sing it together, every song and Stella's favourite is Tell Me Why. I can't really say what makes it the one that stands out for her, but she likes the Holly Hiccup in the chorus and Paul and George's backing in the verses.

  2. They just keep churning out great album after great album. They do better ones later but this one is just plain fun, as is the film. It was on the set of the film that George met Patty. And if you look hard enough you will find a young Phil Collins as an extra... neither did I.

  3. Whoa, how did you find Phil Collins?? That's crazy.
    GREAT album btw!!