A Hard Day’s Night is full to the brim with fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, baggie full of speed fuelled, 100 mile an hour jet propelled pop songs.
The big-pharma energy veritably drips from the sleeve, its stars on an unstoppable trajectory to immortality with no emergency exits. This is Houston, and their destination is everywhere. We don’t have a problem. 3, 2, 1…Lift off.
Here, Lennon reigns supreme for perhaps the only time on a Beatles album. He dominates the compositions, the performances, the vocals and the overall tonality of the collection. The sound of Beatlemania is the sound of John Lennon rasping out hastily written and beautifully arranged pop compositions, accompanied by his pals who, despite their obvious collective chemistry, are for a short while, snatching onto his coat tails. There is one little thorn in his side, however: the emergence of Paul McCartney. Here arrives the melodist, the balladeer, the composer, the singer. And a new, distinctive artistic voice.
On an album full of joyful adrenaline, it is his, quiet, wide open & delicate ballad that arguably steals the show, it sticking out like James Bond on an inflatable pool float sipping a Martini whilst riding a tsunami.
With And I Love Her, McCartney struck gold. In 1980, looking back, Lennon called it his ‘first Yesterday’ as Paul started to pull away from simplistic chord changes and arrangements to find something new. This is his first major step up from the shockingly bouncy and still fresh sounding All My Loving from With the Beatles, but this is a signpost of what’s to come from the chap with the funny looking bass.
Full from his first bite of domestic love with Jane Asher, McCartney was inspired to write these unusual ‘lines of stark beauty’ (MacDonald), with so much room in which to breath between the melody and arrangement, thanks to a truly calming performance from the band. Taken in the context of the album, And I Love Her seems to have been written and recorded by an entirely different act altogether. It often was, it becoming a standard Jazz or R&B cover, finally becoming one of the most covered Beatles songs behind Yesterday.
Taking an unusual amount of time to find the right arrangement and feel, the band began feeling for the song on the afternoon following the recording of Lennon spite-a-thon par excellence, You Can’t Do That. From here they took another two days to go from the full electric band arrangement as heard on Anthology 1, to the lucid laid back acoustic performance that appears on the record.
The recording and arranging of the song provided the band with a selection of problems. Firstly, and probably on day two, the boys realised that the electric set up they first attempted was akin to cutting a daisy with a hammer and so decided to abandon the idea. Dick James was present in the studio and he and George Martin, listening to the band run through the song, believed the composition sweet, but too repetitive. Bravely (I’m not sure Epstein would have done this a second time) he decided to switch on the mic on the mixing desk and delicately feed back his observation.
They were laying down the tracks an doing the melody…it was a very simple song and quite repetitive…the same phrase, repeating. John shouted ‘OK, let’s have a tea break’ and John & Paul went to the piano…within half an hour they wrote before our very eyes a very constructive middle to a very commercial song. - Dick James
This demonstrates two interesting points. One: the two main writers were able to fix problems with lightning speed and immaculate taste. The ‘middle eight’ is only four bars long, but with its chordal inversion, breaks up the repetitive pattern beautifully and helps build momentum, meaning that when we come to the key change after George’s gorgeous nylon stringed solo, we feel elevated and freed. Two: the main songwriters have very different memories of their time working on the hoof in the studio.
And I Love Her is Paul again. Y’know, the big ballad in A Hard Day’s Night. The middle eight, I helped with that. - John, 1980 (David Sheff, Rolling Stone)
I’m not sure John worked on that at all…the middle eight is mine. I wrote this on my own. - Paul, from Many Years From Now (Barry Miles)
With the observation from a third party in James, I think we can give that one to Lennon. Ian MacDonald agrees.
By contrast, the three G sharps which start the middle eight are Lennon’s horizontal hallmark, as is the fact that what follows is a crab-like manoeuvring around a single chord. - Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head
They may well have come to these conclusions independently of course, given time. They certainly did plenty of that later, but the problems didn’t stop here. Switching from amps and drums to nylon stringed guitars and percussion, they found that their usual bluster and charisma didn’t cover up and fluffs and bum notes during the spacious recording, so took them rather longer than usual to get the desired performance committed to tape. When they did on day three, it was worth the effort.
Though in And I Love Her Paul had produced a soon-to-be hallmark work of simplistic beauty, it was the contribution of external observation (he may have smarted at this, we’ll never know, but I can see him wince if I close my eyes), his writing partner and the still very junior partner in George that created the whole. Paul will roll out the same story when asked of George’s growing list of economic but effective contributions to Beatles songs:
‘I give her all my love’…I had that, but then George comes in with ‘du du du du’ and you think about that - that’s the song! - Paul on George’s intro riff and refrain
George was beginning to become a presence beyond lilting Crumbly & Western covers, Lennon & McCartney penned album cameos and rocky guitar solos. Harrison had an encyclopaedic ear for strange chordings - one his biggest thrills of learning to play was discovering ‘inversions’ - and neat, tidy and melodic guitar arrangements. Still now, 50+ years on, I’m not sure there’s ever been a more effective lead guitar player than Beatle George. There have been more proficient, faster, blustier players…but none so melodic, neat or tidy. His contribution to And I Love Her, alongside his on the A Hard Days’ Night and Can’t Buy Me Love singles from the same album are pitch and note perfect. His guitar work was becoming singable in its own right, melodies within melodies and a lesson to all lead players.
This song was Paul exploring another side to the band’s output. Already having mastered the two minute thirty second pop song, they, particularly Paul, were beginning to stretch to something like classic songbook standard. Already having All My Loving under his belt, with And I Love Her he was expanding his melodic palate with a level of taste and sophistication that very few contemporaries and no one else in the band was capable of…yet.
It's often only when faced with a new, often instrumental version of over-familiar Beatles songs that one can truly decipher the mix of melodic lines, harmony and little secrets hidden in between that you didn't know where there. Here's a lovely example from Pat Metheny:
And here's the original, in case you've just landed from Neptune:
Though Lennon was also pushing himself melodically, harmonically and via more unorthodox arrangements, seen on A Hard Day’s Night songs If I Fell and I’ll Be Back, his writing partner was finding his feet and his confidence at a rate that would see him equal Lennon before overtaking him in terms of output and command sometime in 1966/7 - (which is up for debate), before Lennon fought back in 1968 for one final push then giving up the fight in the months before the band’s ultimate demise shortly after.
Paul’s lust for glory had already taken off with the monster smash, solo written single, Can’t Buy Me Love in the charts shortly before the release of the album that John dominated, except for this beautiful blip. The battle was raging. And as George said, ‘those were the days’.
As a footnote, it's worth remembering at this point that Paul McCartney was just 22 years old for the recording of this song. For someone to be composing material like this, with friends who were doing the same is never not shocking. Having grown up with the band, they're forever the grown ups, doing smart, funny, original things, but when I was 21 I was still being sick on Diamond White cider and failing to master George's (who was celebrating his 21st birthday on the first day of recording) solo.