Saturday, July 18, 2009
A HARD DAYS NIGHT
Wouldn't be a great stretch to say that the brightest star of A Hard Days Night (album) is Harrison's Rickenbacker 360/12. Playing a central role in the exciting new sounds that colored the Beatles output in 1964 (and beyond), the 12-string jangle not only inspired Roger McGuinn to electrify the acoustic folk he had been steeped in but also helped to form hundreds of bands in its wake.
When Walter Shenson was questioned about why he wanted to produce a movie with four non actors, his quick reply was, "for the soundtrack album percentages." Now that's candor. Sure enough, United Artists dutifully released the disc in the US with the seven tunes from the film plus "I'll Cry Instead" and four orchestrated instrumentals conducted and arranged by George Martin. They made a small fortune.
The proper version, released in the UK in July of 1964, contains thirteen tunes, all composed by Lennon/McCartney. None of their contemporaries, with the exception of Bob Dylan, had done such a thing. Better yet, their sonic progression continued at an astonishing rate.
Could there be any better evidence of this than that startling opening chord? Authoritative, though no one seems to agree on its exact label. G7add9sus4, G7sus4, G11sus4, Dm7sus4 and Fadd9 have all been suggested by those with time on their hands. The effect is remarkable, continuing their tradition of powerful album intros. Aside from auditory impact, the song also conjures up the image of the four running away from an hysterical crowd of girls in a sequence that has been parodied many times in the intervening years. Written by Lennon, he and McCartney trade off on lead vocals (McCartney takes the bridge) and utilize those iron clad harmonies in the chorus. George Martin doubles the solo on piano, while Ringo drives the song aided by forceful, on beat cowbell and other percussive madness. It is the musical equivalent of a lightning strike with a flawlessly picked 12 string outro to fade. On these strengths, the Beatles were the first group to simultaneously nail down the number one album and single slots on both sides of the Atlantic.
Romanticism would be the overall theme of the selections found on A Hard Days Night. They pull it off without getting trapped in overt sentimentality, perhaps because they lean on their talents as a dynamic rock band who happen to be indulging in a few mid tempo ballads. Speaking of which, they don't come any better than "If I Fell", which employs a mouthful of chords and has a tricky high harmony part that McCartney reportedly had some issues with before nailing it. George provides the decorative icing on the cake on what I would nominate as one of Lennon's most impressive early works.
Feeling the competitive urge to match (or surpass) his partner, McCartney effortlessly turns in "Can't Buy Me Love" with the massive hook placed directly in front that sent it sailing to the top of the charts. Slightly sloppy guitar solo from Mr. H, though it gave the album a great boost of energy. They were still cutting records pretty fast, which also added urgency to the track. Possessing one of rock's most versatile voices, he also came up with the stunning "And I Love Her" that contains a haunting melody, delicate playing from everyone and rich minor chords with a key modulation from that perfect nylon stringed guitar solo. His crowning achievement here is "Things We said Today", which strikes a perfect balance between arrangement and thoughtful lyrics. The absolute masterstroke is the sudden shift to major chords in the bridge, immediately lifting the song out of an introspective funk and putting it in a very mature class owing entirely to its fine structure. It was quickly added to their live set.
Strong on all counts, the only weak link of the pack is "When I Get Home". It really seems like a knock off and is not particularly interesting when juxtaposed with the gems that surround it.
Lennon definitely dominated the writing at this point. Stylistically, the country feel of "I'll Cry Instead" pointed toward the direction of Beatles For Sale, though it is the closer that is really worthy of praise. "I'll Be Back" has no discernible chorus, a subtle acoustic hook and spot on two part harmonies from John and Paul. Incredibly, it bears no resemblance to anything else on A Hard Days Night and gives the listener a glimpse of the artistic depths that were waiting to be explored within the restless mind of one John Lennon.
Deserving of every superlative voiced by those with the ability to appreciate their gifts, Lennon and McCartney were now regarded as being in a class of their own. Virtually without peer, the most covered and prolific song writing partnership of the sixties would embark on a journey that would astound even their most hardened critics.
The film was pretty good, too.
What was the working title given to the film before "A Hard Days Night" was chosen?