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‘A Hard Day’s Night’: The Beatles’ Unforgettable Classic Album

It’s a strong contender for the greatest-ever album to clock in at 30 minutes.

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Cover: Courtesy of Apple

A strong contender for the greatest-ever album to clock in at 30 minutes, A Hard Day’s Night was the third Beatles LP in less than 18 months, and features seven songs from the hit 1964 movie of the same name, plus six more new Beatles songs. It’s the first album where all the songs were brand new original compositions, and is in fact the only LP in their entire catalogue to have been written solely by Lennon and McCartney.

From the portentous opening chord – which is still being debated decades later – A Hard Day’s Night explodes from the speakers, and doesn’t let up until it crashes to a close with the prophetic “I’ll Be Back.”

Listen to The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night now.

It may seem ridiculous to think today, but their first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night, was initially rushed out to capitalize on the group’s success before their bubble burst, the assumption being that – as with all that came before them – they would have their brief moment in the sun before returning to their normal lives. Filming took place in spring 1964, hot on the heels of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February that year. It was in cinemas by July.

The urgent need for fresh songs for the film meant that John and Paul had to snatch every opportunity to pen new material on the hoof. As John later explained: “Paul and I enjoyed writing the music for the film. There were times when we honestly thought we’d never get the time to write all the material. But we managed to get a couple finished while we were in Paris. And three more completed in America, while we were soaking up the sun on Miami Beach.”

Although the majority of the LP was taped at EMI Studios, on Abbey Road in London, the single “Can’t Buy Me Love” was recorded during the band’s residency in Paris, at Pathé Marconi Studios. Producer George Martin joined the boys there, and made the suggestion to start with the chorus. Once they were back from their first trip to the US, recording began in earnest on the songs for the film on George Harrison’s 21st birthday. The first day’s business included adding overdubs to complete “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and beginning work on “And I Love Her” and “I Should Have Known Better.”

Can't Buy Me Love (Remastered 2009)

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“And I Love Her” is one of the group’s most enduring early love songs, and features an inspired semitone key change for George’s solo, which he played on a classical guitar. Meanwhile, “I Should Have Known Better” is the first number to showcase George’s new Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar, an electric 12-string model that would be a great influence on the folk-rock sound spearheaded by The Byrds. John pitches in with a harmonica lick that echoes the Bob Dylan recordings they were all so hooked on at this time.

A tender close-harmony romantic ballad, “If I Fell” features a charming intro passage that leads the listener gently through an increasingly complex chord sequence into a song in which John confesses his vulnerability – and his desire to make his ex jealous.

If I Fell (Remastered 2009)

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Filming began on March 2nd and continued throughout March and April, largely calling a halt to recordings until they resumed in April to record the hastily written title song, which John wrote “to order,” inspired by Ringo. “It was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo,” John recalled, “one of those malapropisms – a Ringoism.”

With filming complete, the boys took a well-needed break. John and George went to Tahiti, while Paul and Ringo headed to the Virgin Islands. But even on holiday, they still had work to do. As Paul recalled in his Lyrics book, “‘Things We Said Today’ was written on a boat, on holiday in the Virgin Islands, with Ringo and Maureen, his then wife, and me and Jane Asher.” Such was Paul’s affection for the song that when he set out on his 1990 World Tour, “Things We Said Today” was a firm favorite in the setlist.

While the songs that featured in the movie (side one on the original vinyl release) needed to be completed before the film went into production, side two of the LP was recorded after their holidays.

Any Time At All (Remastered 2009)

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The second side explodes into action with “Any Time At All,” echoing “It Won’t Be Long,” which had kicked off their previous album in such energetic style. The group fire through the numbers in an exhilarating whirlwind, with Lennon taking more than his usual share of lead vocals – only “Things We Said Today” features Paul on lead on side two. “You Can’t Do That” is a particular stand-out, showcasing Lennon’s thrilling lead vocal.

Such was the pace at which they were working that as soon as sessions were concluded, Ringo collapsed with exhaustion, before being hospitalized with tonsillitis, which caused him to miss the AUS NZ leg of their world tour.

The movie had its world premiere just days after they returned from that tour. The album, meanwhile, was issued on July 10th, 1964, sold over 4 million copies, and remains one of their most critically acclaimed records. In a 2000 poll, Q Magazine placed it at number five on its countdown of the greatest British albums of all time.

Listen to The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night now.

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