A Hard Day’s Night (Album) Pitch Analysis For Accompaniment

This short piece is part of a project seeking to clarify deviations from concert pitch evident in songs on Beatles albums—in this case A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Some potential reasons for the mastered pitch discrepancies evident in many early Beatles songs briefly are dealt with in the first article upon Please Please Me. Again, my source material is the stereo remaster released in 2009 (not mono versions, digital or otherwise, which may potentially differ).

The Beatles performing on Dutch TV in June 1964.
The Beatles performing on television in the Netherlands in June 1964. Source: Beeld En Geluid (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision).

The major technical development in the production of A Hard Day’s Night compared to its predecessors was the use of a Telefunken four track tape machine for session recording rather than emi’s btr (British Tape Recorder) machines. Four track recording was available at emi’s London Studios (Abbey Road) from 1959–60 but rarely was used for pop music—and not on Beatles recordings until late 1963.1Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, Recording the Beatles, Houston, 2006, pp. 214–21. In addition to doubling the number of available tracks, overdubs now could be performed on one tape machine (previously this required the use of two btr recorders).2Ryan and Kehew, Recording the Beatles, p. 216. However, the older but well regarded btr2 (mono) and btr3 (twin track) machines continued to be used for mastering and other production purposes throughout the 1960s.

While the great majority of songs on the first two Beatles albums fall flat of concert pitch, a number on A Hard Day’s Night are slightly sharp (see the list and notes below for details). As noted in my first article on Please Please Me, these relatively small discrepancies likely were inadvertent and resulted from the vagaries of the early generation tape recorder technology used in 1964 (as opposed to deliberate varispeed manipulation, which was commonly deployed on Beatles recordings for various effects/creative purposes from about 1966). If you want to accompany songs that don’t conform to concert pitch with a conventionally tuned instrument you’ll need to use software to adjust digital audio files to concert pitch (use the ‘A440 Song Adjustment’ figure provided below in cents). Alternatively, you can use the pitch estimate to set your tuner or instrument’s master pitch reference. As before, my source material is the 2009 stereo remaster and the pitch values necessarily are approximate.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

Key: G Major
Pitch: A4=442 Hz (+8 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –8 cents

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER

Key: G Major
Pitch: A4=440 Hz

IF I FELL

Key: D Major
Pitch: A4=440 Hz

I’M HAPPY JUST TO DANCE WITH YOU

Keys: C Sharp Minor; E Major
Pitch: A4=444 Hz (+16 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –16 cents

AND I LOVE HER

Keys: E Major/C Sharp Minor; F Major/D Minor
Pitch: A4=437 Hz (–12 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: +12 cents

As Alan Pollack points out, there’s some ambiguity over the major or minor character of the home key (which also modulates a semitone at the start of the lead guitar part). The mastered pitch falls slightly flat of the A440 convention but you should get good accompaniment results once this discrepancy is accounted for.

TELL ME WHY

Key: D Major
Pitch: A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –12 cents

The guitar panned to centre doesn’t seem to be tuned to the piano as well as it could be resulting in a slightly dissonant chorus-like effect but 443 Hz is a reasonable compromise for accompaniment.

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE

Key: C Major
Pitch: A4=443 Hz (+12cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –12 cents

Partly recorded in Paris and London,3Ryan and Kehew, Recording the Beatles, pp. 323–24. ‘Can’t Buy Me  Love’ is also slightly sharp of concert pitch in final form.

ANY TIME AT ALL

Key: D Major
Pitch: A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –12 cents

I’LL CRY INSTEAD

Key: G Major
Pitch: A4=437 Hz (–12 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: +12 cents

THINGS WE SAID TODAY

Keys:  A Minor/A Major
Pitch: A4=440 Hz

WHEN I GET HOME

Key: A Major
Pitch: A4=440 Hz

YOU CAN’T DO THAT

Key: G Major
Pitch: A4=443 Hz (+12 cents)
A440 Song Adjustment: –12 cents

I’LL BE BACK

Keys: A Major/A Minor
Pitch: A4=440 Hz

Surviving Beatles session and master tapes reportedly are in good condition but there’s some obvious wow/flutter, tape stretch or a similar issue intruding in ‘I’ll Be Back’ as its pitch wobbles quite audibly in a few places (at least in the 2009 stereo remaster).4For tape condition see Sam Inglis, ‘Remastering the Beatles’, Sound on sound, October 2009. That said, quite good accompaniment results can still be achieved.

© 2018–2021, Andrew Messner. All rights reserved.