A Hard Day’s Night captures the Beatles at the frenzied early stages of Beatlemania. In fact, the mockumentary film for which this is notionally the soundtrack (only half of the songs are in the movie) is much more accurate in depicting the crazy world the Fab Four inhabited in 1964 than any piece of Beatles non-fiction could ever hope to.
The album, though, more than anything else, marks a massive milestone for the group: it’s their first album comprised solely of Lennon-McCartney compositions. The amazing nature of this feat is hard to understand in this day and age, but consider their contemporaries. 1964 was also the first year in which Dylan released an album of all-original material. In 1964, the Rolling Stones released two albums, each with only one original number. The Byrds wouldn’t release an album until 1965 (and it was mostly covers). In fact, one of the few bands whose ability to produce original material matched the Beatles was also one of their musical rivals, the Beach Boys. (This rivalry was in part responsible for the greatness of both Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds.)
In this context, A Hard Day’s Night was a huge statement of accomplishment and a record they were rightly quite proud of.
The music on it, a lot of which is so iconic it needs no review (side one alone features “A Hard Days Night”, “I Should Have Known Better”, “If I Fell, And I Love Her”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”) would influence decades of writers, musicians, poets and music fans. The film is also referenced endlessly (as fans of The Simpsons and Mr. Show can attest), and is the best movie about The Beatles, if not the best rock n’ roll movie of all time.
Listening today to songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love”, you are immediately struck by both their urgency and the transition of their creators from brash street-pretenders to full-on 60’s icons. Even non-movie songs like Lennon’s genius, angry, jilted-lover paean “I’ll Cry Instead” are shockingly modern sounding, cleverly arranged and produced, and a joy to listen to.
As this was recorded before the troubles with touring (in fact the tour behind these songs was really the first ever stadium rock tour) the songs are played with amazing joy and spontaneity. The arrangements are starting to really blossom and even the downers sound like they’re being performed by a band that’s not only at the peak, but that’s enjoying the ride.