The song's title originated from something said by Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer. Starr described it this way in an interview with disc jockey Dave Hull in 1964: "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.'"
Starr's statement was the inspiration for the title of the film, which in turn inspired the composition of the song. According to Lennon in a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine: "I was going home in the car and Dick Lester [director of the movie] suggested the title, 'Hard Day's Night' from something Ringo had said. I had used it in In His Own Write [a book Lennon was writing then], but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo. You know, one of those malapropisms. A Ringo-ism, where he said it not to be funny … just said it. So Dick Lester said, 'We are going to use that title.'"
In a 1994 interview for The Beatles Anthology, however, McCartney disagreed with Lennon's recollections, basically stating that it was the Beatles, and not Lester, who had come up with the idea of using Starr's verbal misstep: "The title was Ringo's. We'd almost finished making the film, and this fun bit arrived that we'd not known about before, which was naming the film. So we were sitting around at Twickenham studios having a little brain-storming session … and we said, 'Well, there was something Ringo said the other day.' Ringo would do these little malapropisms, he would say things slightly wrong, like people do, but his were always wonderful, very lyrical … they were sort of magic even though he was just getting it wrong. And he said after a concert, 'Phew, it's been a hard day's night.'"
In 1996, yet another version of events cropped up. In an Associated Press report, the producer of the film A Hard Day's Night, Walter Shenson, stated that Lennon described to Shenson some of Starr's funnier gaffes, including "a hard day's night", whereupon Shenson immediately decided that that was going to be the title of the movie (replacing other alternatives, including Beatlemania). Shenson then told Lennon that he needed a theme song for the film.
Regardless of who decided on the title, Lennon immediately made up his mind that he would compose the movie's title track. He dashed off the song in one night, and brought it in for comments the following morning. As he described in his 1980 Playboy interview, "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."
On 16 April 1964, the Beatles gathered at Studio 2 of the EMI Studios and recorded "A Hard Day's Night". It took them less than three hours to polish the song for its final release, eventually selecting the ninth take as the one to be released. Evening Standard journalist Maureen Cleave described a memorable taxi ride the morning the song was recorded:
One day I picked John up in a taxi and took him to Abbey Road for a recording session. The tune to the song 'A Hard Day's Night' was in his 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 other Beatles were there in the studio and, of course, the wonderful George Martin. John sort of hummed the tune to the others – they had no copies of the words or anything else. Three hours later I was none the wiser about how they’d done it but the record was made – and you can see the birthday card in the British Library.
In the Associated Press report, Shenson described his recollection of what happened. At 8:30 in the morning, "There were John and Paul with guitars at the ready and all the lyrics scribbled on matchbook covers. They played it and the next night recorded it." Shenson declared, "It had the right beat and the arrangement was brilliant. These guys were geniuses."
"A Hard Day's Night" was first released to the United States, coming out on 26 June 1964 on the album A Hard Day's Night, the soundtrack to the film, and released by United Artists. It was the first song to be released before single release (see below).
The United Kingdom first heard "A Hard Day's Night" when it was released there on 10 July 1964, both on the album A Hard Day's Night, and as a single, backed with "Things We Said Today" on the B-side. Both the album and single were released by Parlophone Records. The single began charting on 18 July 1964, a week later ousting the Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now" from the top spot on the British charts on 25 July 1964, coincidentally the day when both the American and British albums too hit the peak of their respective charts. The single stayed on top for three weeks, and lasted another nine weeks in the charts afterwards.
America first saw the single of "A Hard Day's Night" on 13 July 1964, featuring "I Should Have Known Better" on the B-side, and released by Capitol Records. Capitol had been in a quandary about cashing in on the success of the movie A Hard Day's Night, as United Artists held the publishing rights for the soundtrack (thus owning the rights to release the album of the same title). However, there was nothing preventing Capitol from releasing the songs in other forms, leading to six out of the seven songs from the movie's soundtrack coming out on singles.
The American single began its 13-week chart run five days after release, and on 1 August started a two-week-long run at the top, setting a new record – nobody before had ever held the number one position on both the album and singles charts in the United Kingdom and the United States at the same time. The Beatles were the first to do so, and continued to be the only ones who had done this until 1970 when Simon and Garfunkel achieved the same feat with their album Bridge over Troubled Water and its title track.
The song was the fifth of seven songs by the Beatles to hit number 1 in a one-year period, an all-time record on the US charts. In order, these were "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "She Loves You", "Can't Buy Me Love", "Love Me Do", "A Hard Day's Night", "I Feel Fine" and "Eight Days a Week". It was also the sixth of seven songs written by Lennon-McCartney to hit number 1 in 1964, an all-time record on the US charts for writing the most songs to hit number 1 in the same calendar year (see List of Billboard Hot 100 chart achievements and milestones).
In 1965, "A Hard Day's Night" won the Beatles the Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group. In 2004, this song was ranked number 154 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
"A Hard Day's Night" is immediately identifiable before the vocals even begin, thanks to George Harrison's unmistakable Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string guitar's "mighty opening chord". According to George Martin, "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," having what Ian MacDonald called "a significance in Beatles lore matched only by the concluding E major of "A Day in the Life", the two opening and closing the group's middle period of peak creativity".
Analysis of the chord has been debated, it having been described as G7add9sus4, G7sus4, or G11sus4 and others below.
The exact chord is an Fadd9 as confirmed by Harrison during an online chat on 15 February 2001:
Q: Mr Harrison, what is the opening chord you used for "A Hard Day's Night"?
A: It is F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.
According to Walter Everett the opening chord has an introductory dominant function because McCartney plays D in the bass: Harrison and Martin play F A C G, over the bass D, on twelve-string guitar and piano respectively, giving 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, first in "P.S. I Love You" (see mode mixture), and later in "Every Little Thing", "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Got to Get You into My Life" (in the latter two against a tonic pedal).
Alan W. Pollack also interprets the chord as a surrogate dominant, the G being an anticipation that resolves on the G major chord that opens the verse. He suggests it is a mixture of D minor, F major, and G major (missing the B). Tony Bacon calls it a Dm7sus4 (D F G A C), which is the minor seventh chord (plus the fourth, G) (for more information regarding chord functions see diatonic function).
Everett points out that the chord relates to the Beatles' interest in pandiatonic harmony.
Dominic Pedler has also provided an interpretation of the chord, with the Beatles and George Martin playing the following:George Harrison: Fadd9 in 1st position on Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar
John Lennon: Fadd9 in 1st position on a Gibson J-160E 6-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: high D played on the D-string, 12th fret on Hofner 500/1 electric bass
George Martin: D2-G2-D3 played on a Steinway Grand Piano
Ringo Starr: subtle snare drum and ride cymbal
This gives the notes: G-B-D-F-A-C (the B is a harmonic). One of the interesting things about this chord (as described by Pedler) is how McCartney's high bass note reverberates inside the soundbox of Lennon's acoustic guitar and begins to be picked up on Lennon's microphone or pick-up during the sounding of the chord. This gives the chord its special "wavy" and unstable quality. Pedler describes the effect as a "virtual pull-off".
The chord's notes were estimated using Fourier analysis, according to which Harrison played the A2, A3, D3, D4, G3, G4, C4, and another C4 on his 12-string guitar; McCartney played a D3 on his bass; producer George Martin played D3, F3, D5, G5, and E6 on the piano; and Lennon played a loud C5 on his six-string guitar.
In 2008, Jason Brown, a mathematics professor at Dalhousie University, published a report titled "Mathematics, Physics and 'A Hard Day's Night'", in which he analysed the properties of the song's opening chord using Fourier transforms. He concluded that Martin's piano contribution provided the important element in the chord beside Harrison's playing. In November the following year, Wired published an article on Brown's use of Celemony's Melodyne Editor with Direct Note Access technology to further analyse the chord. Brown's findings were partly challenged in 2012 by another mathematician, Kevin Houston from the University of Leeds. Houston, who also used a Fourier transform, attributed a greater importance in Lennon's contribution on acoustic guitar, rather than the piano notes played by Martin.
Randy Bachman has stated that he heard the original masters of the recordings and could hear the 12-string guitar playing "an F chord, but you put a G on top, and you put a G on the bottom, and you put a C next to that G", "a D on the bass", and "rhythm guitar was a D chord with a sus 4".
A repeated arpeggio outlining the notes of the opening chord ends the song in a circular fashion. This provides, "a sonic confirmation that the thirty-six hours we have just seen [in the movie] will go on and on and on". This was an inspiration of George Martin, who said: "Again, that's film writing. I was stressing to them the importance of making the song fit, not actually finishing it but dangling on so that you're into the next mood." The song contains 12 other chords.
The song is composed in the key of G major and in a 4/4 time signature. The verse features the ♭VII or major subtonic chord that was a part of the opening chord as an ornament or embellishment below the tonic. Transposed down a perfect fifth, the modal frame of the song though pentatonic features a ladder of thirds axially centred on G with a ceiling note of B♭ and floor note of E♭ (the low C being a passing tone).
According to Middleton, the song, "at first glance major-key-with-modal-touches", reveals through its "Line of Latent Mode" "a deep kinship with typical blues melodic structures: it is centred on three of the notes of the minor-pentatonic mode (E♭-G-B♭), with the contradictory major seventh (B♮) set against that. Morever, the shape assumed by these notes - the modal frame - as well as the abstract scale they represent, is revealed, too; and this - an initial, repeated circling round the dominant (G), with an excursion to its minor third (B♭), 'answered' by a fall to the 'symmetrical' minor third of the tonic (E♭) - is a common pattern in blues."
Lennon opens the twelve-measure-long verse and carries it along, suddenly joined at the end by McCartney, who then sings the bridge.
During the recording of "A Hard Day's Night", Lennon and McCartney doubletracked their vocals throughout including the chorus. Lennon sings the lead vocal on the verses and Paul sings lead on the middle eight. During the chorus McCartney handles the high harmony and Lennon the low harmony. Take 7 reveals that the lyrics were still not set with Lennon singing "you make me feel all right" and McCartney and Harrison still unsteady with their respective lines, ending with Lennon chiding them with the line "I heard a funny chord".
The instrumental break, is played by Harrison on a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, with Martin doubling on a piano recorded to tape at half-speed and then sped up to normal. Recording this solo was the most challenging aspect of the session; a take that surfaced on a bootleg in the 1980s reveals Harrison fumbling over his strings, losing his timing and missing notes. But by the time the session ended at 10 p.m. that night, he had sculpted one of his most memorable solos – an upward run played twice and capped with a circular flourish - in illustration of an observation made by engineer Geoff Emerick: "George would spend a lot of time working out solos. Everything was a little bit harder for him, nothing quite came easily."
The song closes with Harrison playing an arpeggio of the opening chord (Fadd9) during the fade-out.
The lyrics speak about the singer's undying devotion to his lover, and how he works so she can buy the things she wants. The singer sings about his tiredness when he comes home from work, but how the things that his lover does perk him up. Critics have pointed out that the first verse, repeated as the last verse, exploits three worn-out-sounding cliches, "a hard day's work", "working like a dog" and "sleeping like a log", only to quicken up the pace with a patter-couplet reassuring the singer's girlfriend that his energy and pleasure level have been renewed by her ministrations.
In 1965, Peter Sellers released a 45 rpm single on which he recited the lyrics to "A Hard Day’s Night" in the manner of Laurence Olivier's famous performance of Shakespeare's Richard III. He later performed the piece in full costume for the Granada television show The Music of Lennon and McCartney.John Lennon – double-tracked vocal (verses), electric and acoustic rhythm guitars
Paul McCartney – double-tracked vocal (middle-eight), harmony vocal, bass
George Harrison – twelve-string lead guitar
Ringo Starr – drums, bongos, cowbell
George Martin – piano
Personnel per Ian MacDonald
"A Hard Day's Night" was used as wake-up music on Space Shuttle Missions STS-30, STS-61, and STS-69.
The song was played to conclude the Channel Four breakfast programme The Channel Four Daily in 1992.
The song was used as the main theme for the controversial Mikie arcade video game from the mid eighties.
The Beatles regularly played the song live throughout 1965.
During his 2016 One on One tour, Paul McCartney played the song for the first ever as a solo artist and for the first time by a Beatle in half a century since the Beatles played it for the last time on 31 August 1965 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California.The Rutles' song "I Must Be In Love" is a pastiche of this song.
Beatallica recorded a thrash version of this song called "A Garage Dayz Nite" whose lyrics reference the songs "Trapped Under Ice" by Metallica and "Love at First Sting" by Scorpions.
The Cirque Du Soleil production Love uses the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night" to introduce "Get Back". The chord is played forward, and while the drum solo from "The End" is playing, the chord is reversed to the beginning.