During a brief transition immediately preceding the extensive “Let It Be” session late on January 9, 1969, George Harrison opened himself up to significant, retrospective armchair psychoanalysis in just five minutes of music.
He also became a human bootleg.
Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes with the Band (a huge influence on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions) had been privately circulating since 1968, and the first true rock bootleg — Great White Wonder, which featured two LPs of his music that stretched back to as early as 1961 — surfaced in record shops starting in July 1969.
But this January 9, George — just a few weeks removed from his first collaboration with Dylan — seized a few moments of spotlight and shared a few of his friend’s songs, and ones that the others in the room hadn’t likely heard.
“I Threw It All Away” was so fresh a cut, Dylan wouldn’t record it for his forthcoming “Nashville Skyline” until Feb. 13, precisely two weeks after the Beatles’ rooftop performance and while George was in a London hospital recovering from a tonsillectomy.
Dylan first shared the song with George and wife Pattie Boyd around Thanksgiving 1968 at his home in upstate New York. George retained quite a bit of the song in performing at Twickenham, injecting intensity in his solo acoustic take.
George didn’t perfectly nail the lyrics, but he captured guts of the chorus and parts of the verses — “No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried … And I threw it all away.”
The performance seamlessly went into “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” written in 1964, but to that point another unreleased Dylan track.
Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you been on my mind
When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you
There could be no reason at all George plucked these songs out of thin air this Thursday afternoon, as meaningless as the group’s brief forays into “Tennessee” or “Slippin’ and Slidin‘” within the same hour. He’d been playing Dylan throughout the sessions, after all.
Maybe the songs reflected George’s mood as he was less than 24 hours from quitting the group. Paul transparently sang the blues about the Beatles in “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Golden Slumbers,” so why wouldn’t George do likewise? It’s not a significant stretch to consider George was speculating about what he was throwing all away, at these crossroads he was standing at.
Without question, those two Dylan songs did hit home with George.
Maybe it wasn’t necessarily only for the reasons we’ve always supposed.
The January 9 tapes begin with the Paul’s muse, Linda Eastman, visiting the studio. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, had been a Beatles session fixture for months, and this day was no different.
George’s wife, Pattie, was very much not hanging around Twickenham. And when she looked inside her mirror, George wasn’t next to her, because she had walked out on him. But that didn’t mean he was alone at his Kinfauns home.
From Pattie’s autobiography Wonderful Tonight:
I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. She was always flirtatious with George, but so were a lot of girls and he, of course, loved it. Then she and Eric broke up — Eric told her to leave — and she came to stay with us at Kinfauns.
It was January 1, 1969, and George and I had seen in the new year at Cilla Black’s house. … We arrived home in good spirits but then everything went swiftly downhill. The French girl didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them, and I questioned George. He told me my imagination was running away with me, I was paranoid.
Soon I couldn’t stand it so I went to London to stay with Belinda and Jean-Claude. Six days later George phoned me to say that the girl had gone and I went home.
The French girl was 20-year-old Charlotte Martin, and she had been dating Eric for more two years. Eric has since said he left Charlotte because of his growing feelings for Pattie. Why, you can almost say George tried to give her consolation when her old man let her down.
George’s fling was in its final day on January 9 — and after leaving the Beatles the next day, he asked Charlotte to leave Kinfauns, ending the affair. He would reconcile with Pattie, and separately, with the rest of the Beatles shortly thereafter.
The two Dylan songs George touched on wouldn’t drift far from his consciousness. Sixteen months after this date, George joined Bob in New York City, where they recorded both “I Threw It All Away” and “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” and the sessions have since surfaced on bootlegs.
George continued to show love for “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” laying down a solo studio version in the 1980s; this was still before Dylan’s first authorized release of the song in 1991. George’s recording would get a proper release in 2012 on Early Takes, Vol. 1.
From Giles Martin, who produced the compilation:
He recorded it at home in Friar Park at some point during the ‘80s, and it originally had programmed drums and loads of keyboards on it, and George had overdubbed himself for a three-part vocal harmony.
I asked [George’s widow] Olivia if it would be OK to break it down a bit, I thought it sounded a lot better stripped to its bones. You can still hear a bit of the drum sound in the background, because there was bleed on the tape — probably coming through from George’s headphones.
George did his own three-part harmonies in the ’80s, but his first vocal partners, John and Paul, were silent on the tapes during George’s brief Dylan set on January 9, 1969. Walking out on the group, George silenced himself the next day, not only because of his increasingly tense relationship with John and Paul, but with trouble surrounding his marriage, as well.
Charlotte Martin remained in rock-and-roll’s inner circle. In a coincidence of the calendar, exactly one year after her last day involved with George, on January 9, 1970, she met Jimmy Page after a Led Zeppelin concert. The couple would maintain a relationship into the 1980s. Their daughter, Scarlet Page, is a rock photographer of note; she’s shot Paul McCartney and contributed to the Visions of Dylan photo exhibition in 2007.
10 responses to “Jan. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at”
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You’ve got a great blog here–been reading enthusiastically. Hearing “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” in Get Back was really touching–it’s a beautiful rendition.
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