Working Like A Dog

Unbelievably Hard Days Night extended Beatlemania by catapulting it into a multi-media phenomenon. They had conquered the singles chart, redefined albums, owned the EP chart and the BBC had created chart-driven TV programming to keep up with them. With Hard Day’s Night they were using film to reflect their experience of transcending the limitations of life in post-war, post-rationing Britain; releasing our sub-conscious desires and documenting them for us. Hard Days Night, their first classic album, is flawless.

Released on July 10 1964 it sounded great at the time and sounds better now (Q recently voted it 5th best British album of all time). It was the first to feature only Beatles songs (12 by Lennon and McCartney, one by Harrison), mostly triumphs for Lennon’s quick-witted writing.

From the moment I first heard the deathless opening E chord (actually it is way more complex than that) of the single on Juke Box Jury I was hooked. The Beatles delivered on their promise to provide accessible cool to us all. I Want To Hold Your Hand and Cant Buy Me Love (covered by Ella Fitzgerald) had taught us to expect great stuff from the Beatles yet Hard Days Night seemed something else again. Despite being written overnight and recorded in three hours it was for many years my favourite Beatles single, apart from the current one of course. Actually it is difficult to separate the album from the film or from the single. All are peerless in their domain but my memories are mostly about the film and the single, which remains the exemplar Beatles single for me.

The lack of money that forced Richard Lester to film Alun Owen’s script in hand-held black and white added a nouvelle vague sense of immediacy that made you feel that you were at the centre of Beatlemania. Ironically it holds up better than many of the films that inspired him. Not only did we experience life as a Beatle, hear an endless sequence of Fab songs (track listing here) on a big screen (with big speakers!) in a grotty cinema, but we watched as they took the piss out of what post-war British life had to offer both them and us; it was this which was at the heart of their universal popularity.

I still remember coming out of the cinema with my brother with that uplifting sense of exhilaration that great music gives you. I wouldn’t experience it again until years later when I started going to real live performances. At the time I wanted to… I don’t know! Run madly through the streets, join a gang, scream at the top of my voice, I was inchoate with stimulation. Sadly there was no obvious conduit for the energy they had released in the provinces in 1964. Beatlemania was at the heart of a shared cultural experience in Britain then but it was also a thing apart. The genius of Hard Day’s Night was to let us experience Beatlemania for ourselves; how inclusive is that?

In the film Can’t Buy Me love, cleverly edited as a Goons-like video of escape, is the centerpiece (Goon Peter Sellers was to later pay them the compliment of declaiming Hard Day’s Night as Hamlet). George’s I’m Happy Just To Dance With You benefits from it’s use in the opening of the studio section and the romanticism of Paul’s And I Love Her is gently memorable.

However as an album I barely heard it in full until I found an abandoned copy in a tower block in Hackney ten years after the film. Unlike the American album, a soundtrack (!) album with only 8 Beatles tracks, the 13 tracks we lucky Brits were offered all have something special. The first two albums were clever adaptations of their live show, and they had played relentlessly throughout 1963 giving them quick access to an easy source of material; hence the previous inclusion of show tunes and undiscovered Motown classics. Amazingly, despite their new work load as global superstars in 1964 they proved capable of writing songs that extended and developed their earlier work.

Most artists fall down on that difficult second or third album. Once they have to write new material quickly on the road their talent, capable of producing a batch of songs over a number of  years, crumbles with pressures mounting and deadlines looming. The Beatles, almost uniquely, improved under this pressure and Lennon, who couldn’t be bothered to complete school work at all, turned out to be capable of writing classics overnight! Hard Day’s Night, actually sounds better to me now in the noughties than it did at the time. It sounds like the Beatles album that sums up their early period. Classic singles, classic album tracks (I Should Have Known Better, And I Love Her), ballads (If I Fell), dance tunes (Dance With You); worth listening to all the way through.  The second side of bonus genius includes You Can’t Do That and Things We Said Today as John and Paul developed their art. The consistency is wondrous yet it was their third album in a year. The only thing missing is a track for Ringo, which had hallmarked their first two albums. They had recorded Matchbox on June 1st with him but rejected it, releasing it on the Long Tall Sally EP just three weeks before the album. I remember lots of kids in my neighbourhood raving about this raucous EP of album “rejects” at the time.

My story about how I first heard it is called Hard Day’s Night, you can select it from the pages menu on the left.

Oh, and let me know what your favourite track is, you can guess mine. You can see some of the songs in YouTube videos on A Beatles YouTube Album.

1 Comment

  1. March 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    […] of you who have been following my 9 after 909 blog will know that I rate Hard Days Night as the first classic Beatles album. The first two albums were […]

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