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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Hard Day's Night b/w Things We Said Today

The story goes that, after a particularly long day of filming, Ringo was heard to say, "That was a hard day's night."  The phrase had also been used by John Lennon in his book In His Own Write.  The producer from United Artists, Walter Shenson, and his director, Richard Lester, knew that they finally had their title.  All they needed now was a song with the same title, so they told John and Paul to go write it.  The ever-competitive songwriters went their separate ways and, the next day, John came in with the goods.

Since they were about halfway through the shooting schedule, Richard Lester knew that there would not be a scene where we would see the Beatles actually performing the new song, but he knew that it would play underneath the opening credits sequence, which featured the boys running through a train station to escape a mob of fans.  He told them that it had to have a striking beginning - something that would catch the listeners' ears right at the top.  And so it was that George Harrison came up with the chord which guitarists still argue over to this day.  According to Tim Riley, the chord is a G7 with an added 9th and a suspended 4th.  But to really get the same effect, it must be played as George played it - on a 12-string guitar.

John's double-tracked voice takes us through the bulk of the verses until Paul harmonizes with him near the end.  When they get to the bridge, it is suddenly Paul's double-tracked voice taking over.  Lennon later admitted that he wrote the song so quickly that he didn't realize the bridge was too high for him until they began recording.  The end result makes the number seem like much more of a group effort, which is perfectly in keeping with the image that the Beatles always projected early in their career.

George's guitar break is the trickiest piece he has played yet, but he pulls it off with aplomb.  George Martin doubles it on piano.  The solo proved incredibly difficult to duplicate live, so much so that on Live at the BBC you can hear them actually "drop in" the record for that section when they perform it.

For the B-side, one of the non-soundtrack songs was chosen, McCartney's Things We Said Today.  This mid-tempo number shows a nice maturity in Paul's songwriting ability.  The lyric is nostalgic, looking both forward and back over the course of a relationship.

A sharp acoustic guitar sets the mood immediately, followed by the first hushed verse.  The Beatles have already used dynamics several times in their recordings, but never more effectively than here.  In the bridge, the band cuts loose as Paul sings joyfully about being in love, then they pull back as they return to the verses.  They added this song to their live set, where the contrast between the verses and the bridge became even more apparent.  If you can find a copy of the much-maligned The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl album from 1977, you can hear it for yourself.

In the UK, the single and the album were released simultaneously on July 10th, 1964.  Five days later, they both hit number one.

In the US, the title song had already appeared on the United Artists soundtrack album on June 26th.  The single was released by Capitol on June 13th but, for the second time, the label could not resist tinkering with the B-side.  They replaced the reflective Things We Said Today with an uptempo song from the soundtrack, I Should Have Known Better.  Things We Said Today only appeared as a track on the album Something New, released on July 20th.

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