The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

<Sigh> Well, I haven’t been looking forward to this. I like the Beatles, but even in at this late date, it’s basically illegal to not love the Beatles. That is changing; I’m sure in as little as ten years, the Beatles will have a drastically diminished cultural weight; they will basically be regarded the same way Gershwin or Noël Coward are now. But for now, I am still expected to genuflect at the altar of the Fab Four. I fully appreciate their accomplishments and importance, but I can do without the deification. Yes, they were incredibly talented pioneers – greater than the sum of their parts, as their solo careers proved – and it is beyond facile to acknowledge that rock would not be the same without them. Their music, at its best, is timeless. No arguments there. But there is a lot of bad Beatles, and nobody ever talks about that; they are arguably the most overrated band of all time. Mostly, the Beatles are famous because they were in the right place at the right time and they were the first ones to do a lot of the things we accept as commonplace today (let’s overlook the role that George Martin played in all of this), but as far as songwriting, singing, and playing go, not everything they did was worthy of accolade.

What I Think of This Album

This is the earliest Beatles album (their third) anyone needs to own (and then you can jump ahead to Help! (though you could easily skip Help!, too)). It is the first one of all original material, and most of that material is leagues better than the sappier originals predating it like “Love Me Do.” As far as I’m concerned, this is basically the album that led to power-pop and jangle-pop.

The opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” is one of the greatest sounds ever. These are classic pop songs, with none even approaching three minutes. And yet within those roughly 150 seconds per song, the Beatles deliver melodies in spades, sophisticated chord changes, ebullient harmonies, and some great guitar work from George Harrison, who plays a Rickenbacker 12-string, which had just been developed and which had never been on a recording before. All the songs were written for the Hard Day’s Night film (a really fun movie that works better than it has any right to), but only the first seven tracks were featured in it, and there is a certain B-side feel to the remaining songs.

Still, the title track is a stone cold classic with a great Paul vocal (and outro by George), and “If I Fell” is damn lovely (the dueting is great). “I Should Have Known Better” has a memorable harmonica part and Harrison’s chiming guitar. “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” verge on the simplicity of their earliest material but are still fun (the vocals and guitar solo on “Can’t Buy Me Love” are excellent). Harrison’s riff on “And I Love Her” is beautiful (and the claves are a great choice, too); this ballad is on par with “If I Fell.” “Tell Me Why” is sort of a girl group song (I have to admit, I don’t really like John’s voice – I much prefer Paul singing lead).

“Any Time At All” has a true urgency and another winning guitar part from Harrison (doubled on piano to nice effect at one point). “I’ll Cry Instead” is country music via Liverpool, which is a little strange but not unenjoyable. Paul gets sad on “Things We Said Today,” with some effective strumming on acoustic from John. Harrison shines again on “You Can’t Do That” (which sounds like it contains a threat of domestic violence and is otherwise a lyrical cesspool of possessiveness and controlling behavior), and the cowbell is pretty cool. The Spanish guitar on the moody “I’ll Be Back” is excellent. Again, this is where to start with the Beatles.

The Best Thing About This Album

The first chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” is like the birth of the universe.

Release Date

July, 1964

The Cover Art

Very good. The use of color is excellent, it’s well-composed, and most importantly, it subverts the idea of a band portrait. It’s a little artsy and a lot of fun.

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