The Beatles Mono Reviews 4 – A Hard Day’s Night (Part One)

An edited version of this essay is now included in my book The Beatles In Mono. Hardback paperback


The opening G11sus4 – probably the most famous opening chord since Wagner’s Tristan chord, opens what is the first Beatles album to really feel like a Beatles album. This is the album you would imagine all the other early Beatles albums to be if you hadn’t heard them – full of pop classics, all originals (the only pre-Rubber Soul Beatles album not to contain any cover versions), all Lennon/McCartney (the only Beatles album for which this is the case), with the cheeky moptopped foursome pulling funny faces on the front cover.

In fact, despite the clear attempts to package this as more of the same (another black & white Robert Freeman cover with them wearing black pullovers), this is the album that shows the maturation of McCartney and (especially) Lennon (who dominates the album) as songwriters.

The title track (which also opens) in particular is an example of Lennon’s growing confidence as a songwriter. The song is the first of Lennon’s lyrics to be based around a lazy egotism, where the ostensible object of the song only exists as just that – an object, viewed in relation only to the singer’s desires. He’s having a hard time, and the only reason she matters is because ‘the things that you do will make me feel all right’.

This attitude toward women in Lennon’s songs would continue in various forms up until LSD made Lennon re-evaluate his own personality, and Yoko Ono gave him a woman he considered his superior. However, it’s not, as many have suggested, purely misogynistic – rather it’s rooted in his essentially solipsistic worldview – something that remained in his songs throughout his career. Lennon is probably the only songwriter to have made navel-gazing into truly high art, thanks to his “I just believe in me/Yoko and me/That’s reality” position.

This self-obsession pervades the album. While McCartney had, a few months earlier, had the epiphany that you could make songs be about third parties (She Loves You, which while a joint composition, was the first indicator of McCartney’s tendency to write songs about characters, and was suggested by him), here Lennon is having none of that nonsense – with songs like I Should Have Known Better, If I Fell, I‘m Happy Just To Dance With You, Tell Me Why, I‘ll Cry Instead, When I Get Home and I‘ll Be Back, Lennon lets it be known who he considers to be the important one around here. (To be fair, two of McCartney’s three offerings on the album, And I Love Her and Can’t Buy Me Love also fall into this pattern, but at least his Things We Said Today puts another human being on the same level as him).

This egocentricity of Lennon’s, though, took odd forms – in particular, at this point at least, he clearly needed the other Beatles. Even though Lennon was the first to use the phrase ‘a hard day’s night’ (in his book In His Own Write) he always credited its use as the title of the film, album and song to a malapropism from Ringo Starr. Similarly, while he apparently wrote A Hard Day’s Night in a rush as soon as he knew the film’s title, to avoid McCartney getting another A-side (McCartney’s Can’t Buy Me Love had been their previous single, and was the first Beatles single to feature only a single vocalist), he still gave McCartney the middle eight to sing.

The song itself sounds hugely improved in the mono remastered version, and should really be much more highly regarded as one of the Beatles’ earliest experimental productions. Starr’s drumming is astonishing (even accounting for the fact that there are certainly overdubs – the cowbell, for example, sounds overdubbed to my ears), George Martin doubles Harrison’s guitar part *very* subtly throughout the track (and not so subtly on the guitar solo, which is also almost certainly the first use of varispeed on a Beatles record).

It has the brassiness and density of much of With The Beatles, but with far more awareness of itself as a record. It’s also far more mature, lyrically – talking for the first time of the concerns of an adult, rather than a teenager.

And there I must leave this for the present. My stereo has packed up, deciding to turn itself off when I try to play a CD, while the USB connection to my DVD drive has a loose wire that keeps making it turn itself off. I will deal with the other twelve tracks tomorrow, but didn’t want the effort so far to be wasted.

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1 Response to The Beatles Mono Reviews 4 – A Hard Day’s Night (Part One)

  1. pillock says:

    Wonderful choice of clip for your contention about Lennon’s solipsism, HA! I do think this post could very fruitfully be expanded into a Great Big Thing, even as abbreviated as it is…the idea that Lennon’s concerns are adult concerns even as they are egocentric concerns is an interesting contrast to McCartney’s realization about other people…which, let’s face it, when it ends up in Wings makes for some awfully arbitrary-sounding lyrical content, as though he had a great idea for a song (many great ideas, of course) but could only follow his essentially-romantic nose toward what it might best be made to be about. But one thing for solipsism, it’ll never leave you lacking for subject matter.

    Of course as you say, it isn’t as though Paul never wrote an “I”-based song (or even a song where the other person was essentially an object, Lord knows!)…and it isn’t as though Lennon never wrote a song whose primary focus wasn’t on himself…

    But this is some pretty lucid business you’ve got going on here, and I might as well tell you I’m going to straight-up lift it for purposes of Thanksgiving-table conversation.

    Also very much appreciate the Wagner comparison!

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