Has there ever been a more memorable, yet concise, intro in the history of pop? One chord. Literally just one chord. But I’d bet anyone with even a passing interest in popular music would be able to identify it.
A Hard Day’s Night, by The Beatles (their 5th of seventeen #1s)
3 weeks, from 23rd July – 13th August 1964
I’d also wager that entire theses have been devoted to this chord… (*Edit* Check out a 2004 report entitled “Mathematics, Physics, and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’” if that’s your thing.) As chords go, it’s quite a complicated one, with George Harrison playing an F and a G, while Paul McCartney adds a D on the bass, plus lots of other bits of wizardry from George Martin. Try the Wiki entry on the song for more detail. I didn’t really understand…
To the actual song, then. The intro fades, and we race into the first verse. It’s been a hard day’s night, And I’ve been working like a dog… And what’s that in the background, setting the frantic pace… Bongos?? Sure sounds like it. It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleepin’, Like a log…
Coming hard on the heels of two R&B chart-toppers, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’, this sounds a bit light. Perhaps even a bit dated. So 1963… The But when I get home to you, I find the things that you do… line sounds like the climax to a cheesy sitcom theme. (‘One Foot in the Grave’, maybe…)
But the bridge comes in, and blasts all these doubts away. When I’m home, Everything seems to be right… Insistent cowbell, and the way that Paul half-screams Tight… Yeah! It’s actually a pretty filthy song. When he gets home to his girl, he finds the things that she does, make him feel alright… Who knows, maybe she’s just fetching him his pipe and slippers… Then scream! And solo. I love a scream before a solo. It’s second only to shouting the guitarist’s name in my list of ‘Brilliant Ways to Introduce a Solo’.
Actually, listening properly to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ for the first time in years, it feels like this is actually four songs in one. You’ve got the intro, the cheesy verses, the intense bridge, then the outro… The jingly, jangly, echoey outro that sounds as if it’s coming from a year or two in the future. It kills of Beatles Mk I, and suddenly this record doesn’t sound lightweight, or like a re-tread of their previous hits. Those last five seconds basically announce that Merseybeat is dead; but that The Fab Four will continue setting the tone for the next few years. Everyone knows that The Beatles were ‘very good’; but it’s tiny moments like this that confirm it.
This song was, of course, from a film of the same name, all about the boys carousing their way around London, getting up to all sorts of hi-jinks. It was their first feature film appearance and, whaddya know, it’s one of the most influential music-movies ever made. Even their films turned out that way. They simply had the Midas touch.
Interestingly, what with this disc being released at the height of Beatlemania, as part of the soundtrack to the biggest film of the year, it didn’t enter the charts at #1. Entering the chart at the top was a big deal back then – Elvis had done it twice, Cliff once… That’s it. It seems natural to assume that The Beatles would have done so too in pretty short order. But they never did. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ entered at #3, before climbing. They would have to wait until ‘Get Back’, their penultimate #1 in 1969, to hit the summit in release week… I say ‘interesting’; but maybe it’s just me. A strange quirk, anyway. Onwards.