A Hard Day’s Night

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It is believed that The Beatles may have intended to record a 14th song for A Hard Day’s Night on 3 June 1964. However, Ringo Starr was taken ill with tonsillitis and pharyngitis during a photo session that morning, and stand-in drummer Jimmie Nicol was brought into Abbey Road for a rehearsal ahead of The Beatles’ imminent world tour.

The rehearsal took place between 2.30 and 5.30pm, replacing a pre-booked recording session. After Nicol had left the studio, The Beatles recorded demos of You Know What To Do, No Reply, and It’s For You. The latter song was given to Cilla Black.

It is not known whether the group intended for any of these songs to feature on A Hard Day’s Night. However, The Beatles’ failure to record a final song for the album meant that it was released, unusually, with 13 tracks.

Whether I’ll Be Back was always intended to be the album’s last song is not known, but it intriguing to imagine how the album might have sounded if accompanied by a full version of one of the three demo songs.

The ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ opening chord

The clanging chord which opened the title track of The Beatles’ first film, third album and seventh UK single remains one of the most iconic moments of their career. Along with the final piano chord that ends A Day In The Life in 1967, it bookended what was perhaps the group’s most creative phase as songwriters and recording artists.

We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch.
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

George Harrison: Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar
John Lennon: Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: Hofner violin bass
Ringo Starr: snare drum, cymbal
George Martin: Steinway grand piano

The chord was identified as an Fadd9 by George Harrison during an online chat on 15 February 2001:

Q: Mr Harrison, what is the opening chord you used for A Hard Day’s Night?
A: It is F with a G on top (on the 12-string), but you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.

Paul McCartney added a D note, played on the 12th fret of the D string on his Hofner violin bass. For more information, read our feature on the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ opening chord.

In the studio

The Beatles met Francis Hall, the president of guitar company Rickenbacker, during their first visit to America in February 1964. Hall set up a meeting in New York City to demonstrate new instruments and amplifiers, and George Harrison was given one of the new 12-string 360 electric guitars. John Lennon also requested a custom-made 12-string 325 model, which was delivered at a later date.

How do I like it? Marvellous. It’s gear. It sounds a bit like an electric piano, I always think, but you get a nice fat sound out of it.
George Harrison, 1964
Melody Maker

The sound of the Rickenbacker became a key part of A Hard Day’s Night. The 12-string was perhaps most notable in the iconic opening chord of the title track, and in I Should Have Known Better and You Can’t Do That. The instrument also influenced many of recordings that followed by bands such as The Byrds and The Searchers.

A further development in the studio was the advance to four-track recording, replacing the two-track facilities that had been used on Please Please Me and much of With The Beatles.

The very first records we made were mono, though I did have stereo facilities. To make mixing easier I would keep the voices separate from the backing, so I used a stereo machine as a twin-track. Not with the idea of stereo – merely to give myself a little bit more flexibility in remixing into a mono. So the first year’s recordings were made on just two tracks and were live; like doing broadcasts. With the great advance of four-track we were able to overdub and put on secondary voices and guitar solos afterwards. By the time we did A Hard Day’s Night we would certainly put the basic track down and do the vocals afterwards. Invariably, I was putting all the rhythm instruments onto either one or two tracks (generally one track) so you would have bass lumped with guitar. It wasn’t until later still that we began putting bass on afterwards as well, giving Paul the opportunity of using his voice more.
George Martin
Anthology

The first song to be recorded for A Hard Day’s Night was Paul McCartney‘s Can’t Buy Me Love. It was taped on 29 January 1964 in EMI’s Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris, in a daytime session before one of their residency concerts at the city’s Olympia Theatre.

The session had been booked for The Beatles to record German-language versions of She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. The recordings were completed ahead of schedule, leaving the group free to record a new song.

Can’t Buy Me Love was taped in just four takes, in probably less than an hour. The song became the follow-up to I Want To Hold Your Hand when released in the UK as a single on 20 March 1964, simultaneously acting as a stopgap between future recordings and a teaser for The Beatles’ forthcoming LP.

The small matter of conquering America meant The Beatles didn’t return to the studio until 25 February, when they recorded You Can’t Do That, and early versions of And I Love Her and I Should Have Known Better; both were remade in subsequent days.

For the rest of February and early March the group recorded songs for the film soundtrack. They also taped several songs which were eventually issued on the standalone Long Tall Sally EP.

As was typical in the early 1960s, The Beatles didn’t attend mixing or editing sessions for the album. George Martin worked on the recordings in the group’s absence, on one occasion adding a piano part to You Can’t Do That while The Beatles were on holiday.

Filming for A Hard Day’s Night was over by the end of April, but touring duties continued. The Beatles recorded the non-soundtrack songs for the LP in just three consecutive days from 1 June, before beginning their world tour of Denmark, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand on 4 June.

In their absence the album was edited and mixed for mono and stereo by George Martin and the EMI studio engineers. It was completed on 22 June and released in the United Kingdom on 10 July.

14 responses on “A Hard Day’s Night

  1. Elsewhere Man

    This was the first of the remasters that I purchased as I had yet to hear most of the songs in stereo.

    The remaster did not disappoint. This is clearly the best of their pre-Rubber Soul albums. And not just because it’s all originals and no covers, but in spite of that fact. The Beatles weren’t exactly going through the motions when they did covers but most of the material on this album was as good or better than any cover version they had recorded to date…

  2. vonbontee

    Interesting that their only (pre-Pepper) album without a Ringo spotlight is also their only LP with 13 songs instead of 14. Maybe they eventually decided against including Ringo’s “Matchbox” cover for the sake of preserving the all-original Lennon-McCartney purity?

      1. vonbontee

        Wow, I didn’t know that! Too bad they hadn’t recorded “Matchbox” a year earlier: If so, then they could’ve used it on WTB in place of “I Wanna Be Your Man”; and reserved THAT one for AHDN. Result = 14 MacLen originals, including one each for George & Ringo. Or, hmmm, maybe they could’ve taken “I Call Your Name” from the 4-song “Long Tall Sally” EP and added the two German songs in its place, thereby turning a 4-song EP and 13-song album into a 5-song EP and 14-song album – albeit one without a Ringo vocal…

        UNLESS…John relinquished “I’ll Cry Instead” for Ringo to sing, which I’m sure he would’ve done quite nicely! It’s got that C&W/rockabilly feel, and of course that was Ringo’s specialty.

  3. M. Whitener

    This album proved that they didn’t need the covers that filled in the first two efforts. Also, it shows the competitive nature of Lennon & McCartney with each other to top the other’s effort, with “A Hard Day’s Night” being put out to no doubt match what Paul had did just before it with “Cant Buy Me Love”.

    However, the album as a whole is John at his best across an entire Beatle album. “If I Fell” is one of his strongest efforts & “You Can’t Do That” could have easily been another #1 if released as a single. Add in “Ill Be Back” and you have John’s voice & songwriting flow at it’s very best in his pure rock singer phase of the early Beatle work.

  4. Mean_Mr_Mustard

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on that one, Liam. On AHDN, Lennon sang lead vocals on 9 of the 13 tracks. On Pepper, Lennon sings lead or has a major vocal contribution to 7 of the 13 songs, Paul 8. The two best songs on the album (arguably, of course) are Lennon’s: “Lucy…” and “A Day in the life.” Hence, Lennon is all over Pepper, even on Paul’s songs: superb vocals on “Sgt. Pepper,” co-writer of “With a Little Help,” middle-eight of Getting Better, co-writer and beautiful vocals on “She’s leaving home.” Given that, it might be somewhat accurate to call AHDN
    John’s but Pepper is definitely not `Paul’s.’ AHDH is a great album.

    1. JohnPaulGeorgeRingo

      Sorry to disagree with your disagreement MMM but I tend to agree with Liam: Paul wrote five songs (and a reprise) while John wrote three songs. John then contributed to two songs from Paul (Getting Better and With a Little Help) and Paul contributed to John’s (A Day in the Life, arguably the best song on the album, by the way). Finally, the whole concept of S. Pepper came from Paul.

  5. Rockpile

    I agree with Liam above about this being John’s album. I truly believe he was carrying the Beatles on his shoulders here when they needed him to. His voice was the strongest, he was cheekiest, he wrote the books, he wore the cap. And here he wrote the songs. His final song I’ll Be Back heralds the next phase of the Beatles the same way Tomorrow Never Knows and A Day in the Life do.

  6. Johan Cavalli

    In 10 of the 13 songs, Lennon was the dominant composer. George Martin and McCartney seldom talk about this album, because Martin wasn´t so influential here, and McCartney didn´t write so many songs.
    The melodies are innovative. The title song has glissando like arabian folk music?, the middle part in I Should Have Known Better has an increasing tension — with two changes of key — instead of the tension only in the A-bits, the intro to If I Fell has three changes of key! and the rest sounds like a madrigal from 15th century, I´m Happy Just To Dance With You is like a mix of Irwing Berlin and Lennon, and in When I Get Home, Lennon changes the melody only by changing the rythm in the same note! Lennon was a pure genius.

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