207. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)

PEG6MOB.jpgAs Christmas 1965 approached, tension increased between the UK and Rhodesia, with Britain beginning an oil embargo on 17 December. America soon followed suit. Supporters of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith attacked three visiting MPs on 12 January 1966.

22 December saw a temporary maximum speed limit of 70mph on the UK’s motorways. The limit became permanent in 1967. On the same day, Prime Minister Harold Wilson shuffled the cabinet and made Roy Jenkins the Home Secretary and the new Minister of Transport was Barbara Castle. Both MPs would be big names within Labour for many years to come.

It will be no surprise to see the Beatles were Christmas number 1 yet again. This was the third time in a row, and they overtook Cliff Richard as the British act with the most chart-toppers – nine at this point. Since their last single Help!, the Fab Four had met with their old hero Elvis Presley, played their famous Shea Stadium concert, and finally slowed down, with the intention of devoting more time than usual to their new album. With LSD added to their drug intake, in addition to their pot smoking, Rubber Soul was a big step forward. The Beatles drew on their favourite musicians of the time, including Bob Dylan and the Byrds, to create a more introspective sound, combining pop, rock and folk with their most thoughtful, insightful lyrics to date. In addition to album highlights such as Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), In My Life and If I Needed Someone, the band also recorded two non-album tracks to release as a single on the same day. Because there were disagreements over which track to prioritise, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out became the first ‘proper’ double-A-side single. Any followers of this blog will have seen we’ve had double-A-sides before, but in these instances, the second track listed was actually supposed to be a B-side, it’s just that demand resulted in the flip sides being promoted as strongly as the main track. That’s why you’ll see so many from Elvis earlier in the decade.

Day Tripper was recorded at Abbey Road on 16 October. The killer riff and majority of the song came from John Lennon, with Paul McCartney mainly helping with the verses. Seems to me this was Lennon’s attempt at coming up with a hook as good as the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and he came admirably close with this.

At the time, Lennon and McCartney were debating where to go next with their songwriting, having by and large exhausted the well of first-person love songs. One option, that fortunately didn’t last, was to write ‘comedy songs’. Not necessarily silly songs, but humourous tracks, occasionally with punchlines. Although the world can be glad they didn’t stick with that idea, to be fair, when the examples are Day Tripper, Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all.

Lyrically, Day Tripper was their first single to mention drugs, albeit hidden in a not-subtle-at-all manner behind travelling references. The female character, perhaps like the one in Ticket to Ride, is sexually confident (in addition to being a ‘weekend hippy’), with the line ‘she’s a big teaser’ famously a cleaner version of the original ‘she’s a prick teaser’.

Although cleaner and sounding more ‘pop’ than (I Can’t get No) Satisfaction, the stereo mix of Day Tripper is rather sloppy. Of course, in 1965 stereo was considered less important than mono, but that’s no excuse for the brief accidental erasing of the guitar and tambourine tracks at 1.50. Once heard it’s impossible to not notice. Thankfully the error was rectified when the track was included on the 1 compilation in 2000 by taking the sounds from elsewhere in the track. Yet another classic mid-60s track, Day Tripper could easily have been a number 1 on its own.

The origins of We Can Work It Out probably came from McCartney’s now-troubled relationship with Jane Asher. He struggled to finish the song and took it to Lennon, whose ‘Life is very short…’ section was the perfect counterpoint to McCartney’s work. I have to agree with Revolution in the Head author Ian MacDonald that this song doesn’t spotlight the difference between Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting as definitively as some suggest. You can hardly call McCartney’s ‘do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?’ optimistic, for example. Nonetheless, the instances of the duo working together to such an extent shrank rapidly after We Can Work It Out, and this song is a great example of how well the duo complimented each other.

It was recorded four days after Day Tripper, with the rhythm track laid down in two takes. However, a further 11 hours were spent on the recording – the longest they’d ever spent on one song. During the session, George Harrison came up with the idea for Lennon’s section to be recorded as a waltz. The final ingredient, and the best, was the overdubbing of Lennon on a harmonium. This added texture to the single that pointed the way towards the future of the Beatles.

McCartney, Harrison and Starr felt We Can Work It Out was the better track to feature as an A-side, but Lennon felt strongly they should opt for the harder Day Tripper. EMI even originaly announced We Can Work It Out as the Christmas single, but Lennon’s stubbornness resulted in both tracks being joint headliners. Airplay and point-of-sale requests proved Lennon wrong, but I’m on his side on this one. Having said that, for my money one of the best Beatles covers of all time has to be Stevie Wonder’s We Can Work It Out in 1970.

Although they were at number 1 for the ninth time in a row, alarm bells rang within the media that they were starting to lose some of their popularity because the single didn’t shoot straight to the top in the first week of release, which had become the norm for the Fab Four. Despite this, the record was their best seller since Can’t Buy Me Love in 1964.

Before the release, the band recorded promo films with Joe McGrath to avoid having to appear yet again on Top of the Pops etc. The highlight of these videos is Lennon making McCartney laugh while pulling faces on the harmonium. Four days before the single knocked The Carnival Is Over from number 1, the Beatles performed their final UK gigs at the Capitol in Cardiff.

Also in the news that Christmas and New Year… the oil platform Sea Gem collapsed in the North Sea on 27 December, killing 13 of the 32 men on board. 3 January saw the debut of classic children’s TV series Camberwick Green, shown on BBC One as part of the Watch with Mother strand. The following day, over 4,000 people attended the funeral of BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, who had died on 22 December. Such a gathering for the death of any broadcaster seems hard to believe.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (16 December 1965-19 January 1966)

Births:

Northern Irish composer Martin Galway – 3 January 

Deaths:

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby – 22 December
Politician Edward Davey – 25 December 

174. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

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Ian MacDonald, in his excellent book Revolution in the Head (1994), stated that the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the final chord of A Day in the Life, two of the most famous examples of such in popular music, bookend the peak creative years of the Beatles. While I don’t always agree with his opinions on the Beatles work, it’s a hell of a tome, and he is spot on in this judgement.

The spring of 1964 had seen the Beatles hurriedly filming their parts in their first feature film, still potentially called, appropriately enough, Beatlemania. The idea was to make a low-budget musical movie that saw the Fab Four pretty much being themselves, coping with their new-found fame, plus a surreal plot involving Paul’s grandfather, played by Wilfred Brambell from Steptoe and Son. Hopefully they could achieve this without falling into the same trap as Elvis, ie, getting stuck in an endless rut of ever-poorer cheap romantic comedies with substandard songs. By April they had recorded most of their third album, for the first time featuring nothing but Lennon and McCartney songs. There are several versions of how the title track came about, but they all state the inspiration came from Ringo Starr and his knack of saying things wrong but somehow making them sound poetic. Referring to the fact they’d often work through the night in the studio, Starr ended one session announcing how it’d been a hard day’s night. John Lennon liked the phrase so much he’d already included it in his first book earlier that year, In His Own Write. This passage came from the short story, Sad Michael:

‘There was no reason for Michael to be sad that morning, (the little wretch): everyone liked him, (the scab). He’d had a hard day’s night that day, for Michael was a Cocky Watchtower.’

The film’s producer Walter Shenson loved the phrase, and decided it would be the name of the film. He told Lennon he needed to write a song with the same name, and was startled to be given it the following day. Lennon and McCartney had already begun composing together less and were getting competitive about who got the A-sides on their singles, and Lennon may have been wanting the hit after McCartney had written previous single Can’t Buy Me Love. This period was Lennon’s most dominant within the Beatles, before McCartney considered himself de facto leader upon Epstein’s suicide, and Lennon was often too high to be bothered to compete so much. The group had the song polished in three hours flat on 16 April.

Knowing that A Hard Day’s Night would open the album as well as the film, the Beatles felt they had to come up with a good opening. What they probably didn’t realise is they would come up with one of the most memorable intros to a pop song ever. That famous chord has been subject to enormous amounts of literature over the years. It would seem it came about from all four band members, plus George Martin on a piano, striking their instruments at once. Such a great intro requires a great song, and the Beatles don’t disappoint there either. It’s one of their best singles of this period, and while the lyrics are still rather cliched, they’re a step up from some of their 1963 material, and anyway, it’s such a strong song, it’s effervescence masks any weak points. Naysayers of Starr’s drumming, begone – his performance propels this track brilliantly. Okay, we could have maybe done without the cowbell, though, and I like a good cowbell, when used right. Macca handles the high notes on the middle eight superbly (Lennon felt he couldn’t do these bits justice) and Harrison and Martin’s duet on guitar and piano is another highlight. Almost as brilliant as the song’s opening is the ending, which was Martin’s inspiration. He pointed out to the group that they were recording film music now, and should keep that in mind when considering the fit of each song into the film. Harrison’s chiming arpeggio is beautiful, and a great example of how many ideas the Beatles were now coming up with. Lesser bands would have built an entire song out of that arpeggio. The guitarist had been given a prototype 12-string Rickenbacker, and it’s ringing sound helps make that third album such a delight.

That summer was all about A Hard Day’s Night. The film was released in the UK on 6 July, and was a critical and commercial smash, cementing the Fab Four as loveable mop-tops, but also showcasing each one’s charisma too. The title track made for a perfect introduction to what followed, and it’s hard to hear the song without picturing the quartet running from screaming girls, with Harrison falling over at one point (this was a genuine accident that was left in the sequence).  Unusually, the US got to hear it first, as the soundtrack album was released on 26 June. The single and album were released simultaneously in the UK on 10 July. In August, both releases held the number 1 spot in both the singles and albums chart in the UK and US, a feat that had never before been achieved.

Also that summer, it was the end of an era when Winston Churchill retired from the House of Commons on 28 July at the ripe old age of 89. A week later, the first portable television sets went on sale to the public. 4 August also saw a classic single released, in a year full of them, when You Really Got Me by the Kinks went on sale. More on that in the near future.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (23 July-12 August)

Births:

Actress Matilda Ziegler – 23 July 

Deaths:

Author Ian Fleming – 12 August

167. Peter and Gordon – A World Without Love (1964)

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Despite being the year’s biggest seller, Can’t Buy Me Love only stayed at number 1 for three weeks. However, such was Beatlemania’s power at the time, it was replaced with yet another song with links to the group. World Without Love was credited to Lennon and McCartney, but had in fact been written by McCartney alone when he was 16, and he had never considered it good enough for his band. He was more than happy though, to help out his lover’s brother, and his schoolmate.

Peter and Gordon were pop duo Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Redheaded Peter was Jane Asher’s brother, and both were child actors. Born in 1944 into a wealthy family in Park Royal, London, his father was a consultant in blood and mental diseases at Central Middlesex Hospital, and his mother a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By coincidence, George Martin was a student there. He first met Gordon at Westminster School. Gordon was born in 1945 in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a prominent surgeon. The family moved to Middlesex while Gordon was a child. They began performing professionally together as Peter and Gordon in 1962 in coffee bars, and aspired to be the UK’s answer to the Everly Brothers. So when McCartney began dating Jane, he probably thought World Without Love would be the perfect for the duo. The adolescent McCartney was a keen Everlys fan, and he was bound to have had them in mind when writing this.

Back in those first few years of fame, Lennon and McCartney understandably didn’t know how long their fame would last, and McCartney once said in an early TV interview that when the hits dried up they’d like to write for others. If this was the case, it’s probably fair to say they’d have had to try better than World Without Love if they were to continue to score number 1 hits. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s pretty pleasant, but the lyrics are melodramatic and clearly written by an adolescent. (The rest of the Beatles used to laugh at the opening ‘Please lock me away’ line). Peter and Gordon’s harmonies are nice, but they’re no match for Phil and Don. The jangly guitar sound is a winner, but this is negated by an awful Hammond organ instrumental section. All in all, it’s doubtful this would have got to number 1 in 1964 without the Beatles link, but it does prove that McCartney had an uncanny ear for a nice melody at a young age.

It was downhill after this debut single for Peter and Gordon. McCartney penned several follow-ups specifically for them, but only second single Nobody I Know troubled the charts. In 1966 McCartney wrote Woman for them but used the pseudonym Bernard Webb to see whether he could give them a hit without his reputation helping. The truth soon came out though, and it only reached 28, regardless. After the duo split, Asher continued to be associated with the Beatles, becoming the head of A&R at Apple Records. He later became a recording executive in California. Gordon Waller fared less well as a solo artist (although hats off to him for naming his album ...and Gordon in 1972). In 2008 Peter and Gordon reunited for live performances, but sadly Waller died of a heart attack in 2009, aged 64. Asher, who was appointed a CBE in 2015 for services to the British music industry, occasionally plays live shows with guitarist Albert Lee.

In the news during World Without Love‘s fortnight at number 1: All schools in Aberdeen were closed following reports of 136 cases of typhoid. Princess Margaret gave birth to a baby girl, Lady Sarah Chatto, on 1 May, and a day later the Queen’s seven-week-old son was christened Edward. That same day, West Ham United won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium.

5 May saw the start of a milestone in TV history, when Granada Television broadcast Seven Up! as part of its World in Action strand. Originally conceived as an attempt to examine the differences between social class in the 60s, Michael Apted, researcher on Seven Up! and director from 7 Plus 7 onwards, has returned to the lives of many of the children from the original documentary every seven years. One of the greatest documentary series of all time, it has offered a fascinating look at age and the changes in British society over the years. 63 Up will hopefully be shown in 2019.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Dave Dexter Jr

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 April-6 May)

Births:

Erasure singer-songwriter Andy Bell – 25 April
Lady Sarah Chatto – 1 May

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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16 April saw sentencing passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each. Two days later, Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time. On 20 April, the Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward, and that night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK. The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a Beatles single featured just the one singer, and it tended to be that the singer was also the writer of the track. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in the Beatles swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me. The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken. The song featured on the Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April