Monday, January 26, 2015

The Best Opening Chord Ever

Over the weekend I had a chance to go to a screening of A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first (and best) movie. Was dubbed a 50th anniversary showing, although that milestone passed a few months back as it first premiered in the late summer of 1964.

I’d seen it many times before, of course, although it was great fun to watch it with an audience. They didn’t scream like the kids apparently did back in the day, but there was a lot of laughing and people obviously enjoying the show. The venue also had a nice, brief introductory lecture by a local academic who shared some background regarding the making of the film.

He also talked a little about the spectacular opening chord with which the song begins (and the film, too). He subscribed to the theory that John and George are each striking different chords, Paul is hitting a note on the bass, Ringo is tapping both his snare drum and a cymbal, and producer George Martin is also hitting a chord on a Steinway. However it is constructed, it’s gotta be the best first impression ever.

He suggested (correctly) that it was essentially intended as an “exploitation” film -- i.e., a vehicle by which to exploit a batch of new Beatles tunes not unlike the Presley pics that were appearing two or three times per year back then. But it turned out to be so much more, thanks largely to Alun Owen’s inspired screenplay, the unanticipated comic talents of the Fab Four, and, of course, all of those genuinely transporting songs.

The boys do play cards in the film. Early on, while aboard the train, they play a game while also performing “I Should Have Known Better.” Not sure what the game is -- it’s not poker, but some trick-taking game like a version of rummy or Euchre, with Ringo appearing to win. Just after that scene Ringo gets an invitation to visit a gambling club -- “The Circle Club” -- amid his fan mail, but Paul’s grandfather steals it and ends up there playing baccarat until the boys collect him back.

My favorite part is the conclusion and the medley of tunes played for the television show, with the last one -- “She Loves You” -- the best of the bunch. It’s hard to explain, but I feel some weird, hard tug of nostalgia watching it, as though I don’t want the song to end. I think it’s partly related to my father having told me a story of going to see A Hard Day’s Night back in ’64 while on a trip to Washington, D.C., and what a memorable occasion that was for him.

By coincidence, last week I happened to dial up a documentary about the Knack on YouTube -- Getting the Knack -- and after getting hooked by the first few minutes ended up watching (and enjoying) the whole thing. The Knack ruled the summer of 1979 as far as pop music went, and while I was a Beatle fan previously Get the Knack was one of the very first albums I ever bought, and I remember the record store owner pointing out to me how it was a No. 1 record when I did.

As the doc pointed out, the Knack pretty obviously appropriated certain elements of the Beatles pop “formula” (as it were), such as with the LP packaging (and title, which paraphrased Meet the Beatles), the band’s look, and their sound (to an extent). They’d similarly appeal to a teen and preteen crowd, too, “conquering” America for a short while, anyway, and thus furthering the comparisons.

The film talks about how the Knack chose their name -- apparently after a bit of surfing through a dictionary looking for interesting words. I’d always thought that, too, was a conscious bit of Beatle following. After all, the director of A Hard Day’s Night was Richard Lester, and his very next film was a comedy called The Knack... and How to Get It. But there was no mention of that in the doc.

Of course for the Knack things didn’t continue so swimmingly, their great first impression not lasting for them. Though talented, they hadn’t the deep well of creativity the Beatles did. But that wasn’t the only reason they weren’t able to sustain their success.

The fellow introducing A Hard Day’s Night pointed out to us how integral Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, was to their early success, including helping facilitate the making of the film. Meanwhile the Knack clearly lacked such guidance, with various poor decisions by those who managed them (e.g., having them not give interviews, snub the Grammys, refuse invites to appear on American Bandstand and Saturday Night Live, etc.) helping fuel a swift, aggressive backlash that took them down as fast as they’d been built up.

I guess I feel a bit of nostalgia for the Knack, too, even if I don’t dial up their music all that much anymore. I’ll always keep playing the Beatles, though.

Here, enjoy the opening of the film -- and that chord!

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