‘A Hard Day’s Night’ by The Beatles epitomises how they were living in 1964, reflecting the constant non-stop work ethic they had at the height of Beatlemania. Whilst the track is an eye-opening ditty about the stresses that came with their sharp rise to stardom, it’s the ear-piercing opening chord from George Harrison that gives ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ it’s poetic voluptuousness.
The song was an archetypal early Beatles pre-Rubber Soul effort, back when The Fab Four were as clean-cut as you got and were the quintessential boys next door, whose only issues were that they were working too damn hard. According to the drummer, the title of the track was born out of a flippant comment by Ringo Starr: “We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, ‘…night!’ So we came to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.”
Lennon later confirmed this in 1980, noting: “I was going home in the car and Dick Lester suggested the title Hard Day’s Night from something Ringo’d said. I had used it in In His Own Write but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo. You know, one of those malapropisms.
“A Ringoism, where he said it not to be funny, just said it. So Dick Lester said we are going to use that title, and the next morning I brought in the song. ‘Cause there was a little competition between Paul and I as to who got the A side, who got the hit singles.”
George Martin revealed that he knew from the moment he heard it that the infectious chord needed to be the first thing that fans heard on both the soundtrack and the motion picture. “We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch,” Martin said.
The opening chord has been the source of constant speculation over the years but was finally confirmed by George Harrison as a Fadd9 during an online chat on 15 February 2001. The Beatle revealed, “It is F with a G on top (on the 12-string), but you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.”
However, music theorist Walter Everett has poured countless hours into tackling this subject and seems to have cracked the full code. Everett says that the opening chord has an “introductory dominant function” thanks to McCartney playing the D in the bass. Meanwhile, Harrison and Martin play F A C G, over the bass D, on twelve-string guitar and piano.
Everett says this combination provides the chord “a mixture-coloured neighbour, F; two diatonic neighbours, A and C; plus an anticipation of the tonic, G – the major subtonic as played on guitar being a borrowed chord commonly used by the Beatles”.
The magic of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is largely down to the mystery surrounding the chord structure, and Everett’s theory is the one with the most legs attached to it. However, it’s still just a theory. There have been thousands of hours ploughed into discovering what the structure is. Still, in truth, without the Beatles’ magic minds in the studio creating that heavenly sound, there’s no point attempting to match the original combination, and the mystique only adds to its greatness.
Check out Harrison’s Fadd9 chord, below.
George Harrison ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ opening chord: