Deep Beatles’ look at Hard Day’s Night songs that did not appear in the film continues with one of the lesser-known tracks in the band’s catalog: “When I Get Home.” A sampling of comments posted in the song’s Beatles Bible entry represents some fans’ attitude toward the track. Just a few examples: “well below average lyrics,” “the worst recording on any Beatles song … and the performance ranks somewhere at the bottom too,” and “one of the few Beatles songs I always forget exists. Then I listen to it and remember why.”
Does the song deserve such scorn? While it may not rank among their all-time best tracks, “When I Get Home” contains energy and a hard-charging beat that could have easily been included in concert setlists. A live version may have improved its sound, and its driving rhythm would have fit in nicely with other uptempo tracks from that period.
Frustratingly little information exists on this particular Hard Day’s Night track. Written by John Lennon, they recorded “When I Get Home” on June 2, 1965, with George Martin producing and Norman Smith serving as engineer. They tackled the song on the final day of the Hard Day’s Night sessions, with the usual lineup: Lennon on lead and backing vocals as well as rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney on backing vocals and bass; George Harrison on backing vocals and lead guitar; and Ringo Starr on drums.
Lennon later explained that “When I Get Home” was his attempt at emulating current R&B: “That’s me again — another Wilson Pickett, Motown sound — a four-in-the-bar cowbell song,” he said in 1980. They recorded the tune in 11 takes, laying down the instrumental track and overdubbing vocals. Martin and Smith created a mono mix on June 4, but it was never used; instead, their June 22 stereo and mono mixes were the final versions.
While not their most popular track — the Beatles never included it in set lists or performed it for the BBC — “When I Get Home” is worth a closer listen due to several factors:
The unusual beginning: In typical Beatles fashion, the song opens cold with the chorus rather than an instrumental introduction. They clearly enjoyed playing with intros and outros in their music, a trend they would continue throughout their careers The harmonies (along with Starr’s pounding drums) crash into the scene, demanding the listener’s attention.
Lennon’s gritty rock vocal: While he famously disliked his own voice, Lennon showed great vocal versatility in his Beatles and solo material. He could modulate his singing to evoke the tender feelings of a ballad, or increase the volume and intensity to communicate anger or passion in uptempo songs. “When I Get Home” is an early example of his emerging skills — when he sings the lines “Come on, if you please — I got no time for trivialities,” his insistent voice leaves no doubt of his intentions.
Starr’s drumming: Lennon and Harrison’s chugging guitars help establish the rhythm, but Starr’s distinctively powerful style propels the track into harder rock territory. His fills and rolls add urgency to the song, underscoring the narrator’s impatience in lyrics such as “Come on, on my way, ’cause I’m a gonna see my baby today.”
The vague lyrics: Note how the perspective changes once the narrator has arrived home. He plans to “hold her tight … till the cows come home.” Suddenly the perspective changes, with Lennon directly addressing his love: “Come on, let me through, I got so many things I gotta do; I’ve got no business bein’ here with you this way.” Why would he shift tone and subject? His impatience is now directed at his love for preventing him from other business. Why the change? Does this explain the aggressive sound of the entire record? Fans must interpret the meaning for themselves, as Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney simply repeat the chorus at the conclusion, returning to the lyrics’ original perspective.
Does “When I Get Home” deserve such mixed-to-negative reviews? True, “I’m gonna love her till the cows come home” does not stand alongside the best lines the Lennon/McCartney duo ever wrote. However, it contains a rawness reminiscent of the Beatles’ earliest Hamburg and Cavern days, suggesting that it could have been a shake-the-rafters concert highlight.
Unfortunately, the group chose to never perform the song live, so we’ll never know how it might have sounded. It can still be enjoyed on the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack (or Something New for American release fans), and be appreciated as a buried gem in the Beatles canon.