Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Hard Day's Night (2)

Last year’s Beatles NME special contained more than a few digs at Ringo and the Beatles’ practice of giving him a vocal spotlight on every album. I thought this was utter balls. Yes, the ‘Ringo track’ has entered the lexicon of popular music as a byword for a sub-par track sung by a band member who doesn’t usually sing and yes, this has happened because of rubbish like ‘What Goes On’. But it’s important to realise how important they were to the package offered by any Beatles album. The Beatles were marketed as a collective in a way that no other vocal group had been and each member had his own fanbase. Ringo wasn’t lobbying to sing, the fans demanded it. A Beatles album without a Ringo track isn’t quite complete – and A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t have one. It occurred to me to wonder, why not?

The most heavily-documented fact about A Hard Day’s Night is that it’s the first Beatles album to consist entirely of original songs (and, as there are no writing contributions from Harrison, the only one ever to consist entirely of Lennon/McCartney songs). A less well-documented fact is when exactly the Beatles decided to do this, as it didn’t happen by accident. Perhaps they simply relished the challenge of doing it, or thought it would be creatively satisfying, or would send a message to their emerging rivals, but it seems not uncoincidental that this first all-original album was recorded to tie in with their first film. Did The Beatles, or Brian Epstein, or Dick James, or someone at United Artists, point out that they’d be getting paid twice for these songs – once for use in the film, and again for their appearance on the album – and they could cash in most effectively by writing all the material themselves?

Whenever this happened, it wasn’t at the start of the album sessions. The Beatles’ studio time before the film was precious – they needed to get at least seven songs locked down. With this in mind, the fact that they recorded ‘Long Tall Sally’ in this time strongly suggests that it was intended for the film: as Ian Macdonald says, it was often used as their closing number and would have fitted well into the TV concert scene at the end. At some point, then, The Beatles decided that only their own music would feature in the film.

However, it seems clear that they didn’t envisage the entire album as being original, as when the group completed filming they resumed work on the album with ‘Matchbox’. This Carl Perkins cover would have provided Ringo with his spot on the album and made the second, not-from-the-film side a mix of covers and original material – which does seem to support my theory that it was the film element of A Hard Day’s Night which motivated the leap to all-originals. I will now present a slightly shakier theory that it was because ‘Matchbox’ turned out a bit rubbish that they decided to leave it off altogether and go for an all-original album: I’m not entirely convinced by it myself, but it’s worth considering that the third cover version they recorded during these sessions, ‘Slow Down’, is also fairly weak.

With Lennon in particularly prolific form they had enough new songs to fill the album out, so they did – and they perhaps blithely assumed that by the time of the next LP, they’d be able to do the same. Rather than banking the three covers they’d recorded for next time, they shoved them out on an EP named after its only genuinely good track, ‘Long Tall Sally’ – an unusual release, as all previous Beatles EPs had been compilations of already-released material aimed at paupers who couldn’t afford LPs. Oddly, this release seems to have sold about the same as a normal Beatles EP, so perhaps people didn’t realise it had new stuff on it.

One final twist in the assembly of A Hard Day’s Night came on the final day of recording. The Beatles had fourteen original tracks from the sessions, but ‘I Call Your Name’ had to be booted off because it sounded too similar to the much better ‘You Can’t Do That’, so it ended up on the Long Tall Sally EP. (Capitol’s artless sequencing of Beatles albums is epitomised by the fact that the two tracks were released together on Something New, separated only by ‘Long Tall Sally’.) The Beatles therefore fully intended to head into the studio to record one more song for the album the day before they headed off on tour. However, Ringo was taken ill on the morning of the session and instead the group spent the time rehearsing with his stand-in, Jimmy Nicol.

Studio documentation records that The Beatles booked this session, but doesn’t document what they planned to record. Maybe somebody should ask them before they all die, but here’s my theory: this session was intended to record a Ringo number, a Lennon/McCartney original, to replace ‘Matchbox’. It would be surprising if they hadn’t at least considered giving Ringo a new track for the album, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it was left to the last minute – this theory occurred to me when I discovered that the reverse later happened on Help!, when a Lennon/McCartney original intended as Ringo’s feature was replaced at the very last minute by ‘Act Naturally’, a cover.

If the track had featured any of the other Beatles as lead vocalist, it would have been possible to record it with Nicol after the rehearsal; there was certainly time to do so. It’s more likely that this didn’t happen because the group simply didn’t want to put another drummer on the record out of respect for Ringo, but if the ‘missing’ track was indeed intended for Ringo to sing, there would have been no hope whatsoever of recording it. I’ve even got a theory as to what the track in question might have been – the aforementioned ‘What Goes On’, which was almost recorded back at the session for ‘From Me To You’ over a year earlier but only saw the light of day on The Beatles’ next all-original LP, Rubber Soul.

This is all total speculation – if you can provide any evidence for or against, please do – but what is clear is that The Beatles had become quite wedded to the notion of the album being an all-original affair, because they could easily have stuck ‘Matchbox’ or ‘Long Tall Sally’ on it anyway to round it out to fourteen tracks – but they went with thirteen instead, making it the only one of The Beatles’ first seven albums not to contain fourteen tracks. Why was fourteen the magic number anyway? Was there a concrete reason for this? Please pipe up if you know.


  1. I think you're right about the Beatles not wanting to use a track with Nicol on drums. I like your theory about 'What Goes On' - the other possibility is that the session was convened for the Beatles to record 'You Know What To Do'.

  2. What about 'If You've Got Troubles', the abandoned Ringo trap that turned up on the Anthology? Or was that the Lennon-McCartney original dropped from 'Help'?

  3. Sorry that should of course have been 'track' not 'trap'!

  4. Jonny - they demoed "You Know What To Do" during that session when they'd finished rehearsing with Nicol, but yes it's possible they'd planned a proper recording of it which they couldn't do due to Ringo's absence. Harrison had got three vocal spots on the previous album so his total of one on this album does seem a bit paltry. Mind you, given its failure to turn up on Beatles For Sale, it seems nobody was overly impressed with it.

    Daragh - yeah, "If You've Got Trouble" was the track they replaced with "Act Naturally". There were of course several Ringo traps in the film itself.