"A Hard Day's Night" Among the Best of the Box, But Why?
You bought the Vee-Jay album Introducing The Beatles and Meet The Beatles and The Beatles Second Album on Capitol and while you don't understand how and why two labels were simultaneously issuing Beatles albums, you didn't care. Starting with the first Beatles song you heard on the radio of Bruce Greenberg's dad's Buick Electra on the way to high school in the winter of 1964, the explosion of great tunes by these guys had produced a five month long adrenaline jolt that had you on fire—and that's in addition to the adolescent hormones kicking in!
That first jolt wasn't from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" either. Luckily, because that one was kind of kiddie-corny. No, it was "She Loves You" and it exploded without warning from the car speaker and knocked you back in your seat and had you saying "there it is again!" The "it" being the excitement and power that rock first brought you as a little kid in the 50's when you saw Elvis and Buddy Holly on The Ed Sullivan Show. When that became Fabian and Frankie Avalon you were gone! Gone? Gone to Sam Goody's to buy some jazz albums, man. But here it was again!
So as soon as the soundtrack to the new Beatle movie reached the stores in June of 1964, you were there for your fourth Beatles album in but a few months. The first three had sounded pretty good but this one sucked! Not only was it in fake stereo and not so stated on the jacket, but the sound was basically unlistenable. Worse, along with the crappy sound, you only got eight songs and the rest were these incredibly corny instrumentals. The one for "I Should Have Known Better" was like the worst 50s rock'n'roll song, with horns added—like The Ventures as played by a Catskill Mountain hotel band. Feh!
The songs were so great you could almost forgive them, but a crappy sounding record and just eight tunes? That was unforgivable. So these guys had run short on tunes and sold out in three months? It took rock'n'roll five years to go from Elvis to Fabian. These four clowns did it in five months. That's what I was thinking.
That summer before college I returned for the tenth year to Camp Arcady on Lake George. The other kids in my group went back as waiters but me? I couldn't lift the heavy tray. I was too small, too weak and too uncoordinated. So I got a job in the camp office. My job was to play the military records over the P.A. system that woke up the camp (reveille) in the morning, call them to meals, taps, all that stuff, and to make announcements.
I also got to be the projectionist on movie night. Now this camp was once an adult country club and was then owned by the family that owned most of the movie theaters then on 42nd street in Times Square—and there were a lot of them! They also owned The Sagamore Hotel that's still there in Bolton Landing.
So we got to eat the same great food served at the hotel. We had a pastry chef that baked us fresh rolls and deserts you could get fat from. Don't ask! What a place! But we also had first run movies every week! And we had two 35MM carbon arc lamp projectors, a big screen and an Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater speaker system.
"A Hard Day's Night" had its UK debut on July 6th, 1964. Later that summer we got to see "A Hard Day's Night" at Camp Arcady before it was released in the theaters and I got to show it! There were two screenings: an early one for the younger campers and a later one for the adults.
At the early show the screaming was so intense you could hardly make out the dialogue. I was warned by the camp director that if kids started throwing jelly beans at the screen I had to stop the show and tell them to stop and sure enough that's what happened. So I stopped the projector and did my best Ed Sullivan imitation on the theater P.A. "Now you kids promised... so if you want to keep watching... The Beatles!..you just stop throwing those jelly beans"! And they did and the screening went on from there without a hitch.
I had brought my reel to reel tape recorder to camp to play music (who didn't?) so I lugged it a flight up into the projection booth and patched it into the sound system. I recorded the whole movie on tape. You have to remember that back then you just didn't have the kind of access to "stuff" you do now, so once you saw something like that movie or anything on television, it was then gone, seemingly forever. So to be able to capture it, even if just the sound, was major!
I learned the first ten minutes of dialogue, which is what you do when you have no life and video games had yet to be invented. And of course the movie was obviously incredible and far more sophisticated than the crappy UA album had led me to believe, so my faith in The Beatles had been restored.
After getting home from camp and before heading off to college, I headed to E.J. Korvette's to shop for records and there was Something New yet another Beatles album containing the same songs on the "Hard Day's Night" soundtrack plus a bunch of others. Of course I had to buy it and I was glad I did because here were the same songs on the UA soundtrack but in real stereo and sounding better than any of the previous Beatles tunes. I didn't know it at the time, but these were the first tunes The Beatles had recorded on a four track tape recorder.
Now imagine being a Beatles fan and having access later to a record store that carried imports and spying for the first time the real A Hard Day's Night Album on Parlophone featuring twenty photos of your heroes instead of four and then turning over the jacket to find actual liner notes written as if the album was aimed at actual adults who could even read and then seeing that it had thirteen songs! And then imagine taking that exotic "foreign" record home, putting it on the turntable and holy shit! This is the best sounding Beatles album ever!
So here we are forty eight years later with the latest reissue of A Hard Day's Night. Back in 1964 all United Artists cared about was the money to be made from releasing an album of Beatles songs. The movie was originally intended as a cheap exploitation carrier for the money to be made from record sales. In fact, United Artists fully expected to lose money on the film but make up the money in record sales.
As the liner notes by Tony Barrow explain, the boys had written almost a dozen tunes for the movie, while at the same time visiting America and performing in Paris. Only seven of them made it into the movie. "I'll Cry Instead" was cut at the last minute—too late to pull it from the UA soundtrack album, which contains eight songs plus the putrid instrumentals.
So on the original UK release, we get those seven movie songs on side one and of course they are among Lennon-McCartney's most energetic and romantic, brimming with youthful energy and creative melodic constructs. It's a perfect side of Beatles.
Side two includes, in addition to the oddly exuberant, tambourine drenched track pulled from the movie, where the lyrics are in total conflict with the tune, two of Lennon-McCartney's most memorable minor key heavyweights: "Things We Said Today" and the haunting "I'll Be Back." The other tunes are great ravers but they don't have the emotional impact of those two songs, which point the way to the more thoughtful compositions to come on Rubber Soul.
This reissue is among if not the most successful in the box and that's because the EQ choices were dialed in subtly and carefully compared to the original and because for some reason the top end is cleaner and more precise than on most if not all of the others and I may be on to why that is.
Please look at your copy of this one if you bought the box and see what's written in the lead-out groove area. Unlike every other title in the box, which have hand scribed numbers, this one has elegantly stamped ones, including on side one a long series of digits (0094638241317A and 18716.1 (3)...).
That leads me to conclude that for some reason the plating for A Hard Day's Night was done elsewhere than Rainbo. Plating is critical to the final sound, which is why I was so happy to hear (erroneously as it turns out) that RTI plated these records. Anyone who has compared Pink Label Island and domestic America releases of albums like Tea For the Tillerman both of which use the identical mastering by Lee Hulko at Sterling Sound, knows that plating has an enormous sonic effect.
This album sounds better than the rest in the box, particularly in terms of high frequency transient clarity and extension. It's more precise sounding than the others. It exhibits superior depth and overall, though somewhat differently EQ'd than the original, is at least as good and for some ears and in some systems will sound better than the original. I wish the whole box sounded this good!
Of course this was a great sounding original too. Take "And I Love Her" for example. George's acoustic solo on a classical guitar is stunning musically and sonically. The bongo texture is beautiful and George on claves dead center in the mix exhibits image three-dimensionality and is placed forward in the soundstage so you feel you can reach out and touch it.
This track should have been seriously diminished on this reissue given what some of the other records sound like, but it comes through beautifully, with all of these qualities essentially intact. Whatever the reason, plating or something else, this album really shines.
Easy to recommend for both music and sound.