The mysterious ‘train song’ from the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
There’s growing debate in Beatles fan circles over whether an untitled, unidentified recording that’s been available for half a century is or isn’t the work of the Fab Four themselves.
The track in question, featured prominently in the 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night,” is now being referred to as “the train song.” It’s the raucous rock instrumental that comes blaring out of Ringo Starr’s transistor radio as he and his mates try to enjoy their ride through the English countryside despite the protestations of an older passenger who reminds them that “I travel on this train regularly—twice a week, so I suppose I have some rights!”
“Breakfast With the Beatles” host Chris Carter was the catalyst for the revived interest in the identity of the song, which the grumpy old man turns off a few seconds after Ringo clicks his radio on.
Carter was hosting author Dave Morrell, whose memoir of his career in the music business, “Horse-Doggin’: The Morrell Archives Volume 1,” was published in May. Morrell raised the issue of who recorded the brief track and told the story of how well-known collector Ron Furmanek came across two reels of tape in the Universal Music archives while researching another project. One tape contained instrumental music George Martin composed for “A Hard Day’s Night,” the other marked “Beatles,” had a full 42-second performance of “the train song.”
Carter promptly contacted Beatles authorities including biographer Mark Lewisohn and historians Bruce Spizer and Martin Lewis, none of whom were aware of any documentation on the recording. Carter also sent a copy of the recording to representatives for Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, neither of whom have responded to date.
Carter believes it is the Beatles, noting “nobody else was playing bass like that in early 1964” and that “the lead guitar is very George.” He also suggested the fact that no other musicians have ever stepped forward to take credit for a recording closely associated with the most fabled group in pop music history is a strong argument in favor of it being the Beatles themselves.
He’s joined in his opinion by Paul McCartney’s former lead guitarist in Wings, Laurence Juber and George Harrison’s sister, Louise Harrison, both of whom guested on Sunday’s edition of “Breakfast With the Beatles,” as well as singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon, who joined the Beatles on their 1964 North American tour.
Pop & Hiss turned to Giles Martin (son of George Martin), who produced the music for the Criterion Collection and Janus Films’ new 4K restoration of “A Hard Day’s Night,” which opens in theaters across North America on Friday.
“I listened to the track,” Martin said earlier this week. “I don’t think it’s them. It doesn’t have the same character—it sounds like session players, maybe the same session players my dad used for the other instrumentals.”
Still, he added, “I could be wrong,” and said he plans to play it for his 88-year-old father to see if he might resolve the mystery.
One Beatles blog polled a variety of sources, but opinions were mixed. An authoritiave verdict probably will only come from either of the two surviving Beatles or producer George Martin.
In any case, fans can hear it in context during a scheduled one-week theatrical run of “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is the subject of a full story coming in Calendar on Thursday.
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