There’s no mistaking the intro to this one. “A Hard Day’s Night” feels like a trumpet call – this is The Beatles for the first time as masters of their game, not young moptop rockers finding their feet with a few Chuck Berry covers to prop them up. “A Hard Day’s Night” was the first Beatles album where every song was a Lennon-McCartney original. And original it is – while the bold experimentalism that started to flower in “Rubber Soul” isn’t quite there yet, the confidence the boys put out here, with top notch, hell, unrivalled guitar pop, must have surely felt like a portent of great things to come.
First thing about “A Hard Day’s Night” of course is it’s a soundtrack, a soundtrack to what was a superb film in itself (so much more than you’d expect from an idea so manufactured to cash in). It was a film that I studied once in an AS-Level Film Studies night school course I did, so my first real dive into this album was as the fun songs that accompanied in-depth exploration of mise-en-scene and diegetic sound.
There’s some treasures on here. Of course there’s the opener, with that magnificent burst into full-on energetic Fab joy. It doesn’t let up from there either. “I Should have Known Better” keeps the boys at their harmonising best – that scene in the train carriage was the moment where you smiled, knowing how the film was going to tick along from there on in.
Some tracks feel a bit filler. As much as they sounds good, “If I Fell” for instance, doesn’t really bring anything great to the proceedings (although the bit where you can hear Paul lose it slightly at 1:45 is always fun).
Similarly, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” is a bit jangly sixties pop, and Lennon and McCartney both sneered at it. Things pick up a bit more for the atmospheric “And I Love Her”, both capable and heartfelt and a testament to Paul’s ability.
“Tell me Why” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” bring back the fire to round off side one. I’ve always had a soft spot for the latter. Paul did an energetic version at Knebworth 1990 as I recall and, let’s face it, it’s a rocker.
Once we get into Side B, all original songs that weren’t for the film, it gets a bit more mellow. “Any Time at All” is the exception – that burst into life is worthy of the other side’s opener.
“I’ll Cry Instead” also stands out from the crowd. The lyrics are clever (“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet” springs to mind). I’ve always been a fan of the pugilistic bit where Lennon bursts back into life singing “and when I do you’d better hide all the girls, I’m gonna break their hearts all round the world”. There’s a distinctive “fuck you” air about that bit.
“Things we Said Today” and “When I get Home” blend into the background a bit, but “You can’t Do That” has a characteristic lyrical vibrancy. The album’s closer, “I’ll be Back” though, suffers not just from a lack of killer robots from the future, but it’s also tinged with that mild misogyny that came to the fore in the “Rubber Soul” closer, the thoroughly unpleasant “Run for your Life”. Still, it’s got the guitar energy that the rest of the album mostly holds up, and keeps the album’s reputation as an example at the boys at the peak of their game, months before they’d make a brave sideways shift into the experimental.
Side Note: While exploring in and around this album I found the Goldie Hawn version of the title song from George Martin’s cringeworthy farewell album “In my Life”. When you listen to her singing “You know I feel… Okey-Dokey” before the smoochy kiss sound, you can’t help thinking that the track could quite easily be marketed as an effective method of contraception.