The distinctive chord which opens ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ became one of the most iconic sounds in The Beatles’ output. Instantly recognisable, it was the perfect beginning to the group’s debut feature film.
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.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
There have been a number of theories as to the identity of the chord. Over the years, suggestions have included the following:
- A dominant 9th of F in the key of C
- C-Bb-D-F-G-C in the key of C
- A polytriad ii7/V in Ab major
- G7sus4 (open position)
- D7sus4 (open position)
- G7 with added 9th and suspended 4th
- A superimposition of Dm, F, and G
- Dm11 with no 9th
The chord was confirmed by George Harrison as an Fadd9 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.
In the studio
A Hard Day’s Night was recorded at EMI Studios in a session taking place from 7-10pm on 16 April 1964. It took The Beatles nine takes to record, just five of which were complete performances.
The backing track – 12-string electric rhythm guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar, 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.
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”.
Using audio spectrum analysis and close listening of the Love surround sound mix, the notes of the various instruments have been isolated to a high degree of probability.
The Fadd9 chord, as played by Harrison on his 12-string Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar, was as follows:
The Fadd9 on the electric 12-string guitar was crucial to the power of the chord, giving it a richness which would otherwise have been absent. The notes fretted on the top four strings were also used for the arpeggio at the end of the song, although this was recorded as an overdub on a different track of the tape.
As Harrison pointed out, his 12-string wasn’t the only instrument to be heard during the chord. John Lennon also performed an Fadd9, using a Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic guitar.
Close listening reveals a cymbal and snare drum buried in the mix, and notes performed on the bass and piano.
Paul McCartney added a D note, played on the fifth fret of the A string on his Höfner violin bass. This note is an octave lower than an open D string on a six-string guitar, and had a crucial effect on the overall sound of the chord.
George Martin played a Steinway grand piano on A Hard Day’s Night, and contributed to the opening chord. Computer analysis has suggested that Martin played five notes: D2, G2, D3, G3 and C4 (middle C is C4). Furthermore, the sustain pedal was held down, allowing further harmonics to emerge.
(Sincere thanks to Wayne Harrison)
Reproducing the chord
In 2011 Randy Bachman, formerly of Bachman Turner Overdrive, revealed that Giles Martin had played him the song’s individual multitracks at Abbey Road Studios, and was able to demonstrate the guitar and bass parts.
Since the song’s guitars had originally been grouped together on one track of the 1964 four-track tape, and Giles Martin was using Pro Tools at the time, it seems likely that the instruments had been separated by Martin during the creation of the 2006 Love album, to create the surround sound mix for the Cirque du Soleil production.
Bachman claimed that the chord was G7sus4, although he mistakenly identified Lennon’s chord as a Dsus4. Crucially, he also failed to take into account the piano, which altered the nature of the chord. Adding a G on the bottom string is the easiest way to reproduce the sound without a piano, although it is not what The Beatles actually played.
Although all the instruments would be required for an accurate replication of the chord, the most commonly used version for a solo guitar is a G7sus4: a chord barred at the 3rd fret.
This lacks the crucial A note from Harrison’s and Lennon’s chords. This can be approximated by playing a G7sus4/A, again barred at the 3rd fret: