I'm pretty sure I watched the movie before I bought the album, as I have memories of renting the film and it having a promo of sorts in front of the film that played the song "I'll Cry Instead." It was new to me at the time and I'm pretty sure that it combined with what I saw guaranteed I would also buy the album. So I guess I should go in the order that I first experienced these?
When the Beatles popularity become so huge it had its own name, it was logical that they would inevitably appear in film. Elvis had proved to be just as popular a movie star as a singer, even if most of those films aren't very good. But the Beatles had watched those films and loved them, so they wanted to try it for themselves. For their first film, they decided to create a sort of fictionalized account of what their life was like, and for four completely inexperienced actors that was a wise choice. It was also very wise of them to have screenwriter Alun Owen actually follow the Beatles around and get to know them before he wrote it. As such, we get a story that is equal parts fiction and real, because while the situations are made up, this is largely how the Beatles themselves would act in the situation. And of course there are plenty of musical breaks thrown in as well.
It's both a musical and a comedy, two genres that were often combined in the early days of film. But while some Marx Brothers films have me scratching my head with their random music breaks, the combination makes perfect sense here. The Beatles have an amazing charm that makes them naturally funny, and of course they're fantastic musicians. The movie is basically one of the easiest ways for a person to see why they were so popular.
While about half of the music sequences are set up to look like live performances or rehearsals, we also get some pre-cursors to the modern music video, with scenes like the spontaneous singing on the train or the Beatles running in the field. The musical score is also based on Beatles songs, arranged by George Martin himself.
But while I love the songs I have to say I'm partial to the comedy sequences. The scene of them pestering the old man on the train seems like something right out of a Marx Brothers film. Their various solo scenes are fantastic. I also think the ongoing teasing John gives their manager is adorable. A lot of credit gets given to Ringo for his big solo moment, but I think I prefer the subtle humor and commentary of George's scene in the modeling agency or the fun word play with John and the woman in the hallway. Paul had his own solo scene but it was cut from the movie, apparently mostly for pacing reasons.
I believe the addition of Paul's grandfather was probably put there both to give them an antagonist and also someone to help built a plot around more complex then "the Beatles give a live performance on television." But while you certainly could ask yourself why a band member's relative would be tagging along, he actually fits in pretty well with the cast, and is just plain funny. Apparently the reason they continually refer to him as "clean" is a joke based on the character he was playing in a sitcom on television at that time, but not knowing that particular in joke has never stopped me from enjoying the film before now.
While the long musical sequences might make it hard for a non-Beatles fan to enjoy, I think this holds up as a great film and not just a vanity picture.
This album is not a soundtrack in the way that we normally think of them today, because while it does include all the songs included in the film, it also contains additional ones. I imagine if this film was made today, they would have slapped in some of those instrumental arrangements George Martin did and then kept the other songs for another release.
"A Hard Day's Night" - Is there a better way to start an album, song, or even film for that matter? That one harsh cord is all you need before you dive right into the song. It's distinctive and amazing. The rest of the song is also strong and just great pop music. I imagine most people know by now that the name is taken from one of Ringo's malapropisms. They feature so prominently in Beatles songs and albums that I'm surprised he never took a chance at trying to create a song based off them himself.
"I Should Have Known Better" - I have a hard time separating this song from the adorable scene in the film of them playing cards together on the train. There's nothing uniquely special about this one compared to a lot of the others they wrote around this time, but it makes me smile because that scene just seems so natural and fun.
"If I Fell" - Back in the day when my devotion was at its strongest and I loved John more than anyone else on this earth, I adored this song and listened to it repeatedly. Being a little older and wiser, I can't help but find the lyrics problematic. He's not being romantic at all, he just wants to make the other girl jealous. I still love the song, but I can't help but shake my head at the words.
"I'm Happy Just to Dance with You" - George has once again left the song writing to John and Paul and so they give him a song that to me doesn't really fit his personality at all. I sometimes have to remind myself that he's the one that sings it, just because it's so very a Lennon McCartney song. But I do think his vocals give it a sweet and almost melancholy sound that they wouldn't have provided.
"And I Love Her" - ... hm? What? Oh, I'm sure you do, Paul. Excuse me while I drift back off to sleep.
"Tell Me Why" - So on Please Please Me we had "Ask Me Why" and not we're telling instead. That's kind of lazy, isn't it? Anyway, it's a good song, though there isn't much to it.
"Can't Buy Me Love" - I appreciate the sentiments behind this one. It's also of course incredibly catchy and I really don't have to tell you a thing about it because you already know.
"Any Time at All" - That snare hit is another strong opening and works great as the intro to the chorus to. Overall just a good song. Sometimes its hard to say something distinctive beyond "I like it!"
"I'll Cry Instead" - This one has a bit of a country feel to it, which seems fitting for the lyrics as well. As I said, this was the song that made me want to buy this album sooner rather than later. I feel like this song predates "If I Fell" chronologically in a break up. He sings this and when he's slightly read to move on, he sings that one.
"Things We Said Today" - Since I can be really harsh on Paul, I should also give him credit when he deserves it, and I think this is a great melancholy our-relationship-is-dying kind of song. He's as good at these as he is at the overly sappy stuff, and this song is a prime example of that.
"When I Get Home" - This song starts off sounding sweet and then it gets to the line "I've got no business being here with you this way" and you just want to smack the hell out of him, don't you? Beyond that it's repetitive and really the only thing I like is that he actually uses the phrase "till the cows come home" which is such a kid's phrase, isn't it?
"You Can't Do That" - Oh John, you big damn hypocrite. Surely this had to be intentional, right? They put these two songs back to back for crying out loud! As someone who understands jealousy I can understand the feelings behind this song, even if I don't endorse all the words. I also can't help but admit that the music and arrangement makes it pretty catchy. This is another one of those that I like despite its lyrics.
"I'll Be Back" This one is kind of the lyrical opposite of "Not a Second Time." But there's something about its sad tone that really appeals to me. The change in the middle is also nice. There's a great failed take of this on the Anthology. It's nice to hear people who make a living out of singing screw up sometimes, because it makes me feel a little better when I hit a bad note. The sadness of this song doesn't exactly make for a great end to an album though. It's like ending with a whimper rather than a bang.
Overall just a really good album from start to finish. There's one or two weak ones, sure, but its definitely I could put on and sing along with the whole way through without skipping.