Having come up in the generation of hip-hop in the cool shadow of the Bronx, The Beatles have never totally felt like music meant for me. They have always been, to me, the music of my parents’ generation. That said; what has always worked still works. I love The Beatles too — how could I not? It’s impossible to discount their importance, to avoid their influence, to escape their music, to fail to be amazed by their story. I don’t own a Beatles album because I don’t need to — A HARD DAY’S NIGHT alone features several songs I know by heart: The title track, and “She Loves You,” and “All My Loving,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “And I Love Her”… I can’t remember wedding toasts I’ve given, or the names of several failed first dates, but these songs I know backwards and forwards. And that doesn’t bother me a bit. Note how many of those song titles feature the same word — “Love” — that’s a nice message to spread around the world, isn’t it?
It amazes me that these four musicians all came from one town, it amazes me that they found each other, it amazes me that they could come up with so many indelible songs. It amazes me that they redefined pop music, it amazes me that they put together that many classic albums, it amazes me that they found a formula that worked and then became increasingly experimental when they could have just rode out their own tidal wave. It amazes me that they broke up the band after what was basically only ten years of unprecedented success. It amazes me that they went on to forge four separate solo careers, some of which yielded nearly as many classic tunes as their original partnership did. There is little doubt that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison could have been terrifically successful musical artists on their own — not to slight Ringo Starr — but the specific alchemy of the four of them combined to create a very literal legend.
There is nothing to compare to the Beatles. People love to debate the question “Beatles or Stones?” but the Rolling Stones, as phenomenal a band as they inarguably are, have a sound that owes more to their influences, and the arc of their artistic experimentation is nowhere near as astronomical. The Beatles were a supernova which both heightened and upended the pop vernacular of the day and then voluntarily disbanded mid-flight, whereas the Stones never stopped. The Stones soldier on, which is one of the many things that amaze about the Stones. But putting The Beatles against The Stones is a flawed comparison: It’s like comparing a great white shark to a grizzly bear. You don’t want to mess with either of them, but they ain’t the same species.
Likewise, it’s unfathomable to think of any act with as much initial teeny-bopper appeal as The Beatles did morphing into such an adventurous and sophisticated phenomenon which continues to resonate, more than forty years on. Can you name another boy band who entered a psychedelic phase? Can you name one that birthed as many major solo careers, one with that many musical virtuosos, one with such elementally excellent songwriting? The Beatles wrote pop songs at first that were brilliant but astonishingly simple. Later they added world music influences, orchestrations, literary inspiration, and the weight of life experience to fascinatingly complicate their sound. Today more than ever, there’s just no ready comparison to be made. The best I can come up with is The Beach Boys, but that argument will go too far off-topic.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is an integral building block in the legend of The Beatles. Richard Lester, an American director in Britain, got the gig and worked off a soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated script from Alun Owen, with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor, now likely best known as the DP of STAR WARS. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is a mockumentary which details the supposed life of the Beatles at the height of “Beatlemania,” not two years since they exploded into international fame, dodging fans and getting into comical hijinks. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT has a documentary aesthetic which makes The Beatles engaging and relatable, while simultaneously managing to make them bigger than life, bigger than what’s-his-name.
What A HARD DAY’S NIGHT did so smartly was to cement the personas of the four band members. It turned them into recognizable archetypes, almost cartoon characters; only all of them are the hero. They’re all Bugs Bunny. They’re all equally lovable, a four-man comedy troupe who can totally rock. John was the smart one, Paul was the cute one, George was the quiet one, and Ringo was the funny one. (Although here they all get a bit of a chance to be the funny one.)
In many ways, those delineated perceptions of the four endure to this day. Paul isn’t as cute as he used to be and Ringo definitely isn’t as funny (“Peace and love!“), and two of them (my favorite ones, unfortunately) aren’t even alive anymore but we still generally think of them that way. It’s little surprise that Richard Lester went on to direct THREE MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN movies — he has a smart sense of iconography and in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT he turned a pop phenomenon into icons.
And also, you know, this movie has one of the greatest soundtracks of any movie ever made, obviously.
— Jon Abrams.