It was April 14, 1964, when the final touches were being put on the first movie starring the Beatles.
United Artist even had a title, A Hard Day’s Night, one of many malaprops from the twisted, if unwitting wit of drummer Ringo Starr. The director, Richard Lester, had been driving the boys hard over the whirlwind seven weeks spent filming in and around London, and he needed to get the low-budget production in the can.
But one problem remained, a big one. The movie needed a theme song.
I’ve often thought how cool it would have been to have met John Lennon, one of my many heroes. But I also know that on that one particular date, April 14, 1964, I wouldn’t have traded places with Walter Shenson to have done so.
For it was left to Shenson, the producer of A Hard Day’s Night, to bring up to Lennon that a theme song would be required. It needed to be an upbeat tune, and it was needed soon – as in yesterday.
Those who know the story of the Beatles know that Lennon, at least before he met Yoko, was one of the angriest humans to ever walk the planet. I’m no psychologist, but I would hazard to guess that had something to with abandonment issues.
For as the story goes, his ne’er-do-well father Freddie sailed off to sea, his free-spirited mother Julia dumped him on his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George and his best friend Stu Sutcliffe died in Hamburg from an aneurism or some other nerve disorder. And oh yeah, Julia died as well, after getting hit by a car on a Liverpool street.
There was a darkest of dark side to Lennon, which came out in full fury during a party celebrating Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday. That was the night Bob Wooler, a regular on the Liverpool hip scene, chided Lennon for a holiday trip he had made to Spain with manager Brian Epstein.
The insinuation was that Lennon, like Epstein, was gay.
Flying into Wooler, Lennon started pounding him with his fists and kept pounding until he was pulled off and held down long enough to regain his senses.
This was the same John Lennon who, 10 months later, Shenson had to approach to request – no, make that require – that a song be written posthaste.
The scene in Bob Spitz’ biography, titled appropriately enough, The Beatles, is totally predicable. It describes a Lennon all put upon, muttering and brooding and chain-smoking while riding in the car from the studio back into London.
Can’t you just see him?
So next morning when Shenson was told Lennon wanted to see him in the Beatles dressing room, we can all imagine how apprehensive he must have been. Only 10 hours had elapsed, so Shenson probably expected nothing more than a progress report.
“He and Paul were standing there, with their guitars slung over their shoulders,’’ Shenson recalled. “John fiddles with a matchbook cover on which were scrawled the lyrics to a song – A Hard Day’s Night – which they sang and played to perfection.’’
Lennon, still seething, fixed Shenson with his glare.
“OK, that’s it right?,’’ Lennon demanded.
“Right,’’ Shenson replied.
“Good,’’ Lennon practically spat, “Now don’t bother us about songs anymore.’’
A Hard Day’s Night is one of my favorite movies, one that gets better every time I see it. And I can’t help laugh when I hear the Beatles launch into the theme, opening with that idiosyncratic chord George Harrison produced off his 12-string Rickenbacker 360.
“It was an F with a G on top,’’ Harrison once revealed during an on-line chat. “But you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.’’
And that, music lovers, is the proper story of A Hard Day’s Night.