A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
An Argument For It Being Their Best
Beatles fanatics are all familiar with the “Best Album” debate. It’s a way to pontificate about the Fab Four, while simultaneously showing your pals what a know-it-all you are. Throughout the years, most of us have often re-assessed our opinions of The Beatles’ ‘best,’ partly because at least four or five of them are pretty hard to argue against. Post 1967, the pick for many was Sgt. Pepper’s for its magical and timely cultural impact. Later, many found themselves drawn to The Beatles (White Album) for its double LP depth and jarring individuality. Personally, I’m not one who ever seriously considered Abbey Road, though, I get its appeal with mainstream fans. Serious students have historically lingered around Rubber Soul for its sophisticated acoustic prowess, before switching to Revolver for its druggy innovations and re-stylization of the entire pop format. Some are even drawn to Magical Mystery Tour, despite its patchwork, non-LP status. Naturally, I’ve “settled” on nearly all of those myself over the years. You probably have, too.
But, after decades of study, debate, discussion, hand-wringing and good old fashion repeated listening, I’ve finally come to realize that when I think of The Beatles, I think first of A Hard Day’s Night – the band’s first LP to fully shed their 50s influences, which created a music that was truly innovative and truly their own. It’s nearly impossible to trace A Hard Day’s Night‘s lineage. It sounds like The Beatles… and nothing that came before them. Credit its sheer exuberance and vitality… and the compositions, all by Lennon & McCartney for the first time. AHDN is littered with milestones – including the daring introduction of acoustic guitars into a successful beat group formula/fad that was already pre-figured to fail within six months. Still, it all seemed so easy… so effortless. Sheer talent captured on tape. The band never again made an overall album that was this joyous, this uplifting, and that atmosphere is still tangible almost 50 years later. Like many of the greatest albums ever made, A Hard Day’s Night has a consistent stylistic feel from start to finish. Its self-confidence is pure allure. It was an obvious peak, even in its day, though… no one ever imagined it would be only the first of many.
It’s because of all the groundbreaking music that followed A Hard Day’s Night that the album is routinely overlooked as their “best” (or, qualified as the best of their “early LPs“). The album’s irresistible innocence is still ill-defined as pop candy when compared to The Beatles’ “important” cultural contributions, like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “I Am The Walrus” or “A Day In The Life.” Yet… it’s A Hard Day’s Night that still rings true with a genuine spirit of discovery that greats like Revolver or Abbey Road could never match. Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour might come close as creative adventures, but then… that’s why it’s always been impossible to decide. Is it The Beatles’ best album? It’s preposterous to suggest, of course. But, since you can hear it all below, this might be a good reason to give A Hard Day’s Night another 30 minutes of your time. Just in case. Upgraded MONO source material.