October 28, 2004

My Fifth Favorite Beatles Album

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“A Hard Day’s Night” kicks off with that perfect, magnificent chord — one of the most memorable sounds in rock n’ roll’s short history. I don’t know what chord it is because I don’t play guitar, nor did I bother to look it up. I don’t really care. This column is more concerned with how criminally underrated I think A Hard Day’s Night the album is. (I should clarify that when I say underrated, I mean so only against the rest of the Beatles’ catalog. No intelligent person doubts its greatness overall.)

Of the Beatles’ early material, most people best remember “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You …” But that’s mainly because they were performed on the band’s initial appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were pasted onto the American version of With the Beatles, an album which is best used as a reminder of how soulful John could be as a vocalist on covers like “Please Mr. Postman” and “Devil in Her Heart,” not as a great musical work. A Hard Day’s Night never places highly on critics’ all-time lists, while Revolver is regularly near the top. But as far as I’m concerned, Revolver only captured the awkward period between Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s. John Lennon hadn’t yet mastered LSD as a songwriting tool, and mailed it in as a result. “She Said She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Dr. Robert” are all awful, as Lennon acknowledged later in his life. Much of Revolver’s praise stems from the fact that, for the first time, the song topics strayed away from girls, a point I consider moot given how inane some of Revolver’s material is.

A Hard Day’s Night is concise, consistent and spectacular. Its namesake film only enhances its stature. There are few images in music more endearing than that of the movie’s opening scene, where hordes of girls scream after the group while the title track blares in the background. And at a time when John was by far the band’s dominant songwriting presence, “Can’t Buy Me Love” impressed as one of Paul’s finest pop songs.

A Hard Day’s Night may not equal Sgt. Pepper’s, Rubber Soul or Abbey Road, but its songs perfected so many pop music hallmarks that anything which followed risked being rendered clich? Plus, along with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, it remains as one of the few musical works to literally cause riots. For that reason alone, I’ll never understand why it’s never been given its proper due.

Archived article by Ross McGown