Thursday, July 2, 2009

Any Time At All

Here's one that, unless you're a particular fan, or were just playing your A Hard Day's Night LP yesterday or something, I'll bet you haven't thought about in a while. I mean, I know I haven't thought of it in a while. Isn't it great to stumble on these album-track Beatles songs that you sort of forgot you loved? "Oh yeah," you say to yourself, a big dumb grin spreading slowly over your face. "'Any Time At All.' I love this song!"

When I was in high school, I read (without knowing any better) this really horrible John Lennon "biography" by professional hack Albert Goldman. Not only was the book filled with fabrications and lies and sensationalism, it was also filled with really shoddy, lazy musical analysis-- shoddy even to me as a teenager. I bring this up because I remember the moment when Goldman really lost all credibility with me: when he argued that "Any Time At All" was the first time since the Beatles got famous that John finally let loose and played the real rock & roll that he always wanted to. In Goldman's contrived narrative, Brian Epstein and Paul McCartney stymie John's need to rock at every turn, but finally with "Any Time At All" John could just let loose! To which I thought, hmm. Apparently Mr. Goldman was taking an important phone call during his listening to the Beatles' previous recordings. Or he's just an idiot.

Unfortunately, now "Any Time At All" reminds me of that a little. But it's not fair to the song to be linked with the likes of Goldman in anyone's brain, because it's a solid little song. And the fact that it's not the first time John has seduced us with his rock & roll stylings doesn't diminish the fact that it's nice whenever John does so. So anyway, yes, this one was written by John, though I don't think I've ever read anywhere how he came to write it. Given the period, we can assume that between touring, filming A Hard Day's Night, and the rest of his insane Beatlemania-addled life, he cranked out a song like "Any Time At All" because he had to-- it's a work song, essentially. But it's a work song with a lot of nice touches.

I've talked before about how John sometimes writes songs in a way that mimics the natural rhythms of speech, and this song offers us a neat example of him doing just that. The chorus is cool, very syncopated, and sounds so much like speech that is comes across as almost, but not quite, actually awkward. One touch I do like is how Paul takes the repeat of the title line on that high register-- it was probably done because Paul had higher notes in his range than John did, but it also just varies the mood nicely, doesn't it? It makes for nice color. And then when John comes back in on "any time at all, all you have to do is call," it's as if he's spitting words out as fast as he can against the metrical framework. Again, almost speaking rather than singing. Neat.

The verse gets more tuneful, but John's delivery-- more abashed and tender than is sometimes typical of his early style, but still sung with a smile-- is so just so winning here for me. Listen to the bass, too, which is moving downward chromatically. I don't know what exactly the harmonic stuff going on here is (and don't have time to check-- but as always, you can consult Alan W. Pollack for the details if you're curious) but it sounds as though the chords are morphing a lot as they follow that downward bass line. I think the bass is being doubled on the piano here, which is also played by Paul, by the way. The instrumental break features a particularly bright piano sound in the bass notes too. Apparently this break was originally going to have words written into it to make it a middle eight-- Paul suggested the chords, but the two of them never got around to writing the words, so the chords just stayed in. Again, a testament to how freaking busy they were in 1964. But I think it works for the mood. And the on-the-beat feel of the way those chords come in contrast nicely with the very syncopated feel of the vocal melody.

So "Any Time At All"-- it's good, isn't it? Yes. It kind of rocks. It kicks off the B side of A Hard Day's Night handily, and it's one of those underappreciated early Beatles numbers I love so very much. Hope you dig it too.

"Any Time At All," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Something New, July 20, 1964.


  1. I do, especially the vocal performances by both guys. This song might be Exhibit A for the "I'd listen to these guys sing the phonebook" case.

  2. I agree with you both, first about this being a really cool song, and second about listening to John sing the phone book. I also love the sorta "garage band sound" that it captures. It feels "loose" to me in a good way, if that's accurate and makes sense. I'd write more, but i'd rather listen to the song again ...

  3. It is! It's garagealicious! It sounds delightfully unprofessional, in a way, this song. I love it so.

  4. Hard Days Night was one the first Beatles album I ever heard, and still the one I revisit most frequently. This is def one of the highlights on an all-around great album.

  5. I remember when I loved the album more than I do now. I viewed it kind of like I view Help! now. Help! has this awesome run of songs I never don't want to hear/sing along to, starting from the beginning; I get to You Like Me Too Much before I'm very tempted to skip a track, and I can do the whole album. That's not true of every album for me. A Hard Day's Night is kind of like the junior varsity version of that album for me; no real lows, although I'm not a huge fan of George's entry, again, and the stretch from Tell Me Why to the end is just solidly outstanding.