"A Hard Day's Night" / The Beatles
I'm looking back over the playlist I compiled for last Friday night's music trivia session at my college reunion. (A quick shoutout to all you MHTs that I pestered to check out my blog!) A lot of the tracks I played for you are songs I've written about here -- like "The House of the Rising Sun," "For Your Love," "Along Comes Mary," "Walk Away Renee," "California Dreaming," "Wild Thing," and my top five singles of all time, "The Letter," "She's Not There," "Happy Together," "If I Fell," and "Wouldn't It Be Nice." (And just for you, Liz: "Have I the Right?") I'll even throw in my write-up on "Concrete and Clay," a selection that seemed to stump you all on the one-hit wonders part of the quiz. Click on the highlighted titles to find those blog posts and let me know what you think.
And by the way, I'm still scandalized that none of you knew who Graham Parker is. However, I look upon this as a learning opportunity and direct your attention forthwith to my recent Graham Parker marathon.
But enough links. (If you want any more, just click on any artist's name in the cloud of labels in the column to the right -- the bigger the name, the more blog posts I've written on that artist.)
I was shocked to discover, when I began to trawl through my own posts, that I had never written about "A Hard Day's Night." Oh, I've written briefly about the Hard Day's Night album, but never about this wonderful song itself. I suppose it's because I try very hard not to write about the Beatles too much -- it would be way too easy to make this a total Fab Four blog. And you know me, I never do things nice and easy.
Forgive the scratchy visuals on this clip from A Hard Day's Night; there's another version on YouTube with better film quality, but it's a full 10-minute clip that sucks you right into the movie, and that's way too distracting. ("Who's the little old man?" George asks Paul, and I'm a goner.) Last spring my daughter and I tramped around Marylebone Station, where many of these opening scenes were shot, and I swear I expected the lads to come running down that alley any minute, screaming girls in hot pursuit.
The title A Hard Day's Night was chosen first for the movie, long after the script was written, when the Beatles were already in the thick of filming. It came from a phrase John Lennon had used in his book In His Own Write, but he'd picked up the phrase in the first place from Ringo, who had a Yogi Berra-like penchant for memorable phrases that defied grammar and logic. On the set one day, producer Walter Shenson pulled John and Paul aside and asked them to write a song to match the movie's title -- a crazy request, given their hectic lives at the time. Shenson himself knew it was too much to ask. And yet ten hours later, John and Paul had whipped something together, its lyrics scribbled on a matchbook cover. "Now don't bother us about songs anymore," Lennon grumbled as he sent Shenson away with his new #1 hit movie theme song.
The most brilliant thing about this song? You know what I'm going to say. It's that opening chord, a single aggressive discordant clang that simultaneously packs up and then releases all the hassles of his day. What is this loud, grating, messy chord? You won't find it on any chord chart; the gods must have gotten involved, dictating which finger should land on which fret. The main thing is the fierce attack, striking those guitar strings for all they're worth.
It's a wonderful movie opener, but it also works for AHDN as a a stand-alone song -- a simple thing about a guy coming home to his girlfriend/wife after a tough day at work, and finding comfort in her arms. For a couple of guys who'd never had a proper job in their lives, it's amazing how Lennon and McCartney nailed the perspective of a weary working stiff. He's been working like a dog, and for one reason only: to get her money to buy her things. While on one level -- the level that made it safe for BBC radio play -- it's about domestic comforts, relaxing in the safety of hearth and home, on another level of course it's all about sex. ("And it's worth it just to hear you say, / You're gonna give me everything" . . . "Cos when I get home to you, / I find the things that you do / Will make me feel all right.") John Lennon throws in just enough of a groan on "everything" and "feel all right" to make sure we know what he's really after.
Naturally John had to sing this one. Who else could have conveyed all the pent-up frustrations and anger of a working day? He's not wheedling or charming anybody (those would be Paul's departments); he's bone-tired, still spoiling for a fight, and his need for her is raw as an open wound. When his voice lifts yearningly in the bridge -- "When I'm home / Everything seems to be right / When I'm home / Feeling you holding me tight / [key change] / Tight, ohhh!" -- well, baby, better put that steak-and-kidney pie back in the oven, because you won't be eating right away.