Monthly Archives: February 2016

TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the 73rd anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 47th anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.

George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career,  one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.

George’s 25th year began in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.

Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).

With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.

That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.

Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1992), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.

Sorry, I missed the punctuation. That’s thanks in part to “Something.” 

There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them.  February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1969, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.

You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise, finally, from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.

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Jan. 8: No blue moon in history

Having completed a spirited four-song run-through to jump-start the full band’s session at Twickenham on January 8, 1969, with the ancient “One After 909,” the Beatles managed to dig to the very bottom of the vault and the genesis of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership.

It’s a stretch to say the Beatles played “Too Bad About Sorrows” in the moments after they finished “One After 909,” itself a primeval composition, one John had said was his own, but Paul claimed to have shared credit writing. The spark of “909” propelled the group further down Memory Lane and over to 20 Forthlin Road. Dating back more than a decade to 1957, “Too Bad About Sorrows” has the distinction of being the very first Lennon/McCartney collaboration, per Paul.

We would sit down with a school notebook which I have to this day, an old tattered copybook, blue lines on white paper, and I would write down anything we came up with, starting at the top of the first page with ‘A Lennon-McCartney Original’. On the next page, ‘Another Lennon-McCartney Original’; all pages have got that. We saw ourselves as very much the next great songwriting team. Which funnily enough is what we became! We started off, I think, with a song called ‘Too Bad About Sorrows’. They all had very simple chord structures but we learned our craft that way.

Paul said much of the same here, on the South Bank Show in 1978.

Lasting about 15 seconds long, all we really hear on the January 8, 1969, performance is John singing the first line of the song — the title — over incoherent guitar and bass accompaniment, and two more garbled lines: “Too bad about love/There’ll be no tomorrow.” The performance itself is obviously forgettable as are so many of the brief stabs at songs these sessions, but this is particularly notable as it enabled the public — via decades of bootlegs and now YouTube clips like the one below sourced from those same bootlegs — to hear the very first Lennon/McCartney song.

The group would similarly perform a taste of “Too Bad About Sorrows” nearly two weeks later after the sessions shifted to Savile Row.

Straight out of the stab at “Too Bad About Sorrows,” John playfully delivered the line, “There’s no blue moon in history,” before letting out a giggle. Seconds later, he and Paul shared vocals on an impromptu version of “Just Fun,” the song John had just referenced and what is considered the second collaboration from the Lennon/McCartney team. In between, John delivered the line about “pot-smoking FBI members” that would eventually appear on the Let It Be album, and referenced in the last post.

Two days earlier, “Just Fun” had come up in conversation with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and producer Glyn Johns in a sequence that ended up in the Let It Be film as they discussed the revival of “One After 909.” Paul weakly sang the opening lines from “Just Fun” as part of a greater recounting of the early days of writing with John.

From the "Get Back" book

The Jan. 6 discussion of “Just Fun,” from the “Get Back” book.

This attempt wasn’t as comprehensive as the abbreviated January 6 version, lasting just a single line: “They said that our love was just fun.” Things broke down as George interrupted to go over new songs to be rehearsed. “Just Fun” wasn’t performed — at least at these sessions, and that we know of — by the Beatles again. Like “Too Bad About Sorrows,” this wasn’t any kind of groundbreaking performance, but it’s a slice of history that’s thankfully preserved.

Beyond the South Bank Show clip above, Paul has dusted off “Just Fun” elsewhere, including two verses’ worth of the song at a 2004 soundcheck in Zurich, of all dates and places. Quite oddly, John’s singing of the line “There’s no blue moon in history” shows up in the once indispensable 1982 documentary “The Compleat Beatles” (this author’s first real exposure to the band’s history) as background during an interview with George Martin about Beatles For Sale, for some reason. So in that strict sense, it’s actually been officially released, albeit a few seconds’ worth.

Unfortunately, “Just Fun” is a terrible, terrible, awful lyric. Even Paul agrees.

There was one called ‘Just Fun’ we couldn’t take any further: ‘They said that our love was just fun / The day that our friendship begun / There’s no blue moon / That I can see / There’s never been / In history …’ Ooops! It’s horrible, this is horrible. When we heard heard that rhyme we just went off that song in a big way. We were never really able to fix it either. But they’d get written down and we’d play ‘em. We’d say, ‘Wow, we’ve written some songs, you know, d’you wanna hear them? “Said our love was just fun …”’

There’s never been a blue moon in history? For heaven’s sake, Paul, there was a blue moon over Liverpool in August 1956, 11 months before you met John and wrote this song!

It turned out OK for these guys, though, and Lennon/McCartney — together and alone — figured it out. For instance, we all can agree that “She Said She Said” — the next song the group played on January 8, after a mention from George — is a quite terrific lyric.

Considering the band never performed the song live, and presumably hadn’t played it at all together in two-and-a-half years, the group holds together the first verse decently enough.

As we recount events two days before George left the Beatles on January 10, it’s worth marking that the original 1966 recording session of “She Said She Said” was missing Paul. He walked out after he “had a blarney” with the others, the first Beatle to tentatively leave the group.

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