Saturday, January 31, 2009

In Search of the Lost Chord

Everybody knows that the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" begins with a single guitar chord, struck once and left to ring, before the vocals come in. It's one of the most famous chords in rock & roll, and just that lone chord is used to evoke an entire era of Beatles music. Even so, nobody is quite sure what it is: George Harrison, who played it, once said, "It is F with a G on top, but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story." Apparently the whole band was actually playing, very subtly, behind George.

As memorable as that chord was, the basic strategy was not original to the Beatles. The Everly Brothers also played a single chord on the guitar before chiming in on "All I Have to Do Is Dream." There's no doubt that the Beatles knew this song, since it was a Number One hit and the boys were big fans of the Everlys. What I don't know, and what I'd like to know, is if the Everlys invented that move, or if it originated with someone else.

This clip I have for you doesn't really show off the opening chord at its best; Don (at least I think that's Don) kind of tosses it off, not like it is on the record. But here, on The Alma Cogan Show (a British variety show hosted by a pop songstress who died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 34), they're singing live, and their voices blend so effortlessly and euphoniously. You can see why every band from that early rock era loved them:

5 comments:

Mark Lerner said...

Hmm. I'd say what Phil and Don are doing is pretty darn common. If you're going to start out singing, you need a reference note, so you strum the chord. I don't think it originaed with the Everlys or with anyone, really.

What makes the Hard Day's Night chord a little unusual is that it *is* a pretty funky chord (though it still serves that same function). Some mathematician wrote a paper about using Fourier analysis to try to figure out the chord, which seems like overkill to me: http://www.mscs.dal.ca/~brown/n-oct04-harddayjib.pdf

T. Nawrocki said...

That's what Phil and Don are doing here, singing live, but on the single, that initial chord is much more pronounced. I think on most such recordings, the tape wouldn't have rolled until after the chord had been played.

Marshall said...

Like a lot of people here, I suspect, I have a bootleg of the Beatles' "Her Majesty" with the missing chord included at the end, and you'd be surprised how many people listen to it and can't quite tell what's different.

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