TMBP Extra: Oh what joy

With birthday posts previously produced for Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, it’s about time we righted a wrong, and completed the set with the man born as Richard Starkey. Like the others and in the spirit of this blog, here’s a look at Ringo Starr’s life as it straddled the big days circled on the calendar in 1968 and 1969.

Ringo Starr, 1969

How did you spend your 29th birthday? Ringo Starr, the eldest Beatle, spent July 7, 1969, at EMI Studios on Abbey Road — like he spent so many of days in his 20s — laying down the drum track for “Here Comes The Sun.” We’ve all been stuck working on our birthdays, but this doesn’t sound like a bad gig, if you can get it.

Yet, 11 months earlier, Ringo gave up that gig, walking out on the Beatles during the White Album sessions.

From the Anthology book:

I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider. I went to see John … I said, ‘I’m leaving the group because I”m not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.’ And John said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

So I went over to Paul’s and knocked on the door. I said the same thing: ‘I’m leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I’m out of it.’ And Paul said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

I didn’t even bother going to George then. I said, ‘I’m going on holiday.’ I took the kids and we went to Sardinia.

He famously returned two weeks later after to a flower-covered drum kit as the sessions continued (they never stopped recording, with Paul filling in on drums for a few songs).

Still, Ringo’s time away was fruitful, spent on Peter Sellers’ yacht, where the captain told him stories about octopuses on the seabed.

A couple of tokes later with the guitar — and we had ‘Octopus’s Garden’!

Ringo’s relationship with Sellers — a member of The Goon Show, beloved by the teenage future Beatles, and whose novelty records had been produced by George Martin — dated back a few years and would benefit the drummer in several ways in the decade’s final years. In November 1968, Ringo took advantage of a Sellers’ market, moving into the actor’s former Brookfield House estate in Elstead, Surrey. Just a couple months later, the two would co-star in a movie. But first, Ringo had another movie to film with the Beatles.

Ringo’s resistance to go abroad during the Get Back sessions — he was most insistent of any of the Beatles — led to the beauty of the rooftop performance. This blog’s entire purpose is to tell that story.

Musically, Ringo did Ringo things in the January 1969 sessions, and as a songwriter, he continued work on “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) and also brought a few unfinished songs to the table, too.

But the sessions were just a warm-up for what came next at Twickenham Studios, where Ringo — teamed up with Sellers — filmed The Magic Christian, his first true starring role (Ringo had a small part playing a Mexican gardener in Candy, which was released in this period, too). This took time, with filming running from February into May. The film would be released in December 1969.

Let It Be — the film and the record — wouldn’t see a release until 1970, a few months before Ringo turned 30. But the Beatles weren’t finished yet in the wake of those sessions. “Octopus’s Garden” would be formally recorded in April 1969, although recording for Abbey Road, to this point sporadic, wouldn’t get into full swing until July.

In December 1969, Ringo said in an interview with the BBC that “I want to be a film actor. I don’t want to be like Cary Grant or one of them who, like, really do the same performance in everything, and the story is the only thing that changes.”

Ringo & Barbara at their wedding

That may be the biggest takeaway in the career of Ringo Starr between July 7, 1968 and 1969 — because he did look at life beyond, or at least in addition to, the Beatles and rock and roll. Without the songwriting gifts of John, Paul and George, Ringo applied his natural charm to film, and was finally able to step fully out into the spotlight and marquee, without other Beatles to his side, or front. And while he was successful in the early 1970s with his solo career, he remained active on the screen, too, even if it wasn’t to that same critical or commercial success.

If you judge success by the bigger things in life, however, Ringo’s foray into film couldn’t have been any more fruitful. A few months before his 40th birthday, in 1980, Ringo filmed Caveman, starring alongside model Barbara Bach. After meeting on the set, they would wed a year later, and have been together ever since.

 

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Jan. 8: Nothing is real

Far from chaotic, the Get Back sessions, if anything, could be defined by its routines. Paul arrived early to play piano, and then pretty much ran the rehearsals. George’s songs — whether written overnight or brought back for another day — were a slog for everyone else. John didn’t have much new to offer, while Ringo did Ringo things like participate in conversations and keep the beat. Turn the page to the next day on the calendar, and do it all again.

Beyond music, the daily pattern underlying the scene centered around discussion of the live concert the Beatles were trying to put together. At once a footnote to the songs, the show was simultaneously the purpose of these January sessions and thus ostensibly what mattered most. The push and pull between director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s wanderlust and the group’s default stance — to stay put — was a constant. And the more they couldn’t settle on a British venue, the closer they collectively moved toward simply staying in the very room where they were rehearsing and ruminating.

January 8, 1969, then, was no different than so many other days the Beatles spent at Twickenham the first half of the month. Discussion about the concert surfaced late in the work day, concurrent with Paul introducing the unfinished “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” to the rest of the band for the first time, and with their initial attempts at a full-band arrangement.

Yet now, to stage the “honest” sound they sought to achieve these sessions, the Beatles began to consider an ersatz solution. Rock and roll begets rocks, or something imitating it, at least.

Denis O’Dell (left) with Ringo at The Magic Christian shoot. Photo from O’Dell’s book, At The Apple’s Core.

“If we try to cover all this (Twickenham’s sound stage) and build caverns and caves, it’s nice, you see,” said Denis O’Dell, the head of Apple Films.

Why perform at the Cavern in Liverpool for the nearly 300th time, when you can simply craft your own cavern indoors? (Please don’t answer that.)

Denis had been in the film industry since before the Beatles were born, and his association with the group began in 1964, when he was associate producer on the A Hard Days Night film. It was the start of a mutually beneficial partnership to this point, which included How I Won the War (associate producer and John starred), Magical Mystery Tour (producer) and led to his appointment as an Apple executive.

Of course, you already know his name (but have to look up his number) from his time at Slaggers, and do note he is NOT related to Miss Chris O’Dell.

Denis had appeared sporadically on the tapes to this point, and here it dovetailed with one of the first times John seemed even marginally interested in what was going on with the live show.

“Then we could do what we’d like with a backing,” Denis told John. “Go black, or stark or something. Then we could control all our lights from a panel, and we could have all colors you’d like.”

“Yes. And they’ll be able to see us through everything.”

John invoked sets used by Stanley Kubrick, Denis’ boss on Dr. Strangelove (that film was the source of the footage used during the “Flying” sequence in Magical Mystery Tour), and the man floated to direct a version of Lord of the Rings starring the Beatles. An extensive recap of that aborted episode in Beatles history is discussed at length in Denis’ 2003 fine autobiography of his Beatles years, At The Apple’s Core.

The conversation would continue, with Denis asking someone to fetch George Djurkovic, art director of The Magic Christian, from the film’s set elsewhere at Twickenham to provide added insight. But while Paul continues to play “The Long and Winding Road” in the background the conversation on the tapes meandered to a new duo: Ringo — one of the stars of The Magic Christian — and Michael. While Denis and John spoke as if the live show was to be held at the studio, Michael continued negotiations on taking the show on the road with Ringo. They were the leaders of the rival factions: Stay-put Starr vs. the whole Hogg.

“If I do go, I think it’s better just to go for four or five days,” Ringo said, showing newfound flexibility. “We don’t need to go to rehearse.”

Ringo was willing to bend and travel, but there’s a catch: “I’d like to do it to a British audience.”

It’s a catch, but one Michael is willing to receive. “Can we all talk about it? Will you take the veto off if you can be convinced we can get an audience?” Michael asked.

A Roman amphitheater wasn’t artificial, but to Ringo, the whole reason to perform overseas was contrived. The only reason to travel was the “helicopter shot, you’ll see the sea, the theater. And that is, for one, two minutes, say, that shot isn’t worth me going down there when I really prefer to do it here.”

Two and a half months after Ringo suggested the Beatles perform before there for a “British audience,” John and Yoko would be married in Gibraltar (near Spain).

“I see us doing a good show here [at Twickenham], because it’s you [the Beatles],” Michael said, again conceding this could be the last TV program the band will ever do.

Speaking quickly, Michael continued:  “Everything you do has got to be good. All your albums are good. …. It’s not only you as the band, it’s not only them as songwriters, it’s the four of you.

“It’s got to be the best.”

Of course they’re the best. Like Ringo doesn’t know that?

“Every time we do anything it’s going to be the best,” Ringo replied. “Can’t we just do something straight?”

And back to Twickenham, and staying precisely put.

“At the moment, that scaffolding set and the tubular thing, it is kind of like four years ago,” Michael said. “And there’s nothing wrong with four years ago. … We’re all 28 now, or whatever we are. The audience isn’t the same, life isn’t the same.”

For the record, John, Ringo and Michael were all 28, Paul was 26 and George a wee 25. But his point remained legitimate. This wasn’t 1965 anymore.

“This place, it could be rock and roll, ” Michael began.

“It could be rock and roll in Tahiti or wherever you want to put us. What’s it called? (laughing)”

Michael’s not even sure himself. “It’s either Tunisia or Tripoli.”

Ringo asks about a British possession likewise on the Mediterranean — “What about Gibraltar?” — before turning his attention back to the room he was in and the music, ignored during the conversation.

How’s this for an idea of stripping a show down?

“See, Ringo said, “I’d watch an hour of just [Paul] playing the piano.”

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TMBP Extra: RIP Chuck Berry

From Forthin Road’s front room to their final fracture, the Beatles were openly ripping off Chuck Berry, imitating and flattering the late, great rock and roll patriarch with complete sincerity.

The bass line to “I Saw Her Standing There,” for instance, is the bass line to Berry’s “I’m Talking About You.”

Here’s Paul McCartney, getting the message through in Beat Instrumental, via Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now:

I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me.

This you can believe: The massive influence of Charles Edward Anderson Berry — who left the material world on Saturday at 90 — on the Beatles is quite impossible to minimize. The Beatles’ growth pattern wouldn’t have been the same if there was no Buddy Holly or Little Richard, Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins, Lonnie Donegan or Slim Whitman, Jim McCartney or Julia Lennon. But the mark Chuck Berry left was unique.

You’ve heard this quote for sure, if not before this weekend, then certainly since:

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it “Chuck Berry.”

That was John Lennon in 1972, spoken in Berry’s presence on the Mike Douglas show. John’s adoration took many forms in the more than decade prior to that.  Here’s Paul, as quoted in the Anthology book:

We’d go up to John’s bedroom with his little record player and listen to Chuck Berry records, trying to learn them.

And there was plenty of reason to learn them. The sheer velocity of the music was one. John explained the other in a 1972 interview, relayed in Anthology:

In the Fifties, when people were virtually singing about nothing, Chuck Berry was writing social-comment songs, with incredible metre to the lyrics. When I hear rock, good rock, of the calibre of Chuck Berry, I just fall apart and I have no other interest in life. The world could be ending if rock ‘n’ roll is playing.

As the Quarrymen moved things up a trifle further in becoming Beatles, their love of Berry’s music was written all over their performances, with more than a dozen of his songs covered live over their touring career (you can find many of those songs as performed by the Beatles on their two Live at the BBC compilations, plus the Bootleg Recordings 1963 release).

“Memphis, Tennessee” made the cut as one of the songs for their failed audition for Decca in 1962.

Rock and Roll Music,” “Roll Over Beethoven” — the Beatles blessed record buyers with those tracks on wax and also live from the stage.  The former was performed right up until their last live show in 1966, when it was the concert opener, while the latter made it as late as into their 1965 tours.

Two and a half years after that last concert — in the timeline we’re concerning ourselves with here on this blog, January 1969 — the Beatles turned to Berry’s music over and over again, if not for inspiration then at the least out of habit and comfort. For John, Paul and George, it meant filling moments amid the tension and tedium by jamming into a impromptu but completely sincere rehashes of “School Days” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Thirty Days” or “I’m Talking About You” or .. or … or …

Even when they were fooling around with their own “Back in the U.S.S.R.” at Twickenham, it was just another reminder of Berry’s influence by way of “Back in the U.S.A.”

That the Beatles would play a song by Berry wasn’t in and of itself that telling, but their universal knowledge and comfort in playing his songs, said a lot.

Months later, in the Beatles’ waning days as a unit, Berry’s inspiration struck Lennon very directly in “Come Together.”  John dismissed the claim that “You Can’t Catch Me” — a song he said he hadn’t heard in a decade, yet one that John belted out a few lines from in a jam the final week of January 1969 — sparked the Abbey Road opener.

(Someday we’ll have to talk about how an early version of “Come Together” resembled the Kinks’ “Drivin'” off  Arthur. But that’s for another blog.)

Paul, who had no shame admitting he integrated Berry’s work into his own, felt pretty certain John did the same. As quoted in Anthology:

John came in with an up-tempo song that sounded exactly like Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me,’ even down to the ‘flat-top’ lyric. I said, ‘Lets slow it down with a swampy bass-sand-drums vibe.’ I came up with a bass line and it flowed from there. Great record.”

He’s right, it is a great record.

Turns out, they could catch John, and as part of an eventual settlement, John had a chance to re-make “You Can’t Catch Me” (as well as a few other songs owned by the prosecution) for his 1975 Rock ‘N’ Roll LP (another great record).

John’s love of that original era of rock and roll, which made him want to do it himself, gave his life and career meaning and shone on that record, and really whenever he had the opportunity to play it. The genuine glee felt by John, when he got to share the stage with Berry on the Mike Douglas Show in 1972 is palpable. If you haven’t watched it before, you should, both the performances as well as the interview segment.

John recalled that day during an interview/DJ session with Dennis Elsas on WNEW, September 24, 1974:

Because although I was there with Chuck Berry, and I’d been sitting backstage with him, I met him a few times over the years, I still have that feeling, that when I was sixteen, those were the records I listened to [in] what we called “milk bars” in England, with a jukebox. And I could never quite see him as a human ’cause there was one of my idols, actually talking to me. … It’s sort of an effort to see, “Oh, yeah, it’s a human, but it is Chuck Berry, isn’t it?”

Like John Lennon, Chuck Berry was indeed human and thus mortal, and the master was able to enjoy 50 more years on this earth than his apprentice.   The Beatles were as innovative as any act as popular music has seen, but with Berry’s genius baked into the individual members’ DNA from youth, the group didn’t have to start from scratch. It wasn’t enough that the Beatles had a backbeat they couldn’t lose,  the lyrics mattered too.

“Ever since I was in my teens I was acquainted with the works of Chuck Berry, whom I consider one of the original rock and roll poets,” John Lennon said after the Beatles’ breakup.

Said in a deposition.

Said in a deposition in which he was being sued for ripping off Berry.

But this spoke more of the litigious universe that enveloped The Beatles in the early ‘70s than anything else — Berry didn’t sue John over lyrics in “Come Together,” it was the people who owned the rights to “You Can’t Catch Me.” And the solution was simple: just play some Chuck Berry music on another record.

Paul was never litigated for ripping off Berry, but he still went ahead and covered him decades later in 1999, cutting “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” for the most excellent Run Devil Run.

On Berry’s death, Paul (and/or his people) tweeted his condolences, and it was his turn to rip off John.

Or maybe he didn’t rip off John at all. Berry was a poet, and Paul just didn’t have any better word to describe him.

Berry’s music will live on through his own recordings and as a direct line through the Beatles, too. And as long as we’ve got a dime, the music will never stop.

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Jan. 8: Let it be hers

Mid-afternoon on January 8, 1969, at Twickenham Film Studios, Paul McCartney sat at a piano and microphone and ran though “Let It Be.” Nine months later, and 3,500 miles to the west of London, the Queen of Soul was doing the very same thing.

By that point — October 1969 — Abbey Road was in stores while “Let It Be,” along with the rest of the songs slated for the Get Back LP that would ultimately evolve into the Let It Be LP, remained on the shelf. Aretha Franklin had a copy of the unreleased track, though, and we know she had been promised that song for a long time, going back at least as far as the start of the new year. But she wasn’t getting an exclusive.

Let’s go back to Twickenham, January 8, 1969:

George:  You going to give it to Aretha Franklin?
Paul:  I’m going to do it, and give it to her.

Specifically, Paul planned to have the Beatles cut a “rough demo from the first rehearsal” once the song was complete and would “try to get her to do it as a single.” But “Let It Be” was not quite complete yet on this, the fifth day of the sessions. The melody is locked down, but Paul only presented the first verse and chorus to this point.

Weight and see: Aretha Franklin does her thing, while Duane Allman (right) does his on a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” on January 9, 1969.

Still, he knew what he had, and its potential as a cover. “It would be great for Aretha Franklin, that number,” Paul said before singing a line in an absolutely terrible imitation of her. (For the record, that same January 8, 1969, Aretha was recording her version of “The Weight” by The Band, whose influence weighed heavily on the Beatles these sessions.)

Ringo provided upbeat drum accompaniment —  exactly as laid out by Paul, with a faster tempo than would ultimately surface on the record, and with several awkwardly inserted fills.

Tongue firmly in cheek, John soon offered a lyrical tweak and a poke at Paul’s pseudo-religious lyric, suggesting “Brother Malcolm” as a nod to the group’s do-it-all assistant. (Paul will deliver that line in a few future takes.)

The group would return to the day’s on-again, off-again writing-cum-rehearsal session for “I Me Mine” followed by “The Long and Winding Road,” which like “Let It Be” was similarly unfinished lyrically and being given its first introduction on the tapes to the full band this afternoon.

These repeated truncated takes of “The Long and Winding Road” — which lasted nearly a half hour, split into two separate stagings late in the day — mainly served, as far as the Nagra reels were concerned, as background music for an increasingly captivating conversation about the eventual live show. More about that in the next post.

“The Long and Winding Road” caught George’s fancy, and he called the song “lovely.” Before the end of the day, Paul taught George the song’s chords. Likewise, Paul sketched out how to play “Let It Be,” which was played for about 10 minutes at the very end of the day’s musical portion, and George and Ringo were full participants.  The song was never to be played live in front of an audience by the Beatles, but at this point it was clearly in line for the upcoming concert, and Paul sought out additional accompaniment come showtime.

“It’s sort of gonna do like a hymn. That’s why I was thinking we could get audience participation on that,” he told George.

af-lib

The sleeve for the French release of Aretha’s version of “Let It Be.”

The January 8 session was really the formal coming-out party for “Let It Be,” marking first time Paul played it to the rest of the band these sessions (on tape, at least, but it seems clear if it had been played prior, it wasn’t as extensive).

Like “Yesterday,” the song was famously sourced from a dream, but this time around it was the lyrics that were nocturnally inspired.

Here’s Paul, as quoted in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now:

In the dream she said, “It’ll be all right.” I’m not sure if she used the words “Let it be” but that was the gist of her advice, it was “Don’t worry too much, it will turn out okay.”  It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, Oh, it was really great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song “Let It Be.” I literally started off “Mother Mary,” which was her name, “When I find myself in times of trouble,” which I certainly found myself in.

But to be clear, the trouble wasn’t dated to January 1969. Rather, like “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” materialized in 1968 amid the lengthy and tumultuous White Album sessions. The two gospel-flavored songs had another link, and that was they were written with other people in mind from the start, too: “The Long and Winding Road” was influenced by Ray Charles.

As for Ray’s future Blues Brother co-star, Aretha never did end up releasing “Let It Be” as a single in the U.S. or U.K., but it was among the standout tracks (her covers of “Elanor Rigby” and “The Weight” were among others) on her This Girl is in Love With You LP, which was released January 15, 1970 — two months before the Beatles’own version came out as a single, and 11 days after the last Beatles recording session.

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TMBP Extra: Songs for everyone

It was only 100 hours before the Beatles would return to the studio together, and the charts on both sides of the Atlantic on December 29, 1968, were a perfect illustration of why there really wasn’t any rush for them to do so.

billboard_122868

December 28, 1968 issue. Image from http://bapresley.com/silverthreads/

That day, the White Album retained the top spot in the British charts for the fifth straight week in the midst of a run that would see the double LP at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks and eight of nine. After a few weeks’ climb, it hit No. 1 in the United States a day earlier, on December 28, taking a much slower slog to the top. That climb vaulted the Beatles past Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman LP, the previous week’s No. 1 that was sunk to the runner-up position, and one of four records the country music star had in the top 30.

The Beatles owned multiple shares in the Billboard album charts, too, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 63) and Magical Mystery Tour (85). The latter would provide the title track for Sergio Mendez’s Fool on the Hill LP that sat at No. 11 this week 48 years ago.

Even with the White Album entrenched atop the British charts, there was plenty of Beatle-related materials moving off the shelves, with the Best of Cilla Black (No. 21) featuring four Lennon/McCartney credits and Jose Feliciano’s Feliciano! containing three Beatles covers and sitting one notch behind the Liverpudlian chanteuse (and higher at No. 7 in the U.S.).

The first post-Christmas LP chart in the U.K. was predictably littered with greatest hits and other compilations, with about a dozen such records in the top 50. Four Simon & Garfunkel records were simultaneously on that chart, with a few soundtracks and two separate live LPs recorded at London’s Talk of the Town (Tom Jones and The Seekers).

On the U.S. singles chart, Motown dominated with the label holding the top three spots: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & The Supreme’s “Love Child.” While “Hey Jude” the Beatles smash may have been fading, dropping to No. 15, “Hey Jude” the soulful Wilson Pickett cover was rising, hitting No. 43 on its way to eventually peaking at 23. That’s Duane Allman with the epic lead guitar part.

Even though the Beatles didn’t release singles from their albums (a tradition scrapped in time for their final LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be), their presence was made on the U.K. top 50 without charting a single song of their own (”Hey Jude” dropped out a week earlier). Marmalade’s sugary cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” stood at No. 7 en route to the top spot the following week, while the Bedrock’s more authentically Caribbean-sounding version of the same song was at No. 30. That cover, produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith, would peak 10 notches higher a week later. On its way down the charts was Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” dropping to No. 39 on its last week on the charts it had topped about six weeks earlier.

Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin fell to No. 24 in the U.K. with former No. 1 hit “Those Were the Days,” as produced by Paul McCartney (it was at No. 25 in the U.S., down from it’s peak at No. 2).

What held the top spot in the British charts? It was a song written by McCartney, but not that one.  Mike McCartney, Paul’s brother under his stage name Mike McGear, wrote “Lily the Pink” with fellow Scaffold members Roger McGough and John Gorman. The song remained at No. 1 for a second consecutive week, part of a run that saw the comedy folk song reign atop the charts for four of five weeks. “Lily the Pink” had no shortage of future and contemporary star power: Elton John, Graham Nash and Tim Rice provided backup vocals, while Cream’s Jack Bruce laid down the bass line.

The Beatles wouldn’t be absent from the British charts for too long. Exactly five months after December 29, 1968, “Get Back” — which Paul developed out of a jam on January 7, 1969, and was written in the studio throughout the month during the sessions that would bear its name — would debut at No. 1 in the U.K.

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Jan. 8: Look Around

It was 12 days until their scheduled concert, and on January 8, 1969, the Beatles were loose, relatively upbeat and open-minded, uncommon characterizations associated with Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Still, there wasn’t even consensus on what continent to stage the concert, much less what venue or what kind of audience would have tickets to the show.

What they lacked in plans and new material — Paul would insist the group would produce a few “rockers” soon — the Beatles at least had no shortage of live productions against which they could reflect and project.

Two classes of potential inspirations highlighted discussions to this point: recent live broadcasts by their peers (eg., Cream’s Farewell Concert, the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus) and the Beatles’ own history on stage and on the small screen. The audience was as much a consideration as the venue.

In the final hours of the day’s sessions, as the group continued to work on George’s new song “I Me Mine,” John and Yoko waltzed the room right into a continued deliberation of the staging of the imminent show.

“I think the thing to do is just put you all in a framework, which will be just, like, the audience and a stage,” pitched Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was tentatively willing to settle for a simple approach if his preferred idea — an overseas trip — was denied. “And by the time we get to the stage, we’d have a routine of numbers. We can find each number how they fit theatrically, like your dance for that one, like the song that you cry in and the song you do that brings tears to everybody’s eyes.”  Off mic, it was joked there’ll be the one song that’s done in the wrong key.

Twickenham's Stage 1. What a pretty palette!

Twickenham’s Stage 1. Simply gorgeous!

“Seriously,” the director continued. “Almost, we should end with ‘Good Night’ or whatever song is going to be like ‘Good Night’ this time. … The end of the show should be a tearjerker like ‘Hey Jude’ or like ‘Good Night’ or like something else.”

Two large signs promoting the show’s working title — “January 20, 1969” — would hang as a backdrop. “And it’s the 19th of February, 1982,” John injected for a laugh and commentary on the decision process’ plodding pace.

When Paul asked about the composition of the audience, Michael answered forcibly, “Human beings, and the first thousand who queue up.” John was more specific, positing “pastry cooks from Walton-on-Thames” would be in attendance.  (John’s joke was told nine weeks before the London suburb actually became a footnote in Beatles history: George and Pattie were fined for drug possession in Walton-on-Thames on March 12, 1969 — the same day Paul and Linda married.)

To snickers, Michael proposed voice overs for each song. E.g.: “Now Paul sings a song of true love.” 

The audience seated at Twickenham’s Stage 1 would sit in the round, either at three-quarters or fully encircling the group. “You could build this place great like that, all of it like a coliseum,” Paul said. “Four sides, then on the top of it all, your cameras, or a camera.”

“I still don’t think that’s our best idea, for the record and on tape,” Michael replied, resigned. “But I think if that’s what we’re going to do, it’ll be fine. Because I’ll make it fine, and you’ll make it fine.”

Coliseums real (Sabratha, top) and fabricated (Rediffusion's Wembley Park studio)

Coliseums real (Sabratha, top) and fabricated (“Around the Beatles” at Rediffusion’s Wembley Park studio)

The bar for the Beatles’ triumphant return to the stage re-established at “fine,” Michael conceded “torch-lit is for next time.”

While the coliseum-style arrangement recalled to Michael the currently shelved Sabratha, Paul was reminded of a moment in the group’s history from four and a half years earlier, when Beatlemania was at its peak.

“It’s a bit like ‘Around the Beatles.'”

“Ah, I was thinking about that,” Michael said. “That was a very good show. That’s why I think it should be kind of theatrical. … Also the Presley show they’ve just done, apparently, which has more of an ‘Around the Beatles’ audience.”

In reality, the live sequences in the ’68 Comeback Special — broadcast on NBC as, simply, “Elvis” — had more of a “Hey Jude” vibe than an “Around The Beatles” one; there was always a distance between fans and the band in “Around the Beatles,” while “Hey Jude” and the Comeback Special put the musicians within reach of the crowd, and the King several times interacted directly with the commoners. What “Around the Beatles” and the Comeback Special did share in their audiences was its enthusiasm-cum-mania.

The Comeback Special was being cited in discussions of the Beatles ’69 show, but it had no influence on the “Hey Jude” taping, or vice versa. Elvis filmed the concert portion in late June 1968 but those tapes weren’t broadcast until December. “Hey Jude” was filmed in early September 1968 and broadcast days later. The two paths never crossed.

compare

Way beyond compare: Around the Beatles (left), Elvis’ Comeback Special (center) and the “Hey Jude” promo film.

Elvis triumphantly rehabilitated his rock and roll credentials with his special; the Beatles didn’t need to do that. Yet …

“One of the things we’re up against,” Michael continued, “is all the past things you’ve done.”

Here we are with a reference to the past again. The Beatles did a lot. But surprisingly, although they were commonly featured across all facets of the media, they had very few their own television programs.

“There’s only about three of them,” Paul said, and John rattled off the list: “‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ ‘Around the Beatles’ and ‘Shea'” — the latter the landmark 1965 concert at the former New York Mets ballpark that was broadcast a year later on BBC and in 1967 in the U.S. on ABC. (It recently had a run in theaters in 2016, remastered and looking downright fab as the capper to the enjoyable “Eight Days a Week” documentary).

But “Magical Mystery Tour” was a scripted musical, and “Shea” was a concert film. So that means …

“‘Around the Beatles’ is our only ever TV show, isn’t it?” said Paul.

“And it was good,” Michael said, as Glyn Johns  — who had his first encounter with the group engineering a recording session for the music used in “Around The Beatles” (they lip-synched on the show)  — called the program “fantastic.”

After John broke into a few seconds of “Shout” — the finale of that show  — Paul complained to Michael about a theater-in-the-round setup, arguing it’s a step backward, replicating the set of “Around the Beatles.”

“I think with every idea we will have is bound to be …  any of us can pick out a negative side to it,” Michael countered.

“Yeah,” Paul replied. “But it should’t be too heavy negative a side.”

Michael asked the others for input, but John replied by playing Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” — a song Michael said, without explanation, “always frightens me” — and swapping in a variety of British locales for the original American cities. (John delivered a more serious reworking of the song six years later on his Rock ‘N’ Roll album).

Returning to “I Me Mine,” Michael remarked John and Yoko’s waltz is “kind of theatrical. And it’s also romantic, and it also fits the song.” Michael was also concerned about the complete bill and “what’s going to be our mind-blasting topper at the end, which I think ought to be a weep-weep, myself. A bang or a cry.”

Paul leaned toward the bang, saying, “we intend to write a couple of rockers.” That worked for Michael — at the beginning, at least. “I think you should open exciting and end with the audience in tears.”

John launches into another Chuck Berry number, this time “Almost Grown,” and is soon joined by Paul. Pleased, Michael said, “That’s what January 20, 1969″ is all about.”

The documentary portion of the production returns to Michael’s forefront when he asks his crew if this performance is being filmed — don’t forget, while the Nagra tapes recorded sound throughout the sessions, the group wasn’t consistently filmed.

Despite the illusion, it was time to get back to work, and Paul returned to setting the agenda.

“Are we all right on George’s number (‘I Me Mine’)? I’m not. Are you? Should we keep doing it a bit more?”

And so, for the time being, the Beatles ended negotiations regarding the live show. The metaphors don’t come much easier: The Beatles’ recounting and considering a return to a theater in the round left them talking in circles.

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TMBP Extra: Around the Beatles

In this space, one post from now, you’ll see this quote from Paul McCartney as he describes a new idea for the January 1969 live show:

It’s a bit like “Around the Beatles.”

By early 1969, the nearly five-year old program was relative ancient history. Today, it’s just a footnote in the group’s momentous 1964.

The Beatles and what's around them. 1964.

The Beatles and what’s around them. 1964.

A Beatles variety show difficult to compare to much else in their career, “Around The Beatles” is notable in its own right, in addition to serving as another benchmark for the group to use in developing their January 1969 production. Yet again, a significant moment of Beatles history can be retold from within the context of the Get Back sessions.

And speaking of context, let’s precisely spot “Around The Beatles” on the band’s remarkable 1964 calendar. Here’s a drastically incomplete look at the few months surrounding the show:

— February 9 : Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan
— February 9-23: United States tour
— March 2: Filming begins for A Hard Days Night
— April 2: “Can’t Buy Me Love” hits No. 1 in UK
— April 4: Beatles own top 5 songs on Billboard U.S. chart
— April 19: Music for “Around The Beatles” recorded (they lip-synced on the show)
— April 28: “Around The Beatles” is filmed
— May 6: “Around The Beatles” broadcast in U.K.  (it was broadcast in November 1964 in the U.S.)
— June 4: Filming ends for A Hard Days Night
— June 26: A Hard Days Night LP released in U.S.
— July 6: A Hard Days Night premieres
— July 10: A Hard Days Night LP released in U.K.

A lot, lot more happened before, during and after that timeline. This period marks Beatlemania at its most Beatlemaniacal.

Jack Good, already a pioneering producer of fast-paced rock & roll variety shows with Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! and who would develop Shindig! in the U.S. just a few months after the staging of “Around The Beatles,”  was at the helm for this program. The set was a small theater in the round — this is “Around The Beatles” after all — a spartan take at the Globe Theater, with fans encircling the performers on three sides on ground level, and around the stage on elevated catwalks. Non-performing acts, including the Beatles, watched from these standing-room sections.

Play along here, and watch the entire show. It runs a little under an hour.

Something the show did not feature at its outset was music. In a sequence as campy as anything the band would partake — and trust me, I’ve seen Magical Mystery Tour several times — the Beatles took part in a nationwide tribute honoring the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (which fell April 23, just before the show was filmed and aired).

Ringo as the Lion

Specifically, the group exuberantly stages Act V Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play-within-the-play “Pyramus and Thisbe,” written as poorly acted by working class, amateur actors. It was an inspired and appropriate choice. Paul plays Pyramus, John is the woman Thisbe, Ringo is the Lion and George is Moonshine. To a staged heckling crowd, the group very much plays the part in the controlled chaos, delivering their lines with comedic injections (e.g., Ringo refers to all the money he’s making drumming).

Glimpse at the Bard a la Beatles in color here:

Nearly seven minutes pass from the show’s opening credits to the end of the sketch.

Speaking with the BBC the day after the show aired, John described how comedy has always been a Beatles trait, something fans around the world had already no doubt discovered.

Paul as Pyramus

“We used to do it, especially in the old Cavern days… Half the whole thing was just ad-libbed. We used to just mess about and jump into the audience and do anything.”

The Beatles could have lost the audience really, really quickly, but they’re so charming, so clearly joyous and having a blast, that even if they’re at times difficult to understand — between the Shakespearean English and the thick accents — it’s impossible to turn it off.

The first music we’d hear in the show, outside of the opening sequence’s fanfare, comes from Jamaican teenager Millie Small, who performed “My Boy Lollipop” as it rapidly rose on the charts en route to a peak of No. 2 in the U.K.

Money

She kicked off a lengthy, energetic sequence of artists who weren’t the Beatles taking to the stage. Long John Baldry and The Vernons Girls follow with a fast-paced medley that included Baldry handing out cash during “Money.” That sequence was backed by Sounds Incorporated — who looked a fraction of their age (which, on the whole, was a few years older than the members of the Beatles) — and they followed with their own instrumental performance before the unyielding energetic crowd.

P.J. Proby

Nearly 20 minutes in, we’re graced with the presence of a Beatle, when Paul introduces a “very good friend of ours,” P.J. Proby, whose good looks, gravely voice, lip bite and ribboned mini ponytail make even the most 40-something-aged Beatle bloggers’ heart flutter.

The Texan entered the Beatles orbit via Good, and impressed Beatles manager Brian Epstein enough that Proby was asked to come to England and be a part of the show. But while a friendship would blossom with John, according to Proby, it was a rough go at the outset with Paul. Via Finding Zoso:

So, we went to lunch that day, and at the table I was sitting there having a sandwich when I heard this voice, “Give us a song then P.J.” I turned around and I couldn’t see anybody. Then this newspaper sloooowly started coming down and this head appeared. It was Paul McCartney. And he said, “Sing us a song now P.J.”, and I said, “Sing to yourself you son of a bitch, I’m having lunch!” So, Paul didn’t speak to me from then on; fifteen days he wouldn’t speak to me.

At the end of the fifteen days when we were going to film, all The Beatles drew our names out of a hat [to introduce us] and I found out that Paul had drawn mine. So, I thought to myself, “Well, he’s not gonna do me any favors. I’m just gonna get on there, do my spot, get on the next airplane, and get back to Hollywood.” So I was just about to go on and Paul turned around to introduce me and said, “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, our dear friend, our best friend from Hollywood, California. His first appearance ever on television in England. P.J. Proby!” It shocked me so much, that I almost didn’t step onto my mark and go before the cameras.

After that, Paul and I became very good friends. What he was doing was testing me to see if I was as good as Jack Good had made out I was. So I passed the test and we’ve been friends ever since!

Proby’s performance gave way to another appearance by Millie, Sounds Incorporated, The Vernons Girls and Cilla Black, who would be another figure to later feature in the Beatles’ story. Oh, and about that Fab Four, we get the occasional glimpse of them enjoying the show from the stands.

The entire first half of this show is absolute non-stop music and action with consistently bad lip-syncing across the board.

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on "Got My Mojo Workin'."

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on “Got My Mojo Workin’.”

Thirty minutes into their show, Murray the K lets the audience know, “In the U.S.A., England is what’s happening.” But it’s not until five minutes later and after another appearance from Black and her lovely hair that the show’s eponymous stars finally take the stage as musical performers.

Each member of the band is showcased on vocals on the pre-recorded, lip-synced set: “Twist and Shout” (John) starts things off, and the crowd returns to its feverish frenzy, matching the band’s own energy. “Roll Over Beethoven” (George) comes next, making it back-to-back covers. “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Ringo) follows, with “Long Tall Sally” (Paul) — another cover — leading into a true anomaly in the group’s career: a medley. Recorded separately and edited together, the group peeled off, over the course of four minutes, “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Why, that’s the first five Beatles singles, strung together in succession. The final three all went to No. 1. The edit came off a little jerky, but the performance was characteristically upbeat. It felt rushed, but hey, no one asked me if they needed to give Sounds Incorporated so much airtime earlier in the show.

But they weren’t done. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” their newest single and the song that was presently reigning atop the charts, followed the medley. This performance of the song was officially released on last year’s 1+ DVD/Blu-ray set.

The Beatles had one prize left, and another cover — another Isley Brothers cover, at that. Not satisfied with “Twist and Shout” alone, the group made “Shout” their own, a complete rarity as a song that wasn’t part of their live set. In another rarity, all four Beatles alternated on vocals during a stirring rendition that did prove the Beatles still needed to work on their lip-sync skills just as much as the rest of the acts did.

With that, it’s fin.

In 2016, unsanctioned clips here on the Internet are far and away the easiest way to watch “Around The Beatles.” It did receive an official release in 1985 on VHS, and it’s an inexpensive purchase on eBay, provided you still have a working player. I personally recommend grabbing your brother’s old copy of the tape during your parents’ move (look, I’m not saying that kind of thing happens often, but it’s possible it happened once). The show has never been released on DVD/Blu-ray, but as mentioned, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is on the 1+ release.  As for the music, you can find “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Shout” and “Boys” — another cover and a song that was recorded for the show but didn’t make the final cut — on Anthology 1.

John as Thisbe

The show runs less than an hour, and there’s so much to unpack, but we have the benefit of the last 52 years of hindsight to really dig deep. Let’s start with the stars of the show, the Beatles. The show is almost treated as a belated introduction of the group to the global audience, even though by the time it aired — in May in the United Kingdom and November in the United States — the Beatles were a known, beloved quantity around the world. Their charm and sense of humor, so evident in the Shakespeare sketch, was certainly established, and this was in the weeks before A Hard Day’s Night hit theaters. The very fact that the group had four Number One hits available to perform speaks volumes, too. The show itself was a tremendous success, rating among the top shows of the year in the U.K.

It says plenty that the Beatles were assigned to carry their own show so early in their career. Obviously, they were up to task, and we know how their career played out. But what about the others? Each of the acts — which collectively seem like an anonymous gallery of C-list British Invasion acts from an era that produced far more memorable names — sharing the stage with the Beatles ultimately had an interesting story of their own, with many crossing paths with the group as the rest of the 1960s played out and several playing a part in notable moments in rock history over the subsequent decades.

Let’s start with Millie Small. A one-hit wonder in the U.S. and U.K., she’s credited as a seminal figure in popular Jamaican music. And in an alternate world, she’d have been part of Paul McCartney’s extended family. In the mid-1960s Millie briefly dated Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon, the brother of Paul’s longtime girlfriend Jane Asher.

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Liverpudlian Cilla Black was in the Beatles orbit early on and was under manager Brian Epstein’s umbrella by the time “Around The Beatles” was produced. She was an established success with a No. 1 hit (”Anyone Who Had a Heart”) before the show was recorded and had another to come (”You’re My World,” as produced by George Martin) shortly after. Her career was long and successful and included recording several Lennon/McCartney songs. One of them — “It’s For You” — was in the news within the last few days of this writing, when a long-lost demo from Paul was sold at auction.

Like Black, The Vernons Girls hailed from Liverpool, with the group’s first iteration performing while the Beatles were still in school. Ultimately whittled down from a 16-part choir to three members, the girl group shared bills with the Beatles and had modest chart success and their opportunistic 1963 single “We Love The Beatles” is remembered today, at least by certain members of the Beatles blogging community. The Vernons Girls disbanded later in 1964.

Baldry befriended the Beatles at the Cavern in Liverpool while a member of the Cyril Davis All Stars (which also included Nicky Hopkins, who played with just about everybody, including the Beatles on “Revolution” and on records from all four of them solo). Baldry, who was openly gay, had a relationship with Dave Davies of the Kinks, and would lead a band that featured a young Rod Stewart. Another group led by Baldry in the late 1960s, Bluesology, featured one Reggie Dwight on keyboard. Dwight would later adopt the stage name Elton John — “Elton” after Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and “John” in honor of Long John Baldry. Baldry remained a friend and influence to the superstar pianist; he was “Sugar Bear” in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. Baldry eventually moved to Canada and in addition to working as a blues musician, he did voice acting work.

Buoyed by his appearance on “Around The Beatles,” P.J. Proby went on to score a trio of Top 10 hits in the U.K. in 1964, and a minor hit in “That Means a Lot” a Lennon/McCartney leftover from Help!

As Proby’s career played out, he ended up crossing paths with more of rock’s heavyweights. His 1969 LP featured the New Yardbirds as his backup band; that’s Led Zeppelin before they had their own record out. Proby later would portray Elvis and Roy Orbison on stage and perform with The Who in their 1997 revival of Quadrophenia among other productions. His 1995 Savoy Sessions is absolutely bananas. Proby is still active; you can catch the recent Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee on tour in the U.K. this September and October.

Beatles insider Tony Bramwell wrote in his book “Magical Mystery Tours” of John’s relationship with Proby, which sounds like it bordered on infatuation.

Beyond his obvious talent, John was almost hypnotically fascinated by P.J.’s demonic, destructive nature. P.J. was like John’s dark twin, a man who quickly found his way into the wilder circles and excesses of London society. He was a Jack Black man, lots of it, but John wasn’t. To Cynthia’s dismay, John started to hang out with the lean Texan, who dressed like a cowboy during the day and in velvets, ruffled pirate shirts and buckled shoes by night.

Bramwell goes on to write that it was in fact Proby who introduced Lennon to marijuana — he “felt waves of nausea sweeping over him and rushed to the bathroom, where he threw up into the large white bathtub” — months before Bob Dylan was credited with exposing the Beatles to the drug.

The relationship between the Beatles and Sounds Incorporated stretched back to the groups’ shared time in Hamburg and extended deep into the 1960s. Sounds Incorporated — which would also end up managed by Epstein — became a frequent opening act for the Beatles, including at the landmark show at Shea Stadium in 1965. The saxophones you hear on “Good Morning, Good Morning” off Sgt. Pepper were delivered by the group’s horn section. Among other acts, Sound Incorporated’s Tony Newman would go on to drum for David Bowie on the Diamond Dogs LP.

But John, Paul, George and Ringo weren’t the only figures from our January 1969 story that worked with Sounds Incorporated. More than six years before the Get Back sessions and prior to “Around The Beatles,” Sounds Incorporated recorded a song written by Billy Preston, who — at 17 — joined the group on organ.

One more key figure from January ‘69 was involved in “Around The Beatles,” but wasn’t on stage or even at Reddifusion’s Wembley TV Studios for filming. Instead, he was involved with the Beatles’ recording session for the tracks the group used to lip-sync on stage.

“This was my first experience of The Beatles,” Get Back sessions producer Glyn Johns wrote more than 50 years later in his autobiography, Sound Man. “I say ‘experience’ as I did not really meet them, being only second engineer on the session.”

“The one thing that struck me about this session was how relatively ordinary they sounded without the vocals. They could have been any competent group of the day, but as soon as the voices were added the magic was there. It always amazed me how they progressed as writers, musicians, and producers from this already exalted position.”

By 1969, the progression was obviously massive. “Around The Beatles” was a product of Beatlemania, but not forgotten by the group — and not just because Paul named his cat Thisbe. A joyous, successful production, “Around The Beatles” became another jumping-off point for the group to use in working their way to a stage return.

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Jan. 8: Two for the Road

Formal recording for Abbey Road wouldn’t come until months after the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions and not until the project was shelved along with its stable of new songs. It’s with the luxury of retrospection we can establish that the sessions served as a demo venue for Abbey Road, not a bad byproduct of the weeks in the studio.

To this point — the pre-lunch portion of the January 8 session — the Beatles had in one form or another performed six future Abbey Road tracks (”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Oh! Darling,” “Sun King,””She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight”) that were either contenders for the live show or simply unfinished bits for another day, if any.

“All Things Must Pass,” deplorably, didn’t make the cut on either Abbey Road or Let It Be. On this day, the final stabs at that Harrisong (which were the best ones to that point in these sessions, too) found John at piano, and it was there he re-introduced a future piece of the Abbey Road medley, “Mean Mr. Mustard.”

New to the Get Back sessions, “Mean Mr. Mustard” wasn’t at all new to the other Beatles, who had heard John’s demo for the song the previous May at Kinfauns. You, too, can hear it for yourself if you crack open your copy of Anthology 3 and pop in the first disc. Or just listen below!

Pretty earthy, but that’s Kinfauns for you. Like “All Things Must Pass” and others, the influence of the group’s February 1968 India trip stretched far past the subsequent White Album. Back in Twickenham, Mr. Mustard’s sister was still Shirley, and he’s yet to rediscover his roots with Polythene Pam. Her sordid story will come later. First, we can enjoy John performing “Mean Mr. Mustard” at the Get Back sesssions.

A bit more fleshed out with full instrumentation, the first 1969 take of “Mean Mr. Mustard” is roughly what it was nearly a year earlier, and not awfully far off from what it would become later on Abbey Road. It also stands as an alternate version of his work-in-progress “Madman,” which was a few days away from debut at these sessions. But the Madman’s story will come later, too.

Ultimately, John trashed the song, calling it, along with “Sun King” and “Polythene Pam,” merely “bits of crap that I wrote in India.”

But is one man’s trash another’s treasure?

All right, fine. Paul probably wasn’t inspired by this take of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” despite sharing bouncy piano chords, but it wouldn’t have been the first time a song drawn from these sessions would bizarrely resurface many years later.

Before breaking for a bite, the Beatles returned to another song that would later be separated only by one track on the Abbey Road Side 2 medley. The number had already had a few rehearsals over the last few days, but it finally was given its formal name on January 8.

Paul: I think it’s called “Bathroom Window” … But it’s funny. It doesn’t sound like a title. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”

Paul, Linda and Mary McCartney in the bathroom, 1969. The window is out of the frame.

Paul, Linda, Mary and Martha in the bathroom, 1969. The window is out of frame.

An earlier stab at a rehearsal never materialized, but after the Beatles spent about a half hour focusing on “All Things Must Pass” and John’s quick “Mean Mister Mustard” detour, the “Window” was reopened.  “Do you want to stay on that for ‘Bathroom Window?'” Paul asked John, who was still at the piano. He did, and it marked the third consecutive day the group spent time on the song.

Mentioned previously in this space, one delight of the Twickenham takes of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” is the chance to hear Paul harmonizing with John on the song. Remember the Abbey Road version features Paul double-tracked.

Still, it’s hard to call these takes ultimately pleasurable. After some brief instruction, we hear three total takes of the song, with the first two dragging to the finish. The final take is a bit livelier. Unlike other McCartney compositions in the first week of the sessions, the song is indeed complete, though, with the same lyrics, melody and general instrumentation as we’d hear on Abbey Road, once that blessed day would come.

Now with “Mustard” on the table and the “Window” closed, the Beatles adjourned, quite appropriately, for lunch.

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Jan. 8: An hors d’oeuvre

“All Things Must Pass” should have been a Beatles song, another gripping, iconic anthem dating to the group’s long goodbye.

gh-rs

By the time the Beatles were rehearsing and recording in January 1969, George Harrison’s emergence into a songwriter that rivaled John Lennon and Paul McCartney was essentially complete, with “All Things Must Pass” part of that transformation. Taste matters, but a fair argument could be made that the song could have been the band’s greatest.

“All Things Must Pass” — which had the potential to emerge during the Get Back sessions, be performed live and later land on the Let It Be LP — thus could have gone a long way to giving George his ‘moment’ prior to the group’s send-off of Abbey Road. It never happened. But on January 8, John and Paul gave George the option of taking his song, creating that moment and enjoying his own spotlight at the live show to come. They never said it, but based on the prior week’s tapes, the two senior members of the band were probably just disinterested in playing the song.

“Do you fancy just doing it on your own on an acoustic?” Paul asked. “That would work. But it’s a bit of a thing for you.” The “thing” in question was effort.

Paul would know about playing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar while the rest of the Beatles waited in the wings.

Would opportunity knock, but for George this time?

John was on board, too, condescendingly positing George could serve “an hors d’oeuvre” to the presumptive hungry crowd.

George didn’t directly knock the idea, but didn’t follow up on the suggestions, instead trying work Paul and John on the chorus’ harmonies. After scuttling Paul’s suggestion to begin the song with George’s instrumental opening straight into the chorus, instead of the first verse — hey, it worked for Don’t Let Me Down a few days earlier — the pair haggled over the bassist’s harmony line, with Paul complaining it moved too much.

The group spent about a half hour on the tapes working on and around “All Things Must Pass” on January 8 — returning to the song after skipping it the day before — and while there was no significant or specific alterations to the song from the previous days’ rehearsals, they capped the day’s work on the song with a legitimate, listenable and, dare I say, enjoyable take of “All Things Must Pass.” It’s a version that should have shown up, at least, on Anthology 3, in addition to George’s one-man demo from a month later.

While the day’s final take is not too dissimilar in overall form than the one ended up on the final recording on George’s solo debut the following year (excepting the orchestration and dozens of additional flourishes, of course), John’s piano part here — he had moved over from organ in the final phases of the day’s takes — added little, usually amounting to pounding out chords. Still, it’s not wholly detrimental, and Paul’s bass line is on point.  Ringo, as usual, hits the spot.

The Beatles’ greatness has been amplified by the what ifs and what could have beens, and the possibility of a “Beatles’ 1969 classic ‘All Things Must Pass’” is a genuine opportunity lost.

It sounds as good as it could at this point in what amounts to a few hours of overall rehearsal and arrangement with half to three-quarters of the band giving a fraction of effort. It’s the Beatles playing a coherent, complete version of “All Things Must Pass,” and that counts for something in a world where such a release never existed, yet we all paid money (several times, in fact, thanks to new formats, remastering, etc.) to buy “Wild Honey Pie” and “Dig It.”

There is a “rest of the story.” But the vast majority of history of “All Things Must Pass” by the Beatles is now mostly told. This pre-lunch performance marked the final time they played the song at Twickenham. They returned to it very briefly near the end of the month at Savile Row with the support of Billy Preston, who released the song a few months before George would in 1970. By January 8, 1969, the rehearsal stage was essentially over, however, and this was really the final fumes of “All Things Must Pass” as a Beatles song.

Notably, the song never appeared in the Let It Be film. “I Me Mine,” revealed earlier on January 8, did, joining “For You Blue” (which was properly introduced to the band a day later) as George’s contribution to the Get Back sessions. Despite all the hours of rehearsals, the song he carried over into January 1969 as a product of his days with Dylan and The Band, would be passed over by his own band. And it was good enough to serve as the title track of what could be argued to be the greatest Beatles solo album.

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TMBP Extra: RIP George Martin

It’s so obvious a statement, it sounds dumb to write: Without George Martin, who died Tuesday at 90, the Beatles would have been a completely different entity from the one he signed, nurtured and produced.

martin

January 1969

The Beatles existed before Martin agreed to sign them to Parlophone in 1962, and had he not, the group would have continued to do so.  If George Martin didn’t manage and help develop the Beatles sound, someone else ultimately would have. But we can only imagine what the output would have been, and if we would still be talking about it more than 50 years later. Because of Martin, there’s no question: Here we are still talking about it.

George Martin produced, arranged, mixed, composed and was otherwise involved with hundreds of records over half a century. The Beatles’ output adds up to a fraction of it (and he notably wasn’t involved in one record). But his creativity and willingness to interpret the sounds inside the heads of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr and pull together the resources to apply it tangibly to wax earned Martin all the praise he has received as a forefather, godfather, innovator and icon. If he didn’t make the Beatles into The Beatles, maybe we’d be writing here about how innovative his work with another band was — if he crossed over from jazz and comedy records to pop music at all.

McCartney & Martin in the ’80s

This blog deals with January 1969, the precise moment when George Martin mattered least to the Beatles. He ended up something of an adviser at the Get Back sessions, and it was ultimately left to Phil Spector to, as Martin would describe it, “overproduce” Let It Be for release. As someone who brought the most out of the Beatles (I was going to list song titles as examples, then the list got too long), Martin’s view of the Spector production reveals what Martin himself thought he did best for the Beatles.  From Anthology:

[Spector’s Let It Be] was bringing The Beatles’ records down a peg — that’s what I thought. Making them sound like other people’s records.

The Beatles may have pinched ideas from other bands, but when George Martin produced, they never, ever sounded like another band.

Paul McCartney — the only Beatle to work again with Martin after the breakup — asked him to produce Abbey Road as a swan song, and that record is damn near perfect –like so many other wildly varied Beatles efforts Martin was tasked with producing. Here’s George Martin himself, from Compleat Beatles:

George Martin put up with a lot of nonsense working with the Beatles, often enabling implausible sonic ideas while increasingly dealing with, to use sports parlance, an out-of-control clubhouse. The Beatles may have wanted to make an “honest” album with Abbey Road, but that didn’t mean they got along much better than they did while working on Let It Be (or the White Album, for that matter).  But recording that final album gave Martin closure, too.  Again, from Anthology:

Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album — but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn’t at all surprised that they split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives — and I did, too. It was a release for me as well.

It’s 2016, and the world has been without two of the Beatles for a long time now. There have been a lot of contenders for “fifth Beatle” — George Martin, Mal Evans, Billy Preston — and we’ve lost them all, too. (A silly case could be made that Ringo is the fifth Beatle, since Pete Best is arguably part of the first four, but that’s for another rainy day). But whether it’s vinyl, cassette, CDs or MP3s, thank God we’ll always have the music.

Rest in peace, George Martin.

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