Just over two months elapsed between February 1, 1964, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit #1 on the Hot 100, and April 4, 1964, when “Can’t Buy Me Love” did the same. But those nine weeks were packed with more life-changing events than most bands have in their entire careers. The band made its legendary first three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, played Carnegie Hall and began a streak of shattering sales and chart records. When “Can’t Buy Me Love” hit #1, all of the top five entries in the Hot 100 were Beatles songs. The upside of American indifference to their early singles was a backlog of material ready when they finally did take off. By the time “Can’t Buy Me Love” was finally unseated, The Beatles had been atop the Hot 100 a mindboggling 14 consecutive weeks.
The group’s fortunes were changing so suddenly that “Can’t Buy Me Love” was actually inspired by “I Want to Hold Your Hand” topping the Billboard charts. Lyrically, “Can’t Buy Me Love” comes across like a refusal of their newly-minted success: “But I don’t care too much for money/Money can’t buy me love.” At the same time, though, the song’s sound seeks to embrace even more listeners into the band’s ever-swelling fanbase. The jazzy flourishes of “She Loves You” are blown wide into what is essentially a swing number played with electric guitars. Check out the syncopation in “I don’t care too [beat] much for money” – small wonder that both Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie’s orchestra would issue covers tout de suite. There’s R&B in the song’s twelve-bar blues structure, and country in George Harrison’s Carl Perkins-ish guitar solo. And for the first time in any Beatles single, their trademark harmonies are absent. Instead, Paul McCartney, the voice most ready for AM radio, takes the lead.
“Can’t Buy Me Love” is The Beatles striving to follow in the path of their idol, Elvis Presley. Like the King, they weren’t just gunning to be the top of the rock and roll heap – they were going to rule all of pop music. As such, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is the clearest precedent for songs like “Yesterday” and “In My Life,” which bear only tenuous links to rock. That both of those songs would be released in 1965, just one year later, proves just how stupendously fast the group was evolving. Even more astonishing, The Beatles would only get better. 8
Hit #1 on April 4, 1964; total of 5 weeks at #1
106 of 982 #1’s reviewed; 10.79% through the Hot 100