George was playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string. John was on a Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic. Paul used his Hofner violin bass. The notes they struck simultaneously from these three instruments became one of the most instantly recognisable sounds in rock music: the mysterious opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night..
‘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.’ GEORGE MARTIN
A chord struck fifty years ago, and people are still arguing about what it was.
Many quote Dominic Pedler’s 800 page The Songwriting Secrets of The Beatles which lists 21 possibilities, these being but a few of the exotic and extravagant ideas he encountered during his research. Here’s an attempt to reconstruct some of them. The mistakes are mine, the guitar is a Gittler.
“A dominant 9th of F”?
“C-Bb-D-F-G-C in the key of C”?
“A polytriad ii7/V in Ab major”?
“G7sus4” (open position)?
“D7sus4 (open position)”?
“G7 with added 9th and suspended 4th”?
“A superimposition of Dm, F, and G”?
“Dm11 with no 9th”?
My own guess (no idea what you’d call it)
Joe’s chord F6/9
Thanks to Joe Atkinson and everyone else who commented and offered suggestions.
Professional musician and educator David Wilkens (wilktone.com), in a long discussion of the chord, mentions that in 2008 a mathematician, Jason Brown, tried to obtain an accurate transcript of the notes using a Fourier analysis (basically a set of waveforms).
However the frequencies thus obtained didn’t match the instruments known to have been played on the song. Brown hypothesised that George Martin had played some notes on the studio’s Steinway grand, these accounting for the anomalous Fourier frequencies.
According to Brown, George Harrison’s 12 string contributed a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney bass added a d3, George Martin struck d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon ‘played a loud c5′ on his Gibson J-60’.
Wilkens says, ‘For fun I took the pitches in this chord and used them to compose a melody and then wrote a short fugue using that melody as a subject (because composing fugues are what I do for fun). It’s in the style of Hindemith, not a baroque style fugue, so I had some fun with dissonance. Listen for the Beatles quote near the end.’
[Thanks to Dave Wilkens for this material, for his full account of the magic chord, visit his article.]
Here’s a video which appears to illustrate Brown’s Fourier analysis:
Why am I not convinced?
Perhaps because Randy Bachman (remember Bachman Turner Overdrive) got a listen to the original sounds. The video below tells his story of being invited to the Abbey Road studio by George Martin’s son, Giles, who offered to play him any Beatles track he wanted to hear.
According to Randy (all this is on the video below) Paul played a D note while John played a Dsus4, and as for George with the all-important 12-string, ‘it’s an F chord but you put a G on top and you put a G on the bottom and you put C next to that G’.
This last chord is beyond me. As far as I can tell it would be pretty much impossible for anyone with fewer than six fingers, especially on a 12-string. If you know better, please tell me how. (Chord below has impossible C in green.)
“Randy Bachman chord”
Randy and his friends try putting all this together and presto, the magic chord hangs shimmering in the air. But listen for yourself.
Finally, here’s what George Harrison himself had to say 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 The Beatles Bible, ‘Paul added a D note, played on the fifth fret of the A string on his Hofner violin bass. This note is an octave lower than an open D string on a six-string guitar, and had a crucial effect on the overall sound of the chord.’)
Nowhere, note, does he mention Bachman’s bottom G nor the C next to it .
“George’s chord, Fadd9”
Note added Feb 26:
Just found this video of the Beatles playing the song live in 1964. Very blurry as with most of the surviving footage from those days, but John clearly kicks the song off with the chord described by George, the Fadd9. He is using his thumb to play the bottom F.
CLICK THE PICTURE TO HEAR THE PERFORMANCE
The following information is courtesy of The Beatles Bible (Not Quite As Popular As Jesus).
Recorded: 16 April 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
George Harrison: Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar
John Lennon: Gibson J-160 6-string acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: Hofner violin bass
Ringo Starr: snare drum, cymbal (in there somewhere)
George Martin: Steinway grand piano
Norman Smith: bongos
Released: 10 July 1964 (UK), 26 June 1964 (US)
A Hard Day’s Night was recorded at EMI Studios in a session taking place from 7-10pm. It took nine takes to record, and completed the number of songs needed for the film soundtrack.
The backing track – two rhythm guitars, bass guitar and drums – was recorded onto track one of the four-track tape, and Lennon and McCartney’s lead vocal were recorded live on track two. They added more vocals on three, along with percussion, more drums and acoustic guitar; and George Martin’s piano and the jangling guitar that ended the song were on track four.
Just five of the nine attempts were complete performances. Take one was complete, and had slightly different lyrics (“Feeling you holding me tight/All through the night”). However, it was unusable due to mistakes in the bass guitar part during the second bridge.
Takes two and three were both false starts, but take four – began before engineer Norman Smith could announce it on the talkback – was complete. However, George Harrison’s guitar solo was poor, and it was decided that he would overdub it once the backing track was complete.
Take five, wrongly announced as take four, was also complete, but six broke down during the third verse. Paul McCartney was the culprit, getting some bass notes wrong. Some studio chatter followed in which Ringo Starr was told to tap a beat on the hi-hat between the opening chord and the first verse.
Take seven was complete, but John Lennon broke a guitar string during the performance and McCartney was still having trouble in the middle section.
Lennon counted in take eight, but McCartney put a stop to it in order to practice the middle eight once more. There followed take nine, which was perfect, and became the basis for the released song.
Track three of the four-track tape was filled with acoustic guitar, bongos played by Norman Smith, more vocals by Lennon and McCartney, and cowbell. The recording was finished with a solo, played by George Martin on piano and George Harrison on guitar, on track four, plus an extra bass guitar part after the solo, underneath the line “so why on earth should I moan”.
THE GITTLER GUITAR
Gittler Instruments [more on this coming soon]
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