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Saturday, October 29, 2011

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT - side one

Promotional film for A Hard Days' Night
A Hard Day's Night is not generally considered to be one of the Beatles' masterpieces like Rubber Soul, Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, but I firmly believe it deserves consideration.  The boys are absolute masters of their craft by now, from songwriting to finished recording.  And not only is this the first album with no cover songs, it is the only one to be made up solely of Lennon-McCartney compositions (a year later, Harrison would begin writing his own material full-time).  And while the album is clearly dominated by Lennon, each of McCartney's three songs is a true gem.

The bulk of the soundtrack songs were recorded in four sessions between February 25th and March 1st, 1964.  John and Paul had written these compositions while in Paris, even requesting that a piano be moved into their suite at the George V to assist them in their work.  In laying out the album, producer George Martin naturally put all of these songs on side one.  The proceedings are kicked off by the title song, which I covered in my last entry, only I neglected to mention that it was recorded on April 16th.

I Should Have Known Better - It has been a while since we have heard John's harmonica, but here it is opening this uptempo Lennon number.  John sings this one alone, his voice double-tracked except for the final bridge.  This is the type of perfectly-crafted pop song that he and Paul could now write in their sleep, full of energy and high spirits matched in performance by each member of the band.  It is used twice in the film, first in the card-playing sequence on the train and again in the concert.

If I Fell - This magnificent ballad by John starts off with him singing a solo intro, then Paul joins in for the rest of the song.  Mark Lewisohn says that they requested only one microphone so they could sing side by side.  What they deliver here is perhaps the finest duet of their career.  It is easily the best example of what William Mann referred to in his Times article the previous year when he wrote, "one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody..."  Their vocal parts interweave so effortlessly that, as Tim Riley states, "both lines are so lyrical it's hard to say just which one is the 'melody.'"  And the musical ingenuity on display is matched by the beauty of the heartfelt lyrics.

Most of the soundtrack songs also appeared as singles in the US.  If I Fell was the B-side to Paul's ballad And I Love Her.

I'm Happy Just to Dance with You - For the second (and final) time, John writes a song for George.  Not only that, he also absolutely drives this number with his tireless rhythm guitar.  This pleasant, but lightweight piece also features strong backing vocals from John and Paul.  It is only used once in the film, rehearsed onstage before the TV cameras.

In the US, this was also the B-side to I'll Cry Instead, a non-soundtrack song (Or was it?  More on that next time).

And I Love Her - It has taken this long to get to a song by McCartney, but it was worth the wait to arrive at one of his minor classics.  The lyrics are pretty simplistic, but they are redeemed by the music and the performance.  This was, however, one of the first times that the Beatles had trouble finding just the right arrangement for a number, and it took three separate attempts over three days before they got it right.  On Anthology 1, you can hear that on day one, Ringo was playing drums, George was picking his electric guitar and Paul had yet to write the bridge.  By the time they record the master, Ringo is playing bongos, George is playing acoustic guitar (and turning in a performance as good as the one he did on Till There Was You), and Paul has completed the composition beautifully. 

As an A-side in the US, this song peaked at number twelve.  Paired with If I Fell, the two ballads made a wonderful single.

Tell Me Why - The only soundtrack song to not be a US single is Lennon's attempt to write a girl group number, a style which the Beatles had already recorded several times.  The refrain is John, Paul and George doing their best three-part harmony, then shifting to call-and-response for the verses.  This high-powered number is used to open the concert sequence in the film.

George Martin smartly places the already-familiar Can't Buy Me Love, which director Richard Lester had revived for the movie, at the end of side one, neatly framing the new songs between the two monster hits.

In the US, all of these songs, plus I'll Cry Instead (incorrectly listed as I Cry Instead) appeared on the United Artists soundtrack album, which was fleshed out by four George Martin instrumentals.  Four of the new soundtrack numbers also appeared on the Capitol album Something New.  I Should Have Known Better did not appear on a Capitol album until the 1970 compilation Hey Jude. 

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