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Ringo Starr on the mystery 'train song' from 'A Hard Day's Night'

Ringo Starr on the mystery 'train song' from 'A Hard Day's Night'
JULY 8 , 2014

In  writing about what's being called “the train song” in the Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night,” and recent efforts to identify the musicians who recorded it, at least one reader commented, “Why doesn’t someone simply ask Paul or Ringo?” a sentiment echoed by numerous others.

'A Hard Day's Night'
Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr,and John Lennon star in Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night." (Janus Films)

My response to some was “No one ‘simply’ asks a Beatle anything,” knowing from experience the hoops that must be cleared to gain access to them. I also discussed the very real prospect that Paul and/or Ringo might understandably not recollect a 42-second snippet of music they could have recorded half a century ago.

But this week, circumstances arose that allowed me to pose the question directly to one of the two surviving band members.

Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr celebrates his 74th birthday with his wife Barbara Bach in front of the Capitol Records Building. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The subject at hand is the identity of the music (and the musicians who play it) in the early scene in which a grumpy older “regular” on a train with the Beatles quickly switches off the transistor radio Ringo Starr has just turned on to amuse himself and his band mates as they ride through the English countryside.

“Breakfast With the Beatles” host Chris Carter floated the question of the song’s origins a few weeks ago when author Dave Morrell was his guest, relating how super-collector Ron Furmanek discovered a couple of reels of audiotape related to “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night'
Debate is swirling over whether a never-identified instrumental track heard briefly during a train car scene in "A Hard Day's Night" is performed by the Beatles themselves. (Courtesy of YouTube)

One contained instrumental music composed for the movie by producer George Martin; the other one was “simply” marked “The Beatles” and contained the complete 42-second instrumental (of which less than 10 seconds actually are heard in the movie).

Could the "train song" be a long-forgotten Beatles track?

The question quickly became a hot topic of discussion among Beatles fans around the world. Carter subsequently noted that he has sent the track to representatives for McCartney, Harrison and George Martin.

A clip from "In Their Own Voices," a video featurette that's among supplemental materials included with the Criterion Collection boxed set of "A Hard Day's Night" for the film's 50th anniversary.

I also brought it up directly with Martin’s son, Giles, who produced the 5.1 surround-sound remix of the music and audio for the Criterion Collection’s new 4K restoration of the movie. As previously reported, Giles Martin said "I don't think it's them," although he left himself some wiggle room and vowed to play it for his father and share the results when he has any.

On Monday, while Starr was in town celebrating his 74th birthday at the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, I spotted him standing alone at a private reception and grabbed an unlikely opportunity.

“I hope you don’t mind a crazy ‘Hard Day’s Night’ question,” I said before relating the recent events and asking if he knew the song from that scene from 50 years ago, and perhaps who might have recorded it.

“I’m afraid I have to help keep it a mystery,” he said with a generous smile. “I don’t remember.”

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if McCartney has the same reaction if he ever gets a chance to respond. My money is on George Martin, as he oversaw all their recording sessions for “A Hard Day’s Night,” including instrumental music the Fab Four had nothing to do with.

Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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