A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) – The soundtrack of an era

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A Hard Day’s Night – Released July 10, 1964

Once again, The Beatles defy expectations and conquer another medium when A Hard Day’s Night — expected by critics to be another brainless jukebox musical — turns out to be one of the most charming movie comedies ever made, overflowing with great wit and memorable melodies. The soundtrack album (at least in Britain) featured the movie’s songs, followed by six more tunes of equally high quality.

A Hard Day’s Night: That opening guitar rush is irresistible. As in the glorious movie for which this served as theme song, it’s Beatlemania captured in a nutshell: frenzied, rapturous rock-‘n’-roll. Just try to ignore its sway.

I Should Have Known Better: Musically, it’s not much different from the movie theme song that inspired its existence. But then, it shares all of that movie’s and theme’s virtues as well.

(Two trivia notes: If you’re lucky enough to find the old Apple “hits” album Hey Jude [The Beatles Again], it has a version that is practically identical, save for a guitar fluff in the opening four bars. Nobody ever did explain where they got that take.)

(Also, the American version of the Help! movie soundtrack has a charming, sitar-flavored version of their previous movie theme; it’s titled Another Hard Day’s Night and is an Indian-sounding pastiche of both songs. If only The Inner Light was as tuneful.)

If I Fell: John and Paul go for the oldest trick in the book: Playing the naive, sensitive lover who needs for his new girlfriend to help him to understand what real love really is. Oh, well, it obviously worked, didn’t it?

I’m Happy Just to Dance with You: Another lead-vocal bone thrown to George by John and Paul. He does a nice job, but heck, on A Hard Day’s Night they could have given a vocal to George Martin and pulled it off. A great dance number, just the same.

And I Love Her: The boundless optimism of A Hard Day’s Night happily overshadows the fact that, save for the title song, every single song written for and used in the film contains the word “I” or “me” in its title. This love song is a prime example, extremely appealing musically but stopping just this side of a classic Freudian case of narcissism.

Tell Me Why: Surely one of the cheeriest love-gone-wrong songs ever recorded. As with most early-Beatles works, the superb musicianship and unflagging rhythm sweep along the unquestioning listener, but how is such a harrowing lyric carried off with such smiling faces in the movie, anyway?

Can’t Buy Me Love: “I don’t care too much for money,” sings the man whose publishing royalties eventually made him one of the richest men on Earth. Still, as sops to love-stricken fans go, this is one of Paul’s jauntiest. The early version of the song, captured on Anthology 1, is even more fascinating, with Paul in even higher octaves than in the final version.

Any Time at All: Another joyous work. Some seemingly unintended elements — the skeletal piano work, Paul’s chiming in on the refrain — drive the song along nicely, too.

I’ll Cry Instead: The beginning of John Lennon’s more introspective lyrics, for anyone who cares to look. Behind the usual driving beat and bouncing guitar work hides the man with “a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet.” Happily(?), John didn’t remain in this submerge-the-sad-lyrics-in-happy-music phase forever.

Things We Said Today: One of Paul McCartney’s most nicely understated songs, about romantic memories recalled in less romantic times. Only the Hard Day’s Night version carries the full beauty of this song; the two “live” versions (on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and Live at the BBC) cut the song short and derive it of its haunting power.

When I Get Home: Judging from the orgiastic vocal delivery on the refrain, this will not be a typical “How was your day, dear?”-type conversation.

You Can’t Do That: Far more unfortunate than the Beatles songs laced with drug references and incomprehensible lyrics are the tunes that are mainlined with early Lennon misogyny, of which this song is a prime example. The lyrics indicate that the singer’s girl is to talk to no other male except him–perhaps not the most enlightened message to be sending to your screaming female fans. Stranger still is the way these lyrics are delivered with a cheery, smiling face (as seen in the Hard Day’s Night outtake shown in the “making of” documentary of this movie), as though nothing untoward was being sung. It’s a chilling precursor to The Police’s Every Breath You Take two decades later.

I’ll Be Back: The Anthology 1 early takes on this song showed that the jauntiness of the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack just wouldn’t cut it for a more thoughtful approach. The final version nailed it beautifully.

What do you think of A Hard Day’s Night and/or any of its songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Coming tomorrow: Beatles for Sale.

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