Jan. 8: No blue moon in history

Having completed a spirited four-song run-through to jump-start the full band’s session at Twickenham on January 8, 1969, with the ancient “One After 909,” the Beatles managed to dig to the very bottom of the vault and the genesis of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership.

It’s a stretch to say the Beatles played “Too Bad About Sorrows” in the moments after they finished “One After 909,” itself a primeval composition, one John had said was his own, but Paul claimed to have shared credit writing. The spark of “909” propelled the group further down Memory Lane and over to 20 Forthlin Road. Dating back more than a decade to 1957, “Too Bad About Sorrows” has the distinction of being the very first Lennon/McCartney collaboration, per Paul.

We would sit down with a school notebook which I have to this day, an old tattered copybook, blue lines on white paper, and I would write down anything we came up with, starting at the top of the first page with ‘A Lennon-McCartney Original’. On the next page, ‘Another Lennon-McCartney Original’; all pages have got that. We saw ourselves as very much the next great songwriting team. Which funnily enough is what we became! We started off, I think, with a song called ‘Too Bad About Sorrows’. They all had very simple chord structures but we learned our craft that way.

Paul said much of the same here, on the South Bank Show in 1978.

Lasting about 15 seconds long, all we really hear on the January 8, 1969, performance is John singing the first line of the song — the title — over incoherent guitar and bass accompaniment, and two more garbled lines: “Too bad about love/There’ll be no tomorrow.” The performance itself is obviously forgettable as are so many of the brief stabs at songs these sessions, but this is particularly notable as it enabled the public — via decades of bootlegs and now YouTube clips like the one below sourced from those same bootlegs — to hear the very first Lennon/McCartney song.

The group would similarly perform a taste of “Too Bad About Sorrows” nearly two weeks later after the sessions shifted to Savile Row.

Straight out of the stab at “Too Bad About Sorrows,” John playfully delivered the line, “There’s no blue moon in history,” before letting out a giggle. Seconds later, he and Paul shared vocals on an impromptu version of “Just Fun,” the song John had just referenced and what is considered the second collaboration from the Lennon/McCartney team. In between, John delivered the line about “pot-smoking FBI members” that would eventually appear on the Let It Be album, and referenced in the last post.

Two days earlier, “Just Fun” had come up in conversation with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and producer Glyn Johns in a sequence that ended up in the Let It Be film as they discussed the revival of “One After 909.” Paul weakly sang the opening lines from “Just Fun” as part of a greater recounting of the early days of writing with John.

From the "Get Back" book

The Jan. 6 discussion of “Just Fun,” from the “Get Back” book.

This attempt wasn’t as comprehensive as the abbreviated January 6 version, lasting just a single line: “They said that our love was just fun.” Things broke down as George interrupted to go over new songs to be rehearsed. “Just Fun” wasn’t performed — at least at these sessions, and that we know of — by the Beatles again. Like “Too Bad About Sorrows,” this wasn’t any kind of groundbreaking performance, but it’s a slice of history that’s thankfully preserved.

Beyond the South Bank Show clip above, Paul has dusted off “Just Fun” elsewhere, including two verses’ worth of the song at a 2004 soundcheck in Zurich, of all dates and places. Quite oddly, John’s singing of the line “There’s no blue moon in history” shows up in the once indispensable 1982 documentary “The Compleat Beatles” (this author’s first real exposure to the band’s history) as background during an interview with George Martin about Beatles For Sale, for some reason. So in that strict sense, it’s actually been officially released, albeit a few seconds’ worth.

Unfortunately, “Just Fun” is a terrible, terrible, awful lyric. Even Paul agrees.

There was one called ‘Just Fun’ we couldn’t take any further: ‘They said that our love was just fun / The day that our friendship begun / There’s no blue moon / That I can see / There’s never been / In history …’ Ooops! It’s horrible, this is horrible. When we heard heard that rhyme we just went off that song in a big way. We were never really able to fix it either. But they’d get written down and we’d play ‘em. We’d say, ‘Wow, we’ve written some songs, you know, d’you wanna hear them? “Said our love was just fun …”’

There’s never been a blue moon in history? For heaven’s sake, Paul, there was a blue moon over Liverpool in August 1956, 11 months before you met John and wrote this song!

It turned out OK for these guys, though, and Lennon/McCartney — together and alone — figured it out. For instance, we all can agree that “She Said She Said” — the next song the group played on January 8, after a mention from George — is a quite terrific lyric.

Considering the band never performed the song live, and presumably hadn’t played it at all together in two-and-a-half years, the group holds together the first verse decently enough.

As we recount events two days before George left the Beatles on January 10, it’s worth marking that the original 1966 recording session of “She Said She Said” was missing Paul. He walked out after he “had a blarney” with the others, the first Beatle to tentatively leave the group.

Leave a comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 8: Rocky and the Rubbers

Our world lost — and the stars and heavens regained — David Bowie last week. I didn’t feel much like blogging about the Beatles for a little bit, even though this post had already been mostly written. But as the man once sang, time is waiting in the wings, and we should be on by now. So please enjoy the continuation of the Beatles’ Nagra tapes timeline, picking up with the morning of January 8, 1969, as David Bowie was celebrating his 22nd birthday across town and working on writing Space Oddity.

It’s tough to say “this is when they got serious” when there were laughs and smiles throughout, but after more than a half hour on the January 8, 1969, Nagra reels, the Beatles at least found a bit of motivation and a short-term goal to complete, getting serious in deed if not demeanor. With a concert to be staged, John, Paul, George and Ringo gathered their focus for a chirpy, energetic run-through of four songs deemed early contenders for a live show.

Paul led the proceedings, tabbing his original duet as the opener: “Johnny, ‘On Our Way Back Home.’”

If you’ve seen Let It Be — and I really hope you have and will one day again on some sort of modern entertainment replay device – you’ve been struck by how loose John and Paul are, hamming it up as they sing into the same microphone.

Two of Us

Paul, who Ringo in an interview the previous year referred to as“Elvis” in reference to his performance of “Lady Madonna,” was closer to the toxically impaired King, comically slurring and sneering throughout a take that both he and John sang without benefit of a lyric sheet. That’s how we end up with John, laughingly repeating his mistake “two of us wearing postcards” once the take was complete. They laughed the as they sang it during the take, too.

While Paul and John can’t often get through more than a few words without butchering a lyric, there was no turning back once they started, with this a sincere attempt at a run-through.

The sequence appears slightly edited in the film, cutting the performance in half from its actual three minutes to a minute-and-a-half. Had the group secretly abandoned the film and this leaked, conventional wisdom would have been that the group had a blast at Twickenham. Maybe they were just hamming it up for the cameras — or John was, at least — but it’s hard to deny a somewhat different spirit in the room with a watch and listen. When things were languid at Twickenham, it was painfully clear.

A visually telling edit by movie director Michael Lindsay-Hogg comes around 30 seconds into the clip, as we catch John glancing over at Yoko, who blankly stares back, as he stands oh, so close to Paul, showing some of the genuine affection that they certainly used to have and somewhere deep in there still did.

Yoko and Us

Two of us, and also Yoko

If you can use the word “tragedy” when referring to the fact a song was omitted from a compilation –- you shouldn’t, but I will, deplorably -– it’s a tragedy this take didn’t make it onto Anthology 3. It’s in the film, thus is a recognizable, published “official” release, so despite the issues with the lyrics, it’s “out there.” Consumers would have understood having an(other) imperfect take on the compilation, if not welcomed it.

In the film, the song comes out of the “shocktric shocks” sequence from a few days earlier, and then dumps into “I’ve Got a Feeling,” but in reality the group – after the improvised “You Got Me Going” and a few unserious seconds of “Twist and Shout” – delivers “Don’t Let Me Down.” Note the time between the end of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down” is less than a minute. Dallying was at a minimum. While “Don’t Let Me Down” appears several times in Let It Be, this version is not in the film.

George didn’t quite nail the introduction, but again there was no concern when the lyrics were muffed. John simply shouted “Snotgobbler!” and moves on. That’s rock and roll. So was the pre-primal scream from John as the song began.  So were the lyrics “nobody ever rubbed me like she do me,” which John subs in at one point. The band played on, and musically it was relatively tight, really an achievement at this point in the song’s lifespan.

beardclose up

Paul beard porn from the January 8 sessions, as seen in Let it Be. Thank me later.

John came out of the high-energy take with thanks from the “band.” “God bless you, ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say a sincere farewell from Rocky and the Rubbers, this is Dirty Mac himself saying …”

Paul cut in, all business: “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

goodmorning

“Good morning!”

The performance was a tick slower at the outset, and with continued lyrical miscues (especially Paul and John mismatching “oh no” and “oh yeah” early on), but it retained the same vigor as the two previous songs. Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after wailing “somebody who looks like you!” as George hits the middle-eight guitar part.

This sequence made the film, notably appended to a particularly torturous rehearsal from a day later.

Three songs into the run-through, John revealed some fatigue, perhaps reflecting the weight of the previous week more than the prior 10 minutes: “Only another two days to go, then we’ll have another two off.” But Paul then offers a pick-me-up, suggesting, “Do ‘One After 909’.” So they did.

This number marked the one point in the four-song run-through the group stopped after they started, rebooting the take after George’s solo. Once again, there’s a disconnect with the film. Based on clothes alone, this performance of “One After 909” is featured visually early in the movie — after Paul’s discussion of the song with Lindsay-Hogg from a couple days earlier (as seen in the film) — but paired with the audio of a take from January 9.

The movie and even a moment of the Let It Be LP was further fleshed out with a bit of memorable dialogue coming out of “One After 909.” You’ll hear it on the Let It Be LP prior to “For You Blue,” George’s eventual lone contribution to album that was just days old, as John reads from the newspaper.

Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.

What, you thought she’d be OK with it?

Again, we have a disconnect between the movie and the tapes, as the film moves to a previous day’s take of “Oh! Darling” while in real time, the band had completed their first commitment to a run-through for a show yet to materialize. It was rough, but it was spirited, and if anything, the set must have given them the idea there would be a light at the end of the tunnel if they chose to shine it. With at least four fully formed songs, they were on their way, and the apparent positivity could easily be read to bode good fortune ahead.

Probably inspired by “One After 909,” they continued a quick dip into their back catalog.

1 Comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 8: Take a lesson from Jude

From Liverpool to Hamburg to points circling the globe, the Beatles electrified audiences, and, well, you can insert your own hyperbolic statement about the redefinition of a rock show here. Yet on January 8, 1969, 28 months since they last played proper a live concert (alternately: “only” 28 months since they last played a live concert), Beatlemania was a memory as the group searched, still, for the how and where of their upcoming live TV concert.

The Beatles’ performance of “Hey Jude” on “Frost on Saturday” that was aired nearly four months prior to the day was their new baseline. It was nothing compared to the ideal, the best in the business.

“The example of the perfect stage show is James Brown,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg declared to Paul, George and Ringo. “He’s the greatest stage show of all time, I think.”

For all the R&B the Beatles performed, there’s no evidence they covered the Godfather of Soul, but there were fans among the group. From a press conference in 1965:

Question: “I have a question for all The Beatles here. If you were sitting at home listening to record albums of other recording artists, who are some of the American recording artists that you prefer?”
John: “Otis Redding is one.”
George: “Yeah.”
Paul: “James Brown.”

Paul’s tune was unchanged several decades later, when he told Uncut in 2004 that Brown was “sodding fantastic,” while understandably saying he’s more of a Beatles fan, ultimately.

OK, stack us up against James Brown, record for record, he’s definitely hotter because he’s James Brown. But he didn’t do the stuff we did. He’s James Brown and he’s sodding fantastic. We can all agree on that. But there’s something else to The Beatles. Look, we did a lot of good music. You look at Revolver or Rubber Soul, they are decent efforts by any standards. If they’re not good, then has anyone ever been any good? Because, if they’re not good, then no-one has ever really been that good.

George, who would write in his 1980 autobiography that his favorite cover of “Something” was in fact by Brown, wasn’t quite so much a fan of his act, at least, in the opening days of 1969 — which was when, coincidentally, “Something” was in nascent form.

“I don’t know about that,” George said, dismissively, in response to Lindsay-Hogg’s declaration. “All that, with his cloak and his crown …”

When I hold you in my arms, I know that I can’t do no wrong. (ca. 2000.)

Paul and Ringo parodied Brown’s “cape routine,”Paul pleading, “Come back, Ringo, come back!” “I can’t do no more, man,” Ringo moans in response.

Lindsay-Hogg beamed in recounting a Brown performance. “He’s got comedy and everything, and he has all that bit before he comes on. And I love when he comes on with that little white suitcase that says ‘Out of Sight’ on it, with that white silk suit.”

There’s no delusion — nobody at Twickenham thought or suggested the Beatles try to stage a show like Brown’s. So instead, as they’ve done before, they returned to their own recent benchmark: “Hey Jude.”

With Paul having already mentioned earlier that morning the suggestion of “[opening] the doors [to the audience], and we’re in the middle of a number,” Lindsay-Hogg — the director of the “Hey Jude” segment — wondered if the band shouldn’t be awaiting the audience’s arrival. “It’s all collected and you’re all together, then you start, as opposed to you coming on as the Beatles, it’s like much more intimate and participated that you’re there.

“If we were to do it here, the way to do it is to make the big brotherhood again”

Paul’s on board with a rerun of audience participation, a la “Hey Jude.” But it seems he thinks his luck with the “na-nas” of 1968 wouldn’t be repeated in the new year. “If we could do it, I thought it would be great, really, if all the audience did it,” Paul says before he imitates the crowd clapping and singing responsively the “oh, yeah” in “I’ve Got a Feeling. ”

“But the British audience [would sing, mockingly, in drawn-out tones], ‘Oh, yeeees, oh yes. They’re bloody good, this mother,’”

Rehearsing "Hey Jude," September 1968.

Rehearsing “Hey Jude,” September 1968.

Lindsay-Hogg wanted nothing to do with Twickenham — or anywhere in England — as a concert locale, but this early in the sessions he’s at least showing signs of a vaguely open mind and understanding the final decision won’t be his anyway.

“I think if we do it here — and that’s an extremely long pause after that, ‘If we do it here’ — we ought to I think, which is what we’re talking about, is take a lesson from Jude. Which is another title for a song: ‘Take a Lesson From Jude.’ And make it that kind of thing where the audience is involved, but in a good way. When I say a party, I don’t mean paper hats and balloons.”

“Maybe we should have,” George chipped in.

The discussion shifted to the potential decriminalization of pot — sparked from a reading of the daily papers and the Wooton Report — and it’s around then John finally arrived and joined his mates as George said he was keeping his guitar warm for him.

With characteristic sarcasm, John replied, “I’ve been dreaming about get[ting] back to my guitar.”

The band’s all here, and a loose warmup began with some R&B — alas, not James Brown, but an improvisation led by Paul that name-dropped French fries and sausages that evolved into a song from one of Brown’s early contemporaries: Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush.” It was a song Paul later recorded for “Run Devil Run” and John rehearsed with Elephant’s Memory before his 1972 concert in New York, if the bootlegs are to believed.

“Honey Hush” wandered into “Stand By Me,” a song very definitely covered by John for “Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1975 and his last single before his comeback in 1980. This time, Paul was on vocals, and he gave it the same grandiose treatment he delivered on “I Me Mine,” adding a little “The Barber of Seville” flavor for good measure.

More than 30 years later, Paul and James Brown shared the microphone on a version of “Stand By Me.”

As the band continued getting loose, a mention of one Harry Pinsker led to a cheeky rendition of the “Hare Krishna Mantra” with the Apple Records accountant in the lead role. The Radha Krsna Temple (London)’s version of the chant, as produced by George Harrison months later amid the Abbey Road sessions in the summer of 1969, peaked at No. 12 on the U.K. charts.

As they wrapped their approximation of the chant, and with discussion of staging ongoing, the Beatles began their first sincere stab at a genuine run-through of their new songs. If you’re seen the “Let It Be” film, you’ve seen much of that performance.

“Johnny,” Paul instructed laying out the set’s opener, “’On Our Way Back Home.’”

Leave a comment

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Celebrate anything you want

Three years ago in this space, we celebrated Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday with a brief look back at the period between June 18, 1968 and 1969, a stretch that straddled the Get Back/Let It Be sessions that we explore here. On the occasion of the diamond jubilee of John Lennon’s birth, we’ll do the same thing people have done for more than 50 years: compare John and Paul, and as usual, with much different results.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Birthday Cake

Smile, John, it’s your birthday!

Forty-seven years ago today — October 9, 1969 — was John Lennon’s 28th birthday. The Beatles were primarily in the mixing stage of the White Album. John was in the midst of a divorce with Cynthia. Nine days later — there’s that number that follows John around — he and Yoko were victims of a drug bust at their home as they were handling the difficult release of Two Virgins.

In the coming months, the White Album was completed and released, the Beatles assembled in January 1969 for a monthlong writing and recording session and they subsequently recorded and completed Abbey Road (along with other songs, like John’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” a No. 1 hit). Those achievements fell in the same period as between Paul’s 1968 and 1969 birthdays. So what’s different for John and in the time frame that’s shifted by four months?

Yoko, obviously, and her dramatically increased role in John’s life, replacing Paul as his primary collaborator. It wasn’t just her, but what she enabled John to be willing to do. John with Yoko creating their own art and performance outside of the Beatles — bed-ins, experimental music, films, publications — all things that grew from being an outlet away from the band to becoming a full replacement for the band that Paul was expending his energy to keep together and internally manage. Like John and Yoko, Paul got married, too, and started his own life with Linda, increasingly spending time at his farm in Scotland. The Beatles were his band.

Three weeks before the Get Back sessions, John formed the Dirty Mac for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus in December 1969. His bed-in recording of “Give Peace a Chance” was released within days of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in June 1969. Two weeks before the release of Abbey Road in September 1969, his first iteration of the Plastic Ono Band took the stage in Toronto.  Upon his return on Sept. 20, he told the rest of the Beatles he quit the group. He wouldn’t perform together with the other three Beatles again. Ten days later he recorded “Cold Turkey.”

All of the Beatles by this point had their own lives, marriages, projects outside the band.  For John, the Beatles had become the outside project in a wildly tumultuous period coinciding with his divorce, his immersion into Yoko, a use of harder drugs and a willingness to move on past Paul. All the factors are related. This may not have been John’s greatest period as a pop music songwriter, at least in volume, but given the variety of artistic pursuits and chances he was willing to take — including the biggest one of all, replacing Paul with Yoko — it was a remarkable period in John Lennon’s career and life.

On August 28, 1969, Linda gave birth to Mary, Paul’s first child. On October 9, John’s 29th birthday and the end of the period we’re recalling here, Yoko miscarried.  They would have their first child together, Sean, exactly six years later, on October 9, 1975.

Leave a comment

Filed under Extra

Jan. 8: All through the day

It all came together thanks to television, LSD, a dance and a dare.

George Harrison started the fifth day of the Beatles’ sessions at Twickenham, January 8, 1969, with the dare, challenging director Michael Lindsay-Hogg with a new song in hand.

“‘I Me Mine’ it’s called,” George says to the crinkling of paper being unfolded. “Should I sing it to you? I don’t care if you don’t want it, I don’t give a shit about it. I don’t give a fuck [if it’s] going in your musical. [laughter]

“It’s a heavy waltz.”

An edited version of this moment — the origin story of what would become one of George’s two contributions to the Let It Be LP — along with a performance of the song, appears in the film of the same name in a three-minute sequence that closed out the Twickenham portion of the movie. On the Nagra tapes, the band is introduced to the song and would later work through and rehearse it roughly five separate times in the five hours of the day’s tapes, covering about an hour total.

The first 45 seconds of the song are familiar: It’s George accompanying himself on guitar to the first two verses of the song, and those lyrics are the same as would eventually be released. But to this point, there is no chorus, instead a brief flamenco-inspired guitar part bridges the verses.

After this initial debut, George interrupted himself to again gush about John’s 1969 diary — “Got up. Went to work. Came home. Watched telly. Went to bed.” — providing himself a segue to his prior night’s entertainment. Once more, it was the Beatles talking about and drawing inspiration from television.

“It was the TV, you see.” George said, recounting he was watching “that science fiction thing, but then it suddenly turned into that crap about medals and things.” That crap was an episode of the weekly program Europa, “The Titled and the Unentitled.” Per the original TV listing, the show “looks at the aspects of pomp and circumstance through European eyes-with a special report from French Television on the investiture this summer of the Prince of Wales.”

George Harrison, MBE, may have found the subject matter “crap,” but in his role as musical prospector, he found value amidst the precious medals being discussed. Specifically some incidental music during the program — Johann Strauss’ “Kaiser Walzer” — sparked George at some point between 9:55 and 10:25 p.m. GMT the night of January 7.

(George would have seen a different performance. This one is from 2008.)

“That’s what gave me the idea. Suddenly, it was the bit where they were all coming in from the ball. I think it was Austria, and they all had their medals. And there was some music that was just playing … like a 3/4 thing. Some things like that happen where you just hear something, and it registers in your head as something else. And so I just had that in there, the waltz thing.

“It’s like one of those things where they’re all swaying.”

Years later, in his pseudo autobiography that took the name of this very song, George addresses the origins of the lyrics.

I Me Mine is the ‘ego’ problem. …

I suppose having LSD was like somebody catapulting me out into space. The LSD experience was the biggest experience that I’d had up until that time. … [A]fter one dose of acid I felt I was stuck in this thing, which later I realised is called ‘relativity’. So, the big ‘I’ I’m talking about is the absolute, whereas we’re in the relative where everything is good-bad, yes-no, up-down, black-white. That’s why they called it the heaven and hell drug! But life is heaven and hell, we see it as, or make it into hell or heaven: there’s no heaven and hell beyond relativity.

So suddenly, I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego — you know, like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel, or ‘give it to me or I am’. It drove me crackers; I hated everything about my ego — it was a flash of everything false and impermanent which I disliked. But later, I learned from it: to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth …

Anyway that’s what came out of it: I Me Mine. The truth within us has to be realised: when you realise that everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is and can answer the question ‘who am I’?.

After an extensive return to discussion of the “science fiction” — the series “Out of the Unknown” and the episode “Immortality Inc.” as excitedly shared in rich detail by George and Ringo — George presents the new song to Paul, who had just arrived at Twickenham.

“Is that grammatical? Flowing more freely than wine? Flowing much freer?” George asks. “If there were such a word as ‘freer’ is it ‘f-r-e-e-e-r?” George asks. “It’s ‘f-r-e-r’” Michael concludes before Paul chips in, “It’s like ‘queer.’”

It would be more than two hours until the group returned to “I Me Mine” — what they did in the interim will, of course, be the subject of subsequent posts. Once they did return to the song, George addressed John, who wasn’t yet at the studio when the song was first introduced. “Would you like to learn a new one?” George asks. “Very simple,” George assures him.

After John clowns around through a couple abbreviated spins through the song, he mockingly suggests he play the barrel organ, while George had more seriously considered adding an acoustic bass. “Want the accordion?” Paul asks George, who’s open to that sincere suggestion. “If it’s not here, then just fuck it.” Alas, Paul’s accordion — he did have one, you know — wasn’t at Twickenham. What John would really like is an electric piano setup, but that too isn’t yet available. One thing they do have is some working effects, and an upbeat John has plenty of fun with the echo.

“Are you going to teach us this?” John asks, and George supplies the band, at last, with chords to “I Me Mine.” Soon enough, however, John doesn’t play at all. Instead, as Strauss intended, he and Yoko waltz on the soundstage as George, Paul and Ringo provide the soundtrack.

imemine

George loves the antics, and doesn’t need the extra musical accompaniment John would offer anyway.

“Do you want to do that on the show?” George asks John. “That’d be great, ‘cause it’s so simple to do, the tune. But to do that waltz, or something, if you want to bag it up a bit.” Laughing, Paul offers a mock show introduction to the song: “John and Yoko would like to waltz in their white bag, And there’s a white bag waltzing around. They were doing things inside it.

“We should do it like an escapoligists thing. You can see they’re not tied at all. There’s nothing up their sleeves. And we put the bag over them.”

Excitedly, George thinks about playing up the character of the song itself, too. “Castanets on that bit,” he suggests for the flamenco part. Through the entirety of the song’s development and rehearsal, the Beatles are animated, embracing the fun of a song outside their normal sound, and thinking visually for the show. Excepting some of Paul’s offbeat ideas for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” it’s one of the rare times on the tapes the band actively discusses a performance of a song and explicitly how it could be staged.

“Are you sure that’s grammatic?” George asks once more. “Flowing more freely?” Michael assures him it’s fine.

As rehearsals continue and the group works out the transition from the verses into the flamenco bit, Paul finds a bit of inspiration, recalling “Domino,” a hit for Tony Martin nearly two decades earlier, and covered by the likes of Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Andy Williams (whose cover Paul seems to evoke most) in the years since.

While the group worked out the newest Harrisong, the conversation twisted to George’s very first composition, “Don’t Bother Me,” which surfaced on With The Beatles in 1963.

You know I was in bed, at Bourenmouth, we were on a summer season. And the doctor gave me some tonic, which must have had amphetamine or something in it. And the rest of you all just drank it to get high. And that’s when I wrote that one.

John and Yoko apparently continued to dance with enough frequency that Paul called them out on it. “You’ll spoil the spontaneity of the dance when you actually have to do it,” he said. Paul, along with George, offered dance instructions to the pair as the song sharpened quickly. Soon enough the production gained Lindsay-Hogg’s attention, as he must have missed several of the rehearsals as the day progressed.

“That’s great,” MLH says, apparently seeing the dance for the first time and being told it was for the show. “Its beautiful. The whole thing should be very Brechtian. … [The show] should be called ‘January 20, 1969,’ and that every song has a character. Like that’s the character of that one.” The conversation continues about the “very theatrical” live show. But that’s a story for another blog post.

imemine-clip

The Threetles rehearse “I Me Mine.” From the Let It Be film.

Returning to the song, Paul plays the role of fixer again, like he did with “Don’t Let Me Down” days before, as George troubleshoots the transition from the verses into the flamenco break. “That sounds like it would be a good rock bit, it gets out of the idea of the waltz.” The next take on tape (there’s a cut but it doesn’t sounds as if much time had passed) has Paul and George hashing out a chorus that starts as “my my my” to a 12-bar blues progression.

“Just do it like a beep-beep harmony,” Paul says before singing “my my my” in a high register, as he sang “beep beep, beep beep, yeah!” in “Drive My Car” less than four years earlier. This chorus then fell into the flamenco break.

We’re left with another tape cut, but here it is clear a little bit of time has elapsed. The 12-bar progression remains, but now “my my, me me, mine” is sung over it. In a few minutes that would evolve into the “I I, me me, mine” that was later immortalized on wax, but not first without a little bit of push and pull between Paul and George.

Paul: “My my” is good to sing. It’s like “mm-mah, mm-mah.”

“I, I” is not … as easy to do. … It’s like “nn-night” is easy to sing. “Rr-right.” The “mm-mah” is easy … It’s like “my, my, my” is easy to shout.”

While he says Paul can sing what he wants, George’s mind is made up and he continues to sing “I I, me me, mine.” It stuck, and Paul subsequently sang George’s suggestion for the day’s final few attempts (and, of course, on the eventual release).

The final stab at the song for the day, a complete take, is what appeared in the film. For the final hour on the tapes, the band moved onto “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” before wrapping the day with a lengthy discussion about the live show.

By way of comparison of other songs the group had been working on these first few days, the writing/rehearsal sessions for “I Me Mine” were painless. The development and improvement of the song was linear, resulting in a final run through that may not have been release-ready — nothing at Twickenham was nor was intended to be — but was a sharp, concise (clocking in at under two minutes), complete song that was a reasonable contender for the live show. At that point, with the performance looming in 11 days, that’s all they needed. “Bits” were generally worked out, and there was even a visual to add to the live production.

And about that visual: John and Yoko’s dance. It’s entirely feasible and reasonable to say their waltz, however cheeky and contrived it was, is the reason “I Me Mine” exists at all, at least in the Beatles’ catalog. To explain, we must look beyond January 8, 1969. Well past.

The Beatles didn’t attempt “I Me Mine” during the balance of the January 1969 sessions. This was it; the song’s introduction and development on January 8 marked the entirety of the Beatles’ work on the song during the Get Back sessions. George demoed three songs seven weeks later on his birthday, but “I Me Mine” wasn’t among them (instead, he recorded “Something,” “All Things Must Pass” and “Old Brown Shoe,” versions of which appeared on Anthology 3). If the Beatles ever considered “I Me Mine” for Abbey Road, evidence is lacking.

The song’s sound and words were born of TV and LSD. But the reason “I Me Mine” exists at all as a song by the Beatles is because of the dance.

rockband

You can play “I Me Mine” on the Savile Row rooftop in Rock Band: Beatles, but George himself never played the song live in either his 1974 or 1991 tours.

When John and Yoko waltzed to “I Me Mine,” the underdeveloped show idea finally had a specific visual Michael Lindsay-Hogg could attach to a song. Yet, in less than two days’ time, George quit the group, and upon his return, he made clear he didn’t want to perform any of his songs live (although he did bring several more new songs to the studio to work on). But for the purposes of the Let It Be film, the job was done. The waltz ensured a place for “I Me Mine” in the movie, and thus, required the song a place on the soundtrack. Thing is, there was never a proper recording done of the song at Twickenham, and there wasn’t suitable recording equipment there anyway. In every prior iteration of a potential Get Back/Let It Be album, as compiled by Glyn Johns, “I Me Mine” was left off, since it hadn’t otherwise been a consideration for the LP. The movie changed that.

Once the song was earmarked for the film and thus the album, the Threetles made their debut. On January 3 and 4, 1970 — almost a year to the day after George wrote the song and brought it to Twickenham — George, Paul and Ringo spent one last session together at Abbey Road, recording “I Me Mine.” John was on holiday in Denmark, but that almost didn’t matter: He had already privately quit the band more than two months earlier. As George remarked, “Dave Dee is no longer with us” as they went ahead, for one last time, to “carry on the good work that’s gone down in [Studio] No. 2.”

You can find this on Anthology 3.

Phil Spector took the recording, embellished it, doubled its length and tacked it onto Let It Be as the Beatles formally expired as a group. Like John’s “Across the Universe,” the song it follows on Let It Be and precedes on Let It Be … Naked, “I Me Mine” in its final form is not a product of 1969. It’s worth noting, too, that George turned around “I Me Mine” in a relatively complete form in less than 24 hours. John dragged out a nearly year-old “Across The Universe” and still couldn’t make it workable for the show.

The same three men who laid down “I Me Mine”  — George, Paul and Ringo — returned to the studio together 24 years later to record John’s “Free as a Bird.” Paul convinced himself it was OK to record a new Beatles song without John.

“I invented a little scenario,” Paul said of recording the group’s first song since “I Me Mine.”

“[John’s] gone away on holiday.”

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 7: Et cetera

Every day at Twickenham was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day the Beatles recorded together was pivotal, if not necessarily drama-filled, right?

January 7 was a particular special day. Dramatic. Pivotal. The group talked in circles about the live show and their reasons for even remaining together. Paul bestowed us with a chunk of the Abbey Road medley as well as “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back.” George triedbut didn’t — quit (yet).  John worked “Across The Universe” back into the Beatles’ plans. The band very possibly invented the mashup.

Things were so interesting that we covered just about all of it in prior the prior January 7 posts. But not everything. Here are a few other significant moments that happened this day that otherwise didn’t fit into the day’s storyline:

Following their attempts to resurrect “Across the Universe,” the group spends less than 10 minutes (on tape) on “One After 909,” and they didn’t need to spend another minute more on it. It’s clear they know the song perfectly well, and the need to develop “bits” that tortured the group elsewhere was absent. After the very first run-through, imperfect but still tight given the sub-100 percent effort, Paul remarks, “That’s all we need to know of that one.” Really,  he said it all. “It’s very simple, and we shouldn’t over-rehearse.”

Billy’s missing, but every other element from the song as we know it now sounds like it’s there, from George’s whiny guitar line and solo to Paul’s and John’s vocal and Ringo’s tight beat. The song is show-ready, even in this early rehearsal.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is rehearsed again — it would be tackled every day the band was at Twickenham until George’s departure, and then again most days at Apple when they reconvened. One particular sequence sees the band return to another song, which like “One After 909,” they originally recorded in 1963. But “Devil In Her Heart” wasn’t a contender for the live show. George’s playing on “Don’t Let Me Down” was merely evocative of the Donays song later covered by the Beatles to great effect. (Skip forward to here for the transition or listen below for the entire sequence.)

I think this is less a half-hearted attempt than the group genuinely doesn’t remember how to play that song anymore. Regardless, it was merely a blip, albeit a somewhat interesting one, in the sessions.

Unlike other days, the group didn’t pay significant time to sincerely playing covers. We get to hear a loose take of Little Richard’s “Lucille” for the second and final time on the tapes (January 3 was the previous performance). That was preceded by a rehash of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” that got better as the band played, although admittedly they kicked it off from an weak position and ended up in a slightly less-so place. There’s little question the group sounds like it’s having fun playing songs they all know, even if they’re not executing well.



John also dipped into the group’s more recent catalog, plunking a few notes of “Revolution” in a sequence that soon saw him lead the group into Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula,” a song with extensive Beatle ties. It was the first record Paul ever bought, a song John played going back to the Quarrymen days and it was played live extensively in the Beatles’ early days. Ultimately, John would record it on “Rock & Roll” more than five years after these sessions, while Paul opened his landmark Unplugged appearance with the song in 1991. The song was always with George: He scrawled “Bebobalula.” on his colorful Stratocaster, Rocky.

The tapes of the day’s sessions would end with the group in the midst of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” rehearsals. As you can hear, there was no significant work done to the song since its debut the day before.

And that wraps up our coverage of January 7, 1969. Back “tomorrow,” for coverage a compelling January 8, 1969. We’ll start things off with “I Me Mine.”

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 7: Tumble blindly

As far as pitches go, it’s pretty lukewarm.

“I think it’s a waste just banishing it,” John says. “I’d sooner stick it in here.”

It is “Across the Universe” and here is the live show the Beatles were rehearsing for at Twickenham in January 1969. Decades later an established favorite in the Beatles canon, “Across the Universe” was merely an unsatisfactory recording in author John Lennon’s opinion, one that remained in the can for 11 months as of this date. But the song had definite resonance with John.

From his interview with Rolling Stone in 1970:

It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.

The song’s origin dated to 1967, when he was still married to Cynthia. From his interview with Playboy in 1980:

I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right? …

Recorded in the same February 1968 sessions that yielded “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” and “Hey Bulldog,” “Across the Universe” was initially John’s pick for a single release while the Beatles were in India the subsequent month. But unhappy with the recording, John withdrew the song for single consideration. “[N]obody was interested in doing it originally, everyone was sickened,” John said in 1980. “The tune was good, but subliminally, people don’t want to work with it sometimes.” John called the bad recording an example of “subconscious sabotage” by Paul.

Meanwhile, Paul’s “Lady Madonna” won the honor  for the single, and John “banished” the song by offering “Across the Universe” to Goons alum Spike Milligan for a charity album he was compiling to benefit the World Wildlife Fund. That part of the story comes later.

An early take of the song eventually surfaced on Anthology 2 in 1996 while another take from that same session was ultimately used as the basis for the Let It Be version before being reworked again for Let it Be … Naked.

That part of the story comes later, too.

Between February 1968 and January 1969, the Beatles had issued a 30-song LP (the White Album), two singles (“Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude“) and their Christmas album, and 10 days after this January 7, 1969, session the Yellow Submarine soundtrack would come out. But none of those releases featured “Across the Universe,” a fully recorded and mixed track.  The Beatles weren’t attempting to lay down tracks for an album at Twickenham, and this early they conceded any eventual yield from these sessions that ended up on vinyl would be a bonus.

It’s under these circumstances John thinks the time is right for a reintroduction of “Across the Universe,” on the heels of a hefty dose of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s also a window into the relatively exhausted state of John’s songwriting at this point after his explosive contributions to the White Album. Paul is writing on the spot at the sound stage and George is bringing in songs he developed the night before. John is left offering a year-old song that was already recorded as a contribution to the show, a “Cynthia” song —  presumably his last — brought forward in time to Generation Yoko. And on top of that …

It’s “another slow one,” too.  “I know that we’ll knock off a couple of fast ones,” John bemoans. “If I just wasn’t so tired when I got in …”

George expresses that it’s OK to have another slow song, and we hear a snippet of the tune to be later known as “Gimme Some Truth” for the second time these sessions. “That’s another one,” John says. “It’s a pity they’re all so similar because it would have been nice, that ‘Hypocrites’ one.

“What’s the first line?” John asks as the group begins work on “Across the Universe.”

He gave the song a pair of run-throughs just the day before, and did in fact get the opening right but not much else.  On January 7, the words were not at all flowing, like a paper cup or much of anything else, as he limps through a lackluster initial take. Once a set of lyrics finally arrived from the office, John baffled even himself with his poetry.

“Tumble blindly?” he asks with incredulity.

With lyrics in hand, work begins anew on the arrangement.

John: When we were doing it last time, we did it all right in the end.  The thing I don’t lke about the version we did, is we didn’t dig it the time we did it. All that tamboura was great.

George: I liked those girls singing as well, which you didn’t like. The whole record is great, really. It’s just another idea, another way of doing it.

John: I haven’t heard it in along time.

After John responds to Paul’s question on the status of the World Wildlife Fund LP for the second time in as many days (“they haven’t gotten it together yet”), the tape cuts before dumping us mid-rehearsal as the group continues work on the song. Pacing is an early issue, and John asks Ringo if he can remember his part from the recording. To George, the slower pace, compared to the recording, fits the song’s mood. “It couldn’t be any other way,” John replies. “I couldn’t get the words out. There’s no breath.”

The drone — played on the tamboura for the 1968 recording — was something John liked very much, and how to include that here was debated with an organ making an appearance. John briefly accompanied himself on the instrument before abandoning it, saying that playing along was “too hard.”

In the near 40 minutes on and off focused on “Across the Universe” rehearsals on the tapes, there were brief moments where the band sounded tight and the group’s harmonies clicked, but takes usually crumbled. John gave George, who was employing heavy wah-wah, carte blanche with the song’s introduction. “Whatever you’d like, you’re on your own there.”

The rare song brought to the Get Back sessions complete and — like “One After 909” (which would be be played between “Across the Universe” takes) — recorded previously as well, “Across The Universe” was a venue for the group to play out a bit of their frustrations and feeling of being trapped in their own group dynamic and in these sessions. It’s not just in the clip below, but throughout the day’s takes, the song is performed lethargically, but it’s plausible to think Paul and John believe it when they sing “nothing’s gonna change my world” so strongly together. Just a few hours earlier they backed off the brink of breakup, perhaps they were resigning themselves that the world they were in really wasn’t going to change. One take, in response to his own chorus conceding nothing was gonna change his world, John says as an aside, “I wish it fucking would.”

Nothing was gonna change that song, either — John made no attempt to solicit or attempt any significant tweaks to the song, keeping the original lyrics, structure and melodies intact. Paul applied a few spontaneous harmonies, although it was unclear if it was something that would have remained if the song advanced further in the sessions.

There are several excursions from “Across the Universe” including a second abbreviated attempt at what John seemed to consider an unfinished companion song in “Gimme Some Truth.” While John suggested writing more, the group merely played the minute or so of the song it knew and moved on.

“That’s just as exciting as the other one,” John says sarcastically as the band finishes playing a bit of the song. This would mark the end of “Gimme Some Truth” as a Beatles song as John left it in an aborted state. It would not be rehearsed again these sessions on the tapes, or presumably in any other Beatles session in 1969. George would ultimately play guitar for John when the song surfaced on Imagine in 1971 in a version as dynamic as the Beatles version was listless.

About 45 minutes after the final attempt at “Across the Universe” and several attempts of “Don’t Let Me Down” came one of the more surreal moments of the Beatles’ time at Twickenham captured on the Nagra reels. With the work day nearly complete, the group finally got to hear a copy of the original recording of “Across the Universe,” as requested by John as the song’s rehearsals began. For about 3 1/2 minutes, we listen to the band listen to themselves on record, the entirety of the World Wildlife Fund version of the song that would be released more than 11 months later, in December 1969.

universe1b

Of note, is that the sound effects were already in place on what was a freshly cut acetate. According to the liner notes accompanying the 2009 The Beatles in Mono box set, the sounds were added in January 1969, which means it was completed within the previous 144 hours. So its feasible this was the first time the group was hearing that addition, and George was vocal about his displeasure. “I don’t like that flapping,” the Beatle says of the bird. “It takes too long before it does it” (presumably meaning the song starts).  It’s difficult to hear much other discussion — although there clearly is some, along with mild attempts by the group to play along.

A sequence in the Let it Be film lasting less than a minute and 45 seconds, spliced in immediately following the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” line captures a taste of the January 7 “Across the Universe” session. The song would be rehearsed, briefly, once more two days later before being shelved completely, falling out of consideration for the live show.

The song’s association with Let It Be — the album and the film — is really a complete anachronism, but certainly not without reason.  The group spent about an hour (on the tapes) working on “Across the Universe” during the Get Back sessions, half of that on January 7 with the balance January 6 and 9. None of those takes have been formally released on record, with the only official glimpse the brief segment in the film. The song made its way onto at least one of Glyn Johns’ compilations for the aborted Get Back LP and ultimately found its way onto Phil Spector’s final Let It Be, in a production beloved by John. The anachronism carried even further onto Let It Be … Naked, which intended to reissue the original record and thus sessions in an unvarnished fashion, yet it still included a mix of the 1968 version of “Across the Universe.”

Because it was in the film and as of early 1970 was a finished Beatles product but not yet surfaced on a Beatles release, there was a perfect excuse for “Across the Universe” to make the soundtrack. To repeat John from January 7, 1969: “I think it’s a waste just banishing it. I’d sooner stick it in here.”

The group spent considerably more time on songs like “All Things Must Pass” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” during the Get Back sessions. But with the former not in the film and earmarked as a George solo song, and the latter already released on Abbey Road by the time the film was released, “Across the Universe” by comparison didn’t not make sense as an option for the Let It Be LP. This, even though it was a song that featured a master track from 1968 and strings and production from 1970. In 1969, a bird made music on “Across the Universe,” but not a Beatle.

The record as produced by Spector featured 12 songs, 11 from the January 1969 sessions. The 12th — “Across the Universe” — fell under the Let It Be banner to save it from eternal banishment.

6 Comments

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Time to leave the capsule

Today, Jan. 8, marks David Bowie’s birthday. We’ve noted Bowie’s birthday here before, purely as an afterthought in conjunction with the fact it’s also Elvis Presley’s birthday. But we focused on Elvis last time, and today’s it’s Bowie’s turn.

Life on Mars and Venus

Life on Mars and Venus

Bowie wrote and recorded with, covered and befriended John, performed with Paul, covered George and has at least hung out with Ringo (were we all so blessed).

From last year’s Bowie: The Biography (which I only skimmed, but my wife thought was pretty trashy):

According to Tony Visconti, David’s friendship with John developed to such a degree that the three of them often spent a night on the town together. “We stayed up with John Lennon until 10:30 a.m. We did mountains of cocaine, it looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac,” Tony recalled. … John and David bonded over drugs, music, and a shared quirky British sense of humor.

In addition to having crossed paths to varying degrees with each of the members of the band, Bowie was deeply influenced and inspired by The Beatles, and when you try hard enough, you can hear it throughout his extensive catalog. Additionally, Ken Scott was a shared link in the studio, engineering Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album while engineering and/or producing Bowie from 1969-1973. (Visconti worked with John and Paul, too, after he first worked with Bowie)

Los Angeles, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

New York, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

But one thing Bowie did not do was have anything to do with The Beatles as a unit. His star only rose as The Beatles’ was burning out.  The Beatles closed the 1960s after defining its sound just as Bowie prepared to do the same for the ’70s. As Bowie eventually put it, when referring to his friendship with Lennon: “Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.”

After a lifetime of enjoying rock music, it somehow took until my 40th year to fully immerse myself into Bowie’s music. This is not to say I wasn’t a fan, or didn’t enjoy various releases over the years. But in 2014 I really became a superfan, getting completely absorbed into his music. Part of that immersion was to visit the truly incredible David Bowie Is exhibition that recently closed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Comprehensive and engrossing, I was blissfully overwhelmed.

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

Among the artifacts near the beginning of the exhibit was a newspaper: the Times of London showing the Earthrise, the iconic image from Apollo 8 that shows, well, the earth rising as viewed from the moon. The photo was taken Dec. 24, 1968, but was published in a special insert in the Times on Jan. 6, 1969. According to the exhibit, after seeing the paper, Bowie had “Space Oddity” written within a week.

Especially when you place yourself into that era, it’s a moving image, the blue earth rising above the moon, but that’s not what jumped out at me. And if you happened to be at the MCA that morning in mid-November and heard someone muttering, “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” and wondered who it was, that would be me.

Because on Jan. 6, 1969, David Bowie was inspired to begin writing “Space Oddity” at the precise moment The Beatles were bickering over how to rehearse “Two of Us” just miles away at Twickenham.

The Nagra tapes didn’t roll 24/7 in the lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo from Jan. 2-31, so we certainly can’t say the Apollo mission — or any other particular news event — did or didn’t inspire or influence the band. The group touched on politics, immigration in particular, in outtakes like the “No Pakistanis” version of “Get Back” and “Commonwealth” at various points during the Get Back sessions (writeups to come!), and it’s not as if The Beatles didn’t have a history of being social commentators.

But I found it illustrative with regards to where these different acts were at this very specific moment in time — Jan. 6, 1969 — that David Bowie was able to find a muse that would launch him into stardom for the first time just as The Beatles found themselves trapped –Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing The Beatles could do. Between the time Bowie started writing “Space Oddity” on Jan. 6 and finished it on the 13th, George would suggest the band “have a divorce” after an open discussion recounting how bad things have been for a year (Jan. 7), and then he’d end up quitting (Jan. 10). The Twickenham sessions ended Jan. 14.

George on David Bowie, 1974

I certainly won’t argue The Beatles were out of ideas in January 1969; This entire blog is predicated on the idea the group remained vibrant and vital during the Get Back sessions. But it’s obvious any success they had was despite themselves. The songs they wrote or worked on this month were works of art, to varying degrees, but it was often tantamount to climbing up the hill backwards, as Bowie would put it, to get anything done. We’d have lost Abbey Road and Let It Be (although you’d assume many of the songs would later resurface on solo records) but an argument can be made John and George, at least, would have been happier people had The Beatles ceased to exist sometime in 1968. Is the difference tangible between a band being pulled apart and an artist ready to burst? Oh boy, is it ever.

Used in conjunction with the BBC’s Apollo 11 moon landing coverage in July 1969, “Space Oddity” made a name of Bowie just as The Beatles were in the thick of recording Abbey Road. (About 12 hours after man first walked on the moon, The Beatles began recording “Come Together”). By the time Bowie’s eponymous LP featuring “Space Oddity” was released that November, The Beatles were effectively finished. Five years (what a surprise) later, after meeting John at a party, the Starman ultimately entered the orbit of The Beatles.

2 Comments

Filed under Extra

Jan. 7: Bangers and mashups

OK, stick with me here.

Nearly 46 years ago, somewhere between lunch and the resumption of the day’s writing session-cum-rehearsals for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” it sure sounds like Paul McCartney may just have invented the mashup, or at least a rough approximation.

Really!

This is not a medley, sampling, sound collage or musique concrete a la “Revolution No. 9” and others before it. This is turn-of-the-21st century-style mashup: Think The Grey Album, Girl Talk or the Beatles’ own Love with elements of two or more songs layered on top of each other.  The kind of stuff Paul got roped into a few years back before an audience, he and George performed live to tape decades earlier in a little bit of completely obscure history.

(The uploader’s caption is wrong as it’s obviously Paul reciting the lyrics, but it’s the right clip).

That would be 1967’s “When I’m 64” (written a decade earlier as one of Paul’s first songs and described here by Paul as the “beautiful geriatric Beatles song”) sung atop “Speak to Me,” which would ultimately lead off Jackie Lomax’s debut album, as produced by George and released two months later.  We already heard George play a more proper version of “Speak to Me” to John a few days earlier.

As Paul’s “When I’m 64” vocals eventually drop out – and his mouth clicks chime in – we go from a forgotten moment of debatable history to one that would have a lasting impact on wax: the debut of Maxwell’s actual Silver Hammer, the anvil, as ordered before lunch.

The band comfortably eases out of “Speak to Me” with a fun and increasingly polished run through of “Oh! Darling” – polished for this point in the sessions, for sure –  the second time they played the song in a few hours, and with John having rejoined the group back on guitar. The song is essentially complete and by all accounts should have been by now part of the core considered for the live show at this early stage. It doesn’t get any further attention this afternoon as Paul immediately returns to “Maxwell’s” for the better part of another hour. This initial launch into the song is captured in the Let it Be film, spliced in from the point where Mal strikes the anvil.  It’s a truncated slice of the song, and in the film we end up getting thrust into the Shockrick Shocks incident, which actually occurred four days earlier.

Paul doesn’t introduce any new wrinkles yet in this first go-round after lunch. He’s pleased, though. “It’s catchy enough, then,” he says after the first full take. He soon boasts of the dramatis personæ and vibe of the song, “It’s so cartoon … such caricatures.”

Paul remains a delightful caricature of himself, remaining fixated on the whistles that color the song throughout. “We want a mic for John and George on this ’cause the whistle on this,” is Paul’s first and primary direction to the crew. George’s initial concern in the early going of the post-lunch session is getting the song’s timing and cues down, especially for the sake of Mal, who wielded the hammer. Not that George didn’t try to give his drummer an additional bit of work.

“I’m sorry, George, the hammer’s too heavy for me,” Ringo says to laughter.  As it turned out, Ringo would end up carrying that weight after all, striking the anvil in July, when the group properly recorded “Maxwell’s” for Abbey Road.

By Paul’s thinking, the roadie was the man for the job.

Mal’s more like Maxwell, anyway. … He should be very scholarly. Very straight, in a striped tie and a blazer, sort of. Big chrome hammer. That’s how I see him anyway. [He’s] Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, in fact.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison, medical student, as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Sparked by a question from George about the repeated of “bang, bang” in the chorus, Paul runs through the song structure again with the usual caveat: “I haven’t written the last bit.”

That’s fine with George, who thinks he knows how the song goes. “I just know it in my head, rather than the words, because the words are not in the right order anyway.”

Loose as he can be, Paul repeats the song structure: “It’s like two verses (scatting and singing) Bang, bang. … Clang, clang. … Whistle. … That’s nice fellas.”

As work continues, George shows a bit of concern with his own instrumentation.

George: To the man that’s producing me, whenever I play bass, because I don’t know anything about it, I don’t know what the sound is. I just plug it in and play it. So if somebody knows how to get the sound or record it. I mean Glyn’ll have to do that if he’s around. So you can mention that to him.

That’s some pretty self-deprecating talk from George, but he really has few bass credits under his belt to this point.

Straight out of the Small Faces’ playbook, John ad libs a narrative introduction to the song, laying out Maxwell Edison’s origin story, with Paul picking up in the middle.

John: Let me tell you the story about Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. He got it from F.D. Cohen, the pawnbroker from Bayswater.

Paul: Maxwell was a young boy just like any other boy, and he might’ve lived a life like any other young boy’s life had it not been for some certain unforeseen circumstances.

And … whistle!

Given that the band spent more than an hour on the song of about five hours of recorded tapes this day, it’s no surprise it was a very early contender for the live act. So much so, George began offering up suggestions on how to stage it, beyond costuming for the band and Mal. There’s a practical side to his suggestions, too.

George: I think we can do it with lots of people singing the chorus, ‘Bang, bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’ but it’s very difficult for me to whistle and sing and keep in sync. … It should be like the end of [Hey] Jude.

John:  ‘You all know it, join in, gang, because we don’t know it.’

George: We could just project it up, have the chorus projected up there.

We’re not sure what Paul thinks of that idea, since there’s whistling to be done, and no joke whistling, please.  “Really, do it like it’s straight,” he says, telling George how the notes of the chorus solo goes. That’s a whistle solo, not a guitar solo, mind you.  Paul does work on improving the song, spending a few minutes crafting a harmony based on a short, partial climb up a scale “with jumps on the hammer,” in his words. It’s pretty and adds to the carnival-like atmosphere the song has to this point.

For the final takes of the day of the song, the rest of the group still doesn’t have the song’s structure completely down, and Paul resorts to vocal cues to alert when the whistling solos come. John asks Paul to shout out “blow it, boys” at the appropriate time. Paul can’t help but repeat his helpful reminder: “It should be very straight, the whistling.”  He really does keep saying this, to a near obsessive state, and at no point is he kidding about it.

The “Maxwell’s” rehearsals for the day end with a final, full run through. The song’s basic elements are there: new harmonies, whistle solos, the anvil and a full strong structure. What it lacks is a complete set of lyrics, but Paul isn’t sweating it, concluding with a simple, “OK, that’s Maxwell’s.”

While the song did progress with the work on Jan. 7, there was a noticeable missed opportunity shortly after lunch as a lead-in to the mashup sequence. For a few brief moments as the group warms up, a sloppy yet sincere take of “Maxwell’s” features Ringo on vocals, and it sounded like the perfect fit. Paul’s song eventually drove the other three Beatles to fury; giving Ringo an extended vocal role could have changed a little corner of Beatles history.

As the sessions continue, John takes the reins for the next song, one that not only has its lyrics set, but the instrumentation as well.

“Should we do ‘Across the Universe?’ We almost know that, don’t we?”

7 Comments

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: White anniversary

On Nov. 22, 1968, The Beatles graced us with The Beatles, ie., the White Album. It’s as brilliant on a listen today as I’m sure it was then. Yet, less than six weeks after it hit stores, John, Paul, George and Ringo were at Twickenham writing and rehearsing songs that would eventually populate Let It Be, Abbey Road, All Things Must Pass, McCartney and sporadically on other releases.

whitealbumThe Get Back sessions story – what we’re telling here via the Nagra reels — can’t be told completely without the context and seen through, in part, the lens of the rocky White Album sessions. Ringo left the band three months into recording The Beatles. It took only eight days for George to flee the group at Twickenham. Just listen to the group’s own words on Jan. 7, 1969.

Paul: The past couple of months, it’s been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.

George: The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year.

Perhaps to snap out of those doldrums, the group flirted with the idea of a live show to promote the White Album into the new year – ie., 1969 – but that idea soon fizzled. That flirtation and subsequent search for a live show scenario, however, was a prevalent theme all January 1969 long with the rooftop show the ultimate answer.

Of course, another important connection linking the White Album and the Get Back sessions are the songs. And not just wacky takes like this:

Or this:

The Get Back sessions continued the White Album’s larger focus on playing together as a band (further distancing themselves from Sgt. Pepper) and ostensibly served as a writing lab and demo venue for Abbey Road, the clear bridge between the two records. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Something” both dated to 1968, while “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” were rehearsed in the White Album demo session at Kinfauns. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (and “Everybody Had a Hard Year”) and “Don’t Let Me Down” similarly dated to 1968.

So while proximity (1968 vs. 1970 releases) and the ultimate productions do a lot to blur some of the relations between the White Album and Let It Be (via the Get Back sessions), the anniversary of The Beatles’ release offers as good an opportunity as any to briefly mark those ties.

To celebrate, here’s “Revolution,” filmed at Twickenham nearly four months to the day before the band returned to the same soundstage to begin the Get Back sessions.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Extra