Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1)

After basically ceding to Yoko his creative role in the band’s decision-making over the live show earlier in the day, John Lennon regains a tiny bit of authority by leading the group through a lengthy rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of the primary songs the band has taken on thus far.

jlWell, he regains authority at the outset, at least, during a stretch that provides the first real look at the discord between band members that helped define the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.

On the A/B tapes, Jan. 6 rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” run in a straight shot for nearly 90 minutes, easily the longest stretch they spent on any one song this day. The structure of the song is set and doesn’t change from what will eventually be pressed to vinyl. It’s a delightfully simple song, both in lyrics and structure. But they’re not happy to leave well enough alone quite yet.

Things kick in with the song already under way in what’s labeled as Track 6.62. (I’ve also been able to track down some of this day’s rehearsals in a few YouTube clips below, as culled from the bootleg “Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 9 (1969 N° 5) – Hello Dolly.”)

Shortly into things, John asks to work on what he calls “the worst bit” — the song’s bridge. (“I’m in love for the first time…”).

Now, it’s absolutely granted that the band has a hard time working together, and that didn’t just begin on Jan. 2, when they convened at Twickenham. But at least from the relative beginning of the sessions, they’re trying. An example of that comes right here as John wants the help on the bridge, asking openly, “What can we do to that bit, then?”

George says he likes the vocal line and harmony, it’s just lacking in some color as far as the fills in between. He suggests a rhythm change, while John replies, “That’s where the piano would come in.”

Good stuff! Collaboration!

Paul scats some falsetto to alternate with John’s lines, and George fiddles with some guitar fills. It actually sounds kind of nice with John on an acoustic guitar, but overall nothing overly impressive. But hey, it’s a work in progress. There were probably lots of bum attempts at things over the prior decade of Beatles in-studio fiddling, right? We just have these extensive rehearsals on tape, whereas we don’t have a zillion hours and hours of them wrestling with, say, “Nowhere Man.”

Paul takes things a bit more into his own hands, instructing George to join him in the vocals, and telling him just what to do.

Paul offers up his falsetto part, then gives explicit suggestions for the responses.

John: I’m in love for the first time

Paul’s suggestion: Love for the first time in my life

John: Don’t you know it’s going to last

Paul: So don’t you let it get away (he soon changes it to “Not going to let it get away”)

John: It’s a love that lasts forever

Paul: It lasts forever and a day

Paul goes onto explain that “corny’s all right in this one. What he’s [John] doing is corny. That’s the thing that will make it not corny, we sing different different words.”

I’d question the logic (and lyrical interpretation) there, but hey, Paul’s track record in writing hit songs is a lot longer than mine. The last song he referred to as “corny” was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” a few days earlier, and I think it’s safe to say they’re quite different birds. I do think he says it affectionately, at least.

John belting out "Don't Let Me Down" in a clip from "Let it Be"

John belting out “Don’t Let Me Down” in a clip from this very day, captured on film in “Let it Be”

George says something that’s not quite on mic, to which Paul, clearly trying to blow him off, says “OK, well, we’ll do that, that comes later. Just sing it straight first.”

The next stab at the bridge has George doing the “part that moves” that Paul had just suggested, sounding a bit Band-ish, which isn’t too much of a surprise at this point. At the same time, there’s a slight “Revolution 1” vibe here, where the “shooby-doo-wops” punctuate the chorus. I guess it works, but it definitely changes the feel of what we know as “Don’t Let Me Down” — John in fact likens the work in progress to “something like the Drifters.” (We’re still a few weeks away from the Beatles actually covering the Drifters).

They continue to run through the bridge, Paul directing.

Paul : The thing is, sing the one I’m doing, and we’ll improve upon it. Start off with a corny one, because the words aren’t that good. (Here, he’s referring to his response vocals, not John’s main ones).

John: I think the words should be corny, because there are no clever words in it.

I guess he’s right — it’s a straight rock song with deeply honest lyrics (and his first song written for Yoko, I believe), no interpretation necessary. This isn’t “I am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” lyrically. So I don’t think he meant it as an insult to the song. But I guess I’m surprised John would want to muddy up a song like this.

More run-throughs, and John still isn’t satisfied, at one point saying, “Maybe I should play piano … just to change it.” George talks about using some pedals so it “doesn’t sound like the same old shit,” — but John says “I like the same old shit, if it’s clear.”

“Just think of some riffs,” Paul suggests to George, as we see today’s first real signs of a little bit of the big boys ganging up on the perceived help.

And so they continue, with one of the takes briefly immortalized at the beginning of the “Let it Be” film (it’s taken from 6.67 on the tapes).

Of course, in this edit, the band goes straight into the Jan. 3 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer performance. In reality, they churned on, with Paul thinking the answer to the seemingly busted bridge is to change the rhythm.

“This needs this,” Paul insists. “It needs things to happen.”

Just what does happen? Find out soon in Part 2!

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Day by day

9 responses to “Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1)

  1. CW

    Fascinating. I never knew about the falsetto alternating vocals in the bridge. Great post!!

  2. Craig

    Oh, how I love this song. One of John’s most honest and that’s saying something.

  3. Pingback: Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 2) | They May Be Parted

  4. Sue

    What fascinates me is how much of Don’t Let Me Down — a song that everyone thinks of as purely a John song — is shaped and arranged and some of the lyrics written by Paul. … We’ve been told forever that John and Paul weren’t collaborating in the final years and they clearly were. And we’ve also been told forever that it was Paul always telling George what to do or dismissing George’s suggestions when it’s clear in this post and in Part 2 that John was just as likely to ignore or veto George’s input as Paul was.

    It’s just that George always publicly blamed Paul (an easier target?) when John seemed to treat George as a “sideman” too. And the fact is: George WAS a sideman at this point. We all know the powerhouse writers up this point were John and Paul.

    • Dan

      Hey, Sue, thanks for reading! The same thought struck me, too. How actively Paul was collaborating, whether it worked/stuck or not, he was deeply involved, and very proactive about it.

      • Sue

        Exactly. But for me, it’s not just that Paul was actively collaborating. It’s that John was, too. We hear John overtly seeking Paul’s help and advice on the song, and in some cases deferring to Paul’s opinion. Fascinating.

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

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

  7. Pingback: Jan. 6: That weight and this boy | They May Be Parted

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s