Our world lost — and the stars and heavens regained — David Bowie last week. I didn’t feel much like blogging about the Beatles for a little bit, even though this post had already been mostly written. But as the man once sang, time is waiting in the wings, and we should be on by now. So please enjoy the continuation of the Beatles’ Nagra tapes timeline, picking up with the morning of January 8, 1969, as David Bowie was celebrating his 22nd birthday across town and working on writing Space Oddity.
It’s tough to say “this is when they got serious” when there were laughs and smiles throughout, but after more than a half hour on the January 8, 1969, Nagra reels, the Beatles at least found a bit of motivation and a short-term goal to complete, getting serious in deed if not demeanor. With a concert to be staged, John, Paul, George and Ringo gathered their focus for a chirpy, energetic run-through of four songs deemed early contenders for a live show.
Paul led the proceedings, tabbing his original duet as the opener: “Johnny, ‘On Our Way Back Home.’”
If you’ve seen Let It Be — and I really hope you have and will one day again on some sort of modern entertainment replay device – you’ve been struck by how loose John and Paul are, hamming it up as they sing into the same microphone.
Paul, who Ringo in an interview the previous year referred to as“Elvis” in reference to his performance of “Lady Madonna,” was closer to the toxically impaired King, comically slurring and sneering throughout a take that both he and John sang without benefit of a lyric sheet. That’s how we end up with John, laughingly repeating his mistake “two of us wearing postcards” once the take was complete. They laughed the as they sang it during the take, too.
While Paul and John can’t often get through more than a few words without butchering a lyric, there was no turning back once they started, with this a sincere attempt at a run-through.
The sequence appears slightly edited in the film, cutting the performance in half from its actual three minutes to a minute-and-a-half. Had the group secretly abandoned the film and this leaked, conventional wisdom would have been that the group had a blast at Twickenham. Maybe they were just hamming it up for the cameras — or John was, at least — but it’s hard to deny a somewhat different spirit in the room with a watch and listen. When things were languid at Twickenham, it was painfully clear.
A visually telling edit by movie director Michael Lindsay-Hogg comes around 30 seconds into the clip, as we catch John glancing over at Yoko, who blankly stares back, as he stands oh, so close to Paul, showing some of the genuine affection that they certainly used to have and somewhere deep in there still did.
If you can use the word “tragedy” when referring to the fact a song was omitted from a compilation –- you shouldn’t, but I will, deplorably -– it’s a tragedy this take didn’t make it onto Anthology 3. It’s in the film, thus is a recognizable, published “official” release, so despite the issues with the lyrics, it’s “out there.” Consumers would have understood having an(other) imperfect take on the compilation, if not welcomed it.
In the film, the song comes out of the “shocktric shocks” sequence from a few days earlier, and then dumps into “I’ve Got a Feeling,” but in reality the group – after the improvised “You Got Me Going” and a few unserious seconds of “Twist and Shout” – delivers “Don’t Let Me Down.” Note the time between the end of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down” is less than a minute. Dallying was at a minimum. While “Don’t Let Me Down” appears several times in Let It Be, this version is not in the film.
George didn’t quite nail the introduction, but again there was no concern when the lyrics were muffed. John simply shouted “Snotgobbler!” and moves on. That’s rock and roll. So was the pre-primal scream from John as the song began. So were the lyrics “nobody ever rubbed me like she do me,” which John subs in at one point. The band played on, and musically it was relatively tight, really an achievement at this point in the song’s lifespan.
John came out of the high-energy take with thanks from the “band.” “God bless you, ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say a sincere farewell from Rocky and the Rubbers, this is Dirty Mac himself saying …”
Paul cut in, all business: “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
The performance was a tick slower at the outset, and with continued lyrical miscues (especially Paul and John mismatching “oh no” and “oh yeah” early on), but it retained the same vigor as the two previous songs. Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after wailing “somebody who looks like you!” as George hits the middle-eight guitar part.
This sequence made the film, notably appended to a particularly torturous rehearsal from a day later.
Three songs into the run-through, John revealed some fatigue, perhaps reflecting the weight of the previous week more than the prior 10 minutes: “Only another two days to go, then we’ll have another two off.” But Paul then offers a pick-me-up, suggesting, “Do ‘One After 909’.” So they did.
This number marked the one point in the four-song run-through the group stopped after they started, rebooting the take after George’s solo. Once again, there’s a disconnect with the film. Based on clothes alone, this performance of “One After 909” is featured visually early in the movie — after Paul’s discussion of the song with Lindsay-Hogg from a couple days earlier (as seen in the film) — but paired with the audio of a take from January 9.
The movie and even a moment of the Let It Be LP was further fleshed out with a bit of memorable dialogue coming out of “One After 909.” You’ll hear it on the Let It Be LP prior to “For You Blue,” George’s eventual lone contribution to album that was just days old, as John reads from the newspaper.
Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.
What, you thought she’d be OK with it?
Again, we have a disconnect between the movie and the tapes, as the film moves to a previous day’s take of “Oh! Darling” while in real time, the band had completed their first commitment to a run-through for a show yet to materialize. It was rough, but it was spirited, and if anything, the set must have given them the idea there would be a light at the end of the tunnel if they chose to shine it. With at least four fully formed songs, they were on their way, and the apparent positivity could easily be read to bode good fortune ahead.
Probably inspired by “One After 909,” they continued a quick dip into their back catalog.