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 things happen 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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TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the 73rd anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 47th anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.

George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career,  one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.

George’s 25th year began in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.

Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).

With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.

That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.

Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1992), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.

Sorry, I missed the punctuation. That’s thanks in part to “Something.” 

There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them.  February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1969, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.

You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise, finally, from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.

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Jan. 8: No blue moon in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the "Get Back" book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan. 8: Rocky and the Rubbers

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

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

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

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

Two of Us

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

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

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

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

Yoko and Us

Two of us, and also Yoko

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

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

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

beardclose up

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

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

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

goodmorning

“Good morning!”

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

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

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

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

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

Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.

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

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

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

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Jan. 8: Take a lesson from Jude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehearsing "Hey Jude," September 1968.

Rehearsing “Hey Jude,” September 1968.

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

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

“Maybe we should have,” George chipped in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TMBP Extra: Celebrate anything you want

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

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Birthday Cake

Smile, John, it’s your birthday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan. 8: All through the day

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

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

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

“It’s a heavy waltz.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Me Mine is the ‘ego’ problem. …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

imemine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

imemine-clip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rockband

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

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

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

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

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

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

“[John’s] gone away on holiday.”

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