Recording: A Hard Day’s Night

7.00pm, Thursday 16 April 1964 (50 years ago)

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

The Beatles recorded the title track of their third album and first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night, on this day.

Usually, John and I would sit down and if we thought of something we’d write a song about it. But Walter Shenson asked John and me if we’d write a song specially for the opening and closing credits. We thought about it and it seemed a bit ridiculous writing a song called A Hard Day’s Night – it sounded funny at the time, but after a bit we got the idea of saying it had been a hard day’s night and we’d been working all the days, and get back to a girl and everything’s fine… And we turned it into one of those songs.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

The song had been written in haste by John Lennon, shortly after the title of the film was decided upon. The phrase had been coined by Ringo Starr, and had previously appeared in the Sad Michael story in Lennon’s first book In His Own Write.

I was going home in the car and Dick Lester suggested the title Hard Day’s Night from something Ringo’d said. I had used it in In His Own Write, but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo. You know, one of those malapropisms. A Ringoism, where he said it not to be funny, just said it. So Dick Lester said we are going to use that title, and the next morning I brought in the song. ‘Cause there was a little competition between Paul and I as to who got the A side, who got the hit singles.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

A Hard Day’s Night was recorded at EMI Studios in a session taking place from 7-10pm. It took nine takes to record, and completed the number of songs needed for the film soundtrack.

The backing track – two rhythm guitars, bass guitar and drums – was recorded onto track one of the four-track tape, and Lennon and McCartney’s lead vocal were recorded live on track two. They added more vocals on three, along with percussion, more drums and acoustic guitar; and George Martin’s piano and the jangling guitar that ended the song were on track four.

Just five of the nine attempts were complete performances. Take one was complete, and had slightly different lyrics (“Feeling you holding me tight/All through the night”). However, it was unusable due to mistakes in the bass guitar part during the second bridge.

Takes two and three were both false starts, but take four – began before engineer Norman Smith could announce it on the talkback – was complete. However, George Harrison’s guitar solo was poor, and it was decided that he would overdub it once the backing track was complete.

Take five, wrongly announced as take four, was also complete, but six broke down during the third verse. Paul McCartney was the culprit, getting some bass notes wrong. Some studio chatter followed in which Ringo Starr was told to tap a beat on the hi-hat between the opening chord and the first verse.

Take seven was complete, but John Lennon broke a guitar string during the performance and McCartney was still having trouble in the middle section.

Lennon counted in take eight, but McCartney put a stop to it in order to practice the middle eight once more. There followed take nine, which was perfect, and became the basis for the released song.

Track three of the four-track tape was filled with acoustic guitar, bongos played by Norman Smith, more vocals by Lennon and McCartney, and cowbell. The recording was finished with a solo, played by George Martin on piano and George Harrison on guitar, on track four, plus an extra bass guitar part after the solo, underneath the line “so why on earth should I moan”.

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