Friday 4 July 2008

The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) ('Core' Album #2, Revised Edition 2014)

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(Review first published July 2008; Revised edition published on August 7th 2014)

The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" (1964)

Track Listing: A Hard Day’s Night/ I Should Have Known Better/ If I Fell/ I’m Happy Just To Dance With You/ And I Love Her/ Tell Me Why/ Can’t Buy Me Love// Anytime At All/ I’ll Cry Instead/ Things We Said Today/ When I Get Home/ You Can’t Do That/I’ll Be Back

'We're out!!!!' Quick escape down the fire exit, run to the nearest field and boogie like mad to 'Can't Buy Me Love' with Alan's Album Archives mascot Max The Singing Dog (his top hat's very clean, isn't it?!) For at last on our website we've reached the point where we've revised our review for 'A Hard Day's Night' and we can finally have some fun. For, caught between the professionalism of 'With The Beatles' and the slightly dark, sombre tone of 'Beatles For Sale', 'A Hard Day's Night' is the sound of a band having fun. So for the moment there will be no treatise on mid-1960s politics, no major experiments in sound and form and not many lyrical journeys into the unknown. I mean, this is only the soundtrack to a film isn't it? And what's more - one recorded in a hurry between eight hectic weeks of filming and dozens more of touring and TV and radio appearances. After all, this album sounds like fun, stuffed with more rockers per minute than any other Beatles album (and at just 30 minutes there aren't a lot of them to be truthful), full of those driving Ringo drum-fills and pealing George guitar parts (starting with, perhaps, the most famous single guitar chord in history).

And yet...(alright, back in doors we go!) is it just me or is there some sense of foreboding on this album the closer you get to it? After the gloom of 'Misery' and 'Not A Second Time' from the first two Beatles albums, Lennon especially sounds like he's in a down mood. Admittedly there's a lot of fun as well: exactly the kind of thing film director Dick Lester would have asked for in a fun happy frenetic film where The Beatles are lovable cheeky rogues caught up in a whirlwind of noise and chaos that isn't entirely of their own making yet loving every minute of it (for now). But just listen to the way this album ends, with icy crunch of Lennon's guitar on 'I'll Be Back', the musical equivalent of slapping someone? And just note how many of these songs are either regretful ('I Should Have Known Better' 'I'll Cry Instead'), about roadblocks in the path to happiness ('When I Get Home' is literally about blocking the narrator as he tries to get home to his family) or simple simmering anger ('You Can't Do That!') Interestingly, the vast majority of these songs are in the minor key – something rare on any Beatles album and unheard of for this period of pop history – and that adds a lot to the quiet melancholy and reflective nature of these songs. Clues that John is not a happy bunny are everywhere in this soundtrack album. Usually The Beatles cope with this by tempering this with Paul's generally happier songs - but the fact is that, more than any other Beatles album, 'A Hard Day's Night' finds Lennon on a role. While Paul would have had at least a say in most of them, we know for a fact that ten of the thirteen songs on this album are pre-dominantly Lennon (even George's song for this record, 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' is a 'John song'). Oh and despite the glee of Paul's 'Can't Buy Me Love' (the soundtrack to that much-quoted scene in a field) and the innocence of 'And I Love Her', along comes the stark warning 'Things We Said Today', the first in a series of songs suggesting all isn't quite well in his growing relationship with Jane Asher (see Paul's songs on 'Help!' 'Rubber Soul' and especially 'Revolver' for more on this). So, what we really have here is an album that's only pretending to be fun: like the film itself the LP of 'A Hard Day's Night' is a tough little record about what it really means to work 'eight days a week' in the name of something that used to be fun. The album (and film for that matter) might pass by in a blaze of monochromed clarity and surge of energy, but it's really crying out for 'Help!'

The fact that The Beatles are making a film at all this early in their career (released, along with this album, in cinemas in July 1964 - just 18 months after 'Love Me Do') is interesting. We tend to think of the music scene of the 1960s as being filled with filmatic versions of bands and singers, but that's true only for those who'd been around since the 1950s or the films that were financed on the back of the popularity of  this one (with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits and The Dave Clark Five all getting a go - sadly planned films for The Stones and The Hollies were cancelled at the last minute). The decision to put a band who had only made the international conscience in February that same year after Ed Sullivan (The Beatles were still on a high from this success when they re-grouped for the first week of shooting in March) was a brave one. We can ask now why those involved didn't spend more money, why a film that was inevitably going to make money wasn't shot in colour and why there aren't any big names in it the way that there is in 'Help!' But the true fact is that, despite being made very cleverly, 'A Hard Day's Night' was still done on the cheap and was to United Artists simply a mutually beneficial deal with EMI (in Britain) and Capitol (in America) to sell more records and impress more cinema-goers. The general consensus among the public is that The Beatles 'wanted' to make these films, that they had some burgeoning desire to act because they'd seen Elvis do it. In fact The Beatles were fairly laidback about the whole thing, with Lennon's quote that 'we made it because someone asked us' (along with Brian Epstein's gamble that with the Beatles away from home touring a film would keep British fans loyal) closer to the truth.

Back in 1964 films tended to spell the end of a band’s career, not the beginning of them. Even though back then most music-filled films were shot in a matter of weeks rather than months, in the ever-changing 60s even as short a delay as that could spell disaster for a band, locking them in a certain place and time for ever and preventing them from becoming part of the ‘next big thing’ that came along. That had happened to Elvis, it had happened to Cliff, it was about to happen to the Dave Clark Five. But the Beatles weren’t any band. They were the biggest thing that had happened to popular music up to that time and they were on the top of a game that they wouldn’t lose until the start of the next decade. A Hard Day’s Night the film very cleverly catches both sides of the Beatles’ public image – cheeky but loveable, inventive and quirky but not yet so controversial they scared people away, making this the perfect film for the few parents who still weren't quite sure what all the fuss was about (because - in a point often missed - young teenagers didn't often go to cinemas alone back then, although a few did bring along elder siblings).

The trouble with making a film when you're a 'band' is that it takes a whole chunk of time (two months in this case) away from making music. For decades, now, everyone has looked at this record and wondered why some of the better songs weren't on the film: the fact is only side one (and a rejected song, 'You Can't Do That') had been written by the time The Beatles took to the (sound) stage. All the other songs were recorded (and many of them written) when The Beatles got home to the (relative) peace and quiet of Abbey Road. That's quite staggering because in retrospect the biggest achievement of 'A Hard Day's Night' isn't how good The Beatles are at acting (although they're amazing for four people without any prior experience, especially Lennon who simply owns the camera!) or how well they're able to run while escaping for fans (although they're mightily speedy - except when George falls over!) but the fact that 'A Hard Day's Night' is the first 'real' rock and pop album made up exclusively from original material. On their first two albums The Beatles had fallen back on rock and roll standards for about half the LP and they'll do the same for the next two ('Rubber Soul' being the next entirely original LP). But for now Lennon, especially, is at his productive peak, dominating the album like never before or since (Trivia note: in fact this is the only Beatles album ever to be entirely credited to Lennon-McCartney – all the others have at least one cover or at least one song written by Harrison). This isn’t just any old rubbish Lennon’s churning out either; many of these songs are groundbreaking and even on a couple of tracks that are obviously written as fillers the band put in such a strong, tight performance that these songs sound consistently great too. That’s a staggering achievement for a not-quite-24-year-old to cope with just eight months and three singles after the last classic LP and under the biggest pressure in the world not to let anybody down (oh yeah, and The Beatles made a film in there somewhere too, did I mention that?!)

So why is Lennon suddenly so prolific? My guess is it has something to do with the success of 'In His Own Write'. Published in March 1964 (early enough for most of side two to be written afterwards), the success of this collection of gobble-de-gook and word ploys wrotten by Johnno Rhythmsticks frome his teenagery calendar yares onwards took even him by surprise. After decades of being told 'what are you doing John' 'you'll never amount to anything' and 'why can't you write and speak proper', Lennon has finally had an answer to the question that, he admitted in 1970 to Rolling Stone Magazine, had bothered him since birth: is he an idiot? Or a genius? No one understood the young Lennon (not until Paul and Stuart Sutcliffe anyway) and this bothered him more than it seemed to people at the time (at least judging by his primal scream therapy announcements after the Beatles' split). Much more than the songs at this stage the books are the 'real' Lennon and it must have taken a lot of nerve to agree to a publisher's enquiry whether any of the band would be interested in writing a book (lampooned in one of the better Beatles Cartoons, incidentally, when all the band 'make up' their autobiographies). Penguin really weren't expecting the book Lennon gave them and John only half-expected them to publish it - the fact that all the teenage writings that horrified his teachers and worried his Aunt Mimi were so well received by everyone (even literary critics) seemed like a vindication that he was a 'genius' after all (One of the 'Pop Go The Beatles' shows even has a member of Lennon's old school write in to say the class have enjoyed studying the book in lessons - to John's obvious delight).  As a result Lennon feels he can do no wrong. More than perhaps any other Beatles record, 'A Hard Day's Night' is Lennon's baby and he's in mesmerising vocal form throughout, as well as gradually casting his 'songwriting net' wider and deeper, fishing in waters where no other pop-rock songwriter had yet been (with McCartney, not yet quite as prolific without a book behind him, only a nose behind). The situation will change when Lennon's friend journalist Maureen Cleave challenges him why his songs aren't as 'deep' and 'personal' as the books, something that will set off another whole way of thinking through 'Beatles For Sale' and beyond, but for now the books and songs are separate - Lennon just wants to write anything and everything, which is good timing with such a tight deadline looming.

However, there is very much a progression to both John and Paul's songwriting here. The Beatles were growing so fast that if you listen closely you can hear the difference between the two sides, the moment where the general innocence of side one makes way for something more world-weary and fed-up. Most bands asked to write something for a 'soundtrack' album would try to make all the songs sound like the ones in the film - but Lennon and McCartney almost seem to be re-acting with relief at the thought that they don't have to sound so 'upbeat' all the time. This will have a major effect on their songwriting in the future and is already impacting it now. As a result, the first side of 'A Hard Day's Night' is successful at invoking the film's speed, wit and sheer unadulterated joy - but the second is also pretty at bringing out much of it's subtler underlying melancholy  (think of Ringo quitting the band and walking moodily down that towpath – although admittedly, as we now know, his moody stare is because he had a hangover the morning that scene was filmed!)

Considering that the sessions for this album were held piecemeal around the film days and the band’s ever-growing tour commitments, you could forgive A Hard Day’s Night the album for marking time while the band concentrated on A Hard Day’s Night the film. Again, though, this is the Beatles we’re talking about here and despite being conceived as very much the second partner in the project, this album is equally as groundbreaking as the film and is simply mind-boggling in the way it raised the bar even higher over their competitors’ heads. Not content with being amongst the first wave of bands who wrote songs for a living as well as sang them, the Beatles set musical history here by writing all 13 songs themselves. Just think about that for a second; the Beatles had absolutely no spare time to call their own, they were stuck – as the film poetically puts in – ‘in a car and a room and a train and a room and a room and a room’ and their only real chance to ‘escape’ their prison was while performing on stage, yet they still managed a Merseybeat first by writing every song on this album. To show you how rushed this project was, the only reason the songs on side one made it into the film rather than the equally fine songs on side two was because the band hadn’t had time to write them yet.

The first side (recorded in February, apart from the title track in April) is built for dancing. Not quite sure of what direction the film will take (to his credit, the only time the film's highly sympathetic Dick Lester ever interfered with the music and asked for a specific song on either this project or 'Help!' it was for a 'title song'), The Beatles do what every other band asked to come up with music for an upbeat vibrant youthful project does and make songs you can dance to (similarly, Boyce and Hart's first song for The Monkees is 'Let's Dance On'). The tempo falls across side one only for the two exquisite ballads ('If I Fell' plus 'And I Love Her'), while in the film The Beatles dance to one song ('Can't Buy Me Love') and sing another about that very art (John's rather sour song for George 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You'). The lyrics to 'A Hard Day's Night' hint at the darker hues to come, but even this song adds that when they come home to wife and home the narrator feels...'alright'. Similarly 'I Should Have Known Better' rues a girl whose done the narrator wrong, but can't stop smiling thanks to a chirpy harmonica riff and an elongated vocal hook that really does sound like an audible smile. This is easily the happiest, most upbeat 15 minutes of the band's album discography (discounting 'Past Masters One' perhaps) and makes even the 'Please Please Me' album look all sad and downcast.

However, the second (recorded mainly in June, pretty tight to the mid-July deadline) is quite a different beast. The side starts promisingly with the sweet encouragement of 'Any Time At All' but thereafter Lennon promises to 'break girls' hearts all round the world', Paul reflects that he'll look back on 'The Things We said Today' happily but knows there might not be many more tomorrows, a frustrated Lennon sings that he has 'no time for trivialities' (who else would use an impossible-to-rhyme word like that?), curses his wayward partner for making eyes at another ('I'm gonna let you down and leave you flat!') and then warns himself that he's a victim doomed to misery, inevitably meant to repeat the same mistakes by returning to a brazen hussy of a girlfriend. By 1964 standards this is the equivalent of being told there's no Santa Clause (there is, by the way, if you're reading this and under ten) or that The Tooth Fairy was just your mother dressed up in a frilly tutu hoping that you're asleep.

That's quite a contrast for any album and seems all the more so because of how short this album is. We're used to 'CD length' albums nowadays in 2014, which varies considerably but is generally considered to be about an hour. A Hard Day’s Night only lasts for half of that and at 30 and a half minutes, it’s the shortest album The Beatles ever made (even 'Please Please Me' lasts for 32). Compared to later albums like 'Revolver' (although that's only 33 minutes!) 'A Hard Day's Night' can seem slight on first hearing. Yet such is the energy, excitement and inventiveness of the band on this album, it seems like far far longer than that somehow and those 30 minutes may well be one of the most important half-hours on our whole original list of 'core' 101 albums, encouraging teenagers all round the world to pick up a guitar and join in with the pop phenomenon. For the few soon-to-be-fans who hadn't jumped on board in the band's busy year of 1963, the importance of 'A Hard Day's Night', both film and album, cannot be under-estimated. Many, many of the artists we cover on this site (and now in these books) were inspired to become bands after watching this film: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, The Monkees, even members of Belle and Sebastian as late as the 1990s were still re-enacting scenes from the film during their downtime because they were so happy at being in a band at last (we're looking at you, Stevie Jackson!) Even a few people who were already in bands at the folkie end of the spectrum turned electric and plugged their guitars into amplifiers as a direct result fo seeing - and hearing - this film. The biggest legacy of this project isn't, perhaps, what's within these grooves or in those film cells but the fact that it made being in a band sound like and look like such fun that everyone wanted to join in. After seeing the film and hearing the album really that’s no surprise to anyone; both A Hard Day’s Night projects still crackle with that zealous enthusiastic magic today. This is where the Beatles proved not that they could do it but that they could do it over and over and over, something that left their contemporaries gaping in awe. Some 40-odd years on, many of their fan-base are still gaping in awe. The Beatles were that kind of band.

The Songs:

A Hard Day’s Night - the song this time - is so tailor-made for the film’s opening scene its scary, especially considering that it was written at the last minute under the knowledge that it would most likely be used as a single and the title track for the film – and it would be good publicity if it happened to be another sure-fire #1 hit as well. The Beatles manage to fulfil all three impossible tasks before breakfast here, mirroring perfectly the film’s frenetic pace and slightly cynical realism, plus an opening chord that immediately says both album and film are going to be something really special. The message of that opening chord resonates throughout the song and indeed the album and film: this is a world of endless possibilities and the Beatles won’t be done until they’ve been through every single door. Already the Beatles are beginning to sound tired if you analyse this song closely, obviously fed up of the treadmill that was running their lives by this point, but the excitement of that opening chord cuts right through the rest of the song showing the band’s enthusiasm is till there too. Both John and Paul still manage to sound like they are having the time of their lives too on the vocals, despite the song’s downbeat lyrics. Classic tune too. The title is always reckoned to be a Ringo-ism and was reported as such at the time, but more than one eagle-eyed fan spotted that the phrase had first appeared in Lennon’s goon-ish collection of prose called In His Own Write although its author had forgotten until a Beatle fan pointed it out to him! For a song written to order, this is ridiculously impressive stuff.

I Should Have Known Better is stuck somewhere between the Beatles’ past and future, with all of the poppyness, hey-hey-heys and puffing harmonica of their earlier, most popular songs. Yet the way Lennon spins out that first line as if he’s building up to some grand confession (‘I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I should have known better…) and the song’s peculiar structure built on a handful of different riffs are already pointing the way to later Lennon songs like Ticket To Ride and Help! The middle eight is interesting too, very Lennon in its angularity and the fact that it bears no relationship to the rest of the tune whatsoever, but not very Lennon-like at all in the way it swoops up and down the octaves trying to find a way out of its narrator’s guilt, leaving its composer growling and singing in a creaky falsetto in the space of a few bars.

If I Fell is another Lennon special, ostensibly a re-write of earlier b-side This Boy in its use of the Beatles’ voices in close harmony and its slightly depressing romantic mood. But If I Fell is much more original and inventive than its predecessor, reaching out for peculiar chords and harmonic structures that would have been out of Lennon’s reach just a few short months earlier. Macca was already writing songs of this wide-ranging ilk, but he was far less productive than Lennon in these early days and Lennon’s previous experiments in form and sound came out as the least-Beatles sounding material of their early career (Not A Second Time, All I’ve Gotta Do, etc). Here, Lennon’s written a typical yearning Beatles song based around their usual harmonies and a typically lovely simple tune, but it’s built over such a wide gaping chasm of notes that it’s actually pretty groundbreaking too. So unusual is the harmonic line in this song that McCartney doesn’t quite make the full stretch, his voice cracking under the strain for the one and only time on a Beatles record (at least he does on the stereo mix – the Beatles managed to fix it with the help of some multi-tracking on the mono version, which was at the time still seen as the preferred format for long-playing records).

I’m Happy Just To Dance With You is – harmonically speaking – a very Harrisonesque song, with its slightly grumpy air and the vocal line’s down-turning growl just at the point where George should be happy, singing about his excitement of inviting his partner out to dance. However, this second harmonically complex song in a row is actually a Lennon original, back in the days when George wasn’t yet writing songs to order (his one vocal on this album is by far his lowest number on a Beatles LP and its surprising the band didn’t get out at least one old original for him to sing on as well, easing the burden on themselves in the process). You can see why Lennon gave the song to George to sing – its closer to his slightly deeper vocal range for starters, but it’s also bitty and unfinished, with no clear resolution other than a few woahs thrown into the mix (and clearly not worthy enough of Lennon's voice!)  What's funny is that John almost seems to be sending his colleague up here: the sour harmonies of 'Don't Bother Me' are disguised in this song at the end of the chorus line, so that George sings the joyous line 'I'm so happy just to dance with you' while musically sounding as if he's scowling. A poor man’s Twist and Shout, the recording of this song ups the ante by containing excitement and energy in spades, if not quite the raucous rawness required.

And I Love Her finally gives McCartney the chance to make his presence felt on the album and it’s a typical Macca love song. Warm and cosy, this song is every bit as adventurous harmonically as Lennon’s material, its just all wrapped up in such a wonderfully snug-fitting melody that you don’t notice the key changes being stretched to breaking point. The song started off as a simple attempt to write a formula song for the film (a list of lyrics that ended ‘oh by the way, I love you’) but soon developed into something more than that and given McCartney’s wonderfully warm vocal on the recording sounds like it’s a genuinely heartfelt piece of work rather than mere ‘filler’ (The timing of this song coincides pretty nicely with the start of Paul’s romance with Jane Asher, but so far Macca has never really said who inspired it). The Beatles’ recording is more evidence of their sharp ear for a song – after toying around with a full band set-up (as heard on Anthology One), they settled on a more intimate acoustic format for the first time on album, with George’s stately guitar solo the icing on a particularly rich cake. The band, working on their feet, then nailed this new arrangement in a matter of hours. You can almost hear the girls swooning in the cinema around you when you play this song, but it somehow transcends its simple formulaic beginnings and is one of it’s composers prettiest pieces.

Tell Me Why is back to Lennon at his rocking best, a largely filler song dressed up in such a pretty costume that it still makes the grade of this album. Lennon belts out his lead with real enthusiasm, the rest of the band get into the spirit of things behind him and they even throw in a mock-Beach Boys falsetto section in the middle eight for good measure (The Beach Boys do in fact later return the compliment by covering this song on their 1966 'Party!' record). Driving take-no-prisoners Merseybeat at its best – it's amazing to think, after perfecting that sound here and taking it to its limit, the Beatles are about to abandon it in favour of the semi-confessional Dylanesque country-rock that makes up most of Beatles For Sale released just five months later.     

Can’t Buy Me Love ends the first side on a huge hit single but, to these ears at least, Can’t Buy Me Love is the weakest chain in the plethora of early Beatles singles (albeit only by comparison!), its lyrics never quite scanning properly in relation to its unusually jazzy tune. The Beatles also sound slightly less at ease than normal on this recording – possibly because this is McCartney calling the shots on a major Beatles session for the first time and possibly because the Beatles recorded this song away from the home comforts of Abbey Road for the first time (the band used a studio in Paris during their day-off from a French tour). Long admired by non-followers of the group (and the surprising choice of many a Beatles cover over the years), this song is just as impressive but somehow harder to fall in love with than the other songs on this album. Interestingly, hear the song in the context of the film – where it accompanies the Beatles’ five-minute burst of freedom, fleeing down a fire escape away from their managers and busy schedule and being irreverently silly in a field – and it sounds lots better than it does as a record, summing up all of the youthful exuberance and charm of the Beatles at their early peak.

Side two begins with another Lennon rocker, Anytime At All. Unbelievably this – admittedly rather slight – song was written at the recording session, the band creating seven takes of this freshly minted Lennon piece before leaving its author to work on the middle eight during a tea-break. Another great Beatles performance, with a rocking Lennon lead, an unusual ‘answering vocal’ from McCartney and particularly fine drumming from Ringo rescuing what in other hands might have been another fairly average song. For Lennon, it's unusually 'kind' lyrically, offering support no matter what - something which seems to have slipped the author's mind by the time of 'You Can't Do That'... Fellow AAA star Nils Lofgren covered this song as a 'tribute' to Lennon for his 1981 album 'Night Fades Away', to rather good effect.

I’ll Cry Instead at first sounds like more of the same, with Lennon throwing some easy rhymes into a chorus that is largely based around one note in contrast to his growing grasp of harmonics on side one. Dismiss the song at your peril, however - the middle eight especially makes it clear that something deeper is going on with its adventurous shifting keys and the part of the song where everything drops out except McCartney’s octave wandering bass shows a thoughtful arranger at work. The lyrics, too, point towards Lennon’s future songs, not exactly confessional in the sense that Lennon hadn’t actually been spurned by anyone romantically at this point (as far as I know!), but the fact that this narrator is crying – and his rather guilty ranting and ravings about revenge – are the first time we see a Lennon character acting helplessly in response to a situation, rather than creating it himself or causing it for others. An early glimpse at a troubled psyche that shows Lennon was looking inward long before the Beatles were stung by criticism that their lyrics weren’t as deep as Bob Dylan’s.     

Things We Said Today is just as complex and uncharacteristic a song as anything Lennon was writing, a dark and brooding composition with an intriguing two-chord acoustic guitar riff slicing through the track - and the narrator’s memories - like a knife. Half-afraid that Lennon’s more progressive tracks were leaving him behind, McCartney pulled out a last-minute coup with this song, recorded at the last sessions for the album in June just a month before the album’s release. The song is unusual for its period in that it looks forward to the future. Pick out nearly any Merseybeat song at random and chances are they’ll be about the present – I’m going out with so and so, I’ve been dumped by so and so, I hate so and so, so and so used to be so low, but now he’s only so so, something like that – but this song is looking forward to a time when a cosy couple can look back at a crossroads in their lives and agree that they took the right decision. ‘Remember our commitments’, says McCartney, ‘because even though we’re happy now I can see clouds on the horizon’. McCartney’s vocal is also impressive, calmly moving through some pretty inventive chord changes and - even though it’s thoughts of happiness that drive the narrator through most of the song - the track somehow keeps finding its way back into a rather dour chorus-line and the sudden gnashing of teeth of the guitar riff. The middle eight is also impressive, with McCartney’s sudden burst of lyrical optimism and good luck contrasted against one of the most musically claustrophobic sections of any Beatles record, Macca raising his voice into a near-shout while his fellow Beatles turn from laid-back angst into a marching angry frenzy (‘Me I’m just the lucky kind…’). Out of all the Beatle classics Macca keeps reviving in concert over the next two decades, this is one of the most over-looked out of his canon and is surely next in the waiting list to be re-discovered (yes, alright, he has done it occasionally but it’s hardly been a set regular down the years, mainly restricted to the one-off and hard-to-find Unplugged recording!)

When I Get Home is, by contrast, mainly filler, with Lennon stuck in traffic trying to get home to the waiting arms of his lover. Yet how many songs start in such a strange way as this (with the musical hook and guitar riff played in a different key to the rest of the song?) And how many other filler lyrics get away with rhyming words like ‘trivilaities’? Most Beatles fans dismiss this song as meaning nothing but – small as it is – there’s just enough commitment in Lennon’s voice to suggest he’s writing and singing from the heart, especially the lovely sweeping (but terribly ungrammatical!) ‘I love her more since I walk out that door again’. The last song recorded for the album, during a busy session which had already seen 'Anytime At All' and 'Things We Said Today' taped within just a few hours, you can almost hear the relief with which The Beatles get to the last note and know they can go home for some rest.

You Can’t Do That is unusual for this period too in the sense that it recycles a Beatles B-side from earlier in the year by placing the same recording on the concurrent album (a practice the band gave up after Please Please Me’s flip Ask Me Why). This song deserves its repeat playings, however – it’s a powerful, tight performance with all four Beatles playing more or less the same staccato riff, raising the tension levels considerably. Lennon is at his sneering best in the lyrics, giving us an early serving of the venom he’ll inject into I Am The Walrus just a few years down the line, although the lyrics are so at odds with the peace message of most of Lennon’s most famous later material (All You Need Is Love, Imagine) its hard to believe its by the same man. The jealous, rather hot-headed narrator is busy making things clear to ‘his’ girl in the song – talk to anyone I don’t know again and I’m leaving, because I’ve had this out with you before. But then, Lennon himself sang of being a Jealous Guy later in his career – like other tracks on this album, this is his growing awareness of his character’s faults coming through for largely the first time. The hard, brittle performance still stands as one of the Beatles’ best of their early years, complete with that Ringo tapped cowbell which just is the sound of the Beatles’ early years to me, even if they rarely use it again (Incidentally, the band repeat the formula again for McCartney’s b-side She’s A Woman that Christmas, aping the style of the Kinks and the Who that had just broken big with ‘heavier’ sounding songs, although again the Beatles largely cast the template first with this song). An uncomfortable yet admirable track.

You’d expect any ‘pop’ band of this vintage to come back on after the last song and take a bow in their more traditional style, but not this band. Ill Be Back is one of the most depressing ballads Lennon ever wrote, carrying on where Not A Second Time left off, allowing the album to finish on the most down-beat note of any of their releases (even the White Album ends on a largely calm and happy note with Good Night). A brave idea after 12 slices of largely optimistic innocent pop songs, I’ll Be Back is one of Lennon’s most under-rated compositions. A sort of continuation of the last track, this is Lennon waking up the next night with an emotional hangover, telling his girl that if she does go after his ranting he will actually miss her and come back for her some day, despite what he says on the surface. The middle eight of this song is stunning, with Lennon’s inner voice really breaking through on the ‘I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I thought that you would realise…’ line (was it really only 11 tracks ago Lennon was singing this trick on a throwaway filler song?!?) and his guilt and regret just oozes through the recording. Even though the ‘oh-hos’ are obviously just there to cover up the song’s difficult harmonic fall through several keys to find the song’s original verse structure, even this rather dodgy trick is well handled, sounding like a vocal shrug of the shoulders as Lennon’s narrator tries to work out what to do next in his life. The song then fades – again unusually for this album, which is nearly all made up of songs with full endings – unresolved, on the minor chord, still trying to find a way out of its melancholy. A stunning end to a groundbreaking album.

No wonder it took all the other groups on this list years to catch up with the Beatles and secure a place on the archives list. The recording of this album may have been a hard day’s night – and at times in the album the pressure and time limits admittedly begin to peek through the cracks – but its a pretty marvellous few day’s work from a time when even the Beatles on auto-pilot were something special to look forward to.  

A now complete list of Beatles links available at this website:
'Rubber Soul' (1965)

'Revolver' (1966)
'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' (1967)

'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967)

'The Beatles' aka 'The White Album' (1968)
'Yellow Submarine' (1969)
The Best Unreleased Beatles Recordings

A Complete AAA Guide To The Beatles Cartoons
The Beatles: Surviving TV Appearances
A 'Bite' Of Beatles Label 'Apple'
The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part One: 1958-63
 The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Two: 1964-67
The Beatles: Non-Album Songs Part Three: 1968-96
The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part One: 1962-74
The Beatles: Compilations/Live Albums/Rarities Sets Part Two: 1976-2013
Beatles Bonuses: The Songs John and Paul Gave Away To The World/To Ringo!

Essay: The Ways In Which The Beatles Changed The World For The Better
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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