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50 Years of Beatles: “I Had a Hard Day Last Night”

Penn State Laureate Kenneth Womack’s essay series, “50 Years of Beatles,” continues with a look at “Ringo-isms” and malaprops

On March 2, 1964, the Beatles began principal photography for their first feature film, which would eventually be known as “A Hard Day’s Night,” under the direction of Richard Lester. As it happens, the movie had originally been produced under the working title of “Beatlemania.” According to John Lennon’s recollections during one of his last interviews in 1980, Lester suggested that they call the film “A Hard Day’s Night” after hearing an off-the-cuff remark by drummer Ringo Starr — “You know, one of those malapropisms,” Lennon recalled. “A Ringo-ism, where he said it not to be funny — just said it.”

With the film’s catchy title in hand, Lennon composed the movie’s title track, “A Hard Day’s Night,” at breakneck speed. In short order, the Beatles recorded the song, which would become an international hit single, on April 16 at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. But Lennon’s memories about Lester notwithstanding, the film’s title enjoys murky origins, to say the least. Indeed, Lennon himself had already employed the malapropism in “Sad Michael,” a short story collected in his 1964 book “In His Own Write.” Yet even more strangely, Beatles biographer Alan Clayson perceptively notes that, with all due deference to Starr, the phrase had more likely come into the Beatles’ universe by way of Eartha Kitt, whose song “I Had a Hard Day Last Night” was featured as the B-side of her 1963 single “Lola Lola.”

As it turns out, Beatles history has credited Starr with deriving ear-catching malapropisms on at least two other occasions — one clearly false and the other unquestionably true. The case of the No. 1 U.S. single “Eight Days a Week,” for example, offers yet another instance of a purported “Ringoism.” While Starr is often cited as the progenitor of the song’s title, “Eight Days a Week” actually finds its origins in one of McCartney’s mid-1960s road trips from London to Weybridge to visit Lennon at his suburban estate. “I remember asking the chauffeur once if he was having a good week,” McCartney recalled, and the chauffer said, “‘I’m very busy at the moment. I’ve been working eight days a week.’ And I thought, ‘Eight days a week! Now there’s a title.’”

Nearly two years later, the Beatles would record the experimental, psychedelic masterwork “Tomorrow Never Knows” for their vaunted album “Revolver.” Once again, Starr was duly credited for inventing another Ringo-ism. On this occasion, however, the title’s origins are decidedly less murky. In fact, Starr had uttered the phrase “tomorrow never knows” during a February 1964 interview with the BBC’s David Coleman in Lennon’s presence.

As the titular backgrounds for each of these songs suggests, Beatles historians have been all too quick to hail Starr as the originator of various malapropisms like some kind of rock ‘n’ roll Yogi Berra. Perhaps his well-known — and correctly attributed — title for Revolver’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” has prompted his biographers to toast him as pop music’s King Malaprop with broad, uncritical strokes? Given the convoluted state of Beatles history, with so many competing memories and sub-narratives in play, the world may never truly know.

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