Monthly Archives: January 2012

Jan. 3, 1969: Starrwriter 69

Quite literally, the freshest sound in music right now is by Ringo Starr, whose 17th solo release — Ringo 2012 — hit shelves and servers today (Jan. 31, 2012).  Most of the songs are at least co-written by him, meaning perhaps Richard Starkey is is finally hitting his stride as a songwriter as he has little more than 100 songs to his credit over the course of 50-plus years since the Beatles began recording. And many of those — while I don’t doubt his contributions — are things like “Dig It” and “Flying,” songs that received the four-Beatle credit and other songs in which he presumably didn’t have much heavy lifting.

Of course, that list doesn’t count songs written and not registered. It certainly doesn’t have songs he partially crafted. And that’s just what we have out of Ringo as early on the second day as rehearsals continue at Twickenham.

Source: thebeatles.com

George was discussing The Band with Paul and Ringo (John wasn’t there yet) and how their favorite track (presumably off the White Album — he didn’t specify) was “Don’t Pass Me By” because of its country western vibe.  “That’s their scene, completely,” George said of the very first composition credited solely to Starkey.

Paul chimes in to ask Ringo, “Are you going to write another?”

“Yes I am,” he replied, almost incredulously before some cross-talk obscures what was said next, although Paul already knew what was in the works. In fact, he already was able to name one — “Picasso” (also bootlegged as “I Bought A Picasso”) — before Ringo started pounding out the chords (a struggle).

“Let’s hear it,” Paul asked, remarking it was “a fast one” — something they were looking to add to the set list of the live show. “Too fast for me,” Ringo replied. Paul, as well as George, had absolutely heard it before based on their reactions and subsequent suggestions.

Sounding very similar — and, really, quite like a sped-up “Don’t Pass Me By” — Ringo then launched into “Taking a Trip to Carolina” — a song he’d first touched upon for 45 seconds or so a few minutes prior to “Picasso.” As he says midway through, “the words are not very good.”

Note that this clip, from the bonus disc that came with “Let it Be … Naked,” begins with the exchange that preceded “Picasso” edited in as the lead-in to”Taking a Trip to Carolina.” But in reality, that’s not the exact order of how it really happened.

Ringo wouldn’t showcase a song again until later in the month, with “Octopus’s Garden,” which of course would later appear on Abbey Road (I’ll cover the song’s introduction to the sessions when I reach that date). We wouldn’t hear either “Picasso” or “Taking a Trip to Carolina” for the remainder of the tapes.

He would not have a vocal on Let it Be — either of the iterations (Glyn Johns mix of the Get Back LP or the final Phil Spector production) — marking the first time that happened since the A Hard Day’s Night LP in 1964 (*He didn’t have a lead on ’67’s Magical Mystery Tour, either, but it was technically an EP with old singles padding the US full-album release).

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TMBP Extra: Rooftopaversary

I need to make one more interruption before returning to the day-by-day tapes breakdown to recognize the 43nd anniversary of the rooftop concert atop 3 Savile Row that just about concluded the Get Back sessions and wrapped the Beatles’ career as a live act. More on this iconic event as I eventually reach it in the Nagra tapes timeline down the road.

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TMBP Extra: We all shine on

Phil Spector, John Lennon

A key date in the history of the Get Back sessions came a full year later, five months since the end of the Abbey Road sessions and a few weeks removed from the final time the Beatles — three of them, at least (no John) — recorded as a unit.

It was on this day in 1970 Phil Spector entered the Beatles’ orbit.

Spector, for better or worse, soon became the producer for the Let It Be album. And it was for his work on that incredible day — Jan. 27, 1970, the day “Instant Karma!” was born.

As Lennon famously put it:

I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner.

And it was released 10 days later. The song may have been written the day before, but that’s splitting hairs.

The key takeaways:

  • Finally we have a commercial solo record by a Beatle. And it’s really a classic.
  • The work of Spector —  who had said he always wanted to produce the Beatles and was in London to talk to George Harrison about his own solo work (according to the terrific “You Never Give Me Your Money” by Peter Doggett; I’d seen other explanations for how they hooked up) — so impressed John and George that he was tasked with putting together what would be called the Let it Be album two months later. And in doing so, the original intent of the Get Back sessions — capturing the band’s live essence — was in large part shattered with the (over)production.

Regardless of the impact on the Beatles as a whole, Spector became massively important in the solo work of John (Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Some Time in NYC, Rock & Roll, other singles) and George (All Things Must Pass, Concert for Bangladesh, Living in the Material World).

And it started here:

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Jan. 3, 1969: Setting the tone

The second day of the sessions at Twickenham, Jan. 3, begins with Paul alone at the piano, and in the span of the first five minutes we hear the first fleeting tastes of “Long and Winding Road” and “Oh! Darling,” plus an extended preview of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which would see an extensive full band rehearsal later in the day.

While it’s among the dozens of covers sampled that day alone, a few minutes of Paul riffing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” jumped out at me as someone who’s seen the film “Let it Be” countless times.

And as the Twickenham stage is set on Jan. 2, the actual first day of the sessions, “Adiago” plays as the opening credits roll, cutting to Paul (with Ringo) at the piano. This truncated version of the song gives way to “Don’t Let Me Down,” and the rest of the film.

Sayeth Wikipedia:

The Adagio was broadcast over the radio at the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s death.[18] It was also played at the funeral of Albert Einstein and at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco.[18] It was performed in 2001 at Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks, replacing the traditional upbeat patriotic songs.

In 2004, listeners of the BBC‘s Today program voted Adagio for Strings the “saddest classical” work ever..

Thus, of all songs to use to begin the film that ostensibly chronicles the band’s breakup, we get this over the credits.

Well played, Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Tell me why

Something I never completely got my head around is why the Get Back sessions had to happen when they did, in the beginning of the new year, 1969. And in such a disorganized state, to boot.

The timeline is stunning, really, when you look back on it, even in the context of the music industry not being what it is today, when you can go years and years between records.

Consider: On Jan. 2, 1969, the Twickenham sessions got under way. “Hey Jude” was recorded five months earlier (July 31, 1968), released four months earlier (Aug. 26, 1968) and had just finished runs at No. 1 around the world. The White Album was released SIX WEEKS earlier. Six weeks!

The members of the band couldn’t have been bored — John and Yoko were doing the concept art thing, George  and Bob Dylan were writing together only weeks earlier in late November (he’d show off “Let it Down” on this day). Paul and Linda were a little less than two months from marrying. Ringo had just appeared in “Candy” and was soon to be in “Magic Christian.” They had stuff going on!

And again, I know, the industry is different today than it was then. But even considering that, there really wasn’t that much reason for the Beatles to rush into the studio in January 1969. It’s just what they did.

Famously, the goal here was to rehearse fresh material for a film or TV special, culminating in a concert before a live audience. New material. Six weeks after they put out a double album.

But there they were, at the Twickenham sound stage on Jan. 2. Six weeks after they released the White Album (did I mention that?). And despite the rush to be there, sessions beginning in the morning like it was an office job, they still didn’t really have the the session’s raison d’être lined up. There was no agreement on a venue to actually perform the concert.

A little more than halfway through the day’s recordings, Glyn Johns and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discuss with Paul — in addition to the state of his beard — the potential venues for the culmilation concert. Legend has local clubs, African amphitheaters and the like in the mix, but from discussions on the first day of the sessions, it’s clear that it’s most likely going to be a soundstage. Twickenham itself is an option, and seemingly Paul’s preferred one (“Just as well stay here”). Another option pitched is Intertel Studio in Wembley, where the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was recorded a mere three weeks earlier.   The venue received raves — “It sounds like a good live studio.”

Amazingly, at that moment elsewhere at Twickenham– and sure, who knows if he was in the room at the time, out having a smoke, grabbing a bite or in the bathroom — was John Lennon. But he was never consulted (on tape, at least) about what he thought of Intertel. And he only performed “Yer Blues” there a mere three weeks earlier.

But even though it was a potential concert venue following the rehearsals there, everyone hated Twickenham.  PAs hadn’t even been set up (they were arriving later that day). John was suggesting they move into a corner of the room — Ringo was too far away. “This place sounds terrible,” Paul said.

Said Lindsay-Hogg to laughter, “I think the thing to do is just be very flexible about every aspect of the enterprise.”

As a director, Lindsay-Hogg was naturally eyeing a dramatic scene. A Tunisian open-air amphitheater was famously pitched, the Beatles to play at dawn. “Snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around,” Lindsay-Hogg visualized.

It was never going to happen, no matter what. Paul put it straight right there on Day 1. “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”

The stage is set at Twickenham as the opening credits roll in “Let it Be.”

Lindsay-Hogg hoped to change minds. “Let’s see what we all feel in a day or two… instead of making anything hard and fast.”

There would be no budging. “Ringo definitely doesn’t want to go abroad,” Paul said, “so that means we don’t go abroad. Maybe we go abroad next time… [but] it would be nice to find some way to do it out of doors.”

Like John wasn’t even considered when discussing a venue he played just weeks earlier, Ringo didn’t state his case in person, only via proxy. It did really sound like it was the first time the topic of concert venue was seriously discussed immediately between the director and the film’s principals, and it was after they had already began the sessions.

Thus, there they were on Jan. 2, starting 20 days of rehearsals culminating in a concert that had absolutely no parameters decided outside of the band scheduled to perform.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Hair, there and everywhere

Line of the day, directed at Paul during a discussion with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg:

“You going to keep the beard? You look like a Talmudic student.”

As it happened, one of the few covers they ran through on that day was Chuck Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.”

Thirty years later, Paul McCartney would record his own version of the song on Run Devil Run, and perhaps with his subconscious working overtime, among the video’s line dancers (around 51 seconds in) would be none other than…

(Albeit beardless). Coincidence. Absolutely. Right?

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TMBP Extra: George quits the group

Continuing to interrupt regular programming to offer up a quick one while he’s away. He, being George Harrison, who quit the band this very day in 1969, marking the second Beatle to leave the group in five months (Ringo having left briefly during the White Album sessions).

A comprehensive post on this moment will come in the future, but wanted to mark the occasion on the actual anniversary.

Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg describes the incident, which happened at lunch, in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance.”

George was usually with us, joining in the conversation, affable and friendly and interested in the give- and- take, but on the day of the Tunisian discussion, he wasn’t with us as the meal started. At the morning rehearsal, I could tell by his silence and withdrawal that something was simmering inside him, and so in my role as documentarian, I’d asked our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table.

We’d finished the first course when George arrived to stand at the end of the table.

We looked at him as he stood silent for a moment.

“See you ’round the clubs,” he said.

That was his good-bye. He left.

John, a person who reacted aggressively to provocation, immediately said, “Let’s get in Eric. He’s just as good and not such a headache.”

Paul and Ringo would not be drawn in, and after lunch we went back to the studio where Paul, John, and Ringo improvised a ferocious riff, half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums. Yoko sat on the edge of the rostrum on the blue cushion which had been George’s and howled into his mike.

Part of the jam was The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away” — just one sliver of the song. And he indeed would “soon be home” — he was back with the group 11 days later when they moved the sessions to Savile Row, which was a condition of his rejoining.

George, meanwhile, was pretty productive once he got to his actual home.

From his autobiography, “I Me Mine”:

…[A]fter one of those first mornings — I couldn’t stand it; I decided this is it! — it’s not fun anymore — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving. Wah Wah was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal. It was written during the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming — I’d left the band, gone home — and wrote this tune.

(demo from “All Things Must Pass” sessions)

“Wah Wah” would never see life as a Beatles song, joining “All Things Must Pass,” “Hear Me Lord,” “Let it Down” and “Isn’t it a Pity” — four Harrisongs brought to the Get Back sessions for the Beatles to work on — on his solo debut instead.

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TMBP Extra: Birthday for a King (and Duke)

elvis paperIn honor of what have been Elvis Presley’s birthday, I’m going to step out of order here for a post and offer up a few clips of the Beatles covering the King of Rock & Roll during the Get Back sessions.

This isn’t exhaustive, but hits a lot of the highlights.



From the Anthology, the Beatles discuss meeting Presley in 1965.

Turnabout is fair play, etc. Here’s Elvis covering “Get Back” in a medley with “Little Sister”:

Jan. 8 also marks David Bowie’s birthday. While the Beatles never played anything by Bowie, John Lennon of course worked with him in writing and performing on “Fame.” The same album, 1975’s Young Americans, also yielded Bowie’s cover of “Across the Universe,” which featured Lennon on guitar and backup vocals.


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Jan. 2, 1969: Revelation 1

Much like I can never listen to Hey Jude the same way after knowing where John Paul drops the F-bomb, it’s hard to hear “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Sun King” the same way after hearing them debuted at Twickenham on the first day of rehearsals.

And that’s because, after hearing each of those songs quite literally countless times over my life, it never occurred to me that they’re one in the same. Insomuch that “Sun King,” ostensibly, is part of “Don’t Let Me Down.”

Maybe it had always been obvious to everyone else. But to me, it was revelatory.

How was this missing from my life all these years? Am I the last to know? This, easily, was the most interesting thing about the first day, for me. Something I’d never even approached thinking about.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Different feelings

Little more than 25 minutes into the A/B Road recordings, we’ve heard four eventual classics rehearsed in “Don’t Let Me Down,” “All Things Must Pass,” “Let it Down” and a seminal take of “Jealous Guy” in “Child of Nature/On the Road to Marrakesh.”  None would make the eventual Let it Be release, with Don’t Let Me Down making it onto the B-side of “Get Back” in April (it did make the initial Glyn Johns cut of the Get Back LP), “Jealous Guy” — which didn’t make the cut on the White Album — surfacing on Imagine and the other two tracks highlighting “All Things Must Pass.”

Paul arrived last for the session, but he was quick to take up John’s offer to sing a few songs.

Clearly well developed was “I Got a Feeling,” with Paul’s base song already wedded with John’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year.”  And Paul hit the ground running with the track, seemingly very eager to work out its kinks straight away.  Like he would with “Don’t Let Me Down” later in the day, he was already micromanaging aspects of the song, not merely introducing new numbers to bandmates just reconvening for sessions.

After more than 40 minutes — of what’s captured on the Nagra tapes, at least —  George cuts in.

“It may be better to, like, learn as much as like we’ve learned of this one of … ”

“Of all of them (the songs),” Paul interrupted. “Yeah I was saying that before.” He didn’t actually say that before, at least on the tapes. “Yes, just get the chords and stuff.”

George continued, “Bring them all up like that together, rather than just (get) the one perfect…”

John cuts in. “OK, but we’ll just do it a couple more times, and see which way we go, and then we’ll learn something.”

Not more than 20 seconds pass, and they return to “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

A little less than 10 minutes later, at the end of two more takes — getting them up to about 20 — Paul suggests they do a new song, “learn some new chords or something, like you said.”

So they moved on… to “Don’t Let Me Down,” which they’d already spent 20 minutes on earlier (on the tapes, at least) and abandoned only to get into “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

George would play “All Things Must Pass” alone later in the day on the tapes, the take lasting about a minute and a half  — with just audio, it’s impossible to tell if the rest of the band was even there. Most of the remainder of the day was Paul spending about a half hour introducing Two of Us.

Things would, however, change the next day.

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