Guitarist Randy Bachman Demystifies the Opening Chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

You could call it the magical mystery chord. The opening clang of the Beatles’ 1964 hit, “A Hard Day’s Night,” is one of the most famous and distinctive sounds in rock and roll history, and yet for a long time no one could quite figure out what it was.

In this fascinating clip from the CBC radio show, Randy’s Vinyl Tap, the legendary Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist Randy Bachman unravels the mystery. The segment is from a special live performance, “Guitarology 101,” taped in front of an audience at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto back in January, 2010. As journalist Matthew McAndrew wrote, “the two-and-a-half hour event was as much an educational experience as it was a rock’n’roll concert.”

Film_711w_HardDaysNight_original

One highlight of the show was Bachman’s telling of his visit the previous year with Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin, at Abbey Road Studios. The younger Martin, who is now the official custodian of all the Beatles’ recordings, told Bachman he could listen to anything he wanted from the massive archive–anything at all.

Bachman chose to hear each track from the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As it turns out, the sound is actually a combination of chords played simultaneously by George Harrison and John Lennon, along with a bass note by Paul McCartney. Bachman breaks it all down in an entertaining way in the audio clip above.

You can read about some of the earlier theories on The Beatles Bible and Wikipedia, and hear a fascinating account of one scholar’s mathematical analysis of the component sounds of the chord from a few years ago at NPR. Or, you can simply let the song work its own magic in the opening sequence to the 1964 Richard Lester film, below.

Related Content:

Here Comes The Sun: The Lost Guitar Solo by George Harrison

Peter Sellers Reads “A Hard Day’s Night” in Shakespearean Mode

Jimmy Page Tells the Story of Kashmir



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  1. Dougald Lamont says . . . | December 19, 2011 / 12:36 pm

    There additional two other additional elements to the original chord, which actually features all four Beatles and George Martin.
    If you listen carefully, the chord starts with the single strike of a snare drum, and George Martin plays a piano chord underneath as well.
    Martin also doubled George Harrison’s guitar solo on piano, which is why it sounds the way it does.

  2. Mike Springer says . . . | December 19, 2011 / 4:54 pm

    Maybe that’s true, Dougald. Anyone who wants to learn about some of the various theories can follow the links in the last paragraph. But what Bachman is saying here is that he had an opportunity to listen to all the source material–to hear each of the component tracks in isolation–and that the chord breaks down as he says.
    Mike

  3. Richard Hartzell says . . . | December 19, 2011 / 7:07 pm

    Cool. Thanks for sharing.

    I just wonder if anyone who isn’t a baby boomer cares. (Since I *am* a boomer, I’m in no position to say.)

  4. Douglas Kwan says . . . | December 20, 2011 / 6:10 am

    @Richard: oh yeah there are a lot of us (non baby boomers)who appreciate the magic and genius of the music and the era and movement it started. There are only so many firsts in the world and the Beatles were one of the pioneers of music. Whether people understand or want to understand how to make that first chord, once it’s played it resonates with a lot of people and just makes you wanna sing and play.

  5. Rob Britt says . . . | December 20, 2011 / 10:31 am

    I think the music of the Beatles transcends generations somehow. It’s magic. I am a late Boomer (born 1963) and love their music, my youngest daughter born in 1991 has a tattoo’d Beatles sleeve and “All you need is love” tattoo’d on her back. Then again maybe it’s genetic. Nature vs nurture. whatever it is, that chord is awesome and totally unique. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Bozo says . . . | December 21, 2011 / 6:58 am

    Home boy hit the nail on the head. That’s that, next…

  7. Weez says . . . | December 21, 2011 / 7:20 pm

    It’s a little more complicated than Mike Springer suggests. The song was originally recorded on a four-track recorder, and there were no “component” tracks of the individual instruments making that chord. The entire band was recorded on track 1, with vocals on track 2. Track three was acoustic guitar and percussion, and track 4 was the solo with guitar/piano. See Recording the Beatles book for more.

    What Giles Martin apparently did for the One album and Cirque du Soleil show, was to use new digital technology that could separate the individual musical instrument components out of single tracks. This is how he was able to do the mashups on that album. Bachman mentions being invited to go and listen to the ProTools files.

  8. Mike Springer says . . . | December 21, 2011 / 8:24 pm

    Weez,
    By “component tracks” I meant the individual tracks that make up the record. Nothing more. Thanks very much for the helpful input. (And for citing your source; it sounds like an interesting book.)
    Best,
    Mike

  9. Joe Wealth says . . . | December 22, 2011 / 8:30 am

    The Beatles have brought class and style to many generations. The Beatles at least for me can relate to today’s youth just like back then. Just my opinion.

  10. Bryan Smith says . . . | January 4, 2012 / 3:19 pm

    Do younger people care about this or the Beatles in general? I’m 40, was born after The Beatles broke up and recognize their genius with regular plays of their albums. My SEVEN year old son loves them as well. A Hard Days Night being one of his favorite films and Beatles RockBand – we play as a family. The Beatles will live on.

  11. David says . . . | January 6, 2012 / 10:01 pm

    I am a substitute teacher and from my experience most kids elementary school age love love love melodic music like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Elvis, etc.
    It’s when they get older in that terrible teen & pre-teen phase when they’re going through all those hormonal changes and they (most it seems) subconciously feel the need to totally overhaul practically everything they liked as a small child.
    Many times I think it’s just an act of rebellion. You know the old adage: “You’re not suppose to like your parents music..it’s not cool.” And others simply succumb to peer pressure that permeates all around them.
    I don’t have hard evidence to back this up, it’s just my determination from years of observation and interaction.

  12. David Anderwson says . . . | February 25, 2013 / 1:42 pm

    Here is a poor man’s version that we did back in the 1960s with a band I had.
    Play B on the A string ( 2nd fret) and A ( second fret) on the G string. All other strings are open. On a 12 string it is fairly effective.

  13. eagleash says . . . | March 9, 2013 / 3:03 am

    I have always thought it to be a Gm7 with some addition I can’t quite remember. In terms of “tab” from high “E” (1st string) 335353.

  14. Boyd Williamson says . . . | July 11, 2013 / 3:15 am

    I was 11 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and it was an absolute epiphany for me. I spent most of the rest of my life as a musician. There’s no doubt in my mind that George Martin was the 5th Beatle, and much more. The Hard Day’s Night chord was played by him, as well as the solo in the song. George would cover it live on a 12-string Rickenbacker. It’s a suspended 4th chord of some kind.

  15. Boyd Williamson says . . . | July 11, 2013 / 3:23 am

    Martin knew of these “electric piano” sounds that were some kind of a cross between a piano and a harpsichord. I’m not sure where he got them, but there they are on the Beatles’ recordings, with Martin playing them so very tastefully.

  16. Paul Besterman says . . . | July 11, 2013 / 2:05 pm

    E minor 7th sus4

  17. Paul says . . . | July 11, 2013 / 2:09 pm

    That is the chord that the person said they played with the B on the A string and so on I hadn’t heard the video yet.

  18. Paul says . . . | July 11, 2013 / 2:14 pm

    After hearing the video all the notes included would be GFACDand F# the latter producing the characteristic dissonance. Only my Opinion !

  19. E.Morneau says . . . | July 12, 2013 / 3:08 am

    Another poor man’s approach is to learn the song in open D tuning and play the opening chord on the fifth fret as you would play an A7th chord in regular tuning, barring it, of course. It’s basic, but it works.

  20. Bobby Beatroot says . . . | July 13, 2013 / 5:40 am

    |—-3——————————————————–|
    |—-3——————————————————–|
    |—-5——————————————————–|
    |—-3——————————————————–|
    |—-5——————————————————–|
    |—-3——————————————————–|

  21. Barry K. says . . . | July 13, 2013 / 7:45 am

    First, I love Randy and was fortunate enough to meet him in the 80s. But on the 1st chord of AHDN, there is absolutely a piano chord (played by GM), as stated by Doug L. in a previous reply I’ve been a collector and also have access to several of the isolated tracks. I just did a YT vid last week of the instrumental-only tracks of AHDN song (under “Louie Nye”) I also have alternate takes and studio chatter vids I made, as well.

  22. Ralph Notaro says . . . | July 17, 2013 / 9:46 am

    What a revelation! Today’s digital technology is amazing. The chord I have played in the past was the one that Bobby B. tabbed above, which is a G7sus4. Does anyone know the piano chords hat George Martin played?

  23. John McManus says . . . | July 26, 2013 / 7:10 am

    The G7sus4 is also the chord I still use to play AHDN!

  24. stevie says . . . | July 28, 2013 / 3:54 am

    saw the Beatles 150times at the Cavern and Paul gave me the chords to ‘Till there was you’ after they finished a session after John was er, busy putting a new string on. In early 61 Bob Wooler got me up and I sang 3 songs with the \Beatles, that was when Pete was still on drums. I sang 3 early Elvis songs as I knew George and John really rated early Elvis stuff and didn’t really dig his later stuff. My Aunt lived right opp Paul’s house in Forthlin road so I saw him quite a lot, the reason I saw them so much is because I knew they were gonna be the biggest thing ever, just knew it and I am blessed that I saw them so much and although they went on to conquer the world I am glad the world knew them as I did way back then

  25. Chris Rowe-Wilson says . . . | July 29, 2013 / 4:40 am

    Noooo! all wrong completely. My mother , a Professor of Music worked with me on getting that chord immediately after getting the record in 64 and we played it that way always.Basically F6 triad with wrap over G muting A and open D on 12 string guitar. D7 sus4 played on 3rd fret for rhythm,Bass D+ Doctave played with plectrum,Strike on bell of large cymbal and hi tom rim shot. Piano is low chord same as 12 string chord with hi Dsus + F note. That,s it. Ending run out is F6 to F triad picked in arpeggio! So the sum of ‘THE CHORD’ is based around a D sus Chord and as D is the 5th, and dominant note of the G tonic scale it all makes sense. I play 26 instruments and have played since 1957 sooooo!??

  26. Chris Rowe-Wilson says . . . | July 29, 2013 / 4:49 am

    So I listened to Randy now, and we totally agree!! We,ve been playing it Right for all these years. Good for u Randy. Dooley Mason comes from the same town in SA as me! We had great bands there in the 60,s!

  27. Warren says . . . | July 29, 2013 / 4:17 pm

    Respect both RB and the Beatles….it still amazes me how many artists, song writers that were born after George and John passed away, still point to the Beatles as a major influence….

  28. Colin says . . . | July 30, 2013 / 8:53 am

    Interestingly enough, the guitar solo on this was too hard for george harrison to play, so they had to slow it down, then speed it up for the recording. So the solo is recorded a few steps down, then sped up to be both the correct speed, and in key.

  29. MacBratt says . . . | July 30, 2013 / 11:19 am

    Well, George Harrison would know it. And he has been recorded of stating it’s “an F with a G under” or in simple terms an Fadd9 (which is also used in the ending, alternating with a F chord). The trick is to play the bass F with the thumb and mute the A-string.

    Fadd9 : 1X3213.

    It’s close to the G7sus4 I have switched from playing that chord to an Fadd9.

  30. Gerald says . . . | July 31, 2013 / 3:44 pm

    So…….instead of all this conjecture,experimentation, gnashing of teeth and speculation over the years, why didn’t somebody just ask one of these guys how they did it? ;o)

  31. Steve says . . . | August 1, 2013 / 6:09 am

    Is it just me, or isn’t Randy’s chord quite different from the video chord? It sounds transposed.

  32. Christopher Louviere says . . . | August 1, 2013 / 7:37 am

    The chord is an F Maj 2nd. It’s an F with a G note on top. I figured this out a long time ago and had it confirmed when I read an interview with John Lennon who says the same thing.

  33. Mr Mojo says . . . | August 2, 2013 / 4:23 am

    It’s impossible to reproduce without all the instruments, but the campfire version I have always used is: 5355333

  34. John S. Allen says . . . | August 4, 2013 / 10:00 am

    In response to Steve: You can verify by comparing with other versions of the recording that the video embedded on thsi page is transposed because it is simply speeded up: the original 24 FPS film was played through a telecine at 25 FPS. Horrible as that is, it is the standard way to play film over television in countries with 50 Hz electrical power. That is unnecessary with online video, but whoever posted the YouTube video just used a dub made for TV, and didn’t know, or didn’t care.

  35. MacBratt says . . . | August 4, 2013 / 1:44 pm

    @Christopher : you have a weird way naming chords. As far as I know, 2 and 4 are only used in chords where you change the 3rd to a 2 (sus2) or a 4 (sus4). Technically it’s a nine. It’s an added 9 because there’s no flatted 7th. I could be wrong, but a Major Chord would be a chord with a 7th (iso the standard flatted 7), minor chord is where the 3rd is flatted.
    @Gerald : they did ask, and they both (apparantly, I only knew of George Harrison’s answer) state it’s a F with a G on top (a Fadd9). They both played the same chords, George on the 12 string Rick, John on his electo acoustic Gibson.

    Back to the chord itself, the trick to the chord is the embedded C5 on top. This can both be found in the G7sus4 some prefer (but the open chord will sound a lot better than the barré, provided you fret it correctly) and the actual Fadd9. I bet you can just play the C5 to get the chime the chords evokes. I suspect an F5add9 would sound even better (1X3X13). The most important thing is to strike and fret it correctly, make sure you get the C5 (B and E string notes) to sound out.

  36. George Nose says . . . | August 4, 2013 / 10:29 pm

    As seen in a facebook post of Mike Isenberg:

    “George Harrison described the chord himself – Bachman is wrong. I’ve studied The Beatles since 1963 and I’ll take George’s version any day. Here is the way it actually goes on the twelve string – anyone can do it and hear perfectly that it’s absolutely correct as George described it. Add onto it Paul’s bass note of D and George Martin’s piano chord and there you have it. Of course everyone will believe as they wish, but that IS the chord, and again, I’ll take George’s word over Randy Bachman, who doesn’t seem to add into the mix the fact that A Hard Day’s Night was recorded on a four track machine that would make it impossible to pull out separate tracks. Here is the chord – try it. You’ll hear the proof. First finger on the first fret of the sixth string. Second finger on the first fret of the second string (it’s a stretch). Little finger on the third fret of the first string. Strum all of the strings – and there you have it. It’s the same way George did the song in concert with The Beatles, and he said it was the same chord he used when they recorded the song.”

  37. George Nose says . . . | August 4, 2013 / 10:48 pm

    Essentially, Randy Bachman may or may not be accurate in saying how Giles Martin or someone else in post-Beatles times re-created the sound. But, he is certainly wrong in saying that what he describes is how The Beatles made the sound.

  38. MacBratt says . . . | August 5, 2013 / 11:04 pm

    @George Nose : if you’re implying it’s 100013, that doesn’t make any sense. However if it’s 1XXX13, you get the F5add9 I mention and that does make an awful lot of sense as it’s basically two powerchords on top of each other (F5 and C5) and would sound like that. It’s not what notes are fretted, it’s what notes are actually played. I can imagine they muted the open strings with the index finger though.

  39. epenguin says . . . | August 16, 2013 / 11:06 am

    I always thought it wa a dfad, not that i know anything about music, but from all i have read, thats what it is.

  40. Tony says . . . | August 23, 2013 / 8:58 pm

    Fadd9/D

    It’s not so much the chord itself that’s the mystery, but how it was voiced (especially with the 12 string). Cool stuff!

  41. Patti Masson says . . . | September 8, 2013 / 9:30 pm

    this looks like an algebra exam!

  42. joemichaels says . . . | September 27, 2013 / 9:21 pm

    Always thought this song was in Bb. ;-)

  43. Yetti says . . . | November 6, 2013 / 2:00 am

    Definitely a semitone higher.

  44. Mike Wattie says . . . | February 24, 2014 / 9:56 am

    There is a snare drum also with that chord.

  45. Jon Dinerstein says . . . | February 24, 2014 / 10:44 am

    Has anyone ever listened to the Beatle’s “Black Album”? It has a different version of A Hard Day’s Night on it. The solo is quite different.

  46. Mike Bollinger says . . . | March 8, 2014 / 11:26 pm

    I’ve been to your store serial times. Bought an Godin guitar from you several years ago. Loved that guitar. I’m ready for a Lavirree guitar now. I really love those guitars. I have a Taylor 410 and Martin D-18. I think the Lavirree beats both those guitars hands down. I’m looking for a L-03R or a L-05R. Can you help me out? Thanks..Mike

  47. greg says . . . | May 11, 2014 / 2:48 am

    I think a lot of the general public havent heard all the wealth of obscure songs on any of the 4 lads albums . . . they never get played in Aus on mainstream radio . . . :)

  48. Bert says . . . | May 11, 2014 / 11:49 am

    Great work from Randy and answers a question for my band we’ve been asking for a while. What baffles me is that in the comments above there are still people demonstrating stupidity in maintaining their own wrong opinion about what the content of the chord should be while Randy was able to analyze the Original tapes. Shut up you guys and play it like Randy analyzed! Thanks Randy!

  49. Al rizzolo says . . . | May 13, 2014 / 6:53 pm

    WOW!!! That’s AMAZING!!!

  50. Zastava says . . . | June 8, 2014 / 11:57 am

    ……I don’t think so Randy…………….

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