Jan. 3, 1969: The Band plays on

Robbie Robertson and George Harrison, November 1968

The Beatles had been Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys  and others. And on January 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.”

January 3 “All Things Must Pass” harmonies, from the Get Back docuseries.

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, John’s misreading of the lyric sheet — he sees “wind” as “mind” — ends up as a suggestion.

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


Filed under Day by day

27 responses to “Jan. 3, 1969: The Band plays on

  1. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Leave me waiting here | They May Be Parted

  2. Pingback: Jan. 10: Go on, as if nothing’s happening | They May Be Parted

  3. Pingback: Jan. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at | They May Be Parted

  4. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Tea-room orchestra | They May Be Parted

  5. Pingback: Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 3) | They May Be Parted

  6. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Jan. 3, 1969 recap | They May Be Parted

  7. Pingback: Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 1) | They May Be Parted

  8. Pingback: Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1) | They May Be Parted

  9. Pingback: Jan. 3, 1969: Taxman, Revisited | They May Be Parted

  10. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Let it be first | They May Be Parted

  11. Pingback: Jan. 9: Jokes in between | They May Be Parted

  12. Pingback: Jan. 8: Let it be hers | They May Be Parted

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  15. Pingback: Jan. 7: Entertainment is almost enough | They May Be Parted

  16. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Tea-room orchestra | They May Be Parted

  17. Pingback: Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 3) | They May Be Parted

  18. Pingback: Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 1) | They May Be Parted

  19. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Jan. 3, 1969 recap | They May Be Parted

  20. Pingback: Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1) | They May Be Parted

  21. Craig

    Good point. Thinking further, I’m assuming George knew he was going to do his own album within the next year or so at this time. I was just listening to a Dinsdalep Beatleg and funnily enough it had a brief (one-sided) convo George was having where he was talking about all the songs he had compiled and that it would take twenty years to get them out if the Beatles continued their traditional album layout consisting of one George song per side. Perhaps George got exactly what he wanted out of these sessions with regards to ATMP: he got to fine tune the song with the greatest band of all time and received lyrical assistance (John: the MIND…) as well, all this time knowing he would make this song the foundation of his debut record.

    Just spitballing here….


  22. Craig

    Yeah who knows what taxman 2 could mean? Although I feel u are on the right track thinking it is just a song from the revolver time period. We all know George, for whatever weird reason, just couldn’t name his songs while he was with the Beatles. I’m sure it was annoying to John/Paul and further contributed to their disdain for his songwriting -“he can’t even name his own songs, how are we supposed to take this bugger seriously?” I can imagine John saying something like that to Paul.

    Yes, very interesting thinking of the reasons they never released ATMP. Although we do know weren’t really on the right mind frame for the Let it Be record. Perhaps we should be blaming Phil Spector for this oversight, as he put the album together. It’s possible George told Phil to keep it off, knowing it would be the centerpiece of his debut album, which Phil would also produce.

    Thanks for the discussion, Dan. I could go on all day!


    • Dan

      Oh, and I can go on all day, too — made this blog so I could!

      One point on why they never did release it, and why we can blame Phil Spector for murder but not omitting ATMP from Let it Be: I don’t think the Beatles ever recorded it properly. They rehearsed it a ton Twickenham, but only in front of the cameras and its recorders (these Nagra Tapes). By the time they got to Apple, they only gave it a couple more runs, and while I haven’t gotten to those tapes yet, I’m willing to guess they weren’t usable. But I guess I’ll find out down the road.


  23. Dan

    I think it’s a weird WordPress thing (or maybe it’s all blog platforms?) where any of the pingbacks (like where I link off to THIS post from the Taxman Pt. 2 one) counts as a comment in their eyes.

    I, too, never had heard of Taxman Pt. 2 before listening to the tapes. This is the kind of stuff I was hoping to find when I finally started listening. Granted, it’s a bit of a needle in the haystack kind of mission at times, but fun stuff like this is there.

    And mean to reply to your earlier comment and never did. Loved that comment from John on ATMP. Really stood out. But then the fact that they immediately just went onto another song. I know they keep rehearsing it for a few more days, t hen it just gets totally dropped. And then George brings it back the next month when they start demo-ing Abbey Road, and it STILL doesn’t happen. (This is a topic for a future post, btw, just something general on that song). It’s such a shame they never gave it a serious look.


  24. Craig

    It says 2 comments, but I only see my one here? Interesting post about Taxman 2, never heard that before!


  25. Pingback: Jan. 3, 1969: Taxman, Revisited | They May Be Parted

  26. Craig

    Johns comment/suggestion about the mind blowing the clouds away is just awesome. It kinda makes the song in my opinion. This brief quip from John is what made this group simply unbeatable. It gives you an idea as to their songwriting process in later years. Not so much sitting “eyeball to eyeball” but commenting on others songs and contributing little bits to them in the studio to improve the final track just enough to make it acceptable to record. The irony here is that for whatever (silly) reason, the Beatles never officially released this song.


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