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
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.
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
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.