The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night
Since we have in our hands a sneaky copy of the third album from a beat group about to tour Australia we have been thinking deep thoughts here while the ringing guitar sound (an F with a G on top, guessed one of my guitar-playing friends) which opens this record resonates in our heads.
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Times have changed and this quartet of lads has something the world has never seen or heard before.
As boy bands go, Liverpool quartet the Beatles do suggest a marketing man’s dream (if an entomologist’s nightmare), their faces repeated in various poses on this cover like not so serious young insects under the microscope. While it’s true their dancing is not exactly Tivoli standard – John Lennon’s "spastic" routine is energetic but hardly likely to take off like the Twist or the Hip-O-Crit – in other areas they tick all the right boxes for people who say things like tick all the right boxes.
There’s the rebellious one you would take home to shock your father; the pretty and polite one you’d take home to charm your mother; the quiet one you’d take home so grandma would feed him, not noticing the glint of mischief in his eyes; and the one who’d keep the family amused at singalongs and party turns.
Given the obvious facility with their instruments, as seen on TV reports here in the colonies as much as those early songs which have spilled from transistors across the country, you could say they are more the Shadows than Fabian. But look closer and you will see that as with Buddy Holly and the Crickets they have a songwriting core – in this case two in Lennon and Paul McCartney.
There’s a bonus which may well reap dividends in the future if the band last longer than the usual two years of a popular music act. Young George Harrison, who had his Don’t Bother Me included on the Beatles’ second longplayer, With The Beatles, and that cheeky chap Ringo Starr, offer fine support and maybe even the prospect of mastering writing too one day.
This ability to pen a tune has meant that until now they have not had to rely exclusively on Tin Pan Alley or Denmark Street, which supplied the likes of Til There Was You and A Taste Of Honey or the work of young American writers such as that nice young man Burt Bacharach, the promising Gerry Goffin and Carole King or the gentlemen writing for that rising company in Detroit, Tamla Motown.
Of course, their interpretation of *Meredith Wilson’s Til There Was You on their debut, Please Please Me, and Please Mister Postman, popularised by The Marvelettes, on With The Beatles, were highlights of those recordings. However, it’s fair to say that self-penned numbers such as rockers I Saw Her Standing There and I Wanna Be Your Man and the ballads All My Loving and P. S. I Love You more than held their own. (*Corrected from Bacharach)
Which makes it only slightly less astonishing that for the first time in a popular music form not even a decade old, this new album from the Beatles – the oddly if not nonsensically named A Hard Day’s Night – has 13 songs which are all penned by the boys themselves. What’s more, not only are none of them a throwaway, there are some true gems here which may make 1964 a stellar year in pop.
The title track suggests both how hard the chaps have been working recently (“It’s been a hard day’s night and I’ve been working like a dog”) but also a hint of the naughtiness inherent in that Lennon, who takes the lead with McCartney coming in for the middle 8 (“but when I get home to you I find the things that you do will make me feel all right”).
For a song about being tired A Hard Day’s Night certainly is energetic and a rather infectious foot-tapper in the modern rhythm and blues manner. It’s not until the third song (after the harmonica-fuelled I Should Have Known Better), that the four slow down. Slow down the tempo maybe, but not the cleverness, the harmonies of If I Fell so adept that you can’t tell whether it is Lennon or McCartney who is meant to be the lead voice.
Pop pickers may bracket this song – and maybe McCartney’s gentle serenade, over a delicate piece of picking on the guitar by Harrison, And I Love Her – with Til There Was You for melodic prettiness and roots going further back than a certain Mr Elvis Presley.
Their tailored suits and sweet smiles notwithstanding, the Beatles seem at their best when running hard and nothing runs harder than the song which closes side A, Can't Buy Me Love.
It’s busy, urgently sung not unlike the Isley Brothers, featuring a guitar solo that seems to nod towards certain artists in the country and western field (an influence you hear again later in I’ll Cry Instead) which is immediately contrasted with double time drums to end. And it is over in a breathless two minutes and 10 seconds.
Thankfully, turning over the record gives you time to catch your breath because Any Time At All is even more assertive, a smacked drum prelude to the husky-voiced Lennon and, like When I Get Home and You Can’t Do That, a perfect dance number for younger members at your Bachelors and Spinsters ball.
But you will want to be paying attention rather than dancing for the rather splendid acoustic guitar-flavoured gem Things We Said Today which is simultaneously wistful and hopeful, pretty as a picture and just about the best thing on this second side. Its main competition would come from the exquisite harmonies and folkish sounds of I’ll Be Back which closes the album.
Our understanding is that this record is the soundtrack to an upcoming film featuring the Liverpudlians. It may not reach the heights of Frankie Avalon’s outings with Annette Funicello or the depths of Elvis Presley's Easy Come, Easy Go – but then few things could. However, this reviewer can say with confidence that the Beatles look like a boy band who may yet make the move to adulthood. Their concerts throughout Australia could be the start of something big.