11. 'A Hard Day's Night'
Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 16, 1964
Released: June 26, 1964
13 weeks; no. 1
"A Hard Day's Night" opens with the most famous chord in all of rock & roll: a radiant burst of 12-string guitar evoking the chaos and euphoria of Beatlemania at its height. The sunlight in that chord, the exhilaration of the Beatles' performance and the title's sigh of exhaustion make "A Hard Day's Night" a movie in itself, a compact documentary of the Beatles' meteoric rise.
"In those days, the beginnings and endings of songs were things I tended to organize," said George Martin. "We needed something striking, to be a sudden jerk into the song." At the session, Lennon played around with some fingerings for the opening chord. "It was by chance that he struck the right one," said Martin. "We knew it when we heard it." (In a February 2001 interview, Harrison said the chord is an "F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story." McCartney played a high D.)
The title came from a throwaway crack from Starr. "We were working all day and then into the night," he recalled, "[and] I came out thinking it was still day and said, 'It's been a hard day,' and noticing it was dark, ' . . . 's night!'" When Lennon passed the remark on to director Richard Lester, it instantly became the film's title. All they had to do was write a song to go with it. "John and I were always looking for titles," said McCartney. "Once you've got a good title, you are halfway there. With 'A Hard Day's Night,' you've almost captured them."
Lennon wrote the song the night before the session — he scrawled the lyrics on the back of a birthday card for his son, Julian, who had just turned one — and the group cut it in a breakneck three hours. The biggest issue was Harrison's solo: A take that surfaced on a bootleg in the 1980s features him fumbling over his strings, losing his timing and missing notes. But by the time the session wrapped at 10 that night, he had sculpted one of his most memorable solos — a sterling upward run played twice and capped with a circular flourish, with the church-bell chime of his guitar echoed on piano by Martin. "George would spend a lot of time working out solos," said Geoff Emerick. "Everything was a little bit harder for him, nothing quite came easily."
Harrison also played the striking fade-out, a ringing guitar arpeggio that was also a Martin inspiration. "Again, that's film writing," Martin said. "I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you're into the next mood."
Appears On: A Hard Day's Night
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