‘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 Lennon’s lyrics for A Hard Day's Night, 1964

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 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 film soundtrack album on 26 June 1964, which sold more than two million copies.

In the UK it was released on 10 July 1964. 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 US 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.

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Next song: ‘I Should Have Known Better’