You know that feeling when a song’s intro seems to trip up your ear, so that when the band comes in it sounds like the timing’s out? There are a few rock classics that play with our rhythmic ears in this way. When I first heard Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll I thought the drum intro featured several time signature changes, until I realised that it’s just four bars of 4/4 with three eighth-notes before the downbeat (to hear it ‘properly’, start counting 4/4 on the fourth drum hit – the downbeat is the first accent).
In December last year one of pop music’s most famous mysteries was (probably) solved. We now have a reliable and replicable method of playing the Hard Day’s Night chord, courtesy of Randy Bachman. Here’s my summary of his explanation, with added guitar fretboxes.
Guitar 1 (Rickenbacker 12-string)
This is a tricky chord to fret, but it can be done, with the thumb over the neck playing the bass note, then the third finger covering the third fret across the fifth and fourth strings, then the rest of the fingers playing one note each. The thumb explanation is pretty plausible – George Harrison is frequently pictured using his thumb to fret notes on the bass E string. It’s also important to remember that Rickenbacker 12-strings are strung ‘backwards’ in that the high octave strings (E, A, D and G) are underneath their respective low-octave partners in each pair (underneath, ie, nearer to the floor). Rickenbackers are different from every other 12-string guitar in this respect, and this obviously plays a big part of the sound of the Rickenbacker 360-12 – and therefore of the HDN chord.
Guitar 2 (Rickenbacker 6-string)
Much simpler – a Dsus4.
Bass (Hofner electric bass)
McCartney plays a D, probably at the 12th fret of the D string.
Mystery solved – or is it?
We should not discount Dominic Pedler’s assertion that resonant notes from George Martin’s piano may play a part. I am not completely convinced that Harrison would play such a difficult-to-fret chord – I think it is possible that he played just the top four strings of the chord (this is certainly the shape he uses in the outro), leaving the low-end G and C to be supplied by the piano as Pedler suggested. That said, it is hard to deny that Bachman’s live demo of the chord is pretty compelling.
And the name of the chord is…
I suggest the following two contenders, although the question is pretty irrelevant – giving the chord a name is gratuitous musicological reverse-engineering in which the Beatles would almost certainly not have indulged.
- G11 (no 3rd)/D