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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night"

The Beatles
"A Hard Day's Night"
Parlophone (1964)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

This blog centers on music. You know this. Therefore it may surprise you to know that this post revolves more around a film titled "A Hard Day's Night" than the album with the same title. Both, however, star the one and only Beatles.

The '60s were a time ripe for the onscreen exposition of musicians, even better than the onset of music videos during the '80s. Elvis Presley had gotten the ball rolling by starring in roughly a thousand films beginning in the late '50s. Presley was an exception however. Label-mates like Johnny Cash were too stiff for a feature film, and frankly, Roy Orbison wasn't attractive enough. The Beatles, the biggest act since Presley, were naturals for a film adaptation of its own and other good-looking dudes like The Monkees would follow.

The downside to Presley's films was that they sucked. The musician played virtually the same role in every movie, with just the setting changed. An outgoing lady-charmer in the army, an outgoing lady-charmer cliff-diving in Hawaii, an outgoing lady-charmer snake-charmer in Bombay. Even worse, each film would highlight one of Presley's singles, accompanied by a handful of tunes written by outsiders strictly for the movie, resulting in soundtrack disasters. Presley himself hated many of the musical offerings, but bit the bullet. The Beatles would have none of it, and John Lennon famously referred to Presley's film work with several four-letter words.

The group composed 13 new tracks explicitly for use in the "A Hard Day's Night" soundtrack, making it the first album composed entirely for a film. As a result, fans and critics were assured that the music accompanying the film wasn't a joke. Sadly, this didn't become a standard in the industry. Presley certainly continued his disappointing trend. The exceptions are albums we'll see in the future, the music behind the blaxploitation films "Shaft" and "Super Fly" by Issac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, respectively. Nowadays, artists create soundtracks all the time, but avoid releasing them under their own name, lest the results alienate fans. A major example is Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, who scored the American version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and won an Oscar for his "The Social Network" effort. Both are essentially Nine Inch Nails records, but Reznor did not see fit to label each as such.

The Beatles didn't just write all of the songs on "A Hard Day's Night," they made it what is probably the band's second-most important album (behind "Sgt. Peppers"). The record was the first that featured no covers, and it found the group willing to jump amongst genres, a trait not nearly as common at the time. There are straight rock 'n' roll numbers of course, but "I Should Have Known Better" demonstrates Lennon's appreciation for Bob Dylan, "Tell Me Why" uses doo-wop vocals, "I'll Cry Instead" is undeniably country/western, and George Harrison's newfound appreciation of the 12-string guitar is widespread on the album. All in all, it was the beginning of a trend that would make future albums among the most influential in history.

Of course, for all of the experimentation on the album, two of the group's most resounding rock 'n' roll tracks are its best here. Paul McCartney's "Can't Buy Me Love" is always catchy, but Lennon's title-track is the showstopper (despite opening the album). From its opening chord (the most studied in history, I daresay) to its unique solo (Not played on the 12-string as many believe, but rather double-tracked with an electric guitar and a piano), this is Beatles gold.

It's worth noting that the film isn't bad either. The band doesn't need to take on fake personas, but rather tackles the issues of superstardom with snark and thick Liverpool accents. It's like watching an episode of "Scooby-Doo;" multiple characters on an even keel with each other, and each shining with his own comic charm. "A Hard Day's Night" is still the best band-movie of all time. Coordinating film and music is important, if I didn't make it clear enough. It's not called "multi-media" for nothing.

INTERESTING FACT: Producers wanted the group to overdub its thick accents for an American release, but Lennon responded with more four-letter words. However, something that did change for foreign audiences was the title. Here are some hilarious examples: "Four Boys in The Wind" in France, "Yeah! Yeah! Here We Come" in Finland and "The Kings of Yeah-Yeah-Yeah" in Brazil.

"A Hard Day's Night"


  1. As always, informative and insightful. This is an album I thought I knew, but it turned out I had only heard the few radio hits. When I rented the movie (it appears on IMDB's Top 250, and I'm a sucker for list completion) I was actually really disappointed with the film. I'm not much for watching movies just because they are influential, but I will admit that some of the songs really blew me away; "If I Fell," for example, was one I had never heard and fell for.

  2. I also saw that it was on several "best-of" lists. I didn't think it was THAT good. Certainly wasn't Kubrickian.