A Hard Day’s Night

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A Hard Day's Night was written by John Lennon on the night of 13 April 1964, the day the title was selected for The Beatles' first film.

At the time Lennon was in the midst of a prolific songwriting phase, and was responsible for writing the majority of The Beatles' third album. The lyrics to the title track, scrawled on the back of a birthday card, can be seen in the British Museum in London.

John said, 'I'll write it.' And he did, he came back the next day with it. I think he might not have had all the words. I might have been in on that middle eight. Something like that would only have taken twenty minutes. That would have been plenty of time to run through it.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song was played to the film's producer, Walter Shenson, on 14 April. Lennon and McCartney performed it in their dressing room, on acoustic guitars, with Lennon's handwritten lyrics propped up on a table.

There were John and Paul with guitars at the ready and all the lyrics scribbled on matchbook covers. They played it and the next night recorded it. It had the right beat and the arrangement was brilliant. These guys were geniuses.
Walter Shenson, 1996

In the studio

A Hard Day's Night was recorded on 16 April 1964 in Abbey Road's Studio Two. It took The Beatles nine takes to complete, just five of which were complete, and was finished in under than three hours.

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 vocals were recorded live on track two.

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.

I only ever played on one Beatles song, and that was A Hard Day's Night. I played the bongos. Ringo couldn't do it. I went down to the studio and showed him what to do, but he just couldn't get that continual rhythm. So I said, 'Okay, forget it, I'll do it.' WE overdubbed it, and I left my Tape Op behind upstairs to operate the equipment.
Norman Smith
Recording The Beatles

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".

The only reason he [Paul] sang on Hard Day's Night was because I couldn't reach the notes. 'When I'm home, everything seems to be right. When I'm home...' - which is what we'd do sometimes. One of us couldn't reach a note but he wanted a different sound, so he'd get the other to do the harmony.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The Beatles also recorded George Harrison's 12-string guitar solo and arpeggio outro, doubled up by piano from George Martin. This was taped at half speed so they sounded speedier when played back.

With the great advantage 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..
George Martin

Chart success

A Hard Day's Night was first released in the USA. It appeared on the soundtrack to the film of the same name on 13 June 1964, which sold more than two million copies.

In the UK it was released on 10 July. The single, with the b-side Things We Said Today, was issued on the same day as the A Hard Day's Night album.

The single first charted in the UK on 18 July. The following week it reached the number one spot, where it remained for three weeks. The same day, 25 July, saw the A Hard Day's Night album also top the charts in the UK and US.

The American single was released on 13 July, with I Should Have Known Better on the b-side. On 1 August it hit the number one spot, where it stayed for a fortnight. The Beatles thus set a record by simultaneously holding the number one positions on both the single and album charts in the UK and US.

The Beatles were awarded a Grammy award in 1965 for A Hard Day's Night, which won the Best Performance by a Vocal Group category.

30 responses on “A Hard Day’s Night

    1. Joe Post author

      Hi John. I don’t have any info on mics and amps (I suspect they were Vox amps). A couple of books which are on my to-buy list are The Beatles’ Gear by Andy Babiuk and Recording The Beatles(.com) by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew. Those should have the information you need.

      There’s some info on the song’s opening chord here: http://www.beatlesbible.com/features/hard-days-night-chord/
      I hope it’s useful – it has information on the instruments used and the notes played.

    2. Nicolas

      The guitar used for the opening is a Rickenbacker 360/12 twelve string, played by George and the amp is a Vox AC-50. I think that they used Neumann or AKG Mics.

    3. Beatlemaniac 326

      It’s all 4 beatles and George martin on piano
      John: D over and under G
      Paul: D note
      George:F over and under G
      Ringo: ride and crash
      George M: D chord

  1. steve

    That article on the chord is great.

    At the time, 12 string electrics were virtually non-existent. Harrison was given his by Rickenbacker when the Beatles first came to New York in February 1964. It was only the second ever produced by the company, and the first to use the (now) distinctive Rickenbacker string arrangement of having the low string first (higher on the guitar and first to be hit by the pick) then the high string below it. This is part of what makes the sound distinctive. It’s amazing that after 45 years, that sound still sounds new, distinctive and just cool.

  2. Gustavo

    There should be credits for the cowbell, but I´m not sure who played it. Emerick says Ringo at the same time with the bongos, but it seems impossible to play both at the same time.

    Lennon sings both lead and harmony vocals, or at least his main vocal is double-tracked.

  3. carlos

    It´s not a piano. Actually it´s a Hammond organ played in a piano register. This sound was also used in songs like “Misery”, “Things we said today”, “I wanna be your man” & “Any time at all”

  4. Urban Osterman

    I like the solo in ‘a hard days night’ it is supposed to be played fast, but George couldn’t do it so the slowed the tape down to half speed, and then George played his solo at halfspeed an octave lower. And George Martin added the same line on the piano.

    Later when they were supposed to play this song live, there was a problem. George couldn’t play the solo as fast as needed.
    Later when they were playing on the BBC Top of the Pops, as found on the CD Beatles at the Beeb. The song was recorded live but the solo didn’t go well. So what to do..?
    They cut the solo from the LP-album and inserted it inte the live version from TotP. Listen very close to the song ‘a hard days night’ from the Beeb, you’ll hear it, especially in the earphones. These are thing that I do like about the beatles.

  5. Urban Osterman

    I read somewhere that Norman Smith played the congas(bongos on ‘a hard days night’ He showed Ringo at first, but in the end it was Norman who played it on the record.


    I don´t agree with Urban…, please hear the live recording of the song in Live at the Hollwood Bowl (EMI 1977), George plays the solo very well, without any overdubs. And with no piano even.

  7. Roland

    First & last ricky chord, solo and bongoes are overdubbed. John and paul’s voices are both double tracked. About the solo speed, it’s true George wasn’t able to play it on the recording session because it was made in a rush and he didn’t had time to practice enough. But he did it well on live as the song was played on almost every concert they did in 64. Hard Day’s Night was the first album recorded on a 4 tracks tape machine.

  8. Joshua Cook

    Did anybody pick up on the lyrical similarity with Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”? The Beatles had performed this song frequently on their BBC shows during 1963, and given the increasingly hectic nature of their work schedule it’s possible that they adapted the storyline to fit the proposed title “A Hard Day’s Night”…

  9. ray

    What was the German title for ‘A Hard Days Night?

    I have a card that stars Wilfred Bramwell, and has the title, ‘Vier Sind Im Bild’ which translates, according to Google, as ‘Four are in the picture.’

  10. artwest

    I think that Gearge Harrison had a really raw deal. Often songs were arranged or even composed in the recording studio with little or no time for George to think up, let alone practice, solo or other lead parts. At the start of a session he might hear a song played through for the first time but within an hour or three the song was finished, having evolved through several incarnations, but with fresh guitarwork, so appropriate and essential that it’s impossible to think of the songs without it.
    It’s impressive in any circumstances, in those it’s incredible.

    1. Steve Wozny

      Good point. But impromptu can also be an advantage. All of the Beatles were great at just putting it out. Sometimes thinking too much is counterproductive. I have no idea what the deal was in the studio, but these guys were so talented they could run with the moment so well.

  11. Bronx Boy Billy

    Great insight, artwest! I never thought of it that way but you’re right. You’re comment is a breath of frsh air on a site that is chock-ful of lot negativity aimed GH. He was aweome.

    1. metzgermeister77

      Not really. “Many Years From Now” was written over thirty years after the song, and Paul’s quotes were reminiscences, not researched facts. It makes sense he’d get details wrong after that long.

  12. John Wilkinson

    I was there as a kid the day they filmed HDN at Marylebone Station, not Paddington as the sleeve notes say.

    In the opening sequence the Beatles are filmed running, (and tripping) in Boston Place, a street that runs parallel to the station. Later Apple’s offices would be sited there and Paul makes reference on Anthology.

    I love this album. It has John’s toughness in the vocals. He dominates but all the others are firing too. Things become more melodic and equally good in a different way when Paul takes over. All you need is Love being the last John ‘A’ side that really counts.

    Both halves of the Beatles output are great. I don’t favour either. Just count myself bloody lucky.

  13. Joe King

    Is there a book that ACCURATELY reports WHO PLAYED WHAT on EACH SONG the Beatles recorded and released?
    For example, the times PAUL played LEAD, instead of George . . . and the times GEORGE played bass instead of Paul.
    Stuff like that?

    1. Nick

      “Paul McCartney – Bass Master – Playing the Great Beatles Bassline” outlines all of Paul’s bass work and includes a section of who played bass for every Beatles song. It does have some errors (e.g. Paul did not play bass on She Said, She Said) but is fairly accurate.

  14. Graham Paterson

    A great song and as George Martin said in the above article, the guitar opening at the beginning is perfect. It sets the scene for the song, album and brilliant film. I saw the Beatles films on TV as a kid and Let It Be at the movies in 1979, 9 years after its original release. I am so pleased to have them all on DVD now. A Hard Day’s Night is a classic film. The song is a collaboration, but it is mainly written by John Lennon with he and Paul McCartney sharing the vocals on different parts of the song, which works brilliantly. Of course it is legend how Ringo accidentally came up with the title. George Harrison’s lead guitar work using the trusty Rickenbacker is brilliant. First heard this song on a family members 45 and later got the album.

  15. oldFartBassPlayer Walt

    artwest makes a great point, about George needing to time to think out and plan
    a mature guitar part, where unfortunately, the sessions grew very impatient with him
    if he didn’t nail a fully developed part after an hour or so. That apparently was not
    how his music muse works, and he took unfair criticism.

    I love Paul’s bass, but I have to bring up how he would spent hours in the night perfecting
    a bass part (to overdub over his first take), after everyone left. (according to Geoff Emerick)
    And John’s creativity seemed limited to bringing the initial shape of the song, and then getting
    impatient when multiple takes were required to ‘mature’ it. (granted these ‘initial shapes’ were
    masterpieces in the rough!).

    It didn’t seem like George got this privilege.

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