Assessing The Beatles’ 2009 Studio Remasters (Part Three)

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
 
It started with an accidental comment by Ringo Starr.  After it was finished, it went on to become one of Roger Ebert’s favourite movies.  Following in the footsteps of Elvis Presley, The Beatles jumped at the chance to become movie stars in 1964.  The result was A Hard Day’s Night, a black and white blockbuster that garnered more respect than all of Presley’s films put together.  It would not be their only silver screen venture.
 
The shortest of all Beatle albums (it clocks in at a mere 30 minutes and 11 seconds), there isn’t a single cover to be found.  No George Harrison originals can be heard, either.  Plus, Ringo wasn’t given anything to sing.  (Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be also don’t feature his distinctive vocals.) All thirteen tracks are strictly Lennon/McCartney collaborations.  (Unfortunately, North American audiences only heard half the songs on the album.  Selections from George Martin’s musical score replaced all the bonus songs from the British release.)  Nevertheless, there’s no filler here.
 
The rollicking title track, which plays over the famous opening titles, has an energy that matches the urgency of the lyrics.  Like Please Please Me, it hints at sex without coming right out and saying it.  Paul McCartney nails the high notes John Lennon couldn’t reach.  Lennon capably handles the rest.  George Martin’s harpsichord solo is classic.  During McCartney’s turn at the mic, listen for the cowbell.  Christopher Walken would be pleased.
 
Lennon’s harmonica is front and center during the next song, I Should Have Known Better.  Tinkering a little with the usual lyrical formula, he sounds like an addict who can’t get enough of his girl’s affections (“If this is love you gotta give me more/Give me more/Hey hey hey/Give me more”).  Sweetly exhuberant, you can add it to the long list of Beatle tracks you can sing along to.  Harrison’s tight, staccato guitar solo nicely mirrors the melody line.
 
If I Fell will melt the heart of even the deepest cynic with its emotional tale of a wounded guy wanting reassurance from the new woman in his life that things will work out a whole lot better than his last relationship.  While still worried about how his ex will react to him moving on, he’s more concerned about getting his heart broken again.  A rare number without a guitar solo, McCartney and Lennon’s harmonies are exquisite.  It’s quite a lovely tune.
 
George Harrison sings the next one, I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.  A straightforward rocker about a guy who prefers boogieing with his gal over romantic gestures (“I don’t wanna kiss or hold your hand…I don’t wanna hug or hold you tight”), it gets the job done in just under two minutes.  And I Love Her is a Spanish-flavoured ballad that suits McCartney’s soft, cavernous vocals.  Once again, Harrison’s solo is pretty much a duplication of the melody line.  The moments where he open picks his acoustic guitar creates the illusion of a harp playing, a well suited technique for this romantic number.
 
The first half of the album ends with Tell Me Why and Can’t Buy Me Love.  The former features a distraught John Lennon in a familiar situation.  Once again, he’s been dropped by a lover and he has no idea why.  Wallowing in endless self-pity, he nonetheless is willing to make amends if his ex would just tell him what he did wrong (“If it’s something I’d have said or done/Tell me what and I’ll apologize”).  Reaching the apex of his shamelessness, by the end he’s literally reduced to pleading (“Well I’m beggin’ on my bended knees/If you’ll only listen to my pleas”).  Ringo Starr’s drum fills nicely guide us from one set of words to the next.  The latter number presents something of a dilemma for a stubborn Paul McCartney.  Despite the assurance of his peers that he’s wasting his time trying to bribe a woman to love him, he foolishly throws his money around anyway in order to bring about her affection for him.  Curiously, in the second half of the song, he’s hoping his love interest will like him anyway in spite of his transparent gestures.  The arrangement is more confident than the character.  Always nice to hear doubt creeping into the lyrical content, though.  Human complexity is always welcome.
 
A jolting hit of the snare drum ignites the sublime Any Time At All with Lennon assuming the role of romantic rescuer.  During the verses, it’s neat to hear long, sombre piano notes every few beats as Lennon tries to convince a young lady to lean on him during her most difficult days.  The piano and guitar jockey for attention during the entertaining solo at the end.  I like the briefly chiming guitar chord that concludes the song.
 
Foreshadowing the introduction of some country & western influences on the next album, I’ll Cry Instead is an improved variation on a familiar theme.  Lennon is the wronged man again, this time wishing in vain to be locked up and forgotten about, at least initially.  Like numerous songs of its type, being jilted by an ex-lover makes him anti-social (“I can’t talk to people that I meet”).  The twist here is the plan he wishes to enact once his depression passes.  He’s hoping to date a lot of women, lead them on and then dump them all in a rather angry gesture of defiance.  Sounds autobiographical which makes it all the more intriguing.
 
Four more originals finish off the album.  Things We Said Today is all about finding comfort and stability in a long distance relationship which is always difficult.  At the start, McCartney reflects on his girlfriend’s devotion to him, especially during their times of separation (“You say you will love me/If I have to go/You’ll be thinking of me/Somehow I will know”).  Then, he reminds himself of how lucky he is despite not always spending enough time with her (“These days, such a kind girl/Seems so hard to find”).  With its occasionally brief bursts of Dick Dale-style acoustic guitar attacks (which will remind some listeners of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart) and deadly serious drumming from Ringo Starr, the energy is high on this ballad/rocker hybrid.  McCartney has given stronger vocal performances than this but despite the odd moment of pitchiness, his flawed take carries the day.  Maybe he intended to sound insecure about the state of this relationship.  If so, he succeeded.
 
When I Get Home is a slightly less frenetic variation on the themes expressed in A Hard Day’s Night, albeit in a more ambigious setting.  Like the title cut, Lennon is eager to drop whatever it is he’s doing to be with his girl.  In Home, he wants to be an all-night sex machine for his woman but he can’t get to her fast enough thanks to an unspecified person standing in his way (“I got no time for triviality”).  There’s an interesting moment near the end where he sings, “I got no business being here with you/This way”.  Another woman, perhaps?  Or maybe just a overly chatty work colleague or a platonic friend?  I like the mystery of that lyric and how it hangs uncomfortably in the air.  The rocking arrangement suits the piece.
 
In many of the early Beatle cuts, Lennon does a lot of weeping over being dumped by the women in his life.  In You Can’t Do That, he’s thrown into a jealous rage whenever he sees his newest girlfriend simply talking to another guy.  Even though we don’t know the nature of those conversations, Lennon nonetheless threatens to dump her if she keeps conversing with him.  Deeply insecure, Lennon openly worries about being laughed at by his peers and pleads for her to cool it.  George Harrison’s solo features some nice rapid-fire strumming.  I love the way the song ends as he hesitates before sliding to that last note.  Christopher Walken will be happy with this one.  Lots of cowbell happening.
 
Finally, there’s the pretty I’ll Be Back.  Not too much different thematically from Smokey Robinson’s You Really Got A Hold On Me, Lennon sounds like a total glutton for punishment as he declares to his lover right at the top, “If you break my heart I’ll go/But I’ll be back again”.  After declaring his love for her, there’s this mysterious line:  “This time/I will try to show that I’m/Not trying to pretend.”  Was he just going through the motions before?  Or is he talking about how he’s not going to lie anymore about how hurt he feels?  The more you pore over these lyrics, the more puzzled you feel about the state of this relationship.  It sounds like a battle of wills is brewing with Lennon determined to stick things out in an effort to drive his girlfriend insane.  Or at least to convince her to treat him better.  He says he loves her despite what’s happened between them.  But you wonder if he’s just wasting his time with this attempted reconciliation or planning to torture her with his presence.  The middle eight section reveals how Lennon thought his girl would come find him after he left her in an effort to set things right.  Instead, he’s decided to come back to her unexpectedly.  Pretty action packed for a two and a half minute album closer.  The Spanish-flavoured guitars and Ringo’s steady backbeat can’t help but add to the drama.
 
All in all, this reissue sounds great even though I’ve always liked the 1987 CD.  This one’s for the gripers who will have nothing to bemoan.  Early pressings are enhanced with a 3-minute mini documentary about the making of the film and the album.  (You need QuickTime and at least Windows 2000 to view it.  Check the back cover for more details.)  You’ll hear George Martin and every Beatle offering comments as various clips from A Hard Day’s Night are interspersed with footage from Abbey Road Studios, TV performances and crazy airport scenes.  Unfortunately, the audio is atrocious.  As noted in the Please Please Me review, it’s best to let the doc play through once without sound and then play it again with the sound.  However, for some reason, that trick doesn’t work here.  The Hard Day’s Night doc doesn’t sound clean or crisp at all on the second viewing.  (I cut it off early on during the third when it still sounded bad.  Maybe you’ll have better luck.)  That being said, it’s fun to hear some of the in-studio comments before a take of a song is recorded.  There’s a funny moment where there’s a delay involving George Harrison.  “George is tuning up!” notes Paul in mock amazement.  Also funny is a brief shot of someone holding a sign at an airport that reads: “Beatles – Unfair To Bald Men”.  One of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments.  Otherwise, there’s nothing terribly new revealed here.  Much of this footage and narration was also seen and heard in The Beatles On Record TV special.
 
The liner notes include Tony Barrow’s original 1964 commentary about the film and album plus the usual Historical and Recording Notes and lots of black and white photos.  Even though this information has been public for decades, it’s still neat to read about the band’s activities and successes during this period.  Newbies will be particularly enlightened.
 
A Hard Day’s Night was an early snapshot of the band leaving the temporary comfort zone of remakes for the scary realm of total originality.  It was an encouraging sign of much better work to come.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
12:09 a.m.
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Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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