The Beatles first film A Hard Day’s Night is today considered a classic. Drawn from their real-life experiences, this fictionalized peek into their world feels real, as if we were getting an intimate glimpse into the personalities within the group, and the interaction between each other and with the outside world.
Of course, it was no accident that A Hard Day’s Night was an artistic success. Although the Beatles and their music were obviously major factors for that accomplishment, the crew and cast members deserve much deserved praise for elevating the film from the exploitation quickie that would have been fine for the powers behind United Artists: They wanted the film to be released quickly before the Beatles “fad” had faded, so the studio could benefit from both the film’s box office receipts and the music rights for the songs in the film.
The talents best known for their contributions include director Richard Lester, screenwriter Alun Owen, musical score director (and Beatles producer) George Martin, and actor Victor Spinetti. There are other participants who not only also contributed their talents to the film, but other projects they handled in their career make for some very interesting – and sometimes unlikely – links to the Beatles’ first film.
One of those individuals was Jimmy Page. Before gaining worldwide fame as the guitarist, writer, and producer for Led Zeppelin, Page was a popular session player throughout the 1960s, contributing to hits by rock icons including the Who, Donovan, the Kinks, and Joe Cocker, to name a very few. Jimmy Page never contributed to any songs recorded by the Beatles: The only other players on Beatles’ sessions were generally those who either played instruments that were beyond their own talents (e.g. the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane”), producer George Martin, or “special guests” (Eric Clapton, Billy Preston).
But Page did participate on one major Beatles-related session right after the explosion that was Beatlemania. Per an article by Tony Barrell, Jimmy Page would usually show up for a session without any knowledge of what he would be doing or the identity of the client. In early 1964, he arrived at EMI studios to find this particular job was being led by Beatles producer George Martin, and upon checking out the music he immediately realized that the project was the score for A Hard Day’s Night.
In Barrell’s article, Page revealed he ended up performing background guitar on one of the key pieces written (but not performed) by the Beatles themselves: “Ringo’s Theme,” the instrumental rendition of “That Boy” that accompanies the scene where Ringo is in “disguise” in various vignettes as he travelled along a river, snapping photos while accompanied by a young “deserter.”
Jimmy Page can also be heard prominently (if fleetingly) earlier in the film, in the scene that takes place in the train compartment: Ringo turns on a transistor radio and, as the Beatles start rocking out to the raucous music, it is swiftly turned off by the stodgy businessman who had just joined them (and who was portrayed by veteran British actor Richard Vernon, whose numerous credits include Goldfinger and The Duchess of Duke Street).
Studio Daily posted a comprehensive look at the restoration of A Hard Day’s Night for the 2014 Blu-ray/DVD release, including details about the incidental music used in the film. In that article, drummer Clem Cattini recalls that Page (and “Big Jim” Sullivan”) performed on this track.
The Studio Daily article contains many other interesting details about music used in the film, including the existence of an alternate piano piece to accompany Paul McCartney’s playing in a hotel room. But the fact that the future mastermind behind Led Zeppelin participated in one of the biggest rock movies ever made is a surprising revelation that may delight fans of both Jimmy Page and the Beatles.