In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
If the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” was the first pop song to make artful use of feedback, their next #1 holds its own historical production distinction. “Eight Days A Week” is the first song to open with a fade-in. Spending hours recording the song over and over, the band tried to figure out how to open it up. They settled on that sound: acoustic and electric guitars getting louder and louder, like the sound of a train approaching. They’re playing a riff together, one that sounds a bit like the one Rod Stewart would use on “Maggie May” years later, one that they abandoned as soon as the song kicks in. And maybe it’s too exciting, since the rest of the song never quite measures up.
“Eight Days A Week” is perfectly amiable replacement-level early-Beatles stuff. It’s a whole song written around a phrase that Paul McCartney had heard from a chauffeur. (The guy said he’d been working eight days a week, and poof, a song appeared.) But beyond that goofy title conceit and the fade-in, it’s not a song with a whole lot of ideas. Years later, John Lennon, who’d helped write the song even though McCartney was really the main writer, said that “Eight Days A Week” was both “never a good song” and “lousy.” (For his part, McCartney admitted that he’d swiped the chord progression from the Four Tops’ “It’s The Same Old Song.”)
Lennon is only right if you think in absolute relative terms. As far as those early Beatles singles go, “Eight Days A Week” was quite possibly the flattest. But compared to almost everything that anyone else was doing, it’s still a banger. It’s a slower song than much of what the band was doing at the time, built on a bright and friendly chug. And sure, the lyric is dumb and simple, and nothing about the song screams genius. But this band was so tuned-in to writing pop music that even a lesser effort was full of these effective little touches: the guitar-stabs that sound like handclaps, the warm and gooey bass tone, the way those harmonies hit on the chorus. The Beatles would go on to do better, but they’d go on to do worse, too.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Runaways’ slow but hard-chugging “Eight Days A Week” cover, which appeared on their final album, 1978’s And Now… The Runaways: