Jan. 10: Knew it wouldn’t last

If I needed someone, George Harrison vs. Eric Clapton edition. (Insert Pattie Boyd joke here)

“You need Eric Clapton.”

“No, you need George Harrison.”

As the Beatles worked on the days-old “Get Back,” it was Harrison himself who suggested they call on his friend, the erstwhile Cream sharpshooter, to add an extra line or a solo to the quickly developing song.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney disagreed, trying to prop up George’s confidence and desire — and offer a specific instruction, too, as the band continued work after Dick James departed Twickenham on January 10, 1969.

With George the next to leave the venue and indeed the group, the exchange reads as a tidy — albeit exaggerated and deceptive — emblematic microcosm of the present situation. George was itching to leave, but maybe the rest of the band didn’t know it. Maybe George wasn’t certain just yet either.

The full group worked on “Get Back” and “Two of Us” that Friday, and both songs received a bit of tough love, mainly from its songwriter. But Paul pushed the others, too.

A deep, ongoing concern for Paul was George’s power chord that immediately followed the phrase “Get Back,” a chord he called “passe” in an earlier exchange with session arranger Glyn Johns.

“That suggests something to be, this chord,” Paul said. “We should try to get away from that,” as Paul subsequently refers to the chord as “passe” again, this time directly to George.

Paul: It was a couple of years ago.

George: No it wasn’t, it’s just a chord. … Some chords fit things.

Paul: Chords, like fashions and stuff. But it’s like drainies (drainpipe trousers).

George: Some drainies suit different occasions.

He eventually shrugged off the cross-talk, and the group continued to attack “Get Back,” with George searching for a power chord more in line with the latest trouser fashion.

“For the three of us, that’s good enough for the rock-and-roll thing,” Paul said just prior to George bringing up Clapton as a supplement to the song.

“Just doing simple things until it’s your go,” Paul told George. “Because otherwise you get the guitar conflicting with what you’re singing and all that. And then I’m trying to sing louder to get over the guitar. If you (George) vamp, then it takes away from his (John’s) vamping. It’s like the big, soft, lead guitarist, who just stands there and …”

Little, soft, lead guitarist” interrupted George — who at 5-foot-10 stood the same height as Clapton (who would famously be called on again soon, but that’s for another post).

“No, the big one in our head, who just sort of goes [Paul played straight, staccato power chords]. You can either do that soft or good. I really think it’ll happen better if we’re just keeping it going. A clipped offbeat. ‘She’s a Woman.’ That was just a better rhythm than we have. And ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on the organ.”

Facing this tall order, the group moved into other facets of “Get Back,” including Ringo’s drum pattern, the vocal combinations, guitar solos — including a proposal for both John and George to each have one — and the lyrical content. While “Pakistanis” and “Puerto Ricans” tracked well enough to remain useful to Paul (“Meanwhile back at home there’s 20 Pakistanis living in a council flat”), he didn’t try to further deepen the political discourse.  Instead characters like Sweet Loretta Martin and Jojo Jackson were introduced, and while the latter eventually lost the surname, both survived to the rooftop and into posterity.

“It fits — it’s a drag queen. ‘Get back to where you once belonged,’ Paul said.

John chipped in another line that mostly stuck: “But he knew it wouldn’t last.” Paul added the companion rhyme “California grass” although he conceded, “It’s daft, but we’ll straighten it out later.” (He didn’t).

While John and Paul actively hashed out the lyrics as a team, George was uninvolved and clearly disinterested in collaborating beyond defending his guitar parts (and later, making suggestions on a drum pattern to Ringo). Still, there was serious momentum toward building “Get Back,” and John was clearly into the song throughout, delivering a ripping vocal on several takes, at times singing the verses and chorus in unison with Paul or even solo.

Repeated stabs offered positive results, including funky takes featuring a groovy wah-wah solo by George. The song was fast and electric, and a strong example of the Twickenham sessions at their best, genuinely spirited.  

And while John was eager to deepen the arrangement, Paul again tempered the organic enthusiasm. “We still haven’t gotten one straight through yet.” If it wasn’t the guitar part in the chorus, it was the guitar in the verses that nagged him.

Paul also worked to manage a since-discarded introduction that featured the three guitarists playing a “big, long, clear chord” while Ringo was asked to work out an extended arrangement on tom toms, squeezing in as long an introduction as feasible.

“What are you trying to do, jazz?” John laughingly asked Ringo, who’d again be be on the end of a tongue-in-cheek jab when Paul called him “Dave Clark” after a particularly mundane drum part. (It was a running joke, too: John likewise invoked Clark months later during the recording of “Polythene Pam.”)

Despite the work, the mood at the moment was light. The melody line of “Get Back” reminded John of the old Perry Como hit “Catch a Falling Star,” prompting some giggles followed by a verse of that song.  An even more unlikely reference came moments earlier, when — in referencing “Long Tall Sally” — Paul broke into the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon, with Ringo joining in.

As the Beatles wrapped this early-day stab at “Get Back,” the song settled into a defined structure, really starting to resemble the song Paul still trots out in concert a half-century later.

With the group ready to shift to “Two of Us,” John took note of the overall pace of the sessions at Twickenham.

“We’ve never learned this many numbers at once, have we?”

The pace of new material strained John’s attention span. That’s not a surprise. But in the hours before George left the band on January 10, 1969, the message from Paul to the lead guitarist was clear: You need to keep up, too. It wasn’t about handling the quantity of songs, which was John’s problem. It was about keeping up with the quality.

George’s chord selection was “passe.” It was of “a couple years ago.”  George may have been matching Paul in productivity, consistently delivering new songs to the sessions, lapping John’s contributions. But he sill was very much the junior partner in this first month of the band’s final full year.

When George suggested the group bring in Clapton, it wasn’t a genuine dismissal of his own talents. It came from a clear weariness, an exhaustion. How could George not feel completely weary for the position he was put in by Paul, who was quick to call his own lyrics “daft” yet also describe George’s playing as “passe”?

And that only described the most recent hour. Only 72 hours before he called for a divorce. Since that moment, things were no more improved in the studio than they were at home.

The Beatles needed George Harrison, but did George Harrison need the Beatles?

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Jan. 10: Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 2

A half-hour or so into the January 10 Nagra tapes, the visiting Dick James finally noticed something unusual at Twickenham.

“Are we interviewing?”

“This is my bug,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg answered. “I carry it with me, always.”

Paul McCartney chimed in: “We’re just constantly on film these days.”

“Oh, I see. Something’s happening,” Dick finally concluded.

He was half-right: Something was happening soon.

George Harrison was the third Beatle to arrive at Twickenham on the 10th, continuing a pattern over the first week of the group’s January 1969 sessions. He was the first to leave a few hours later, and he wouldn’t return to this studio again.

Liberal as the members of the band were to speak their minds — or at least not be transparently cagey — with knowledge of film and tapes rolling (including Michael’s not-so-undercover portable mic), the Beatles had a secret they wanted to discuss, but they never went so far as letting the cat out of the bag or into the bug.

“Did Neil [Aspinall] ring you last night?” Paul asked earlier in the day, with Ringo answering in the negative. “Sad news on the wheeling and dealing scene. … I don’t think he wants to say much.”

Later, on John’s arrival, George goes into slightly further detail on the meeting of the Flocculent Four.

“Neil would like us to have a shave tomorrow” — a Saturday — “only because we’re busy every other day.”

George further discussed the upcoming meeting – spinning it as a positive, in contrast with Paul’s interpretation — without other details beyond the hopes of it happening at 8 or 9 in the morning “so we can have the rest of the day to ourselves. Neil was very excited.”

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

John: Good news?
George: Yes, very. … It’s so good, he just told me briefly what it was. But I’d have to whisper it or write it on a paper and you’d have to swallow it.

Without further detail, George mentions John Eastman by name right as the microphone refocuses on Dick and Paul, clearly suggesting the meeting involved Paul’s future brother-in-law, whose legal counsel the Beatles received at some point in January 1969 regarding NEMS.

****

“Do you think if I paint this brown and put red on top it’ll look like like a cigar?” Michael asked of his spy microphone.

George: You wouldn’t see the red, just the ash.
Ringo: Hide it in one of those film cigars.
MLH: Yes, like Groucho Marx.

Perhaps the inventive director wanted to get his bug in the ear of Apple Electronics’ Magic Alex.

“To change the subject,” Glyn Johns asked as the morning continued, “That phasing device that Alexis [Mardas] has built, have you actually tried it out?” (Glyn  — along with the Beatles — are counted among the pioneers of the technique.)

“He just comes across things as he’s designing,” said George of Alex. “He just designs it and then he says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve done this.’ But he hasn’t actually made it because he’s busy building recording studios.”

Everyone would soon learn “building” was a loose interpretation. More on that when the action shifts to 3 Savile Row.

At Michael’s request, George retold the origin story of Alex’s relationship with the Beatles.

“He met John Dunbar — or John Dunbar met him. Alex asked if he could stay and build a light machine for the Stones tour. So he stayed and did that. … And then he met John, and then he met us. And he’s been there ever since.”

“Is that device he’s going to put out on records going to work?” Michael asked. “Where you can’t tape it? Great idea.”

Home taping is(n’t) killing music. (Source: Ebay)

Ringo agreed with Alex’s primitive, unrealized copy-protection scheme, but said John was against it — why would the Beatles want to stop the kids from getting their hands on music? But John held the minority opinion.

“In America they have those cassette tapes,” George said. “That means its easy if somebody buys one and then rolls off their own 4 million and sell it. Everybody loses out on that because people bought it, and yet some cunts made all the money for doing fuck-all except thieving it.”

The idea of an intrusive “This is an Apple Record” messaging dropped into the record was embraced too. “It’s a good idea,” Michael said, “because if you’re rich enough to buy a tape recorder, you’re rich enough to buy a record, really.”

(He certainly wasn’t wrong, they didn’t come cheap. But if the bootleggers were running off 4 million copies, they were aiming too high — in 1968, the Beatles “only” sold 3.47 million records total in the U.S.)

Conversation quickly shifted from Alex — “We should get all his tricks,” George said — and the record business at large to the immediate business at hand. And it gives a clear picture to George’s state of mind in the hours before he quit the Beatles.

“I’m getting tired … just coming here, I’m bored stiff.” Openly frustrated with the directionless situation and feeling trapped at Twickenham, George asked if the group was still planning on rehearsing the next day, which would be their sixth straight at work.

Michael doubted it — he wanted to get rid of a nagging cough, and anyway, “I think we’ve had quite a good week.” This was, remember, the last day of their first full week for these sessions, and just their seventh day in the studio overall.

At this point, John, who was pretty much always the last to arrive to Twickenham, did just that with Yoko. Again, Michael touts his discreet yet disclosed microphone.

“If anyone says anything interesting, will you remember it?”

“Dick James is a fascist bum,” John replied loudly, though clearly out of earshot of the publisher, who was in the midst of another business-related exchange with an inattentive Paul, touting things like “the consistency of earnings.” Referring to Dick as “pig” moments later, John’s feelings were certainly clear, but he also wasn’t confronting him, this morning anyway.

Whether it was playing for the cameras (and microphones) or just trying to keep the darker side of the business out of the studio, John was upbeat and friendly in chatting directly with Dick.

Step on the gas: The Daily Mirror from January 4, 1969.

Having hyped the “tremendous music book trade” and briefly addressing and then downplaying a published quote from the Daily Mirror from the previous weekend — “Will the Beatles record any of [the songs from the Lawrence Wright collection]? Said Mr. James: ” Now, that’s an interesting thought. … I doubt it, but it would be a gas if they did!”  — the conversation turned as at often did, back to television.

“You likely to be home tomorrow evening, watching television?” Dick asked John. “The Rolf Harris Show, Vera Lynn is on singing ‘Good Night.’

John sounded sincerely charmed his song was getting the prime-time treatment. “Oh, she’s doing that? I thought she did ‘Fool on the Hill’.”

Alas for John, “[‘Good Night’ is the] B-side,” replied Dick. “We put them back to back. … it’s a nice medium waltz. It sounds like “True Love,” that kind of feel, makes it very commercial.  (Because everything in Beatles history ties together, it’s worth nothing seven years after this conversation, George himself recorded “True Love” for his 33 1/3 LP, albeit without the original waltz arrangement.

Another cover, Arthur Conley’s version of “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” — as likely pictured in one of the photos from the Get Back Book that accompanied the Let It Be LP (look for the ATCO label) — drew George’s interest. “That’ll be the big American one? … It’s gone 50 now? Great!”

After fishing for a cigarette, Dick steered the conversation with George to a deep shared interest: cars.

“I would never have a Yankee car, not for this country,” Dick said. “They’re just a bit too big. Nineteen-feet long. ”

“And they’re so … rubbish,” George replied.

In particular, they hated the Cadillac Eldorado.

George: You look at it, and there’s all this plastic.
Dick: A load of bull all over the place.
George: Even the wood in it is like wallpaper.

They could hardly find a redeeming characteristic in American cars. “I can’t stand brakes on American cars,” Dick said, with George likewise bemoaning power brakes. “I nearly killed myself,” Dick said of owning a Buick Skylark.

Ultimately, Dick ended up with a four-door Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

George’s ride at the time was a Mercedes 600, as seen in the Let It Be film.

Not quite the driver and six months away from wrecking his British-made Austin Maxi, John broke to tell Paul, who had finished his piano stint and rejoined the others, the good news: “Vera Lynn’s done ‘Good Night’ and ‘Fool on the Hill.'”

After Dick recapped Lynn’s promotional schedule, Paul was ready to really get to work.

“OK, should we start?”

Dick left the scene having promised Paul to “send some discs down.”

And with that, the group returned to work on what had the potential to be their own next disc and the next batch of Northern Songs.

****

“If you’re listening late at night/You may think the band are not quite right
But they are/They just play it like that”

The second verse of “Only A Northern Song” was written almost two years before the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions; coincidentally, it was released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP 72 hours after the events of this post (in the U.S. — it came out in the U.K. a week later).

The Beatles most definitely were not quite right on January 10, 1969. George Harrison,  John and Paul’s bandmate since 1958, before anyone was a Beatles, would soon the Beatles and there’s nothing right about that. But in a sense, they were quite right, they “just play (it) like that.”

There are multiple reasons George left the Beatles on January 10, but Dick James wasn’t one of them, despite the timing of his visit and the publisher and Northern Songs historically irritating George to the point it inspired a song.  Dick wasn’t a true villain in the Beatles’ story contemporaneously, and he wasn’t a divisive figure to the group until he chose to leave their orbit by selling off Northern Songs to ATV a few months later. To this point relationship may have been deteriorating, but hadn’t in any way collapsed.

Tuesday’s on the phone to Dick James. 1968 at Savile Row.

Status as “a fascist bum” notwithstanding,  Dick — a generally respected elder like George Martin or Brian Epstein — could still talk music-hall numbers with Paul and Ringo, and cars with George. This visit said more about the Beatles themselves than Dick, reinforcing the group’s innate ability to isolate business from pleasure, whether the pleasure was making music amongst themselves or happily discussing frivolities with a man George later called a con man and thief. And even when talking business — like ownership of “Boomps-A-Daisy” and how “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” covers fared on the charts — conversation could easily veer to power brakes or the kids at home.

It may have been in Hunter Davies’ words, but in his authorized biography of the Beatles that was published only a few months earlier, he conceded “they all loved Dick James.”

The same 1968 Apple promotional film touting Magic Alex’s electronics department (as posted above) also serves a glimpse of Paul and John confronting Dick over money, with Paul firmly directing Dick to “go away, and you come back with something which you know won’t start this argument again.” Months later at Twickenham, with Dick not even aware the Beatles were filming their sessions, there was no such encounter. The argument wasn’t started again, but there wasn’t any change in their arrangement, either.

As Derek Taylor wrote in “As Time Goes By“: “Dick never liked rows with the Beatles and I cannot blame him.”

***

The scheduled meeting for the next day that so excited the Beatles didn’t materialize. They ultimately met at Ringo’s house on January 12 under completely different circumstances.

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Jan. 10: Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1

In 1999, George Harrison called “Only a Northern Song” — recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions in early 1967 but not released until January 13, 1969, on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP — a “piss-take” against his former song publisher, whom he characterized as a con man and thief.

From an interview with Billboard, 30 years after the song’s release:

It was at the point that I realized Dick James had conned me out of the copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 18- or 19-year-old kid, I thought, ‘Great, somebody’s gonna publish my songs!’ But he never said, ‘And incidentally, when you sign this document here, you’re assigning me the ownership of the songs [Harrison had written as a Beatle],’ which is what it is. It was just a blatant theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote ‘Only A Northern Song’ as what we call a ‘piss-take,’ just to have a joke about it.

“Only a Northern Song” has absolutely nothing to do with the Get Back sessions, but the timing of its release does. Just 72 hours before the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP hit stores, the Beatles convened at Twickenham for a truly climacteric day — not just in these sessions but in the group’s history.

George Harrison and Dick James, 1964.

Three hours (on the Nagra tapes) before George Harrison quit the Beatles on January 10, 1969, the target of his lyrical furor — Dick James — was one of the very first voices heard on the day’s recordings. Starting in 1963, Dick James Music administered Northern Songs, earning the publishing company a fortune and the band’s songwriters a disproportionately scant share of those riches. George’s share was but a fraction of what Paul McCartney and John Lennon managed to earn. Dick sold his majority share of Northern Songs out from under the songwriters about two months after the conclusion of the Get Back sessions, but that’s another story altogether.

Dick James was already on the tip of the Beatles’ tongues during the sessions in the previous days — John’s tongue, really, when he joked the publisher would “have the children” if the Beatles would “have a divorce” and break up. And perhaps anticipating the January 10th appearance, John name-checked Dick in the improvised “Shakin’ in the Sixties” just the day before.

But if there was any significant ire toward Dick, from George or mostly anyone else on the day of his visit, it didn’t materialize in the audio, which revealed a lengthy, seemingly cordial encounter (John said some things counter to this, but more on that next post).

Like so many mornings at Twickenham, the previous night’s must-see TV was the first big subject up for discussion, with Paul, Dick, Ringo Starr, engineer/producer Glyn Johns and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg retelling an astounding confrontation between Peter Cook and Zsa Zsa Gabor in which the comedian referred to the actress as “vain, untalented and a complete non-event.” (John and George hadn’t arrived yet).

An event: The Beatles with Zsa Zsa Gabor, at rehearsals for the Night of 1,000 Stars in 1964.

Paul did his best/worst Zsa Zsa impression for her reply: “I zink you are the rudest man you’ve ever seen.”

This exchange on Eamonn Andrews’ show was literally international news — here’s a syndicated story by Reuters that appeared in that morning’s Chicago Tribune — but of course all news is local when it comes to the Beatles, who seemed to have crossed paths with everyone and everything.

“She’s very honest,” Paul said of Zsa Zsa. “Quite entertaining. One thing I don’t like her for is — she was with her daughter. Her daughter was always around EMI when we were making our last album. We saw Zsa Zsa with her daughter there … and she makes a sort of ass out of her daughter. She’s so honest, she’s a bit too honest. She sort of said, ‘Don’t wear that sweater, darling, it makes you look fat.’”

(Roger McGuinn of the Byrds later claimed that he introduced George to Ravi Shankar’s music at an “LSD party” at Zsa Zsa’s Los Angeles mansion, which the Beatles rented during their 1965 tour. This proves again, there are no Beatles footnotes, only incredible parenthetical, contextual anecdotes worthy of stories themselves.)

The conversation soon shifted to more proximate family matters, when Dick asked Paul if his father and brother, Mike, received his telegram on the birth of Mike’s daughter, Benna, a few weeks earlier — “More gear to the McGear.”

“Mike had become a Benna-ficiary,” Paul replied with what clearly was already a well-worn joke.

Not much later Dick likewise discussed family with Ringo, almost like he was an elder of the clan himself, needling the drummer about more having more kids.

Dick: How’s Maureen? You haven’t even told me.
Ringo: She’s wonderful. She’ll be here later.
Dick: Zak?
Ringo: He’s wonderful, too, thank you.
Dick: No brother or sister on the way?
Ringo: Not yet.

Dick forgot 16-month-old Jason, but Ringo didn’t seem to mind.

A great deal of the conversation between Dick, Ringo, Paul, Glyn and Michael revolved around the extensive Lawrence Wright Music catalog, which was purchased by Northern Songs in 1965, but clearly the extent of the collection wasn’t known to the band until this morning.

“Mind boggles with a catalog like this,” Dick said at one point. “’Cause as fast as you remember some, you forget the other titles.”

The massive song inventory was very much in the wheelhouse of Paul and Ringo, who each would occasionally interject a superlative or sing along a line from various titles.

“That’s the greatest one you’ve got,” Ringo said of “Stardust,” which he’d record that November, with Paul arranging.

As Dick aptly noted, “there are some golden oldies in there that are ridiculous.”

Ridiculously classic? Absolutely. Like the aforementioned “Stardust,” the songs included “Home on the Range,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Stormy Weather” and “Just a Gigolo.”

And it’s quite ridiculous that the Beatles held an actual financial stake in World War I propaganda songs and other novelties like “Eat Less Bread,” “He’s in the Infirmary Now,” “Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s 40.

A song like “Carolina Moon” stood out to Paul — “My Uncle Ron’s favorite. Sings at all the parties.” And while George presumably came to “Hard Hearted Hannah” via another source, the Tin Pan Alley-era Northern Song was a jump-off point for the late-1970s Harrisong “Soft-Hearted Hana.”

Of course the most important inventory in the Northern Songs catalog would always be the ones with the “Lennon/McCartney” credit, and those assets were discussed, too.

“They’ll release ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ by us on the continent,” Paul said. “Hopefully with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on the b-side” (and it was a few weeks later).

“How about the ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ covers and things? All right?” Dick asked.

“Yes, doing well,” Paul answered, without mentioning Marmalade’s version had just finished a run at the top of the charts.

“I brought some records over to the flat, just in case you’d like to hear it,” Dick told Paul. “Vera Lynn’s ‘Goodnight’ as a waltz. Stephen [James, Dick’s son] produced it. Done as a 3/4. Sounds beautiful.”

The Beatles had spent the previous six days writing and rehearsing the newest batch of Northern Songs, and nearly 40 minutes into the day’s tapes, the publisher was treated to a sneak peak of five songs. It’s a curious set, featuring Paul solo at the piano, and one that should have been among the clear highlights of every session bootleg. Except, very frustratingly, for much of the half hour he was merely background music.

The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” had become morning standards, so Paul’s performance for Dick wasn’t extraordinary. And to hear Paul tickle the ivories on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was likewise unremarkable. But to hear a piano-based “Don’t Let Me Down” — with Paul alone on vocals with an obvious mastery of and affection for the material — and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are true oddities. The below clip covers a great deal of the music, along with dialogue that will be covered in the subsequent post (so don’t pay too close attention lest you’ll be spoiled!).

(“Don’t Let Me Down” runs from about 52 seconds for nearly two minutes in the above clip. “I’ve Got a Feeling starts around the 4:35 mark and runs about 2 1/2 minutes). 

Around the same time Paul headed over to the piano, George arrived at Twickenham for the final time.

The greeting between George and Dick was warm, with the George offering thanks for a Christmas gift — a set of drinking glasses.

Dick, who most assuredly had no idea George’s wife had walked out on him days earlier, could be excused for his response to the guitarist.

“Useful. Something to drink out of. Or the wife can throw.”

More on Dick James’ visit to Twickenham in the moments before George Harrison left the band coming in the next post, coming soon!

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 9, 1969 recap

paulv2Paul McCartney began January 9, 1969, at the piano sketching out “Another Day,” but it was anything but for the sixth day of the Beatles’ sessions at Twickenham, where things started to get a little testy, while musically it remained deeply compelling.

  •  Just another day: The Beatles begin their second week at Twickenham with Paul at the piano and his muse by his side as he debuts an important future solo classic.
  • Road work: Twickenham is Paul’s songwriting lab as the morning’s tapes reveal his effort to put lyrics to several works-in-progress, like “Carry That Weight” and “The Long and Winding Road,” among others.
  • Last-night song:  George Harrison lifts the veil on a proper version of “For You Blue,” but are the other Beatles eager to bite on another George original?
  • Jokes in between: Harmony and discord, joy and petulance. It’s a roller-coaster of moods for the members of the Beatles as they continued work on their core set at Twickenham.
  • Another kind of gig: Get yourself well done with the backstory of the Beatles’ lively and perpetually mysterious “Suzy Parker.”
  • Love from Paul: Take an exceedingly deep dive into Paul McCartney’s “Penina,” one of the most obscure originals from the Beatles era and a “£20,000 holiday tip.”
  • No Pakistanis: Inspired by current events, Paul McCartney works on a set of satirical, racially charged — and later misunderstood — lyrics to “Get Back.” Putting this Beatles’ session into appropriate context 50 years later.
  • Power politics: “This racial business over in England” inspires a suite of upbeat, satirical improvisations. This is the story of The Beatles​’ “Commonwealth” and “Get Off.”
  • Subconscious sabotage:  To his death, John Lennon hated the recording of “Across the Universe.” But with a chance to make it anew during The Beatles’ Get Back sessions, instead of changing his world, the song would slip away.
  • It’s dead easy: An inspired Paul McCartney & Co. raid the toolbox to effortlessly shape “Let It Be” into a more coherent, familiar song. Here’s the origin story of the riffs, harmonies and arrangement with far more detail than you likely asked for.
  • Homeward bounder: After flirting the night before with the idea of a sea cruise to Libya, The Beatles’ enthusiasm for show-boating waned as Ringo Starr preached mundanity over spectacle for a planned live performance.
  • Crossroads he’s standing at: How a pair of covers of yet-to-be-released Bob Dylan songs sheds light on George Harrison’s disposition the afternoon before he’d walk out on The Beatles.
  • Et cetera: Putting a bow on The Beatles’ busy January 9, 1969. Featuring “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” from Paul, some proto-punk from John, bugs that aren’t Beatles and more.

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Jan. 9: Et cetera

January 9, 1969, marked the last full day all four Beatles worked together at Twickenham during the Get Back sessions. Here are a few loose ends worth tying up before the pivot point of January 10.

“Junk” (Paul’s hand-written lyrics, from the White Album deluxe companion book)

Conceived in India in 1968 and born at Paul McCartney’s home in 1970, “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” were under a period of gestation in the studio in January 1969. These brothers in song, destined to be released together on Paul’s eponymous solo record, were likewise introduced to the Get Back sessions in tandem on January 9, 1969.

This wasn’t any attempt at a rehearsal, just a light breather between takes of “Across The Universe.”

“Remember that one?” Paul asked the room after a spinning off a quick, shuffling verse of “Teddy Boy.” That song’s story will continue later, after the action shifts to Savile Row.

“And ‘Junk’?” Paul continued.

That song, while lyrically incomplete, was formed enough to be among the May 1968 Esher demos, but except for this momentary appearance, it wouldn’t surface again during the Get Back sessions and it never seemed to be a contender for Abbey Road, either.

It’s a stretch to even call this a performance.

After mentioning the song’s title, Paul rattled off a few words (“epsilon,” “elephant,” “parachute” were the most recognizable) in an exaggerated French accent — John Lennon chipped in, too — to the tune of the song before they quickly return to “Across the Universe.”

A key takeaway from this sequence is the nostalgia with which Paul asks “remember that one” to John, as if these were songs from their childhood, not merely less than a year old. Paul, especially, will refer to the trip to India as if it was another era. More on that as we get to those portions of the tapes.

*****

We’re living in the wrong timeline.

John: “I’d like to do a number just on electric”

In another universe, John’s “Quit Your Messing Around” is hailed as essential proto-punk, a harsh, noisy sound brought into the mainstream. In ours, however, the song is a sub-30 second blast of chords followed by John’s four-word request, obscured by so many other electric (and acoustic) numbers throughout the day’s songs on the tapes.

*****

Surrounded by a film crew for a week already, the Beatles were still learning the extent of personal coverage a week into the sessions.

“This is the bugging device,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg said. “So we can surreptitiously bug your showbiz conversations,”

In this sequence, both Ringo Starr and George Harrison on separate occasions asked if “that” was the tape.

This bugging device will be a part of the story the next day of the sessions.

*****

Ringo was consistent, at least. He resisted traveling abroad for a concert, and he lobbied against needless travel for his role in The Magic Christian, too.

Film producer Denis O’Dell was working on selling Ringo on filming a scene in New York, mostly to get a single distinctive shot.

“We thought of doing one day in Wall Street,” Denis said, though conceding he was “two-minded about it.”

“If we’re just going to America for one scene … I mean, I’ll do it. I don’t think it’s worth it.. .. And who knows Wall Street? I don’t know Wall Street. Unless you put up a sign that says “Wall Street,” I’d have no idea what it looks like.”

The scene was never filmed. But four months later, Ringo joined the rest of the cast and crew on the QE2 as it sailed for New York to celebrate the end of filming.

*****

As the day’s session came to a close, John and Yoko Ono apologized to Paul — and notably not the film’s director or producer — for consistently rolling into the studio well after the others. Paul’s reply was a study in passive-aggressive behavior.

Yoko: Are we getting later and later?
Paul: … It’s getting to be a habit.
John: OK, we’ll come in …
Yoko: … around 10,
Paul: I’m getting used to it! Don’t throw me now.

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Jan. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at

During a brief transition immediately preceding the extensive “Let It Be” session late on January 9, 1969, George Harrison opened himself up to significant, retrospective armchair psychoanalysis in just five minutes of music.

He also became a human bootleg.

Everybody’s got somebody to lean on: Lucky and Nelson, November 1968.

Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes with the Band (a huge influence on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions) had been privately circulating since 1968, and the first true rock bootleg — Great White Wonder, which featured two LPs of his music that stretched back to as early as 1961 — surfaced in record shops starting in July 1969.

But this January 9, George — just a few weeks removed from his first collaboration with Dylan — seized a few moments of spotlight and shared a few of his friend’s songs, and ones that the others in the room hadn’t likely heard.

“I Threw It All Away” was so fresh a cut, Dylan wouldn’t record it for his forthcoming “Nashville Skyline” until Feb. 13, precisely two weeks after the Beatles’ rooftop performance and while George was in a London hospital recovering from a tonsillectomy.

Dylan first shared the song with George and wife Pattie Boyd around Thanksgiving 1968 at his home in upstate New York. George retained quite a bit of the song in performing at Twickenham, injecting intensity in his solo acoustic take.

George didn’t perfectly nail the lyrics, but he captured guts of the chorus and parts of the verses — “No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried … And I threw it all away.”

The performance seamlessly went into “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” written in 1964, but to that point another unreleased Dylan track.

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you been on my mind

When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you

There could be no reason at all George plucked these songs out of thin air this Thursday afternoon, as meaningless as the group’s brief forays into “Tennessee” or “Slippin’ and Slidin‘” within the same hour. He’d been playing Dylan throughout the sessions, after all.

Or …

Maybe the songs reflected George’s mood as he was less than 24 hours from quitting the group. Paul transparently sang the blues about the Beatles in “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Golden Slumbers,” so why wouldn’t George do likewise? It’s not a significant stretch to consider George was speculating about what he was throwing all away, at these crossroads he was standing at.

Without question, those two Dylan songs did hit home with George.

But …

Maybe it wasn’t necessarily only for the reasons we’ve always supposed.

The January 9 tapes begin with the Paul’s muse, Linda Eastman, visiting the studio. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, had been a Beatles session fixture for months, and this day was no different.

George’s wife, Pattie, was very much not hanging around Twickenham. And when she looked inside her mirror, George wasn’t next to her, because she had walked out on him. But that didn’t mean he was alone at his Kinfauns home.

From Pattie’s autobiography Wonderful Tonight:

I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. She was always flirtatious with George, but so were a lot of girls and he, of course, loved it. Then she and Eric broke up — Eric told her to leave — and she came to stay with us at Kinfauns.

It was January 1, 1969, and George and I had seen in the new year at Cilla Black’s house. … We arrived home in good spirits but then everything went swiftly downhill. The French girl didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them, and I questioned George. He told me my imagination was running away with me, I was paranoid.

Soon I couldn’t stand it so I went to London to stay with Belinda and Jean-Claude. Six days later George phoned me to say that the girl had gone and I went home.

The French girl was 20-year-old Charlotte Martin, and she had been dating Eric for more two years. Eric has since said he left Charlotte because of his growing feelings for Pattie. Why, you can almost say George tried to give her consolation when her old man let her down.

George’s fling was in its final day on January 9 — and after leaving the Beatles the next day, he asked Charlotte to leave Kinfauns, ending the affair.  He would  reconcile with Pattie, and separately, with the rest of the Beatles shortly thereafter.

The two Dylan songs George touched on wouldn’t drift far from his consciousness. Sixteen months after this date, George joined Bob in New York City, where they recorded both “I Threw It All Away” and “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” and the sessions have since surfaced on bootlegs.


George continued to show love for “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” laying down a solo studio version in the 1980s; this was still before Dylan’s first authorized release of the song in 1991. George’s recording would get a proper release in 2012 on Early Takes, Vol. 1.

From Giles Martin, who produced the compilation:

He recorded it at home in Friar Park at some point during the ‘80s, and it originally had programmed drums and loads of keyboards on it, and George had overdubbed himself for a three-part vocal harmony.

I asked [George’s widow] Olivia if it would be OK to break it down a bit, I thought it sounded a lot better stripped to its bones. You can still hear a bit of the drum sound in the background, because there was bleed on the tape — probably coming through from George’s headphones.

George did his own three-part harmonies in the ’80s, but his first vocal partners, John and Paul, were silent on the tapes during George’s brief Dylan set on January 9, 1969.  Walking out on the group, George silenced himself the next day, not only because of his increasingly tense relationship with John and Paul, but with trouble surrounding his marriage, as well.

***

Charlotte Martin remained in rock-and-roll’s inner circle. In a coincidence of the calendar, exactly one year after her last day involved with George, on January 9, 1970,  she met Jimmy Page after a Led Zeppelin concert. The couple would maintain a relationship into the 1980s. Their daughter, Scarlet Page, is a rock photographer of note; she’s shot Paul McCartney and contributed to the Visions of Dylan photo exhibition in 2007.

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Jan. 9: Homeward bounder

It was becoming clear by the end of January 9, 1969, that the Beatles would end up opting for ad-hoc over adventure.

A lengthy discussion the night before found all four Beatles showing varying levels of willingness to travel by boat to Africa for a one-off show, and some sort of decision seemed imminent. With the planning needed and a schedule to keep before the band lost Ringo Starr to an imminent acting assignment, it had to be.

But after the group slept on it, pinning down a consensus was just a dream. Any momentum to raise anchor dissipated among the members of the band, despite the continued best efforts of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to ship the group to a Roman-era amphitheater in Libya.

There was no grand discussion about the show on this Thursday, just a series of short conversations sprinkled about the day among the various principles. The Beatles were making musical progress at Twickenham Film Studio, and as the Nagra tapes proved, the overall mood was fine, certainly better than it had been a couple of days earlier. But there was no great enthusiasm for travel, and it often seemed like settling on a venue was a binary choice: Twickenham or outside Tripoli, by boat — the devil (they know) or the deep blue sea.

“If we do it here, then we’ll do it in here,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg told Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Linda Eastman on her January 9 morning visit to the soundstage. “But if we don’t, it’s on a boat to Tripoli,” said Paul.

“Ordinary people like themselves.” On the Mad Day Out on July 28, 1968, the Beatles mingled with the British crowd at St Pancras Old Church and Gardens. Less than six weeks later, they filmed the “Hey Jude” promo film. (From Meet The Beatles For Real)

“So if you do it, it would be in here?” Linda asked.

“There’s many a story,” Paul replied.

“What will you do with all the equipment?” Linda asked. “Get it on the boat,” replied director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “That’s what Apple’s for, really, isn’t it?”

Discussions over the show circulated around these unresolved issues: Where would it be staged, what would be its format and who would be the audience. Thus the seventh day of the session was not much different than the first, and it wasn’t even a matter of agreeing to some aspects and then pursuing another. Every aspect of the show was in flux, and every suggestion was repeated.

Airports, apartment houses, cathedrals, the Houses of Parliament — these venues were considered before and mentioned yet again on the 9th, along with a transformed Twickenham. Transformed how? That wasn’t elaborated.

The boat, which was brainstormed at length the night before, was in play. But Ringo, while never issuing his veto, was clear in his distaste for a trip to Northern Africa, much as that was Michael’s preferred and planned choice. A continued sticking point was the his loyalty to a British — or American — audience. Ringo cited long-running talent show Opportunity Knocks as an example to follow in ultimately challenging that mundanity transcends spectacle, obscurity over celebrity — at least when it came to the spectators.

“Just because he had granny on the show, someone’s mother, and they only win because audiences like to watch ordinary people like themselves. That’s one of the things to do it here. Because English people — and Americans — and the two main people, at least they can associate with them and say, ‘I could have gone there.'”

MLH: The only thing is, I really do think it’s going to be for the world.
Ringo: The biggest part of our world is America and [here].
MLH: But funnily enough, I think the way they think of you is not only for themselves but they do think of you as for everybody in the world. That was one of the things things that was good about Jude, the guy in the turban. ….

Unfortunately, the tape cuts off during this dialogue, but we can assume it’s much of the same conversation that we’ve heard before with similarly little resolution.

(For the record, Opportunity Knocks provided Apple Records with one of its greatest success stories: Mary Hopkin’s winning performance in May 1968 directly led to her signing with the Beatles’ label).

Still, Michael was planning as if he could sway Ringo eventually.

“I think we spend till the middle of next week here or til the end of the week, go out on the and the following weekend. That’s eight days,” Michael said.

Ringo: Too long.
MLH: Go out on Sunday and finish it on Sunday.
Ringo: How about Sunday and finish it on Wednesday? Who wants to stay in Tripoli?
MLH: Denis (O’Dell, film producer), isn’t Tripoli a great country?
Denis: It’s the asshole of the world there. (Laughter)
MLH: You didn’t take my feed!
Denis: Look, I have to work with him the next six months and therein after! (More laughter)

Denis next related a story of how Ringo “saved his life” in India, thanks to the drummer’s cache of Western food he left behind when he returned to England. “[I] went back to Ringo’s room and I was rummaging around … found some powdered milk and baked beans, and it was a feast. … The stuff that you and Maureen left, and that’s what I lived on secretly.”

Uncommitted as they were to a destination for a live show, the Beatles comfortably and casually addressed the composition of the gig itself.

Many times I’ve bean alone: Ringo’s diet in India. (From Beatle Photo Blog)

The band discussed staging issues (“It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way”) and between-song banter (“First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time”) — see Jan. 9: Jokes in between for more on that.

“Is Michael around?” George asked at one point. “If we are in a groovy location place, and if there’s just people there and we’re just playing anyway, [can] we make the show about different bits and pieces of what we’ve done or [do] we have to do it in one consecutive piece?”

John: We do both, you see. We set one way when we say, ‘This is the show,” But we do, like, a dress rehearsal and another rehearsal.
George: (Laughing incredulously) Dress rehearsal?
John: Well, you know, we do it as is, we try and do it one through. We should do it about three times, and probably the middle one will have the most. And see if there’s anybody around that played piano or anything we just get him up, and let’s have a gig.

John told the future well, unaware at the time Billy Preston would be that piano player. John also didn’t realize that the man he was speaking to would walk away from the group the next day.

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Jan. 9: It’s dead easy

It took only a few minutes on January 9, 1969, for Paul McCartney to invoke jazz guitar, classical compositions and swing percussion for a hymnal ballad being written for an R&B singer that would become a classic rock and easy listening staple.

Transcript Poem No. 1, from the Get Back Book

“Let It Be,” lovingly and deliberately crafted during much of this day, spoke clearly to Paul’s boundless musical vocabulary, and on the day’s Nagra tapes we clearly hear the well-defined, rich genetic code buried within the song. No wonder it’s so special.

Dubbed “Mother Mary” by Paul at this point, “Let it Be” received solo piano treatment early in the day’s session per Paul’s daily ritual and a brief engagement, mainly with George Harrison, midday. The full ensemble’s rehearsal treatment later in the working day crafted the song into something both concrete and familiar. But importantly and quite visibly, Paul didn’t arrange it all by himself.

To recap the chronology of “Let It Be” to this point:

September 6, 1968: The earliest-known recording of the song — released in 2018 on the White Album Deluxe — consisted of a snippet of the first verse and chorus. Paul is on piano (the group was in the midst of recording “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). If there was anything to “Let It Be” beyond this, it’s either buried inside the vaults at Abbey Road, secured in Paul’s private archives or lost amid the echoes of Cavendish Avenue. But there’s no reason to believe there was really much more, because …

January 3, 1969: While the song gained an introduction as the Beatles rehearsed in their first full day at Twickenham, Paul hadn’t advanced “Let It Be” beyond the first verse and chorus, exactly what he had in 1968.

January 8, 1969: After the weekend and a couple extra days, the song appeared on the tapes again, as Paul disclosed he wrote the song for Aretha Franklin — but he wanted the Beatles to record it, too. Paul instructed a faster pace on the drum pattern and shared the chord structure with George. The musical tag was borrowed from the introduction and applied to the song’s conclusion, as the day’s session wrapped.

On January 9, the song was a significant focal point, with rehearsals of “Let It Be” alone taking up a good 20 percent of the day’s recorded sessions on the tapes. An initial midday discussion of the tag — “just at the end of ‘Mother Mary,’ there’s, like, a riff,” as described by Paul — was nestled between rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Across The Universe,” just prior to the “Penina” origin story.

(You can hear this mention in the first few seconds here)

At once, Paul had an unfinished song — musically, it was sharp, but the lyrics were quite incomplete — and he solicited advice and allowed the song to evolve, while at the same time explicitly mapping out musical parts for the others.

(Ignore the subtitles in the below clip, for everyone’s sake. But enjoy the audio from this part of the session)

The first phase of the hour-plus sequence that concludes the day’s tapes has Paul walking the others through the song in a deliberate fashion.

To Ringo Starr: Play the drums “like swing.”

To John Lennon, who was on bass: “C … G … A … F,” Paul instructed, vocalizing the bass part with piano accompaniment and working his way through the verse and chorus. “You’ll get it, it’s dead easy.”

Paul continued to work the group through the song, repeating the verse-chorus sequence, methodically taking stock of every element. After the primer, the song’s iconic harmonies were casually introduced to the chorus. “It’s like ‘aahs,'” instructed Paul, who suggested harmonies that were to be delivered “very simply.”

Moments later, the former rejected choir boy evoked both church as well as a man who wrote music for it — Johann Sebastian Bach — as a further inspiration (it wasn’t the first time Paul drew from the Baroque-era composer).

There’s a lot of things with these chords. See that harmony there – it’s like church harmony. There’s all that bit of sustained. … it’s like Bach, just holding the notes. Can you hear it?

With the harmony in strong development, Paul shifted to broader aspects of the song, like “how should we start it?” (Days earlier, John asked the same thing of “Don’t Let Me Down,” unsure how to arrange the various elements of the song).

There was a go at opening “Let It Be” with the chorus, but that idea was scrapped quickly, with the song’s soon-to-be established format taking hold early on.

“OK, the first two choruses, just the piano,” Paul said. “Then the second thing to come in is your two voices on the ‘let it be.’ And then [it] builds. So maybe bass isn’t in till, like, halfway.”

While the harmonies were framed around a centuries-old inspiration, Paul invoked a contemporary to George for his guitar part.

“If you could just somehow hold the one note on guitar without making it sort of corny,” Paul said. “Like Wes Montgomery, the octaves.”

Too bad we don’t get to hear a complete picture of what happens next, because … cats.

Michael-Lindsay Hogg: “I don’t like dogs, I like cats.”

Ringo: “We’ve got a poodle, as well.”

With the tapes’ camera and microphone shifting to a conversation between the film’s director and drummer, we’re deprived of a clear listen to the continued development of the song for a few moments. But the instructional continued in the background, as John added a grating, deep baritone harmony that was thankfully abandoned ultimately, but was retained throughout most of the day.

As Ringo continued his conversations away from the rest of the band, including a chat with Denis O’Dell about the Magic Christian, Paul and John alone casually delivered a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” — which was the first song recorded by the Quarrymen (to an acetate) more than 10 years earlier.

Following John’s cheeky order — “Come on you gits, get on your fucking instruments!” — the rest of the group indeed followed their leader, enthusiastically launching into an full-band Little Richard medley, “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (as later covered by John) into “Jenny Jenny,” before Paul applied the breaks in a return to “Let It Be.”

As a nod to his muse, Paul swapped in “Oh, Aretha Franklin” where he would normally sing “speaking words of wisdom” at one point.

Resuming the song-crafting process, Paul sought to integrate the musical tag he mentioned earlier to George.

Paul:  I was thinking
John: You’ve been thinking again.
Paul: After we’ve done the “let it be, let it be,” done the whole thing through, we might make something of [played the riff]. … Like, without rhythm, but with you [John] and me doing it.

Upon Ringo questioning when the various instruments come in throughout the song, Paul begins make suggestions before stopping himself.

Enter Glyn Johns. Well, not really “enter” — he’d been with the group the entirety of the sessions in a somewhat nebulous production role.

“He seems to be arranging this, come on,” Paul said to laughter. “That’s good, come on.”

From his 2014 memoir, Sound Man, Glyn recalled his first days working for the Beatles:

After they had finally run through the first song a couple of times, Paul turned to me and asked what I thought they should do for an intro. I nearly fell over in shock. I thought I had been employed to just engineer and here I am in the first hour of rehearsals being asked for my input into the arrangement. I responded as quickly and confidently as I could and suggested a way of playing the intro, which they liked, and we were off. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was accepted, each guy individually making an attempt to put me at ease and make me feel part of the team.  …

On the second day, things came to a head among the band. …

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham at on that cold gray afternoon with Denis, the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple days later.

Glyn’s timeline isn’t precise; he wrote that the arrangement request was on the session’s first day (which was January 2) and George would quit the band the next day, but Paul was a late arrival on the first day at Twickenham and George’s departure happened on January 10, the day after the events of this post. Still, the recollection is valuable to get an idea of Glyn’s mindset early in the sessions regarding his role.

Glyn with the Beatles, from Glyn’s autobiography, Sound Man.

With Paul handing him the reins, Glyn was confident and direct in dictating his plan — based on Paul’s original idea — to a very receptive band.

“Absolutely nothing except the piano and voice the first time around,” said Glyn. “And then the voices, right? … Then you [George] come in where you come in. And you [John] come in the next time round.

“So it goes: Piano and voice.  Backing added [to the chorus], then it goes back to the top [the sound of high-hat is played]. George is in then. John comes in when John comes in. Then the the next chorus, you’re [Ringo] back in on your thing, and back on your [swinging drum pattern]”

Paul gave very simple approval — “that’s it” — before leading the group into a demonstration and subsequent instructions, like building up the percussion without any snares — “It’s like jazz,” George remarked —  and adding “big drums” on Ringo’s fill before the second round of the chorus.

The writer and arranger disagreed on when John and George should come in — Paul proposed they should join together, while Glyn thinks otherwise. “It’s all happening a little bit too quickly with the bass coming in at the same time, that’s all,” Glyn said. Paul deferred, and instructed George to come in for a solo after the “big” chorus, and to base it after the verse’s chords.

“Do it to your own discretions and sort of come in so it builds up, just so you’re not all in at the one time,” Paul said. “Let those two [Ringo and John] get in before you [George] come in.”

The group returned to a run-through as it was drawn up with George entering into the riff, after the second chorus. But it didn’t click and the placement of the riff becomes the next segment receiving attention.

“It’s very corny, really — the down, down, down, down [sang by Paul].” George quickly compares the riff to the end of the chorus in Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

Glyn suggested back-to-back plays of the riff after the second chorus, an idea Paul jumped on.

Paul: See, then that can lead into the solo, ’cause I think it’ll be time by then.

John: Just use that riff into the solo and the end [of it] for the end.

Paul: It’s going to be a short one, anyway.

Paul ordered up “two lengths of solo,” while he and John added harmonies over the second one. The conclusion of “Let It Be” was then sketched: the guitar solo, another chorus and two plays of the riff, with the second one coming in slow.

A first full run of the complete song structure clocked in at barely more than two minutes, with no additional verses after the solo. That is, what we know now as the “And when the night is cloudy…” verse — that section didn’t exist yet.

“Want to do it again? George asked. “It’s quite short, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a little bit,” Paul conceded. “It does need something else. It may be sort of ‘oohs’ though the second verse or something else when the cymbals come in. It sounds a bit sort of bare with just piano there.”

“Organ. I could play organ for that and drop it for the bass,” John suggested, forecasting Billy Preston’s eventual arrival without calling for additional personnel, for now, anyway.

Now in the final phases of the day’s rehearsals, the group put further attention on getting into and out of the riff. And in its final moments, George purposely hacked his way through the solo, building the framework of what would later appear on record. Paul gave further bass instruction to John, while George went over the drum pattern with Ringo.

Having logged more than an hour on the song at the end of the day’s session, exhaustion finally set in after a few more competent attempts of the song.  A suggested short break became a request from George to quit for the day entirely, which they all did following a final take.

As they gathered to leave, a debriefing showed the band still found room for improvement in “Let It Be”:

Paul: It should have more bits, should be more complicated.

George: I just feel [the ending] needs something really sustaining.

John: Or even some words … a big all-together.

Any further collaborative work on the “Let It Be” was going to have to wait. Paul touched on the song in a brief solo version the next morning, but later that day, George left the group.

Still, the Beatles — led by Paul but with significant help from others in the room — got through much of the musical dirty work in “Let It Be” in relatively effortless fashion on January 9.

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Jan. 9: Subconscious sabotage

“Subconscious sabotage.”

To his death, that remained John Lennon’s reflection on the recording of “Across the Universe,” what he regarded as one of his finest sets of lyrics.

Here’s John quoted in All We Are Saying, David Sheff’s full transcription of his September 1980 Playboy interview:

But the Beatles didn’t make a good record of Across the Universe. I think subconsciously sometimes we — I say “we,” though I think Paul did it more than the rest of us; Paul would … sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song.

He subconsciously tried to destroy songs, meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces, like “Strawberry Fields” — which I always felt was badly recorded. That song got away with it and it worked. But usually we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s songs; when it came to mine, especially if it was a great song like “Strawberry Fields” or “Across the Universe,” somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage. He’ll deny it, ‘cause he’s got a bland face and he’ll say the sabotage doesn’t exist. But this is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where I was always seeing what was going on … I begin to think, Well, maybe I’m paranoid. But it’s not paranoid; it’s absolute truth.

The same thing happened to “Across the Universe” It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as the Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ‘cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.

By January 1969, “Across the Universe” was completely in the can — even down to the sound effects, which the group heard for the first time on the January 7 (George Harrison wasn’t crazy about the birds). With a dearth of fresh material, John could have made “Across the Universe” a focal point during the Get Back sessions. This was John’s chance to properly record the year-old song to his ears.

But like previous occasions at Twickenham, he wouldn’t show much passion to rehearse and rejuvenate the song. Still, “Across the Universe” remained and returned to the table January 9 as the group continued to develop new and manage more established songs for an eventual live show as the sessions began its second week.

“Across the Unicorn,” as John introduced it that day, was performed at such a glacial pace in an initial take that it broke down seconds in with laughter from John. “It shouldn’t be that slow, should it?” As a reaction, the group — as they’d often do — zipped through the song double-time after another standard attempt.

While the song was fully formed, “Across the Universe” wasn’t stage-ready. George didn’t like the birds on wax, and he didn’t like the harmony with Paul as performed at Twickenham. The interplay between George and the others on this fact should sound familiar. Really, nothing was going to change his world.

John: What didn’t you like about his har-MO-ney?
George: Just in some places.
John: Ah, some places. Well that’s details, George.
Paul: Please specify then, please specify.
George: (after singing singing the first verse), It sounds a bit forced .. It wasn’t natural.
Paul: Especially in the “Nothing’s going to change my world.”
John: Just sing that in unison.
Paul: I was planning on working on those bits anyway.

Ah yes, the bland-faced saboteur was prepared to do his worst.

Continuing to work on the song, George and Paul attempted painfully high top harmonies on “jai guru deva,” prompting John to respond, “Is that a bit much?”

With additional takes, the harmonies developed into a characteristically lovely John-Paul-George blend — it’s hard for those three voices together to sound anything but — even if the rest of the song’s redevelopment remained stagnant, at best.

“The ‘nothing’s gonna change my world’ — we got to do something to it,” John said, giving Ringo some rare (for these sessions) drumming instruction — asking for “something heavier. Just play an on-beat there. Try doing the on-beat on the snare, to push it along.”

Not significantly improved and with just a single complete take over nearly 15 minutes of work on “Across the Universe,” John was clearly uninspired by his own song, asking, “Should we do something else then?”

Paul rejected the thought, suggesting they again speed things up. A subsequent attempt indeed had a little more pep — the rhythm section didn’t drag quite as much as it had, additional lead guitar licks peppered the chorus and Paul added more extensive harmonies throughout the song. Again, the song wasn’t completed to its finish, but George wasn’t displeased overall, admitting it was a “little better that time.”

John didn’t bother to offer his own review, instead breathlessly launching into a brief improvisation that has since gone by the name “Shakin’ in the Sixties.” The group followed with an upbeat cover of Cliff Richards’ 1958 hit “Move It” that in turn spilled into a sloppy but jubilant abbreviated version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

An animated discussion of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — the group were all clearly fans, trading lines from the show (”Very interesting …” “Say goodnight, Dick”) — led to something of a comic take of Carl Perkins’ “Tennessee,” with everyone enjoying playing.

(It’s nice to know: They may have been the greatest band on the face of the earth, but they still talked about TV at work, just like we do).

Ready to shift gears back to business, John asked, “Have we learned any new ones lately?” After a deliberately flippant butchering of the first verse of “Across the Universe,” John said, “I don’t want to do that one anymore.”

As George began to play “I Me Mine” — a new one from just the day before — John instead sang the words to “House of the Rising Sun.” They never do play “I Me Mine,” instead launching into a series of racially charged songs addressed at length in the last post.

“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine,” ultimately back-to-back tracks on Side 1 of Let It Be, share another piece of history: By this moment on the afternoon of January 9, 1969, both songs were completely abandoned, weeks before the end of the January 1969 sessions.

“I Me Mine” was recorded from scratch in 1970 by the Threetles, while “Across the Universe” saw its original 1968 recording … embellished and warped by Phil Spector, John’s choice to produce the final soundtrack album. That’s two songs on the Let It Be LP taken not from its associated sessions, but appearing on the record purely because of the songs’ appearance in the Let It Be film.

But while George eventually took his opportunity to properly record “I Me Mine” in the final recording session before the Beatles broke up, what of John’s “Across the Universe”? While unplayed after January 9, 1969 , the song was listed among the the possible numbers for a live show on January 21, the group’s first day of sessions at Savile Row after George left on January 10 and the rest of the Beatles took a hiatus after January 14. But when George asked if they should consider and rehearse “Across the Universe” on January 23, John passed.

“No, no, ’cause it’s going out on an EP,”  John said.

Ode to a panda bear: “Across the Universe” debuted on the “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” charity LP in December 1969.

This opens up some questions. Circa some point in 1968, “Across the Universe” was tabbed for the World Wildlife Fund’s charity LP — that’s why the birds were recently overdubbed, for use on that record. But we also know — or think we know — there was a potential Yellow Submarine EP at one point considered, and that would have included the original version of “Across the Universe.” But if that was the case, it would have been profoundly strange that the other Beatles wouldn’t have been aware of it. An odd unicorn, indeed.

But the song’s eventual release wasn’t necessarily of consequence. If John wanted a new version of his song for posterity, this was the time to craft it on his terms. The Beatles resurrected “One After 909,” after all, and breathed life into a song that had a truly bland recording gathering dust in the vault.

While it wasn’t confirmed in any way, there were certainly some occasional discussions by this early point that these sessions could easily yield a new album, in addition to serving as rehearsals for a live show. Stuck for a month, John could have rehearsed and re-calibrated the absolute daylights out of “Across the Universe.” Lord knows Paul played the hell out of “Get Back” and his songs during the sessions. But here we are on January 9, 1969, and “Across the Universe” was completely discarded, both as an option for the live show but also as a song to be revisited and rerecorded. Who sabotaged whom? Or even what?

Maybe our sources aren’t really reliable after all. Here’s John in January 1971, from his iconic “Lennon Remembers” interview in Rolling Stone:

You know, we all say a lot of things when we don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m probably doing it now, I don’t know what I say. You see, everybody takes you up on the words you said, and I’m just a guy that people ask all about things, and I blab off and some of it makes sense and some of it is bullshit and some of it’s lies and some of it is – God knows what I’m saying.

Needless to say, this issue hangs over pretty much every corner of Beatles scholarship. At least John had the self-awareness to admit this, as problematic a fact  it is.

So was the original recording of “Across the Universe” a victim of “subconscious sabotage”? Regardless of the answer, John — who we can certainly believe was never satisfied with any of the recordings of the song, even the one he helped record with David Bowie in 1975 — had the blank palate of  the January 1969 sessions to craft it in any direction he pleased. But he was bored with the song, whether he would admit it or not, and took it no further after just a week into the sessions, despite a paucity of new material.

The song as recorded would be released, as planned, in December 1969 on the World Wildlife Fund’s “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” LP with John’s voice sped up, and again in May 1970 on Let It Be, further adorned and with his voice slowed down.

Subsequent official releases of “Across the Universe” came in 1996 (Anthology 2), 2003 (Let It Be … Naked) and 2018 (White Album deluxe release). Each of those stripped down versions came after John’s death and with Paul’s presumptive partial oversight.

And every recorded version of the Beatles’ “Across The Universe”  was sourced from the original recordings from early February 1968.

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Jan. 9: Power politics

Pablo Fanque, Mao Zedong and Edgar Allen Poe are among the historical figures with a cameo in a Beatles lyric. During the Get Back sessions, former Prime Ministers — and famed taxmen — Harold Wilson and Edward Heath joined a more exclusive club, making an encore appearance in song.

A reasonable argument can be made that the improvisations littering these sessions aren’t really songs at all, but instead casually jammed interludes capturing the moment, intended to be forgotten if not for the tapes that recorded it all. But ultimately we do have the tapes, and those for January 9, 1969, contain a suite of performances inspired by a subject even more ponderous than taxation: the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference, which was in its third day as the Beatles continued their sixth at Twickenham, about 10 miles away.

Paul McCartney had already drawn upon the contemporary issue of the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya to Britain, conceiving the “No Pakistanis” iteration of “Get Back” that would be a part of the song for a few more days. After a thirty-minute detour that included a revisiting of “Across the Universe” and the bassist’s recounting of the “Penina” origin story, the news of the day recaptured Paul’s imagination.

Paul’s performance began seemingly unprompted, launched from a flippant attempt of the “House of The Rising Sun” that itself began as a bit of a mockery of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” — a song that was proposed to be rehearsed. Instead John launched into the song popularized by The Animals in 1964.

That brings the story to “Commonwealth” (or “The Commonwealth Song” as it’s often referred to. Also, if an improvisation isn’t really a song, does it really have a title?).

Paul channels Elvis vocally — and picks up on John’s ability to script a “newspaper song.” George doesn’t even participate at the outset; instead he discusses equipment issues with Glyn Johns.

The tabloids served as a literal jump-off point. From the front page of the January 9, 1969, Daily Mirror, under the three-deck headline “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”:

Britain has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa.

Home Secretary James Callaghan is making this clear in private talks with Commonwealth leaders now meeting in London.

He is telling them that many Britons share the views of Tory M P Mr. Enoch Powell, who wants to stop further immigration and encourage migrants to go home.

While Mr. Callaghan was taking this action, Premier Harold Wilson was rejecting accusations of discrimination at the Premiers’ conference inside London’s Marlborough House.

Accusations of discrimination by Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Arshad Husain brought an immediate riposte from Premier Wilson.

He reminded Mr Husain that Britain had brought in penal laws to ban discrimination.

Mr. Wilson told him: “Do not hold me responsible for the phenomenon known as Enoch Powell.”

While Wilson and Heath reappear in Beatles song, it’s fellow Member of Parliament Enoch Powell at the center of Paul’s muddled tale.

Here’s a taste of the first set of lyrics, transcribed as lovingly as possible for something at times so unintelligible:

Tonight Enoch Powell said get our immigrants, immigrants, you better go home, ha ha ha ha ha
Tonight Premier Wilson said to the immigrants, you better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said you better get back, home
Now Enoch Powell said to the folks, he said … the color of your skin
… So Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out or heads are gonna fall (?)
He said, Enoch Powell, Enoch you better go home

A deeply inflammatory political figure, Powell’s biography is defined by his April 20, 1968, “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he dramatically stoked racial fears, viciously attacking mass immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell would lose his position in the Shadow Cabinet (“Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out”) while deeply accelerating a serious divide in British public opinion. (In the 1970s, Eric Clapton would publicly embrace Powell, a terrible idea the Beatles pal would ultimately say he regretted.)

The “Rivers of Blood” speech had indescribable impact, and as an American writing more than 50 years later, I’m certainly dealing in deep understatement.

On the Beatles’ timeline, Powell’s 1968 speech coincided with the immediate aftermath of their trip to India (George alone remained overseas at the time). A month after the speech, Paul was put on the record regarding Powell as John and Paul were interviewed on their promotional tour to launch Apple.

Asked about “this racial business over in England,” Paul offered a simple answer: “That thing’s just the same question everywhere, you know? It’s no different in England. It’s a bit less harmful in England, but it’s the same thing. Some people don’t like other people ‘cause they’re not the same as them.”

“Yes?” – John Lennon, January 9, 1969

Plain-speaking regarding Powell in 1968, Paul was in standard form singing about him eight months later, on January 9, 1969, prioritizing the sound of the song over lyrics and meaning, even moreso in subsequent verses. Presaging the Kinks’ brilliant “Victoria” by several months, Paul offers a tour of mostly Commonwealth locales (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, West Indies, “Old Calcutta”) as well as Europe and “Tucson, Africa.”

(“Old Calcutta” could also be heard as “Oh! Calcutta!” a wink to John’s involvement in the forthcoming stage show, while the reference to Tucson was both an acknowledgement of the location’s growing importance the to “Get Back” lyric as well as an indicator of Paul’s monumental disinterest in improvising any sort of serious lyric to this song.)

But the clear focal point of the track is the chorus, featuring an animated John interjecting a responsive “Yes?” to each of Paul’s calls of “Commonwealth,” in a shrill, deliberately cartoonish accent, described in the book that accompanied the Let It Be LP as that of a “Boston matron.”

(Yet another aside: In a remarkable coincidence in this song’s story, Boston, Lincolnshire — site of a huge influx of immigrants in the 21st century — tallied the highest percentage of “leave” supporters in the Brexit vote.)

The first time John chimed with his “Yes?” response, Paul sounded sincerely taken by surprise, unable to suppress a laugh. This interplay, enjoyed throughout half of the song, is what makes “Commonwealth” memorable and somewhat remarkable (Paul would use a similar vocal inflection himself elsewhere in the song). Partial film of the performance of the song — focused on John alone — makes clear he is enjoying this one-off.

The collaboration of sorts was sustained throughout, as John quickly improved Paul’s original verse-closing words:

Paul: Commonwealth, but it’s much too wealthy for me
John: Much too common for me.

Paul was strong on the fly, but John was even more clever, unsurprisingly.

As “Commonwealth” petered out, Paul delivered a brief coda consisting merely of the words, “Oh, Enoch Powell … powerless” (sounding very close to “Powell-less”)

This brief interlude spilled into another lengthy improvisation and an additional moment John and Paul used to minimize the junior songwriter in the band. Originally intended by George to be an electrified take of “For You Blue,” Paul hijacked the song and veered into another direction, interjecting several mentions of “white power” — again, as inspired by headlines satirically and obviously not a celebration of such a thing — and was met with an off-timed “Get Off!” response from John. The song quickly evolved into Paul and John — both continued in high spirits — trading real and fictional names in a roll call over an enjoyable, loose blues rocker. Paul occasionally throws in a “Can you dig it?” or “Let me hear it” after a name.

More than 40 names are called out — usually by Paul — including multiple Quarrymen (Eric Griffiths, Ivan Vaughn and John Lennon himself), other Beatles insiders (Mal Evans, Peter Brown), many others in entertainment (James Brown, Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, David Frost) or in politics (Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon), with the likes of Superman alter ego Clark Kent and stain-killer Super Ajax also receiving call-outs. Paul and John are clearly enjoying every moment of it.

At one early point, the song breaks down, with John asking what the group should properly rehearse next.

George: I’ll do one, but it has acoustic guitar and no backing.
John: Get off!

And with that, “Get Off” picked right back up. It was a funny moment, with delicious comic timing on John’s part, but another occasion in which they’d offend and unnerve George.

Soon after, George begins to sing and play “For You Blue” only to have John and Paul continue to play “Get Off” over him.

During the final moments before the group did ultimately work on “For You Blue” (covered at length here), John seemingly pokes at George, who two days earlier suggested a divorce from the group and one day later would in fact temporarily leave the Beatles.

Paul (following some feedback): Noise is a little too loud for me.
John: Leave the group then, if you don’t like it (giggles).

Sure, the Beatles played “God Save the Queen” on the rooftop, but they wouldn’t be quite as overtly political in such a burst for the balance of the sessions. And while “Get Off” (and “Commonwealth,” like the similarly jubilant “Suzy Parker” ) vanished from the group’s memory, never to appear on an official release, a little bit of “Get Off” lived on, both as a stream-of-consciousness performance and through the very use of one of the song’s key phrases in “Dig It.”

With “For You Blue” begging to be rehearsed, Paul and John spent 15 minutes comically spanning and panning global issues. But all politics are ultimately local, and there were clearly internal band politics at play.

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