Marx would be proud. Lenin would kick himself, such is the distance by which he missed the ball. Paul McCartney screams the chorus of #1 single Can’t Buy Me Love
, which lies precisely in the middle of the barely thirty minutes album, with the intent of a true revolutionary. "I don’t care too much for money… ‘cause money can’t buy me love."
OK, it’s not exactly the Marxist ideal, but it beats the gulags. The minor-key R&B shuffle backs what is an oddly aggressive vocal, and signals a precedent set throughout the album. The song is typical of the model used on the album: it’s short (each song clocks in well below three minutes; it contrasts a bright, abrasive vocal with a melancholic accompaniment; and it utilises a songwriting trick the Beatles made their own, at George Martin’s prodding, beginning quickly with the chorus line.
The title track exudes a similar ethos. A Hard Day’s Night
opens with an infamous, and contentious, augmented G chord (again, probably down to Martin’s influence) before launching spiritedly into the chorus: "It’s been a hard day’s night/And I’ve been working like a dog … but when I get home to you/I find the things that you do/Will make me feel all right."
The working man’s anthem is one of the oldest songwriting tricks, beaten to death by John Bon Jovi, but that fact in itself is not enough to explain the song’s lasting success. The simplistic structure and lyrics are offset by a breath-taking shared vocal and a haunting bridge. Interestingly, Q magazine awarded it the honour of third most exciting song of all-time.
That same immediate chorus formula is observed on no less than six of the thirteen songs on offer. I Should Have Known Better
, Tell Me Why
and Any Time At All
are all short, peppy,perfect pop songs. All utilise the favoured layered vocal style of Lennon and McCartney, which adds some extra punch to the choruses… not that they need it. The superb vocal styles of all Beatles are often overlooked in favour of their songwriting and instrumental skills, and perhaps A Hard Day’s Night
is the best example of those skills. The tracks are generally understated instrument-wise, which ensures the focus is squarely on vocals. George’s sole vocal track, I’m Happy Just To Dance With You
, is very much a song of its time, an unfortunate casualty of the lack of good recording technology in the 60’s, but the vaguely eastern melody wonderfully contrasts the “pop" melody.
George Martin’s influence is clearly evident again in the pair of ballads, which also constitute two of the album’s highlights. If I Fell
features a haunting, classically-influenced melody, sung beautifully in harmony by McCartney(high) and Lennon(lead, bass). It’s my favourite track on the album, as it encapsulated everything I love about the early Beatles And I Love Her
is driven by a strong, tender vocal by McCartney, Ringo’s brilliant echoed bongos and some beautiful Spanish guitar picking from George. Despite his sacrilegious use of a pick on nylon-strings, he performs excellently. Also notable is the key-shift to coincide with the guitar solo, avoiding the clichéd “raised final chorus".
The final tracks mark an unfortunate dip in quality, but not so severe that they’d be labeled bad or even average tracks. I’ll Cry Instead
continues Lennon’s crying fixation on the album (among other references, If I Fell
makes allusions to the same). Evidently, the self-loathing so apparent on the follow-up had yet to take hold. Things We Said Today
is the most notable of the remaining tracks, if only for McCartney’s beautiful vocal.
If ever I there were the need to dispel the notion of the early Beatles as simply a cheesy pop band, there’s no better example of the complicity and depth in that period than the 1964 classic A Hard Day’s Night
. It’s brash, abrasive, even confrontational. It’s less “I want to hold your hand" and more “what would like for breakfast?" It’s the album which should have seen the Beatles hit their stride. The material written for the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, which famously starred the four Beatles, was deemed so strong that a separate album release would have to be arranged to accommodate those songs which couldn’t appear in the film. Unfortunately, it would take a further two tired albums before they really hit the golden trail with Rubber Soul
and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
released sequentially within three years. As it stands, A Hard Day’s Night
remains a diamond in a sea of emeralds, the one release of the startlingly prolific first three years that remains consistently of top quality throughout.
Amid the later classics Revolver
, Sgt. Pepper
, White Album
, A Hard Day’s Night
will always be overlooked. Perhaps that’s its charm.