As in, 60-something hours before I posted this, the same James Paul McCartney that sat before a piano at Twickenham introducing these songs to a room of just a few people, played the very same numbers to 47,000 at Safeco Field in Seattle (playing “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “Get Back” with the surviving members of Nirvana). That’s after performing them hundreds and hundreds of times over the decades.
Four songs he introduced over the course of about an hour one morning in 1969 at age 26. He turned 71 in June.
According to setlist.fm, Paul played 39 songs in Seattle — seven that were introduced in January 1969 and a whopping 14 (!) originating from 1968-1969. That’s 36 percent of his show in 2013 spanning less than 24 months, the remainder covering another 50 or so years of his career.
Author’s note from July 6, 2017: I originally wrote this several years ago. Unlike the other posts on this blog, to which I try to limit any changes, I’ve come back to this one a few times, rewritten some parts, tweaked others, in an effort to more clearly bring things into a fuller circle.
There’s obviously no need to overstate the importance of July 6, 1957, to any reader of this blog. It’s the day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met after John’s Quarrymen played the Garden Fête in Woolton, and thus, everything changed in this world, and for the better.
First, a quick recap of that day, via the Beatles Anthology DVD. Take it, John!
For fun, here’s the story as portrayed in Nowhere Boy:
Let’s get back to reality and what the Quarrymen really sounded like that day, from authenticated tapes recovered decades after the fact:
There simply can’t be a more important moment in Beatles history than the birth of the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Everything came from that, not the least of which was Paul soon introducing George Harrison to John. But that’s another story.
Mark Lewisohn dedicates an entire short chapter to July 6, 1957, in his indispensable extended edition of his Beatles biography Tune In, vastly expanding upon any basic retelling of the Lennon-McCartney origin story and going so far as to tease the possibility the two actually first met — without any guitars — prior to the fête. But no matter what happened before that day, Paul taking the initiative and confidently performing “Twenty Flight Rock” for John was the moment that mattered.
And it wasn’t merely that Paul could play “Twenty Flight Rock.”
“The thing I think that impressed him most was I knew all the words,” Paul said in the above Anthology clip.
The Beatles never covered “Twenty Flight Rock” — Paul eventually would on numerous occasions solo and with Wings — but they did give it a nod amid the Get Back sessions, on Jan. 23, 1969, by which point the recording had moved to Apple HQ at Savile Row.
More than 11 years after Paul played the song for John — impressing him enough to begin their partnership — and some months from the last time John and Paul would work together again, Paul couldn’t quite remember the words. At all.
Alas, the elevator’s indeed broken down. There’s not too much magic to the light-hearted clip, although it’s nice to hear Billy Preston, and George’s solo is pretty good. But no longer is Paul playing the song to impress John. In so many ways, it was Paul’s group by then.
By now, Paul has shifted to his Hofner with George having arrived at Twickenham. Straight out of a light-hearted zip through “What’d I Say” and “Shout” for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s benefit with a little bit of “Carry That Weight” mixed in, Paul fiddles with “Get Back” for the very first time — the tapes run for a more than 15 minutes, but cuts and fades prove they went on longer.
Following the song’s initial introduction, and seemingly apropos of nothing (a tape cut shrouds the probable spark of the conversation), Paul and George are engaging in a discussion about Randy Newman. George had borrowed a copy of his debut album from Paul, and said he “wasn’t impressed.” He gave it a re-listen the night before because he met him “and because he’s a nice fellow, and all, but I still don’t like it.” Why’s that, George?
It’s nice on the first one, just the idea of his voice, he sounds pissed [drunk], just going [George slurs a few words]. But when he goes on and on every track, he sounds pissed. [Laughs] Musically, it’s good. But not my cup of mead.
More to George’s liking is “Get Back,” even in this nascent state, as he jams along with Paul, working on a lead guitar part. There’s not a whole lot to the song just yet, but we do have a strong framework, with the verse, chorus and melody line basically in place as George adds guitar lines while Ringo provides hand-claps and possibly some shakers.
This sequence has emerged as one of the more dazzling scenes from the 2021 Get Back docuseries.
By the time they finished a few run-throughs, Ringo eventually shifted to the drum kit to lift the song’s intensity, and both lyrically and musically the song took a defined form. Paul’s already playing with “Arizona” and “California grass” in the verse, plus lyrics like “she thought she was a woman, but she was another man,” “say she got it coming, but she gets it while she can” and “knew it couldn’t last” are there. “Get back to where you once belonged” is already the chorus. Neither Jo-Jo nor Loretta have arrived yet, but we have the makings of another enduring song.
And from this early moment, we hear how catchy it is. Just a few minutes after hearing it for, presumably, the first time, Ringo sings along to the verse and chorus.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would turn out to be one of the more interesting songs to emerge from the session, if only for its lyrical elasticity. Born from this jam, the lyrics would evolve into a political statement about immigrants, then back again to your everyday rocker about American transvestites. And we get to hear it all over the course of a month’s tapes.
Ian MacDonald in Revolution in the Head, is not alone in suggesting Canned Heat is the inspiration for the song (while admitting there’s nothing there musically).
Paul McCartney and Jackie Lomax (Image from jackielomax.com)
In June ’68, during the White Album sessions, Paul, Ringo and George played on the latter’s “Sour Milk Sea,” given to Lomax for his forthcoming debut album produced by George. The memory is obviously still fresh.
“Sounds like Jackie,” Paul says a few moments before deliberately warbling “get back” and “get back to where you once belonged” a number of times in Lomax’s trademark voice. It didn’t sound like Paul was asking if he sounded like Lomax, or had any concern that he did. It was a simple acknowledgment that his vocal line resembled this one particular influence, one of so many influences the group paid tribute to during the sessions — Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Band, Motown (and the list goes on).
And with that context, it’s obvious why Paul’s voice has an odd timbre (for him). It’s a rocker, but his delivery is nothing like it on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Helter Skelter” or any of his other recent high-energy vocals.
The voice isn’t the only inspiration from Lomax or the experience on “Sour Milk Sea.” Give the song a listen in full, and it’s easy to hear how Lomax’s “Get out of Sour Milk Sea/You don’t belong there/Get back to where you should be” — as written by George — would give Paul a good jump-off point for his new song (especially evident in the repeated “get back” as the song jams to a finish).
The rehearsal ends somewhat abruptly with a tape change. It’s the same thing responsible for keeping us from learning just how long these sessions for “Get Back” really ran — the tape cuts out several times during the “Get Back” introduction.
We would, of course, get back to the song again and again over the subsequent three-plus weeks. And this month’s rehearsals would eventually be known for this song: The Get Back Sessions.