'A Hard Day's Night' - the Album and Film Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'A Hard Day's Night' - the Album and Film

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It's been a hard day's night, I've been working like a dog
It's been a hard day's night, I should be sleeping like a log

The Beatles had dominated the music industry almost since the moment they launched their first single. By their third release they began a record-setting stint of Number One singles, and their first two albums followed suit. They were seen to be significant enough to be invited to record a series of special shows for the BBC and were invited to perform at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963 in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret1.

On 7 November, 1963, the Beatles played their only show in the Republic of Ireland. Accompanying them was Liverpool playwright Alun Owen, who had recently been commissioned to script a film around the band. He witnessed the mania that surrounded the boys and the reactions of near-hysteria from women wherever they went. He also picked up on the quick wit of the band members and began to formulate ideas for a loose story that could run through the film. Meanwhile, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began to assemble ideas for the songs that would appear in the film, as well as the songs that would appear on an accompanying album, their third.

The Album

A Hard Day's Night was the Beatles' first album that contained entirely original material; of the 13 tracks, ten were written by John Lennon and the other three by Paul McCartney. Though their next two albums, Beatles For Sale and Help! would include some cover versions2, there were fewer than had appeared in earlier releases. Indeed, by the time of Rubber Soul, the Beatles would never record another cover until 'Maggie Mae', a traditional shanty recorded for what became their final album, Let It Be, in 1970.

The album, which was also the soundtrack to the film by the same name, was released on 10 July, 1964, in Great Britain, and 26 June in the United States. Side one contains the seven songs from the film and side two contains the extra six songs that unfortunately didn't make it to the film. At the time, A Hard Day's Night became the fastest-selling album in UK history. 1.5 million copies were sold during the first two weeks following its release. It also made the Beatles the first act to have simultaneous Number One singles and albums on both sides of the Atlantic.

The title 'A Hard Day's Night' was accidentally invented by the Beatles' drummer, Ringo Starr, who reportedly uttered the phrase after a long recording session. Ringo later recalled:

We went to do a job and we worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day, I suppose, and I said 'its been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said '...night!' So we came to A Hard Day's Night.

The Tracks: Side One

All words and music on this side were attributed to Lennon / McCartney. These are the songs included in the film. The film also featured several previously released Beatles songs including 'She Loves You', 'I Wanna Be Your Man' and an instrumental version of 'This Boy'.

'A Hard Day's Night'

Written by John, and recorded at Abbey Road on 16 April, 1964, this is the opening song of the movie and one of the few Beatles songs that is recognisable within the first two seconds. The song starts when George hits a G7 suspended 4th on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. In the movie this song is played at the beginning when the Beatles are on the run from hordes of screaming girls. This scene was spoofed in the 1997 movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

'I Should Have Known Better'

Written and sung by John and played during the scene in which the Beatles and Paul's grandfather are playing cards on the train. In the stereo version of this song, John makes mistakes while playing the harmonica.

'If I Fell'

Written by John, like 'Norwegian Wood' this song is about him having an affair. In the film, John begins to play this to Ringo, who is sulking about his drums.

'I'm Happy Just to Dance with You'

The song was written by John, but he didn't really like it much, so George was handed the role of lead singer.

'And I Love Her'

Written by Paul, it is a love song to his then girlfriend, Jane Asher. A slow, soft song, John later said it was Paul's first 'Yesterday'. 'And I Love Her' is the Beatles' first acoustic song. The way the title starts mid-sentence is considered a pretty innovative feature.

'Tell Me Why'

An extremely up-tempo song by John, despite the downbeat subject matter of a relationship turned sour, and one of the songs the Beatles perform at the television studio in the film. John later said the lyrics were partly inspired by parents divorcing, though the song doesn't really have anything to do with parents specifically.

'Can't Buy Me Love'

Written by Paul as a follow-up to 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', this is one of the most famous Beatles songs. Paul later felt compelled to deny that the song was about prostitution. While played in the movie, it is particularly like a music video. It is in an outdoor scene, much of which is filmed from above, looking down at the Beatles while they are running and playing in a field. This song was also released as a single (on 20 March, 1964), and went to Number One, of course, This was their only single to be recorded outside London. In this case, at the Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris.

Side Two

These songs were not included in the film.

'Anytime At All'

Written by John, this song uses the same chord progression as an earlier Beatles song 'It Won't Be Long'.

'I'll Cry Instead'

This song, written by John, was intended to be used in the film but was eventually replaced by 'Can't Buy Me Love'.

'Things We Said Today'

Written by Paul while in the Caribbean aboard a yacht called Happy Days. Like many of his songs at the time, it was written to Jane Asher.

'When I Get Home'

About anticipation of returning to his girlfriend. One of John's more optimistic songs.

'You Can't Do That'

A song about jealousy of a girlfriend, a theme that recurs in John's later songs 'Run For Your Life' and his post-Beatles 'Jealous Guy'. 'You Can't Do That' is also the first song in which George plays his 12-string guitar in a recording.

'I'll Be Back'

Again, written by John, this is inspired by songs like 'Hey Little Girl' and 'Runaway'. An early demo of the song appears on the first Anthology album, released in 1995. The demo was recorded in 3/4 time, but was abandoned because Lennon found it 'too hard to sing'.

The Album Cover

The British album cover picture is a grid of separate pictures of each of the Beatles. There are four rows, each consisting of five square pictures of their heads. From top to bottom: John, George, Paul and Ringo. The grid is then on a blue background with the title in red letters at the top. In each of the pictures, the Beatles are in different poses, such as John holding his hands up to his eyes like binoculars, George smoking a cigarette, Paul holding his hand out and Ringo looking thoughtful.

The American Version

As with many of the Beatles albums, the American release was slightly different from the original British version. It featured the seven songs from the film; however 'I'll Cry Instead' was the only song from the British side two that made it onto the US version. Instead of the other five, it contained instrumental versions of 'A Hard Day's Night', 'I Should Have Known Better', 'And I Love Her' and 'This Boy'.

The American version also used a different album cover. It was simply a grid of four pictures on a red background; each photo featured one of the Beatles from his eyes up. The pictures clockwise are of Paul, John, George and Ringo.

A Hard Day's Night - The Film

'E's a very clean old man, innee?

Filming for the movie A Hard Day's Night began on 2 March, 1964 and took eight weeks to shoot. It was directed by Richard Lester3, working to Alun Owen's script, and of course starred the Beatles as themselves, with cameo appearances by fellow Merseysiders Norman Rossington and Deryck Guyler.

The film was premiered on 6 July 1964 at the London Pavilion, though it was the Northern premiere in Liverpool, four days later, that had the Beatles filled with nerves and fears that the people of their home town wouldn't like them any more. When they were greeted by 200,000 people and awarded the keys to the city in a civil reception, their fears were allayed somewhat.

The story is about a day in the life of the Beatles - well, technically, 48 hours. It follows the Beatles' frantic lives of travelling and performing. Thrown into the mix are Norm and Shake, the Beatles' managers, and Paul's grandfather, Lord John McCartney. Not his real-life grandfather, but an actor, Wilfred Bramble, who audiences knew as the 'dirty old man' from TV's Steptoe and Son. Paul's grandfather is a troublemaking 'old mixer', though you have to admit 'he's a very clean old man', as many characters from the film can confirm.

The film is noted for being surprisingly good. Not only is the plotline even and consistently funny throughout, it is also supported (of course) by fantastic music. The film has been considered a sort of precursor to modern day music videos. During many of the scenes that feature music, the shots are arranged in time with the rhythm.

Interesting Facts About the Film

  • Pattie Boyd had a small part in the film as a schoolgirl. It was on the first day of filming that she met George Harrison and she later became his wife. They divorced and she later married Eric Clapton.

  • Phil Collins, later the drummer for the band Genesis, was an extra in the film.

  • In the scene in the train compartment, the irritable man who insisted the Beatles have the radio off and the window closed was played by Richard Vernon, who later played Slartibartfast in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio and TV series.

  • Victor Spinetti, a veteran stage and film actor, played the director in the television studio. Spinetti was also in two later Beatles movies, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour.

  • Since the Beatles had little acting experience, many of their lines weren't much longer than six words or so.

  • Many of the songs were written and/or recorded after the film was actually shot, which is why the film contains so many musical sequences where the band don't actually perform the song but just lark about for the music to be dubbed over later.

  • The film was made on a comparatively low budget of ¬£175,000, and was shot in black and white. They didn't want to spend too much money on the film because at that point many thought the Beatles' popularity wouldn't last much longer. They were wrong, of course.

  • In 2004, Total Film magazine ranked A Hard Day's Night as the 42nd best British film.

1Though they didn't top the bill, they did steal the show after John Lennon famously invited the Royals to 'rattle your jewellery' in time to the music.2A cover is a new version of a song first recorded or made popular by another performer.3Who also directed the next Beatles film, Help!

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