Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jan. 3: Let you down, leave you flat

Central to the legend of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions is the looseness of the group as they sloppily play covers and fool around with their own old songs. So many weird things, tucked in between a million takes of “Get Back” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” right?

It’s what appealed to me in listening to the Get Back sessions in the first place, so long ago,  when it was available on only curated compilations on vinyl.  And really bad sounding ones, too.  But go to record shows or Beatlefests and scan the back cover, and things seemed like they’d be cool! All these crazy cover songs, all these oldies of theirs, all these outtakes of songs we know and songs we don’t.

But the reality usually didn’t match the fantasy. [This overall theme will absolutely be covered again in this blog, likely ad nauseum].

And on Jan. 3, they did indeed have some fun with some oldies and originals. It’s not great. And really, I think things like this add to the generic resentment toward these sessions by Beatles fans. The band doesn’t care, so why should we?

Really, not a bad point. But it is interesting so long as you accept it for what it is. It’s no different than those of us who have office jobs spending a few minutes doodling on a notepad between taking care of real work, right? Their office happens to be the studio, and their doodles, songs. And if we’re eager enough to listen to their doodles as big enough fans, well… this is what we get.

So while the band didn’t spend all that much time the first few days genuinely going over their old songs,  in addition to a poke at Every Little Thing and the reintroduction of “One After 909,” the band on Jan. 3 went into the back catalog for “You Can’t Do That” — after a take of  Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” a song that seems to have inspired the song off A Hard Day’s Night.

It was pretty much 3 a.m. bar-band quality. The song breaks down about a minute in, during the “everybody’s green” part. John keeps singing, Paul keeps in there, too, and eventually the song sort of comes back to life.  They make it through the instrumental portion of the song before things completely break down for good.

More fun and somewhat historic, I suppose, was when Paul took the mic for a more significant take of “I’m So Tired.” Obviously, this was not meant to be anything beyond a bit of fun. Again, more 3 a.m. bar band. But perhaps even moreso. At least, here we got through the song. And even with an attempt at the backmask!

There’s no context, by the way, for why they went into this take. The tapes I’m listening to (A/B Road) just go from an unidentifiable jam cut straight into “I’m So Tired.”

They stick with the White Album (flip from side 2 to 1 if you’re so inclined) for the next song they roll right into.  As on the record, Paul takes the lead on “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” — kicking things off with the bass line — but it doesn’t take very long for John to take over.

And with Marmalade’s version of the song presently sitting atop the British singles charts (while the White Album was the best-selling LP), why wouldn’t the McCartney/Lennon songwriting team enjoy themselves all the way through the song?

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Jan. 3, 1969: Hearing things

There wasn’t a heck of a lot of John on the second day of rehearsals at Twickenham.

Nagra has about 13 minutes of Don’t Let Me Down, 30 minutes of I’ve Got a Feeling (which is half-John, at least),  and he led some covers.

But about halfway through the day otherwise dominated by Paul (Two of Us, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) and George (All Things Must Pass), John pops in to give us a very special minute or so.

“Gimme Some Truth.” A future classic.  Now, still pretty rough. But, certainly recognizable as a tease to what we’d see two years later on Imagine.

The band jumps right in, little preparation for the rehearsal. Indeed, the song dates back to ’68 in India, so there’s at least some familiarity.

Lyrically, it’s certainly not to its final form. Or even if it is, we don’t hear it here. Paul repeatedly makes reference to “son of Gary Cooper” — Richard Nixon, at this point the president-elect — wasn’t yet part of the lyric.

Prior to the brief foray into the song — the lone attempt at it on Jan. 3 — there’s a bit of back and forth as to what to play next. During part of the discussion, Paul (presumably) is playing the bass line to “Money (That’s What I Want).” There’s shuffling of papers as they ask which song to play next.

Paul: If you will all now turn to page 33.

George: “She Came in through the Bathroom Window?”

Paul: “All Things Must Pass?”

George: “Bang Bang, Maxwell’s Hammer?”

John: Is this a Harrisong? … I’ve got one, “Gimme Some Truth,” or something.”

It was, in fact, “Gimme Some Truth.” Not “Something.”

As we hear on vocals, curiously enough, it’s Paul. John sings along harmony and then takes over the lead when singing what would ultimately be the song’s first verse as the rehearsal concludes (the clip above pretty much is all we’d get). Why does Paul lead? Could just be Paul being Paul, taking over and singing while John gets himself acclimated or is otherwise occupied. Interesting, regardless.

However it happened, it’s the last we’d hear of the song for the day (we’d hear it again in a few days).

As quickly as it was introduced, they returned to “All Things Must Pass.”  It was John’s last notable contribution the rest of the day.

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Jan. 3, 1969: Taxman, Revisited

Shortly after a discussion of Hey Jude, and the Wilson Pickett cover that had just been released, George begins to discuss the songs he’s bringing to the rehearsals.

“Thinking of all the tunes I’ve got, and they’re all slowish,” George says.

“Most of mine are,” Paul agrees.

Indeed, Paul had already introduced “Let it Be” earlier that day and the sessions closed with lengthy rehearsals of “Two of Us” the day before.

Then George jumps in with something of a revelation, at least to these ears 43 years later.

“I’ve got that Taxman Part 2, Taxman Revisited. But it should be very sad-type, with maybe a string or two.”

Taxman Part 2! What could that be??

It’s something Paul’s familiar with, since he responds with a passive “Oh, yeah.”

I don’t believe he meant this (despite the eventual Lennon connection with Cheap Trick):

Or, for that matter, this:

But seriously, folks.

The internet is pretty empty when it comes to references of this, a song called “Taxman Pt. 2.” The few informal references I’ve seen suggest the song is actually “Isn’t It a Pity” — based upon the two-second sample of the song George subsequently plays.

I guess it could be that, if only because we know that George had brought the song to band initially during the Revolver sessions (we’ll learn that later on as we hear the tapes, in fact).   The lone lyric he sings here — “When you’re smiling” — doesn’t necessarily lead to that, though.

I’ve also seen that it could be “Art of Dying,” since that also dates back to 1966.

The only two songs he even uses the word “smiling,” at least as far as Google is concerned,  are “Behind the Locked Door” and “Soft-Hearted Hana.” And they could be easily dismissed  — the former since it was about Bob Dylan written just a few months earlier, and the latter since George himself said he wrote it in 1978. George himself is the source of both those facts in I Me Mine.

Whichever song it is, the “Taxman” reference is probably by topical association only, since none of the possibilities are remotely anything like Revolver’s leadoff track.

Meanwhile, George continues to the band’s longtime bassist and drummer.

“So far there’s only a couple I know I could do live with no backing. And that’s one of them.

“It would be nice with bass and drums.”

They then move onto a take of All Things Must Pass.

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Jan. 3, 1969: The Band plays on

The Band

The Beatles had been Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys  and others. And on Jan. 3 for the rehearsals of “All Things Must Pass,” George said, “We’re pretending to be The Band for this one.”

These are genuine rehearsals, the band learning chords, harmonies and the song in general.

(I embedded this last post about the song, but worth repeating.)

They sound mostly not good, beset by some technical woes, a lack of focus and generally sloppy play. If this was how John and Paul treated George’s songs during rehearsals for all their other albums, we’re lucky to only have recordings available for these sessions to spare him the indignity.

As the rehearsals continue, George elaborates on the sought-after vibe.

“The thing that I feel about the emotion of it is very Band-y. Rick [Danko], this one, the one who wrote really the best ones. It’s like…” [plays the first verse]

He begins to describe how he wants the backup vocals during the chorus to sound.

“If there’s people joining in, I’d appreciate it,” George says.

After a few takes, Paul offers a suggestion. “If John sings what you’re singing, and I sing harmony that’ll be the Raelettes [Ray Charles’ backup singers].

But it’s The Band that George wants the inspiration drawn from.

“The reason all their people are singing different lines is they all want to be the singer. … [And] there’s discipline where nobody’s crowding anybody else out. But it’s really great.”

As the harmonies continue to be worked out as they wrap up the day’s rehearsals of the song, John at one point remarks, “It’s getting like gospel.” But it also gets pretty sloppy. These kinds of harmonies do work for The Band, but it’s not quite working for George, Paul and John. Ultimately, some of the suggestions George had for the harmonies would show up in altered form when the song finally was released by George himself.

(First minute or so is from the Jan. 3 sessions)

George also wanted John’s organ sound to ape The Band.

“This guy Paul is looking a bit like from The Band who’s the organist [Garth Hudson], he’s really fantastic. And he’s into that so much. And it sounds a bit like a synthesizer, because the notes bend.”

So The Band gets the credit for the song’s sound. What about the lyrics? George explains to John:

“It’s Timothy Leary, I suppose.  In his ‘Psychedelic Prayers’ he had one. I remember just from years ago. … That gave me the idea for the thing.

“Apart from life.”

There indeed is the first verse, nearly verbatim, in Chapter 23 of Leary’s book.

In fact, George summarizes nearly all the above quite neatly in his 1980 tome I Me Mine, without giving quite the level of direct credit to Leary, at least for the song’s first few lines.

When I wrote “All Things Must Pass” I was trying to do a Robbie Robertson-Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into. I think the whole idea of “All Things Must Pass” has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.

Near the end of the day’s rehearsals during a break, the song’s lyrics seem to finally hit John.

“A mind can blow these clouds away. … There’s a bit of psychedelia in it, you know? Social-comment like. “

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Jan. 3, 1969: Four guys and four amps

Musical equipment, and not necessarily significant advances in songs themselves, characterized much of the Jan. 3 rehearsals, and certainly so during All Things Must Pass, from the shoctric shocks that actually made the film for the song’s only cinematic “appearance” to the more significant discussions about more macro points that occurred between takes — and during them —  as well.

During one particular take — 3.106, if you’re keeping score at home — there’s extended crosstalk that begins as the song is still being played between Paul and Glyn Johns regarding bringing in a mobile eight-track to properly record the Twickenham sessions.

“What about Wally Heider?  You know Wally Heider, ” Glyn says to Paul, and he replies, no.  “Wally Heider is the mobile guy in America. He’s got a studio on Cahuenga. It’s the Beach Boys’ studio. They have a fucking great truck.

[It’s a] big truck, does eight-track mobile. Did the Cream live album and all that. We could get that, I suppose.”

Mind you, Cream had back-to-back records with live portions, and would later have a full-live album that came out post-breakup. So really, it could be referencing any of those.

Paul replies: “Telephone America… get it here next week, that quick.”

When told EMI only had a four-track mobile, Paul quickly snapped back: “No they haven’t. They took a fucking eight-track out to the Beach Boys. They really do [have an eight-track], because I had to use the studio, and they said, ‘We’re moving the eight-track tonight.’  And that was one of the excuses they used. Really.”

Paul continues to George: “If you wanted to to get eight-track stuff to record all this, you wanted to get the greatest equipment, where would we get it? Because apparently it hasn’t been… (recording trails off).

“We lend it to ourselves,” George says. “But EMI should do it. It’s like if Benjamin Britten wants to do an album in Paris, EMI has to fucking get all that shit over to him.”

“And they do it of course,” Paul adds, disgusted.

“Seeing as we subsidize EMI, then get it out of there,” George replies.

After a break in the tape, Paul continues.

“The answer is to get here before the end of this week the best console they possibly have here. Really, the end of the week. And what’s the hangup? Is it the expense? Japan and America, they’re both very together. Germany? Germany’s very together. … See, we should hust have a mixer and everything.

“If it was America, they’d be there with 48 eight-tracks,” George later adds.  “And it’s a live album, they’re the company they get to charge on it , they have to supply it.”

The band returns to All Things Must Pass. But they weren’t done talking.  After a few more takes, the band goes back to discussing essence of the sessions (3.138).

“You know,” George begins, “the idea of doing this thing so it’s just us doing it and there’s no overdubs or you can’t get out of it , is much better, really. Because you know all the time recording you think, it’s all right, we can do that later. So you never get even the most out of that [indecipherable]… really.

John finally chimes in after briefly asking about the song’s lyrics with further ruminations on the live performance with the band just two years and four months removed from their final live show.

People who are doing live shows now, they take so much gear on stage with them like echos, phasing, tapes. And they do it live — they do they’re overdubs. And we’re still thinking of it in terms of the four guys and four amps.

Before returning to playing, George talks of getting a Leslie guitar pedal for the show and then of Magic Alex working on their studio that week before the band ultimately pivots to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

Fascinating are the politics involved with EMI and the issues they apparently had domestically in the UK.

And again, I can’t get over the question of why they even have started the sessions given the questions they still had over recording and getting equipment.

More All Things Must Pass talk in the next post.

Many, many thanks to @TheLilacTime and commenters @trainman74 and anonymous for helping clear up some of the details in the above bit of dialogue, including Wally Heider’s identity, Glyn’s voice and the location of Cahuenga. 

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