BOOM!: Ringo Starr’s forceful drumbeat provides an abrupt, attention-grabbing introduction for “Any Time at All,” a Hard Day’s Night track that was never released as a single, but stands as an extraordinary example of the Beatles’ gift for creating sophisticated yet catchy songs.
“Any Time at All” originates from June 2, 1964, when principal writer John Lennon brought the rough draft into Abbey Road Studios. That afternoon, The Beatles first recorded seven takes of the rhythm track, then Lennon’s lead vocal. After breaking to record two more songs, they returned to the song in the evening. They recorded four more takes, overdubbing piano, guitar, and vocals. According to the Beatles Bible website, the track was mixed for mono on June 4; this mix was discarded, and new stereo and mono mixes were completed on June 22.
As is typical of many Lennon/McCartney compositions, Lennon and Paul McCartney did not sit side by side, writing the music and lyrics. Instead, Lennon wrote the song on his own. In his 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon explained that the tune was “an effort at writing ‘It Won’t Be Long’ — same ilk: C to A minor, C to A minor with me shouting.” By this time, Beatlemania was in full swing, which meant that their manager Brian Epstein, and their label wanted to fully exploit their (erroneously) presumed fleeting fame. Therefore, in between shooting A Hard Day’s Night scenes, the foursome would quickly pen songs and record in the studio late into the evening. This tight time limitation led to “Any Time at All” being released in a relatively unfinished state. When Lennon presented the song to the group, he lacked lyrics for the middle eight. McCartney suggested a series of piano chords, with the intention of writing additional lyrics over them. As the deadline loomed, however, the band and producer George Martin abandoned this plan and left in just the piano-infused middle eight.
Despite leaving it “unfinished,” the Beatles otherwise carefully crafted this hidden treasure. After that pound of the drums, Lennon and McCartney alternate between the refrain’s lyrics:
Any time at all,
Any time at all,
Any time at all,
All you’ve gotta do is call
And I’ll be there.
Lennon’s slightly raspy voice lends the song a sharper rock edge, while McCartney’s higher but clear tones keeps it from becoming too suggestive.
The rest of the lyrics aren’t particularly novel — they describe a man telling his lover that “if you’re feeling sorry and sad, I’d really sympathize. Don’t you be sad, just call me tonight,” that “there is nothing I won’t do” to make her happy. “When you need a shoulder to cry on, I hope it will be mine. Call me tonight, and I’ll come to you,” Lennon sings. George Harrison’s lead guitar, layered over acoustic guitars, clearly influenced the Byrds, who would meld the Beatles’ electric guitars with soft folk strumming just a year later. McCartney’s piano and Harrison’s guitar lines interweave with each other in the bridge, returning to Lennon’s almost screaming vocal on the refrain. Bringing the song full circle, the conclusion is signaled by Starr’s strong drumbeat followed by the guitar reverb gradually fading out.
Like “It Won’t Be Long,” “Any Time at All” combines the Beatles’ patented backbeat, searing voices, memorable refrain, and distinctive beginnings and conclusions. Why didn’t Parlophone/EMI release the track as a single? After all, it has all the ingredients of a solid hit. The answer remains a mystery, but “Any Time at All” is an underrated track from the Mop Top era.