An overdue Grammy: The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

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(Above: Poster for a movie soundtrack that didn’t win a Grammy.)

I think it’s more fun to watch Twitter during an awards show than to watch the awards show itself.  No matter who wins what, someone’s got an opposing opinion, and the preponderance of gadgets allows those opinions to get out immediately.

Such was the case when word snuck out that Ron Howard won the Grammy award for Best Music Film for his work on The Beatles: Eight Days A Week –  The Touring Years.  Normally this wouldn’t gather a whole lot of argument, except for who the film beat out.  Beyonce’s Lemonade film was nominated, as was I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, a film about DJ Steve Aoki and the EDM scene.  Fans of both were pretty sure that they should have won. I’ll argue, perhaps unsuccessfully, that this was a do-over.

In 1964 there was no escaping the Beatles.  Imagine how hard it is to avoid Beyonce today.  Now, at least triple that.  The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9 exposed them to millions of households, and Beatlemania swept the country in the weeks that followed.  Small-town stations already knew what was going on: in Grand Rapids, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had been on the chart since January.  By February 14 the band held spots #1 and #2 on the WMAX chart.  By April they’d hold the whole Top 5 on Billboard.

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Love for the band was not universal.  Allan Sherman, for my money one of the greatest song parodists this side of Weird Al Yankovic, lamented the rise of the band in “Pop Hates the Beatles.” Sonny Curtis, former Cricket and future singer of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, expressed his disdain in “A Beatle I Want To Be.” Odd things began to happen in terms of record reporting.  At the height of the British Invasion, such teen pop idols as Louis Armstrong and Dean Martin recorded #1 songs.  The grown-ups were buying their own records in response.

Perhaps the greatest slight came at the Grammy awards show on April 13, 1965. Despite the colossal sales of Meet the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night, neither LP was nominated for Album of the Year, yielding to nominees like Henry Mancini’s soundtrack to The Pink Panther and Barbra Streisand’s People.  Neither of those won – the honor went to Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto for Getz/Gilberto. It was a big night for Getz, who also grabbed Record of the Year honors for “The Girl from Ipanema,” beating out “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Song of the Year – a songwriting award – did not go to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for “A Hard Day’s Night”, but to Jerry Herman, composer of “Hello Dolly.”  The award for Best Film Score?  I think you see where this is going.  Pity that the Beatles released A Hard Day’s Night the same year that Mary Poppins came out, whose soundtrack took the prize.

At least the Beatles got Best Vocal Group Performance for “A Hard Day’s Night.”  They also grabbed Best New Artist, defeating Petula Clark and Antonio Carlos-Jobim among others. It was Petula Clark who won the Grammy for Best Rock Recording as “Downtown” defeated “A Hard Day’s Night.”  (To be fair, this was a loaded category.  Other nominees included Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Bobby Vinton’s “Mr. Lonely” stands out from the crowd a bit.”)  By the end of the night, just as many Grammy awards went to the Chipmunks for performing Beatles songs (Best Engineered Recording – Novel Effects and, inexplicably, Best Folk Recording, defeating Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin‘) as went to the Beatles themselves.

To say that the 1965 Grammy Awards were a mess is a bit of an understatement.  A generation later, similar eyebrows were raised when Jethro Tull defeated Metallica and AC/DCfor Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 1989.  But that was one of the only head-scratchers that year. The 1965 list is full of them.

Now, I will entertain the idea that the 1997 Grammys were the make-good for 1965.  That year, the Beatles were awarded Best Pop Group performance for “Free As a Bird” – the recording cobbled together from tapes found around the studio that effectively reunited a deceased John Lennon with the band. They also grabbed short-form and long-form awards for the song and for Anthology.  But – to be fair – those were new releases that year, and I remember people lining up to buy Anthology when it came out.  The phenomenon of Beatlemania was present again in 1996.

Beyonce got her due in other areas, winning two awards last night.  She herself had the misfortune of being up against the late David Bowie, who won five, and Adele, who also grabbed five.  And, of course, she lost the film Grammy.  If history is any teacher, I expect that when a retrospective on her career comes out in 2069, they’ll do a make-good on that one, too.

Not that you don’t know how the song goes, but you can hear “A Hard Day’s Night” by clicking here.

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