A Hard Days Night just appeared on TV as a manic, seat of the pants, monochromatic reminder of the brilliance of the Beatles at their peak. A pop culture artefact that remains timeless with it’s thrilling energy and optimism, the film has been there all my life- a reminder of a time when pop music was electric with its innocence and bursting at its seams with the excitement of its very own electricity. In 1970 it invaded my head with pop music when I was 9 years old and awoke a whole new world that jangled my previously untouched artful side, four decades later it still jangles with pure excitement.
If you only watch one film about rock n roll then this is the one- it should not work and was probably dreamed up by the band’s label, EMI as a flimsy star vehicle for their then current boy band pop lollipop but everything about it is perfection-the band as gang, the crackle of energy, the culture clash of the hot young group and the dying empire of the background. It’s the helter skelter of a band at their peak and about to change the world- a band that were far out pacing the stuffy showbiz establishment and changing all the rules on their own terms.
This is the new world coming at you with a high decibel thrill.
It was long hair v short hair. It was the post empire blues v the white heat of the new working class revolution. It was the shattered rainy north rising up v the fat cigars of London music biz. It was the post industrial sound track to a fast paced confusing blur of images of the decade that was speeding up fast and faster.
The key set piece is perhaps Lennon on the train after the old guy tells the Beatles that his generation had fought a war for the likes of him ‘I bet you wish you had lost’ he smirks with that steely eyed glare that was part hipster rebel and part his auntie Mimi’s old school telling off.
Everywhere you look in the film the Beatles are running – they are running from the cops, their manager, the boss- they run down fire escapes, down streets that looks like they haven’t changed since 1864- they are running on a thrilling energy fueled by their insane talent and are out of breath with the possibilities of their music and their image and the fact that even their haircuts were changing the world.
It’s the band against the world and winning that is at the heart of all great rock n roll and the beautiful dream that must never get tainted.
The Beatles still seem like the perfect band, 4 sides of the same coin and their cheeky knowing rush through the decaying back streets of crumbling empire are the harbingers of the youthquake that we are still living in to this day. Every song and every angle of every shot from director Dick Lester have been copied a million times into pop culture. The Beatles, for our younger readers, were the One Direction of their day but with talent, and tunes, and a cultural awareness and an individuality and a sense of thrilling change that was going to change the world- so nothing like One Direction then- ha ha!
A Hard Days Night is a reminder of this moment in time when the old clashed with the new and when pop was still new, young and fresh enough to feel like it was either changing the world or cranking it into a first gear or into a glorious dayglo.
Even though it’s a series of scripted set piece you can still feel the exuberance of the Beatles set against the backdrop of what looks like an ancient land. The red bricks of Liverpool and Manchester could be straight from Victorian times and there is bomb damage still left over from the war in what looks like a long lost land- an ancient land of smoke filled rooms, cars that look they are made out of cardboard and the long lost smog of music hall.
The establishment look old, stuffy and complacent whilst the Beatles run rings round them and even it’s all fictional it’s a glimpse into the fast forward of the new world where instant karma (ha!) would be the order of the day. This was one of those rare times when the best group in the world was the biggest group in the world and the film’s soundtrack doesn’t skip a beat with every song a sliver of perfection with those brilliant melodies and killer harmonies matched to the sharp guitars and wonderful rhythm section of Paul’s bubbling running bass and Ringo’s brilliant drums (yup, you read that right- we have no time for the people who sniff at Ringo’s drums).
Lennon’s voice sounds wonderful- full of the raw, raucous power of classic rock n roll but Paul is his equal- the perfect musical powerhouse with that fluid melodic singing whilst george oozes cool- the best looking Beatle and the one who had a genuine sharp and angular cool- he is still the younger partner-4 years the junior of the rest of the band and finding his way- his sharp guitar licks are perfect breaks in the songs. The songs come complete with screams- when was the last time you heard anyone scream on a pop song? maybe auto-tuning doesn’t allow that kind of thrill!
There is a real sense of joy to their music, like each song was written as a direct reflection of the seat of the pants excitement of the period when everything seemed possible and a strange kind of innocence was entwined with a new kind of cynicism- a belief that everything could change with a song and that everything needed changing.
A Hard Days Night is a picture postcard from a different time- it’s now an antique but the Beatles shine on as timelessly brilliant as ever and you can still feel the excitement of their music and their very presence making it perhaps, arguably, the greatest rock n roll film ever made.
The genie was now out of the bottle and pop music would never be this innocent again- the Beatles got hairier and weirder and took lots of drugs, the sixties freaked out and then John got murdered by a selfish attention seaking freak and George slipped away and we all pretended to grow up but somewhere deep inside we still love the rush of optimism of the greatest of pop and it’s the buried treasure we strive for every day with every act of creativity and every hard days night we fast forward through to this day…