Review Summary: Fun as a bucket of British kittens.
When it comes to Very Important Bands, The Beatles are far and away the most important. They wrote the 3-step pamphlet on being a VIB, release accessible pop, transition into experimental variations of the same pop, break up spectacularly. Thing is, when one writes about a band as important as The Beatles, they tend to look at their albums as pieces to a bigger puzzle, drawing connections to preceding and succeeding work as how this influenced that and so on. When done properly, it raises interesting ideas about the growth and evolution of the band. When done improperly it becomes a way for the critics to lazily distance themselves from the music itself by looking at it as a connecting piece to something bigger and better. So the most fun I’ve had with A Hard Days Night realizing that this is an album of incredibly tight pop songs. Not a single song cracks the 3-minute mark, most barely reach 2, they couldn’t afford to waste a second.
It takes one play of the almighty title track to remember one very important thing about The Beatles; they made some great music. It’s a dizzyingly good album opener, temple smashing cowbell, a riot of bongos, and 12 glorious strings. This is a band that thinks everything through, notice that Lennon’s sneer handles the lines about working yourself to exhaustion then McCartney’s heaven sent tenor takes over right on “When I’m home!” That the two could so effectively contrast each other then sync up for perfect harmonies is a testament to the one in a billion chance of these two ever even talking to each other.
From there, it’s hit after hit. Logic dictates that something must have gone wrong, that at least one song just isn’t up to par, but when it came time for me to consider the lows of this album I could only stare at the track list and shrug. “I Should Have Known Better” rides a cold blast of harmonica and Lennon scraping the top of his range all the way to “Follow up to the amazing opening that isn’t disappointing” Valhalla. “And I Love Her”’s obvious light and dark imagery might be a tad corny if it wasn’t surrounded by a positively mysterious backdrop of acoustic guitar and clavicle. “Can’t Buy Me Love”s reckless sprint, “Things We Said Today”s sullen brood, its all perfect. In fact, if I could point to a flaw, it’s too perfect. The Beatles are staying right in their lane here taking almost no risks that would so thoroughly color their later work, but that’s just nitpickery, it’s a spectacular album that anyone can jump into and enjoy.
I’ve always had a strong preference for early Beatles because I find it to be the most unvarnished. Their more ambitious albums have been buried under mountains of covers, documentaries, best albums of all time lists, movies (Especially the insufferable Across the Universe), and hundreds of thousands of words. But their early albums contain some eyebrow raising surprises, songs that haven’t been totally absorbed into the pop culture lexicon. A Hard Days Night, in addition to its hits that haven’t aged a day, contains many far less familiar Beatles tunes and its through those songs that one can rediscover the incredible truth about The Beatles, they made music. Damn good music at that.