Beatlemania hits new heights as the band prepare to take on America
Over the past several decades enough has been written about The Beatles to clear a whole swathe of the Amazonian rain forest. Thankfully, in the age of the internet, one can write about such things as pop music in the full knowledge that they will not in any way be responsible for endangering a small and fragile eco system.
Ever since Elvis Presley moved his hips and strut his stuff on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956, many American parents were paranoid about their children’s exposure to the corrupting influence of rock ‘n’ roll, and by the early 1960’s it seemed that when it came to popular music very little had changed. Although The Beatles were big in England, they had yet to crack the all important US market, hence United Artists idea of making a movie, starring the fab four no less, one that would present them in a family friendly context, in a way not too dissimilar to Elvis, who went from dangerous rocker to inoffensive crooner via films such as G.I. Blues and Blue Hawaii.
The concept was a sound one, and The Beatles agreed. The resulting soundtrack, A Hard Day’s Night, is now often considered an album in its own right (very few young people today have likely ever seen it, nor are probably even be aware of its existence), and arguably the band’s finest single collection of tunes up to that point.
In keeping with the original upbeat theme of the film itself, Lennon and McCartney set about writing a series of songs that were lighthearted and playful. From the opening title track (beginning with a chord which George Martin later confessed to never being able to work out) to the closing “I’ll Be Back”, the record is all about being young and having fun.
“A Hard Day’s Night” itself was written in just one night, and then recorded with George Martin the following day. Whether it’s the sound of George Harrison’s Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, or the rich harmonies, practically everything about this song is perfect. “I Should Have Known Better” is an energised reworking of “Love Me Do”, complete with harmonica and a vocal by John that was double-tracked thanks to the recently installed four-track recording technology at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. “If I Fell” is a love song that sees Lennon wanting to move beyond the traditional boy-meets-girl concept of falling in love, especially in the lines “And help me understand/’Cause I’ve been in love before/And I found that love is more/Than just holding hands.” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” was specifically written by Lennon and McCartney as a vehicle for Harrison, giving him a chance to sing in the film, while on Paul’s “And I Love Her” George returns the favour with a somewhat inconspicuous though no less stylish solo (for which he utilised a classical guitar).
“Tell Me Why” is a variation of “Please Please Me” on which the boys clearly had a lot of fun recording, as if mocking themselves and the whole phenomenon of Beatlemania itself, before ending side one with the classic “Can’t Buy Me Love”, a song so good that I shan’t even bother to analyse, except to say that if you’ve never heard it, then you probably had a deprived upbringing.
Lennon’s “Any Time At All” is one of the most riveting and beguiling songs on the soundtrack, where John’s voice is fully charged with all the energy of a white working class gospel singer from Liverpool. “I’ll Cry Instead” and “Things We Said Today” are both lively tunes that Roger McGuinn and David Crosby no doubt got a few ideas from when they formed The Byrds, while “You Can’t Do That” was written and recorded just a week before shooting for the film began, and is another jangly piece of guitar and harmonies, reminiscent of “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Lennon and McCartney were never shy when it came to plagiarising). On “When I Get Home” and “I’ll Be Back” the band burn with an innocent intensity that would not only challenge popular music but inadvertently alter its course forever.
Much to the surprise of all involved, chiefly United Artists in particular, the movie and accompanying LP proved to be a massive success. That The Beatles themselves were somewhat dismissive of the project as a whole, mattered not one iota, because it did what the executives had hoped it would achieve; break The Beatles in America, the biggest music industry in the world, and one of the reasons why John, Paul, George and Ringo got into the business in the first place. And if making some cheesy film allowed them to finally get there, then it was ultimately a very small price to pay in the whole scheme of things.