#263: A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles
One of the greatest traditions of the American high school has many different names depending on what part of the country you’re in, but I knew them as Valograms. Every year on Valentine’s Day, choir would get excused from classes (hell yeah) so they could travel from class to class to deliver candy, anonymous love notes, and cheerful, pitchy renditions of pop songs.
Not to toot my own saxophone, but I had quite a popular Valogram group, because I would cart my big old acoustic guitar around and play with a chorus of weird but well-liked girls, and we always picked out fun themes. Valentine’s Day of my Senior Year, we decided to play all Beatles tunes, and when I listened to A Hard Day’s Night, that day came flooding back, because two of the songs we played happened to be on this album.
It does make sense, because this is only their third studio album, and they still mainly did love songs. But who does a better love song than the Beatles?
The first song from this record we performed was “And I Love Her,” which I timidly marked on my acoustic guitar. This is nearly a proper wedding song, with the Beatles singing as cleanly as they can, so it worked perfect for our choirgirl voices. (I recently discovered the Kurt Cobain cover, too, which works flawlessly.)
The second, of course, was “Can’t Buy Me Love.” We nailed the swift intro, and even though we were too shy to shriek like the Beatles, we did our best to match their delivery. Even though this song has been done to death, you have to appreciate its simple brilliance: It’s the rare Beatles 12-bar blues. While the Rolling Stones are pretty much married to that uniquely American chord progression, the Beatles are nearly allergic to it. And of course, every time the Beatles try something new, they’re instantly successful.
(We also performed “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” and ((no duh)) “All You Need Is Love.”)
What I didn’t know when I was sixteen was that the songs we performed were written for a movie of the same name by Richard Lester, which I’ve never seen. (Even though I love music lore, I’ve always hated concert films. No matter how authentic and raw they claim to be, I can never get past the sense that it’s all marketing material, hagiographical and unreal.) Every song on this record is in the movie, with the exception of the closer “I’ll Be Back,” which is a shame, because it’s catchy but so so weird: janky meter, no chorus, mixture of major and minor keys. The Beatles were just starting to get wild with it, but in a subtle enough way so they didn’t alienate anyone quite yet.
The RS blurb notes that this is also the group’s first album of all-original material, and the first featuring George Harrison on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. (If you’ve ever loved Nancy Wilson on her 12-string, you can thank George Harrison.) According to this random Internet forum I found, “You Can’t Do That” was George’s first session with this unique guitar, and you can hear how much janglier it sounds. Plus, I love the mix on their voices — they sound grunge. “Any Time At All” also features the 12-string.
In terms of vocals, the Beatles (as always) have harmonies that are more on-key and original than any other group before or since — perhaps only matched by the Beach Boys and maybe Boyz II Men. “A Hard Day’s Night” has Harrison’s 12-string but it’s the harmonies that make it so much fun. “If I Fell” would be a gorgeous wedding song if the lyrics weren’t so mistrustful of the object of Lennon’s affections. When one of their voices catches on the word vain, I shiver.
Those are the slow love songs, but I’m much more interested in the fun ones. “Tell Me Why” is the best Singing-In-The-Car-Very-Loudly song. They’re all singing, after all. “I Should Have Known Better” is so earnest that I don’t mind that it’s a bit whiny. “I’ll Cry Instead” somehow ended up being my favorite. He just wants to show his ex-lover up by being a heartbreaking sex machine, but first he has to go hide in a corner and cry. Is there anything more relatable than that?
The Beatles’ know what their assets are, and their genius is using them to the best of their ability. “Things We Said Today” meshes the 12-string sound with several arresting harmonies, before moving into a rock-and-roll beat. Then on “When I Get Home,” they take the idea of a badass rock song about telling yer old lady off or something and build it around a wild chord progression.
I hate when people say that the Beatles were overrated, or that their songs weren’t as good as people thought they were. They took the most commercial style of music that existed and then morphed it so dramatically that they influenced, like, the way that all music would sound forever. (Remember, they made a movie about it?)
I liked this record because it was the Beatles on the cusp of getting truly inspired and weird, nestled between their bright and shiny pop past and the weird and winding road they ended up traveling down.