Sunday, March 25, 2007

Those Terrible Triplets Sixteenth Notes

I did a bit of research preparing for my previous post about the song "A Hard Day's Night," and now I think I've uncovered something pretty strange:

I don't believe George Harrison played the solo on "A Hard Day's Night" on a Rickenbacker 360-12. I think it's quite possible -- likely, even -- that George Harrison didn't play that solo at all -- or at least not by himself, and not without resort to studio jiggery-pokery.

My first piece of evidence, entirely circumstantial, I admit, is this. The version recorded live at the BBC, which you can find on "The Beatles at the BBC," has one of the funniest edits I've ever heard: when the lads get to the solo, the BBC simply edits in the solo from the record. No attempt to hide it or anything -- I guess they thought it wouldn't be remarked by the unsophisticated audience listening over the radio.

Here it is:

The BBC Edit.

So why wouldn't they use the solo as George played it? Maybe because he clammed it so badly --repeatedly, because it wasn't a true live broadcast and George could have taken as many mulligans as he needed -- that it was unusable.

Mark Lewisohn, in The Complete Beatles Chronicle (a true anal-retentive fan's book -- a recounting of every day of the Beatles' career) says that on Tuesday, 14 July 1964, the Beatles recorded "A Hard Day's Night" for radio broadcast at the Beeb; "because they had trouble playing the instrumental middle eight the EMI disc [i.e., the record we know and love] was dubbed in here."

I'd say that was a pretty good evidence of repeated Harrisonian clams, wouldn't you?

The song was in their live repertoire for the summer tour of 1964, and Harrison does a pretty workmanlike job on the solo on the "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" set recorded 23 August, so I'm guessing that he worked very hard to perfect it before the tour started.

I will say this: That solo is not easy to play -- and I'm a pretty fair guitar player. The first phrase is rudimentary, but those triplets sixteenth notes in the second phrase are very hard to play crisply -- and on the "Hollywood Bowl" version (which I have only on cassette, curses curses) the triplets are still far from perfect.

Now, as to the solo on the record:

Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head, says that it was recorded at half-speed an octave lower -- but this is clearly impossible because the guitar is being played on its lowest strings; you can't play an octave lower.

Wikipedia theorizes that it wasn't a guitar at all, but George Martin playing a harpsichord. I don't buy this one either, because there's a very clear slide up two frets on the sixth note of the solo -- impossible with any keyboard.

But Wikipedia does get one thing right, and this is the most damning detail: the paired notes in the solo are two octaves apart, not one, as the 12-string guitar is tuned.

This hints very strongly that the thing was played by two guitars, or by one guitar and a harpsichord, or by a solo harpsichord, and perhaps at half-speed. But not a Rick 12-string.

My last piece of evidence is Take One from the 16 April, 1964, session. This comes from the "Anthology, Volume 1":

A Hard Day's Night, Take 1.

That's...just...awful, isn't it....

In his defense, this is really not an attempt at a guitar solo -- he's really not trying on this one. It's a placeholder: "Guitar Solo Goes Here." But the bones of the solo are there: You can hear him take two stabs at those triplets, quick notes and doing very badly both times. (I'm telling you, they're a bitch to play.) But you're never going to convince me that Harrison got from that terrible attempt to the version on the record in three hours, which is how long it took them to get to Take 9, the released take.

The thing that I really can't get over is how completely different the timbre of the guitar is between the Take 1 and the released recording. Listen to Take 9 now -- the released version:

A Hard Day's Night, Take 9

Does that guitar sound anything even remotely like the guitar in Take 1? Even taking into account careful equalization and compression, how does a 12-string guitar go from having its paired strings one octave apart (Take 1) to having them two octaves apart (in Take 9)?

No, I'll never be convinced that George Harrison stood in Studio Two at the EMI Studios on 16 April 1964 and played those notes.


Gavin M. said...

Ah. That's no harpsichord. The final version has a guitar playing the low strings at normal speed, and another playing the higher strings that was recorded with the tape slowed down. It isn't necessarily recorded at half speed: The guitar would've been tuned to the tape. It should be easy to tell roughly how much it was jiggered by slowing down the playback until the guitar's attack and decay matches a Rick 360.

The other thing is that the guitarist seems to be using open notes -- a much easier fingering.

Will Divide said...

What you don't mention is how at the end of the Beeb recording the announcer and the Fabs make such a point of saying that the song was played just then in the studio.

clarence, the fifth beatle said...

Series premiere--
CSI: Abbey Road.

beyond passionate said...

I don't care what Gavin says, I say one of the instruments is a harpsichord. The sharp and crisp notes of George Martin's concise playing. Doubled with a half-speed guitar playing with overemphasized precision.

Devils Rancher said...

I'd always thought there was harpsichord in there. That, and just imagining the fretting is hard. It's unnatural. I'm going with a combo of guitar at half speed and harpsichord.

And that CLANG! at the beginning of the song -- I suspect at least 2 guitars & piano.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Maybe they brought in Lurch...

Will Divide said...

Remember too that a harpsichord is a plucked-string instrument, only in a box.

spaghetti happens said...

I just listened to the CD version (Parlophone!) and there's no question that's a harpsichord along with whatever George is playing.

And a little OT, but the older I get, the more I dig Ringo. Solid--which goes to show that it don't mean a thing if the rhythm section don't kick ass.

Larry Jones said...

Even in those early days they were pulling studio tricks, doing things that you couldn't do live. And yeah, I'm thinking harpsichord in there somewhere, because I don't hear hammering on the triplets -- I hear some kind of (plucking?) attack on every note. Doable on one guitar maybe, but not by George at any time during his career.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are in groups of three but they're not triplets. They're sixteenths. There is a little 32nd-note triplet at the end though.

Neddie said...

Yes, they are in groups of three but they're not triplets. They're sixteenths.

By gum, you're right! I counted them against eighth notes and heard triplets. Count them against the sixteenth-note beat and they're...sixteenth notes.

Post amended accordingly.

Neddie said...

Does awful things to a fella's title, tho...

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I must admit "Those terrible triplets" had a very nice ring to it. And I can see easily how one might mistake them for triplets whilst trying to puzzle out what instruments are there.

Interesting post. You are a clever lad.

CS Lewis Jr. said...

If you like Ringo, check out the "Love" soundtrack. His tracks are cleaned up and mixed loud, and I have to say he has been treated very unfairly over the years, because clearly he is all over it. Much new respect.

Anonymous said...

Tape speed is the effect, the tape is slowed, George Martin Plays piano, then the tape is sped up again. See the solo for In My Life, this too
is sped up piano, giving the 'chirpy' tone you recognize. Beatles use Harpsichord RARELY, mostly by Chris Thomas on Piggies. And On 'Not Guilty" where you can see it is NOT
used in the future.

There is MORE to "A Hard Days Night" than this mystery.

The other poster refered to
"double tracking" guitar in 65, mostly. [Not used on For Sale]
But Help [Night Before] and Bad Boy,
Dizzie Miss Lizzy, and finally, Day Tripper.

The sound is Piano, sped up.


Kurt said...

What Ian MacDonald wrote was "Harrison's solo, doubled on piano by Martin, was taped at half-speed..."

This was more likely a creative decision and not due to any problem with George's playing. The rudimentary "A Hard Day's Night, Take 1" solo that you describe as "just awful" sounds as though it inspired the final solo.

Todd said...

"I was told to roll the tape at half speed while George [Martin] went down into the studio and doubled the guitar solo on an out-of-tune upright piano. Both parts had to be played simultaneously because there was only one free track, and it was fascinating watching the two Georges...working side by side in the studio, foreheads furrowed in concentration as they played the rhythmically complex solo in tight unison on their respective instruments." - Geoff Emerick, from "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles"

bojangles said...

Here are the facts - those are triplets and there are bass notes that accompany the treble. It's very much like learning a Bach piece. Learn the treble first and then the bass. Once you have mastered both, put your hands together and the rest is magic. George Harrison doubled the bass notes while George Martin played both hands. I know this because I just learned it and it sounds identical. Also, it was a real bitch learning this piece, but the end result is very satisfying.