The Beatles in the mid-1960s reached the plateau they had dreamt of. All the hard work gave them fame and riches. Just watch the movie "A Hard Day's Night." This black and white gem captures the Beatles as the world first discovered and became mesmerized by them. They have boyish energy and enthusiasm. No trace of the psychedelic stuff yet. No harbingers of the counterculture, unless you consider the hair length a tad too long.
The older generation had a hard time accepting the hair length. Those oldsters of Lawrence Welk affiliation should have been relieved that the "moptops" were as restrained as they were. By 1970, even I was getting weary of some of the Beatles' excesses. I so wanted John Lennon to just look like his old self again. George Harrison had gotten creepy-looking, unnecessarily.
"A Hard Day's Night" is like a time capsule preserving the Fab 4 as we loved them the most. Lennon was 23 years old when he wrote the title song. Ringo Starr made a casual remark that gave Lennon the "hook" for the song. The film was actually quite far along before the title was coined. Lennon needed less than 24 hours to produce the song. Days later, the guys departed from their film work to record the song at Abbey Road. They needed only nine takes. I'm always happy to hear about a minimal number of takes to record a song.
The Beatles were great partly because they were never staid. They applied wrinkles that could surprise you. It was never out of pretentiousness. It expanded how the Beatles could reach you with their music, as with the French national anthem as a song's intro, or the entry of a piccolo trumpet. And on the song "It's Been a Hard Day's Night" we have that incredible chord strummed by George Harrison. It bookends the song. Who else could have thought of this? Its novelty is such, a precise description of the chord has proven to be elusive. Is it a variant of F major or G major 7th? Don't ask me.
Harrison's chord reverberates for a couple seconds before John begins his vocal. The chord returns at the end, practically casting a spell.
The "Hard Day's Night" album was the Beatles' first consisting of all original compositions. In fact, it ended up as the only album consisting entirely of Lennon-McCartney compositions. Lennon was still the dominant creative force with the group. McCartney would blossom on "Revolver."
McCartney's potential was more than evident on the album "A Hard Day's Night." He came through with "And I Love Her," "Can't Buy Me Love" and 'Things We Said Today." I'm struck by "Can't Buy Me Love" because it starts out with the chorus!
One can argue that it's pointless "keeping score" with how Lennon and McCartney did versus each other. "Lennon-McCartney" was an attribution affixed for a reason. Monitoring this "rivalry" reduces the fun of listening, I'd suggest.
Greater depth with words
The Beatles' lyrics took a step forward with this album. Finally they had stepped beyond the lazy rhymes and sophomoric narratives. "Love Me Do" might actually be presented as a textbook example of lazy or amateurish lyric writing. Of course, the pros always know what they're doing. Some songs take on novelty value precisely because they seem amateurish. The pros can break the rules - no doubt - but you can be sure they know what the rules are. Also, any musician with a track record is going to be taken seriously. Why? Because they know how to make money!
Lennon wrote "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" for George as George's showcase on the album. I have always wondered to what extent John guided or gave George "boosts" through the years, more than has been documented in known histories. John was so prolific, he could have cast off an occasional song idea.
"Can't Buy Me Love" was the theme song for the Beatles cartoon series which I remember well. We see the animated guys doing the fire escape thing, just like in the movie. Such youthful bodies. Oh, to see the four of them together "on location" again, just walking up/down those steps! The cartoon series was charming with its literal interpretation of so many of the lyrics (e.g. "the face she keeps in the jar by the door").
It was producer George Martin who wanted "Can't Buy Me Love" to start with the chorus. It would never cross my mind to start a song with the chorus. The Beatles had synergy with all the creative influences. It was lightning in a bottle. It could have been snuffed out by "Beatlemania." It is a supreme testament to the Beatles' resilience that their creativity flowered, albeit minus live performance, even after the eruption of "Beatlemania."
The film "A Hard Day's Night" premiered in London in July of 1964. This was the summer when the University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus went to New York City for the World's Fair. I was along for that trip. I remember seeing evidence of Beatlemania on Manhattan, including a street vendor who wore a Beatle wig not befitting him, but he was charming.
The movie showed what Beatlemania felt like from the inside. The wittiness of the four guys was a defining, endearing element. It's just as charming to watch today, but I'm pained watching John, not only realizing he'd be assassinated, but regretting he let so much of his original personality slip away. Just think if John had lived and eventually gone back to his 1964 appearance.
The Beatles come to Minnesota
It was August 21 of 1965 when Beatlemania came to our fair state of Minnesota. Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium still seemed new. The baseball Twins were in the midst of their pennant-winning season of that era. We'd host the All-Star Game in '65. Met Stadium was nothing short of a jewel. Also in that apex year for the facility, we got the Fab 4!
Oh, to be able to step into a time machine and go back, to soak it all in. Unbelievably, only 30,000 fans were present on that Saturday night. This was the Beatles' second American tour. More than 5000 tickets were sold that evening to a casual crowd. Warm-up acts included King Curtis, Hannibal and the Headhunters and Brenda Holloway.
A stage for the Beatles was built over second base (where Jerry Kindall of the Twins played, an all-field, no-hit ballplayer, remember?). The Fab 4 came forward and launched into their 35-minute set. Unfortunately it was a typical concert of that time with fans screaming to the point of obscuring the music. "Obscuring" is a generous term.
Let's acknowledge Ray Colihan for booking the event. Nicknamed "Reggie," he was associated with Excelsior Amusement Park, and in 1964 he counted 286 present for a Rolling Stones performance. Colihan was downcast over the turnout for the Beatles. He would say "I had the hottest act in the business, and it was like people got more excited if the barn blew over in a storm."
In 1978, the year I graduated from college, the Eagles drew 65,000 to the Met. The difference? Colihan was asked this, and said kids had become "more on their own, not so conservative, not so dependent on their parents."
The Beatles were big in 1964 but the demographics suggested they couldn't make a ton of money just yet. Years later the floodgates would open for money, as the Lawrence Welk generation would give way to the hip generation. The kids of 1964 would finally be endowed with money.
Man, if all four Beatles were alive today and could tour!
I have "A Hard Day's Night" on CD. It is a distinct pleasure to listen to this and other offerings by the Fab 4 up through the mid-1960s. It should be enjoyed purely as music - forget all the other distractions. Close your eyes and listen to the Harrison chord. It transfixes. Digest all that freshness and energy, from before the counterculture began imposing too much of a distraction.