Few artists can claim the same enduring legacy as John Lennon. He is so widely loved that he hardly needs an introduction. As one of the most intellectual and politically active members of The Beatles, Lennon lives on in the cultural imagination in a way that has rarely been replicated to the same degree. He is as much a part of music history as the diatonic scale or the Fender Rhodes.
To put it plainly: he’s a bit of a bloody legend. But then again, if you’re reading this, I imagine you already know that. So, it’s a wonderful surprise to find this isolated version of Lennon’s vocals taken from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and be confronted with the brass tacks of his brilliance. Although a lot of Lennon-chat centres on the political ideologies he expressed later in life, his talent as a singer is often overlooked. This video shows just how much welly he put into those early live performances. No wonder The Beatles decided to stop performing live so soon; it sounds exhausting.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is a classic Lennon-McCartney collaboration and was released alongside the film of the same name. Lennon reportedly wrote the entire song in one night and took it to Paul the following day. You’ll notice in this isolated recording that Lennon is being pushed to the very limits of his vocal ability.
In an interview in which Lennon describes the origins of ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ the Beatle gives us some indication as to why: “The next morning I brought in the song … ‘cuz there was a little competition between Paul and I as to who got the A-side – who got the hits. If you notice, in the early days the majority of singles, in the movies and everything, were mine … in the early period I’m dominating the group … The reason Paul sang on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (in the bridge) is because I couldn’t reach the notes.”
In April 1964, the Beatles drove to EMI studios. The taxi ride to studio two allowed The Beatles the opportunity to give ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ some finishing touches. As Maureen Cleeve, a journalist working on a story about The Beatles at the time, remembers: “The tune to the song ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was in his [Lennon’s] head, the words scrawled on a birthday card from a fan to his little son Julian: ‘When I get home to you,’ it said, ‘I find my tiredness is through …’ Rather a feeble line about tiredness, I said. ‘OK,’ he said cheerfully and, borrowing my pen, instantly changed it to the slightly suggestive: ‘When I get home to you/I find the things that you do/Will make me feel all right.”
The video below showcases not only Lennon’s unique vocal style but the pioneering production style of George Martin. This, the ninth take of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, reveals an early example of Martin’s double-tracking technique, in which he layers vocal lines with multiple identical takes to create a fuller sound. The story of how Martin would get Lennon to re-record countless vocal lines for double-tracking purposes was later used by Butch Vig to convince Kurt Cobain to go through the same process for Nevermind.
So, similarly to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, it can easy to be caught up in the mythos that surrounds the music, one must never forget that, underneath all of the press inches and tabloid tittering, was a truly gifted songwriter and the kind of singer that confirmed he meant every single lyric he wrote.