Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: January 29 and February 26, 1964
Released: March 16, 1964
10 weeks; no. 1
By the middle of March 1964, the Beatles were the biggest band in the world, responsible for an astonishing 60 percent of the American singles market. With pre-orders of more than 3 million copies, "Can't Buy Me Love" catapulted the Beatles to a new level of fame. Two weeks after the 45 was released, the Beatles claimed all five top positions on Billboard's singles chart: "Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me." The next week, they set another still-unbroken record, with 14 of the Top 100 U.S. singles. (The previous record holder had been Elvis Presley, with nine in 1956.) "People in England at that time never really understood what great conquering heroes they were," said George Martin, "and that the success was so complete and total."
The Beatles were in prime live form when they recorded "Can't Buy Me Love," charged up from playing up to three shows a day at a 18-day residency at Paris' Olympia Theatre. They only needed four tries to get the basic track; 11 days later, they would have their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, and then the single would be released five weeks later in the U.S. With Beatlemania, everything moved at supersonic speed.
McCartney later said "Can't Buy Me Love" was "my attempt to write [in] a bluesy mode." But the song is much closer to the group's primary influences: the bright gallop of uptempo Motown and brisk Fifties rockabilly. Lennon and McCartney had their own deep roots in the latter, but Harrison was the expert: His guitar style, especially in the Beatles' early recording years, was an aggressive updating of the simplicity of Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore's breaks on Elvis Presley's Sun singles. In "Can't Buy Me Love," Harrison's solo — which takes off after one of McCartney's Little Richard-inspired screams — is classic '56 Memphis with jet-age sheen.
The lyrics in "Can't Buy Me Love" were essentially sweet stuff about valuing romance over material things, although some fans somehow missed the point, baffling McCartney. "I think you can put any interpretation you want on anything," he said. "But when someone suggests that 'Can't Buy Me Love' is about a prostitute, I draw the line."
Appears On: A Hard Day's Night
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: "Can't Buy Me Love"
• Paul McCartney on 'Beatles 1,' Losing Linda and Being in New York on September 11th
• The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time: George Harrison