It’s as if one James Paul McCartney had a crystal ball on this Monday morning, fully aware of the serious depth of frustration these Jan. 6 sessions would ultimately become in the ensuing hours with their iconic struggles with “Don’t LetMe Down” and “TwoofUs.”
So in serving as rough bookends to what was, well, a rough day of rehearsals, it’s easy to read even more into “Carry That Weight” than Paul ultimately disclosed. While not a complete template to the eventual cut on Abbey Road — it’s in standalone form, not attached to “Golden Slumbers” yet — its introduction informs just why the song is as much a Ringo song than anyone’s. And I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally expecting this to be a post that much about Ringo.
On Abbey Road, the track is listed at a mere 1:37, much of that a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and the only real, tangible identification of the song as its own independent work of art is repeat of the dozen words in the chorus — “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time”
We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this [Allen] Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like for ever! That’s what I meant.
‘Heavy’ was a very operative word at the time — ‘Heavy, man’ — but now it actually felt heavy. That’s what ‘Carry That Weight’ was about: not the light, rather easy-going heaviness, albeit witty and sometimes cruel, but with an edge you could exist within and which always had a place for you to be. It was serious, paranoid heaviness and it was just very uncomfortable.
Talk about heavy — that’s some pretty heavy analysis for a minute-or-so chant, no?
On this day, just under 40 minutes into the Jan. 6 tapes and before they do any heavy lifting, we learn it’s no mere chant. At least for this, the song’s debut, which comes mere moments after George’s futile introduction of “Hear Me Lord.”
“I have a bit there which might interest you,” Paul said. “I was thinking for a song for Ringo.”
And off he goes, solo organ accompaniment to the familiar chorus we would all know from Abbey Road, sung alone. He implores the rest of the gang to sing along, which they do less than enthusiastically.
After the full-group singalong, the “Carry That Weight” we ultimately would know and love for so long delivers something unexpected: a verse.
When I’ve been told the first time that I’d seen that wasn’t done, but I can’t get over the way he treat me wrong.
I guess that could be about dealings at Apple. Or it could just be generic filler lyric Paul’s so good at creating.
Another verse, mainly actual gibberish, spilled into a brief description of chords. Things broke up with John and Yoko’s arrival moments later. As the couple discuss “that diary” with George, Ringo hits the ivories and introduces a bit of “Octopus’ Garden,” before Paul steers it back into “Carry That Weight.” Ringo sings enthusiastically.
Unintelligible chatter makes way to another revelation.
That bit, I was trying to do, like, a country song.
So Paul writing something — even just a “bit” for Ringo — makes perfect sense, with country songs obviously in his wheelhouse. That Paul’s looking to write something for Ringo also speaks of his confidence in the future of songs like “Taking a Trip to Carolina” and “Picasso” (“Octopus’ Garden,” too).
There’s another verse, but nothing that’s particularly understandable. Country-ish, in the way Paul writes country.
Paul suggests perhaps Ringo sings the chorus alone — or maybe it’s everyone.
With that, and an alternate take of the chorus — “Boy, you’re going to open that gate,” suggested by George, and in what sounds like something inspired by something that just happened in the studio — the group moved on to some instrumentals and improvisational songs before they later fell into “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Two of Us” and other works-in-progress.
And with Paul proposing “Carry That Weight” could have been a song to be sung by the drummer from the start, we have an answer to the question (that I always wondered) of why Ringo is just so wonderfully prominent on Abbey Road’s recorded version.
Having carried the weight of keeping a semblance of cohesion of the group, the sessions and a very long day, Paul sounds slap-happy in singing the chorus to “Carry That Weight” on his way out of the studio at the conclusion of the Jan. 6 rehearsals, completing the other half of the bookend.
This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the Jan. 6, 1969, sessions for “Two of Us.” If you haven’t already, please enjoy Part I and Part II!
George: OK, I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.
The line came a little more than 16 minutes into the Let it Be film. In a movie less about words and more about music — the trailer’s promise of “rapping” not withstanding — it would stand out regardless. As it is, George’s statement to Paul during the day’s rehearsal of “Two of Us” essentially became the catchphrase for the entire sessions. It’s George’s frustrations and Paul’s bossiness — and John’s disinterest, as he’s conspicuous by his absence — all in one. And because it was in the film, and the highlight of an extensive set of dialogue in it, it’s the moment we point to. At least, it’s the moment I point to.
“Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it” caps a sequence that lasted much longer than two or so minutes depicted in the film.
Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”
I get what Paul wants to do here, prove his point that a more spartan approach is ideal — especially here while they’re in the rehearsal stage. And he’s made that clear. But instead he finds a way to pick at a scab.
George, remember how you were wrong about “Hey Jude”? You’re wrong, just like that, today.
George: OK, I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it. But I don’t think you really know what that one is.
Missing from the film is that last line, which really gives it an extra bite. Passive-aggressive right into aggressive.
In the film, the discussion pivots from George to John wanting to listen back to tapes before he begins into “Across the Universe.” Paul’s sweater goes from orange to yellow, so not much sleuthing is needed to know that’s cut in from a different day.
After George relays his willingness to please, Paul’s actually speechless for a few seconds, before saying, audibly perturbed and in a way only Paul can say it, “OK, now come on.” He pays no mind to John, who here is actually trying to defuse the situation with a resolution that would move the session forward in the immediate.
“Do you want to take the galloping bit, and I’ll just vamp?” John cuts in to ask George. Paul continues.
Paul (to George): Look, you know, it’s not like that. … We’ve gone through this, we’ve really got to sort out this, because this is the one, you know? Now we’re rehearsing, and we’re trying to get it together for a TV show. So we really, like you said, we’ve only been through four numbers.
(George replies with an “uh-huh”)
So we’ve probably got to get some system to get through like 20 or 30 and no more. … And it’s probably going to be like sculpture. So that we get all the chords, so we can all vamp them all. Then we can all play every solo we need.
Wow! That’s a lot of songs. What a TV show that could have been, right? (This isn’t the post for it – but it will be sooner than not: What would those 30 songs be?) Anyway!
Paul: But… you know what I mean. It’s got to sound as though it’s improving.
George: It actually, it sounded to me, that for me, it was a waste of me time playing when we started it today. I just started remembering then what it was getting into the other day after playing it for an hour and a half. And suddenly I start finding that what I’m doing is starting to have something, Have some sculpture to it.
Paul: I know what you mean, it’s just that that way of doing it puts me off the way I’m trying to do it.
George: But that’s all. I can only do me that one way, however I do it, you know?
Silence. And then Paul decides to wave the white flag before being spurned. Just picking his fights, I guess.
The sarcasm drips like water from a faucet. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit the band a few days earlier than he ultimately did.
John: Let’s do this, because, I mean, we’re going to come to this,or whatever it is. And the thing is just to try to and think whatever … it’s going to be.
Paul: This afternoon, I think we’ve wasted a long time. I think we do waste, physically, waste a lot of time, the four of us together.
It’s Paul as boss again, this time lecturing on employee efficiency. And I don’t blame him, because he’s pretty much on target here.
The slate cuts in, and there’s some cross talk and Paul’s bass muffling some dialogue.
Paul: I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know? Not pretending about that. … And that’s what we decided, you know?
This line passed right by me the first time I heard it, and it wasn’t until I was sprucing up the post that it jumped out. What’s Paul saying here? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and guess he’s saying he’s scared of the whole “be the boss” thing for a couple years? Or is he coming out and saying that he has been the boss for a couple years? I’m not sure he doesn’t think of George as a subordinate, but I don’t think he believes that of John. But I’ll give Paul a pass here, in part because the lack of reaction.
Paul: And this is why it’s chaos. That’s why we take so long. Because, really … we could play it shitty. We play it shitty 10 times, and so it’s sort of in there. And then I think we could play it quite good then. But it’s just like different approaches, you know? I think we’d be better just doing it all like the Red Norvo Five. Just really like…
John: Vamping away.
Paul: Vamping … then get the imaginative thing. … I know it’s impossible … because we don’t do it that way. … There’s no point in me trying to get you to do it how I do it.
A little reminder here — they’re not even done with their third day of the sessions, and things are already being described as a “waste of time” and “chaos.” Reading between the lines and maybe I’m off-base, but I think Yoko’s omnipresence is implied as part and parcel of the chaos. And maybe Paul has a bit of an idea that they’re moving too fast here, even though he’s part of that problem — nobody has any idea what songs they’re going to play at a live show, where the show will be or even how it will be staged.
Meanwhile, who the heck is Red Norvo? He led his quintet (there was a trio, octet and other combinations, too), playing modern jazz on a vibraphone and, it seems, famously vamping.
Paul: It’s terrible, though, seeing yourself really go down a path you’ve been down too many times, you don’t want to go down. Like us going on about this. I really don’t want to go down that path. It’s just silly. I just don’t see any solution.
The problem is that we should all arrange our own tunes. And if you want improvisation, then should just say it.
George: That’s the best way.
Paul: It’s like a point of theory, this, isn’t it? It’s not just to do with playing music. Far further reaching, this thing.
Far further reaching, indeed. So the path is set for Beatles 2.0, although we’ve already seen them act, essentially, as each others’ backup band in many instances on the White Album (and certainly before that, too). Now, they discuss codifying it, taking “I’ll play if you want me to play” to its logical conclusion.
It wasn’t an angry exchange, this one, rather very matter of fact (and difficult to hear with the band playing over the conversation). But we do see how it manifested on Abbey Road, where the band often recorded parts in separate studios simultaneously.
Isn’t this moment here, very specifically, The Beatles agreeing to ultimately break up? They’re happy to relegate the other members as their respective session players, making George no different to Paul than Hamish Stewart, or Paul no different to John than Tony Levin.
Perhaps coincidentally, the group launches into a slow, almost mournful abbreviated version with John leading on vocals. Shortly thereafter, Paul gets back to business.
Paul: What I really meant to say was, let’s do the same bit on that. That’s what I really meant to say. (“We’re on our way home”)
The band returned to the back end of the chorus, focusing on timing and cues. Mal is asked to fetch John a tea and George a beer. This can only be a good thing as the occasional brew helps fuel the odd blog post as well.
George and Ringo fool around, playing “Frère Jacques” into Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” for less than a minute. Maybe the beer helped mellow the mood, as George, with a much friendlier vibe, asks Paul how he envisions the style of “Two of Us.”
George: It was going heavier. Do you want it more countryish?
Paul: I don’t mind, I’ll just go where it goes.
The group runs through the song a few times, sometimes able to get all the way through. Tape cuts make it hard to tell just how many times they did work on it.
In addition to giving a passing, light-hearted nod to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Loop De Loop” — they spent a bit of time on the very end of “Two of Us.” I’d most certainly say Paul was trying to “confuse it” before “unconfusing it” here, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only written about 5,000 words on just 50 minutes of “Two of Us” rehearsals.
And with that, we wrap the day’s historic and fascinating rehearsals of the song.
Having fun, the Ringo way
So given the full context of the day’s sessions (and the prior days’, too), and emotions which were especially ramped up during the torturous “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsal that immediately preceded “Two of Us,” of course George’s famed “please you” wasn’t anything remotely out of the blue. It wasn’t even the most potent or viscous thing he said that hour.
But the delivery of “please you” was perfect, and watching it on film more than 40 years later, it’s still a great, dramatic moment. Like I wrote in the first post about “Two of Us,” it’s a passive-aggressive greatest hit. I’ve said it to bosses (they had no idea what I was referencing). I’ve said it to my wife (she did).
I think it’s remembered, even in a way that “I don’t even care” — spoken seconds earlier — isn’t. Of course, that could just be terrible VCR copies and rips over the years responsible for the muddy sound. The moment, the editing — it was just perfect for “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”
The pity in all of this? I think the song sounds great. It’s fun, upbeat — I liken it to a driving song during a buddy movie vs. the eventual acoustic cut, which sounds like something to hold hands to in a romantic comedy. Oh well. I’ll enjoy the pacing of the song while it lasts for a few more days of the sessions.
The “Two of Us” rehearsals over, John searches for the words to “Across the Universe,” while George sneaks in a little bit of Hear Me Lord. They go back into “Universe” for one take before attention shifts to “All Things Must Pass” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” to end the day.