A reverberating twelve-string guitar chord rings out, hard, short, and loud. It is an alarm call, a jarring introduction to an album that would change rock and roll forever. It would cement the four who created it into the annals of pop music. It was a transition from fad to fame, and became the first true ‘all-Beatles’ album. It was and is A Hard Day’s Night.
There is a huge long convoluted story about the release (or almost non-release) of this landmark Beatles album. Here it is in the shortest form I can give it. Vee-Jay Records (their British label) and Capitol were balking at releasing any more Beatles product as it seemed to be falling flat. Capitol, in fact, sold the rights to the songs from the upcoming film A Hard Day’s Night because they didn’t feel a soundtrack would sell. Beatlemania hit like a lightning bolt and United Artists, who owned the rights to the film and the songs in the film, capitalized (pun intended) on the Fab Four fervor and released the American album version while in England, Vee Jay released the album with a different tracklisting. Capitol, meanwhile, tried to cash in when they realized that UA only owned the songs that were featured in the film, and there were five other songs on the British release that weren’t on the UA soundtrack. So Capitol released the Beatles album Something New, which featured those missing songs. The missing songs on the UA version were replaced with four instrumentals. Whew!
What makes A Hard Day’s Night, British or American, a landmark album is not just one single thing. For one, it was the very first Beatles album, on either continent, that featured all Beatles originals. It was standard practice for the Beatles, and every other rock band, to perform covers and standards to fill out an album and crank in the profits. In fact, the last time before A Hard Day’s Night for a rock album to have all original compositions was Buddy Holly & the Crickets in the fifties.
Each Beatles album can be seen as a step in an evolution. Rubber Soul was their first experimental and mind-bending step; Sgt. Pepper’s was their first epic theme step, etc. and so on. A Hard Day’s Night was the album which marked a newfound confidence and competence for John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Each song on the album was written by the two (and for those of you really counting, ten for John and three for Paul), and all were strong pop rock tracks that influenced many to come.
The film A Hard Day’s Night was similarly a standard for all music documentary films to come. Shot in black and white, the film was to be a day in the life of the Beatles, mobbed by screaming fans, mugging for the camera, and being their otherwise silly and self-deprecating selves. Needless to say, it shot the moptops into super stardom. Sure, they had a little help from Ed Sullivan in February of that year, and by the time the August release of the film came by the band was already huge, but this put the four Liverpudlians on the big screen, larger than life, and with great theater sound (at least for the time).
The album itself, we’ll use the British version, features some of the group’s best early songs in the title track, “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “You Can’t Do That.” When you compare the songs on A Hard Day’s Night with their previous work, it seems leaps beyond. The harmonies on “If I Fell” and the jangly pop of “And I Love Her” are two examples that show a newfound mature sound and a progression from the blues and doo-wop rock they had been recording previously. “Can’t Buy Me Love” was a #1 single in both countries, as was the other single release “A Hard Day’s Night.” “And I Love Her” hit #12 in the U.S. while “I’ll Cry Instead,” an often underrated song, reached only #25 in the States, neither were singles in the U.K.
After this album release, both John and Paul began to hone their separate musical visions and songwriting styles which hit their running speeds on Rubber Soul and merely took on speed and distance from there. But at the time, they were writing together, and writing solidly. These are all songwriting, guitar and vocal gems. It featured John and Paul trading verses and choruses to perfection, turning the band from mere musicians to musical legends. Paul crafted lingering melodies that stayed with you and were the first stepping stones to creating songs such as “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude,” while John mastered the complex guitar pop with lyrical beauty that led to “Day Tripper” and “Come Together” and is still prevalent and influential today.
A Hard Day’s Night was more than just a soundtrack to a film featuring a new pop band, it was the breakthrough for the most influential and important band of rock history. Whereas record companies were beginning to give up on the band, fans weren’t and this album was the only logical and progressive step that could have been taken to increase that popularity and depth exponentially. If the Beatles were stars before A Hard Day’s Night, they quickly became supernovae, burning brightly for the next six years, but still when we close our eyes, we see the light imprinted upon our retinas, never to fade.