I watched “A Hard Day’s Night” recently, and I guess I should have expected this, but it was an almost perfect revelation of the way in which pop music works. If I’d seen that thing at the age of thirteen, my pop music career might have stood a chance. I watched“Help” in the fifth grade, and my childhood self was permanently warped by repeated viewings of “Yellow Submarine”, but this was the first time I’d been introduced to The Beatles at their most basic. It was one of those blazing, mental-cattle-prod “ah-ha!” moments.
Before starting a band, kids should be required to sit down and take careful notes, because pretty much everything good that has come out of pop music is available in antediluvian form in “A Hard Day’s Night”. There’s John’s cheeky lechery, the group’s tastefully embellished (but not overly gaudy) fashion, plus a sense of humor that has been perpetually forgotten and then relearned by seemingly every generation since.
The opening sequence is fascinating. The Beatles are in their element when being chased. Throughout the whole of “Hard Day’s Night” The Beatles manage to evade the strictures of every institutional representative they come across, from booking agents, to advertising executive, to (of course) cops. It’s not clear what The Beatles are in support of, but they’re definitely against anything that gets in the way of their goofing off. No one can put their finger on what makes The Beatles tick, except to say that they’re cheeky, outgoing, and want to have fun.
They are the absolute, distilled essence of “cool”.
Everyone can see that The Beatles know something, but it’s never clear exactly what it is that the Fab Four is cheekily holding to its collective chest. You have to chase them, to try and pin down the secret to their effortless lifestyle. But group is always just out of reach, the effortless lifestyle that they embody is always dipping into an alley, or hiding behind a VW to avoid you.
The chase becomes an obsession in itself.
It’s striking how willfully childlike the group is in this movie. In relation to their manager, their fame, and their fans, they come off as little kids. They don’t want to defy authority so much as they want it to leave them alone for a while so that they can go play.
Everyone who has done something right in pop music since the sixties has in some way aped this movie. Having expended (wasted?) a large portion of my teenage years flailing around for some semblance of “cool”, it strikes me that things would have been much easier if I’d just watched this film. While that ship might have sailed, I can at least console myself with definitions: “Cool” is looking like you know something that everyone else doesn’t, and that this knowledge is allowing you to have a whole lot of fun.