Category Archives: Day by day

Jan. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at

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.

Everybody’s got somebody to lean on: Lucky and Nelson, November 1968.

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.

Or …

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.

But …

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.

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Jan. 9: Homeward bounder

It was becoming clear by the end of January 9, 1969, that the Beatles would end up opting for ad-hoc over adventure.

A lengthy discussion the night before found all four Beatles showing varying levels of willingness to travel by boat to Africa for a one-off show, and some sort of decision seemed imminent. With the planning needed and a schedule to keep before the band lost Ringo Starr to an imminent acting assignment, it had to be.

But after the group slept on it, pinning down a consensus was just a dream. Any momentum to raise anchor dissipated among the members of the band, despite the continued best efforts of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to ship the group to a Roman-era amphitheater in Libya.

There was no grand discussion about the show on this Thursday, just a series of short conversations sprinkled about the day among the various principles. The Beatles were making musical progress at Twickenham Film Studio, and as the Nagra tapes proved, the overall mood was fine, certainly better than it had been a couple of days earlier. But there was no great enthusiasm for travel, and it often seemed like settling on a venue was a binary choice: Twickenham or outside Tripoli, by boat — the devil (they know) or the deep blue sea.

“If we do it here, then we’ll do it in here,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg told Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Linda Eastman on her January 9 morning visit to the soundstage. “But if we don’t, it’s on a boat to Tripoli,” said Paul.

“Ordinary people like themselves.” On the Mad Day Out on July 28, 1968, the Beatles mingled with the British crowd at St Pancras Old Church and Gardens. Less than six weeks later, they filmed the “Hey Jude” promo film. (From Meet The Beatles For Real)

“So if you do it, it would be in here?” Linda asked.

“There’s many a story,” Paul replied.

“What will you do with all the equipment?” Linda asked. “Get it on the boat,” replied director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “That’s what Apple’s for, really, isn’t it?”

Discussions over the show circulated around these unresolved issues: Where would it be staged, what would be its format and who would be the audience. Thus the seventh day of the session was not much different than the first, and it wasn’t even a matter of agreeing to some aspects and then pursuing another. Every aspect of the show was in flux, and every suggestion was repeated.

Airports, apartment houses, cathedrals, the Houses of Parliament — these venues were considered before and mentioned yet again on the 9th, along with a transformed Twickenham. Transformed how? That wasn’t elaborated.

The boat, which was brainstormed at length the night before, was in play. But Ringo, while never issuing his veto, was clear in his distaste for a trip to Northern Africa, much as that was Michael’s preferred and planned choice. A continued sticking point was the his loyalty to a British — or American — audience. Ringo cited long-running talent show Opportunity Knocks as an example to follow in ultimately challenging that mundanity transcends spectacle, obscurity over celebrity — at least when it came to the spectators.

“Just because he had granny on the show, someone’s mother, and they only win because audiences like to watch ordinary people like themselves. That’s one of the things to do it here. Because English people — and Americans — and the two main people, at least they can associate with them and say, ‘I could have gone there.'”

MLH: The only thing is, I really do think it’s going to be for the world.
Ringo: The biggest part of our world is America and [here].
MLH: But funnily enough, I think the way they think of you is not only for themselves but they do think of you as for everybody in the world. That was one of the things things that was good about Jude, the guy in the turban. ….

Unfortunately, the tape cuts off during this dialogue, but we can assume it’s much of the same conversation that we’ve heard before with similarly little resolution.

(For the record, Opportunity Knocks provided Apple Records with one of its greatest success stories: Mary Hopkin’s winning performance in May 1968 directly led to her signing with the Beatles’ label).

Still, Michael was planning as if he could sway Ringo eventually.

“I think we spend till the middle of next week here or til the end of the week, go out on the and the following weekend. That’s eight days,” Michael said.

Ringo: Too long.
MLH: Go out on Sunday and finish it on Sunday.
Ringo: How about Sunday and finish it on Wednesday? Who wants to stay in Tripoli?
MLH: Denis (O’Dell, film producer), isn’t Tripoli a great country?
Denis: It’s the asshole of the world there. (Laughter)
MLH: You didn’t take my feed!
Denis: Look, I have to work with him the next six months and therein after! (More laughter)

Denis next related a story of how Ringo “saved his life” in India, thanks to the drummer’s cache of Western food he left behind when he returned to England. “[I] went back to Ringo’s room and I was rummaging around … found some powdered milk and baked beans, and it was a feast. … The stuff that you and Maureen left, and that’s what I lived on secretly.”

Uncommitted as they were to a destination for a live show, the Beatles comfortably and casually addressed the composition of the gig itself.

Many times I’ve bean alone: Ringo’s diet in India. (From Beatle Photo Blog)

The band discussed staging issues (“It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way”) and between-song banter (“First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time”) — see Jan. 9: Jokes in between for more on that.

“Is Michael around?” George asked at one point. “If we are in a groovy location place, and if there’s just people there and we’re just playing anyway, [can] we make the show about different bits and pieces of what we’ve done or [do] we have to do it in one consecutive piece?”

John: We do both, you see. We set one way when we say, ‘This is the show,” But we do, like, a dress rehearsal and another rehearsal.
George: (Laughing incredulously) Dress rehearsal?
John: Well, you know, we do it as is, we try and do it one through. We should do it about three times, and probably the middle one will have the most. And see if there’s anybody around that played piano or anything we just get him up, and let’s have a gig.

John told the future well, unaware at the time Billy Preston would be that piano player. John also didn’t realize that the man he was speaking to would walk away from the group the next day.

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Jan. 9: It’s dead easy

It took only a few minutes on January 9, 1969, for Paul McCartney to invoke jazz guitar, classical compositions and swing percussion for a hymnal ballad being written for an R&B singer that would become a classic rock and easy listening staple.

Transcript Poem No. 1, from the Get Back Book

“Let It Be,” lovingly and deliberately crafted during much of this day, spoke clearly to Paul’s boundless musical vocabulary, and on the day’s Nagra tapes we clearly hear the well-defined, rich genetic code buried within the song. No wonder it’s so special.

Dubbed “Mother Mary” by Paul at this point, “Let it Be” received solo piano treatment early in the day’s session per Paul’s daily ritual and a brief engagement, mainly with George Harrison, midday. The full ensemble’s rehearsal treatment later in the working day crafted the song into something both concrete and familiar. But importantly and quite visibly, Paul didn’t arrange it all by himself.

To recap the chronology of “Let It Be” to this point:

September 6, 1968: The earliest-known recording of the song — released in 2018 on the White Album Deluxe — consisted of a snippet of the first verse and chorus. Paul is on piano (the group was in the midst of recording “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). If there was anything to “Let It Be” beyond this, it’s either buried inside the vaults at Abbey Road, secured in Paul’s private archives or lost amid the echoes of Cavendish Avenue. But there’s no reason to believe there was really much more, because …

January 3, 1969: While the song gained an introduction as the Beatles rehearsed in their first full day at Twickenham, Paul hadn’t advanced “Let It Be” beyond the first verse and chorus, exactly what he had in 1968.

January 8, 1969: After the weekend and a couple extra days, the song appeared on the tapes again, as Paul disclosed he wrote the song for Aretha Franklin — but he wanted the Beatles to record it, too. Paul instructed a faster pace on the drum pattern and shared the chord structure with George. The musical tag was borrowed from the introduction and applied to the song’s conclusion, as the day’s session wrapped.

On January 9, the song was a significant focal point, with rehearsals of “Let It Be” alone taking up a good 20 percent of the day’s recorded sessions on the tapes. An initial midday discussion of the tag — “just at the end of ‘Mother Mary,’ there’s, like, a riff,” as described by Paul — was nestled between rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Across The Universe,” just prior to the “Penina” origin story.

(You can hear this mention in the first few seconds here)

At once, Paul had an unfinished song — musically, it was sharp, but the lyrics were quite incomplete — and he solicited advice and allowed the song to evolve, while at the same time explicitly mapping out musical parts for the others.

(Ignore the subtitles in the below clip, for everyone’s sake. But enjoy the audio from this part of the session)

The first phase of the hour-plus sequence that concludes the day’s tapes has Paul walking the others through the song in a deliberate fashion.

To Ringo Starr: Play the drums “like swing.”

To John Lennon, who was on bass: “C … G … A … F,” Paul instructed, vocalizing the bass part with piano accompaniment and working his way through the verse and chorus. “You’ll get it, it’s dead easy.”

Paul continued to work the group through the song, repeating the verse-chorus sequence, methodically taking stock of every element. After the primer, the song’s iconic harmonies were casually introduced to the chorus. “It’s like ‘aahs,'” instructed Paul, who suggested harmonies that were to be delivered “very simply.”

Moments later, the former rejected choir boy evoked both church as well as a man who wrote music for it — Johann Sebastian Bach — as a further inspiration (it wasn’t the first time Paul drew from the Baroque-era composer).

There’s a lot of things with these chords. See that harmony there – it’s like church harmony. There’s all that bit of sustained. … it’s like Bach, just holding the notes. Can you hear it?

With the harmony in strong development, Paul shifted to broader aspects of the song, like “how should we start it?” (Days earlier, John asked the same thing of “Don’t Let Me Down,” unsure how to arrange the various elements of the song).

There was a go at opening “Let It Be” with the chorus, but that idea was scrapped quickly, with the song’s soon-to-be established format taking hold early on.

“OK, the first two choruses, just the piano,” Paul said. “Then the second thing to come in is your two voices on the ‘let it be.’ And then [it] builds. So maybe bass isn’t in till, like, halfway.”

While the harmonies were framed around a centuries-old inspiration, Paul invoked a contemporary to George for his guitar part.

“If you could just somehow hold the one note on guitar without making it sort of corny,” Paul said. “Like Wes Montgomery, the octaves.”

Too bad we don’t get to hear a complete picture of what happens next, because … cats.

Michael-Lindsay Hogg: “I don’t like dogs, I like cats.”

Ringo: “We’ve got a poodle, as well.”

With the tapes’ camera and microphone shifting to a conversation between the film’s director and drummer, we’re deprived of a clear listen to the continued development of the song for a few moments. But the instructional continued in the background, as John added a grating, deep baritone harmony that was thankfully abandoned ultimately, but was retained throughout most of the day.

As Ringo continued his conversations away from the rest of the band, including a chat with Denis O’Dell about the Magic Christian, Paul and John alone casually delivered a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” — which was the first song recorded by the Quarrymen (to an acetate) more than 10 years earlier.

Following John’s cheeky order — “Come on you gits, get on your fucking instruments!” — the rest of the group indeed followed their leader, enthusiastically launching into an full-band Little Richard medley, “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (as later covered by John) into “Jenny Jenny,” before Paul applied the breaks in a return to “Let It Be.”

As a nod to his muse, Paul swapped in “Oh, Aretha Franklin” where he would normally sing “speaking words of wisdom” at one point.

Resuming the song-crafting process, Paul sought to integrate the musical tag he mentioned earlier to George.

Paul:  I was thinking
John: You’ve been thinking again.
Paul: After we’ve done the “let it be, let it be,” done the whole thing through, we might make something of [played the riff]. … Like, without rhythm, but with you [John] and me doing it.

Upon Ringo questioning when the various instruments come in throughout the song, Paul begins make suggestions before stopping himself.

Enter Glyn Johns. Well, not really “enter” — he’d been with the group the entirety of the sessions in a somewhat nebulous production role.

“He seems to be arranging this, come on,” Paul said to laughter. “That’s good, come on.”

From his 2014 memoir, Sound Man, Glyn recalled his first days working for the Beatles:

After they had finally run through the first song a couple of times, Paul turned to me and asked what I thought they should do for an intro. I nearly fell over in shock. I thought I had been employed to just engineer and here I am in the first hour of rehearsals being asked for my input into the arrangement. I responded as quickly and confidently as I could and suggested a way of playing the intro, which they liked, and we were off. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was accepted, each guy individually making an attempt to put me at ease and make me feel part of the team.  …

On the second day, things came to a head among the band. …

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham at on that cold gray afternoon with Denis, the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple days later.

Glyn’s timeline isn’t precise; he wrote that the arrangement request was on the session’s first day (which was January 2) and George would quit the band the next day, but Paul was a late arrival on the first day at Twickenham and George’s departure happened on January 10, the day after the events of this post. Still, the recollection is valuable to get an idea of Glyn’s mindset early in the sessions regarding his role.

Glyn with the Beatles, from Glyn’s autobiography, Sound Man.

With Paul handing him the reins, Glyn was confident and direct in dictating his plan — based on Paul’s original idea — to a very receptive band.

“Absolutely nothing except the piano and voice the first time around,” said Glyn. “And then the voices, right? … Then you [George] come in where you come in. And you [John] come in the next time round.

“So it goes: Piano and voice.  Backing added [to the chorus], then it goes back to the top [the sound of high-hat is played]. George is in then. John comes in when John comes in. Then the the next chorus, you’re [Ringo] back in on your thing, and back on your [swinging drum pattern]”

Paul gave very simple approval — “that’s it” — before leading the group into a demonstration and subsequent instructions, like building up the percussion without any snares — “It’s like jazz,” George remarked —  and adding “big drums” on Ringo’s fill before the second round of the chorus.

The writer and arranger disagreed on when John and George should come in — Paul proposed they should join together, while Glyn thinks otherwise. “It’s all happening a little bit too quickly with the bass coming in at the same time, that’s all,” Glyn said. Paul deferred, and instructed George to come in for a solo after the “big” chorus, and to base it after the verse’s chords.

“Do it to your own discretions and sort of come in so it builds up, just so you’re not all in at the one time,” Paul said. “Let those two [Ringo and John] get in before you [George] come in.”

The group returned to a run-through as it was drawn up with George entering into the riff, after the second chorus. But it didn’t click and the placement of the riff becomes the next segment receiving attention.

“It’s very corny, really — the down, down, down, down [sang by Paul].” George quickly compares the riff to the end of the chorus in Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

Glyn suggested back-to-back plays of the riff after the second chorus, an idea Paul jumped on.

Paul: See, then that can lead into the solo, ’cause I think it’ll be time by then.

John: Just use that riff into the solo and the end [of it] for the end.

Paul: It’s going to be a short one, anyway.

Paul ordered up “two lengths of solo,” while he and John added harmonies over the second one. The conclusion of “Let It Be” was then sketched: the guitar solo, another chorus and two plays of the riff, with the second one coming in slow.

A first full run of the complete song structure clocked in at barely more than two minutes, with no additional verses after the solo. That is, what we know now as the “And when the night is cloudy…” verse — that section didn’t exist yet.

“Want to do it again? George asked. “It’s quite short, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a little bit,” Paul conceded. “It does need something else. It may be sort of ‘oohs’ though the second verse or something else when the cymbals come in. It sounds a bit sort of bare with just piano there.”

“Organ. I could play organ for that and drop it for the bass,” John suggested, forecasting Billy Preston’s eventual arrival without calling for additional personnel, for now, anyway.

Now in the final phases of the day’s rehearsals, the group put further attention on getting into and out of the riff. And in its final moments, George purposely hacked his way through the solo, building the framework of what would later appear on record. Paul gave further bass instruction to John, while George went over the drum pattern with Ringo.

Having logged more than an hour on the song at the end of the day’s session, exhaustion finally set in after a few more competent attempts of the song.  A suggested short break became a request from George to quit for the day entirely, which they all did following a final take.

As they gathered to leave, a debriefing showed the band still found room for improvement in “Let It Be”:

Paul: It should have more bits, should be more complicated.

George: I just feel [the ending] needs something really sustaining.

John: Or even some words … a big all-together.

Any further collaborative work on the “Let It Be” was going to have to wait. Paul touched on the song in a brief solo version the next morning, but later that day, George left the group.

Still, the Beatles — led by Paul but with significant help from others in the room — got through much of the musical dirty work in “Let It Be” in relatively effortless fashion on January 9.

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Jan. 9: Subconscious sabotage

“Subconscious sabotage.”

To his death, that remained John Lennon’s reflection on the recording of “Across the Universe,” what he regarded as one of his finest sets of lyrics.

Here’s John quoted in All We Are Saying, David Sheff’s full transcription of his September 1980 Playboy interview:

But the Beatles didn’t make a good record of Across the Universe. I think subconsciously sometimes we — I say “we,” though I think Paul did it more than the rest of us; Paul would … sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song.

He subconsciously tried to destroy songs, meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces, like “Strawberry Fields” — which I always felt was badly recorded. That song got away with it and it worked. But usually we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s songs; when it came to mine, especially if it was a great song like “Strawberry Fields” or “Across the Universe,” somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage. He’ll deny it, ‘cause he’s got a bland face and he’ll say the sabotage doesn’t exist. But this is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where I was always seeing what was going on … I begin to think, Well, maybe I’m paranoid. But it’s not paranoid; it’s absolute truth.

The same thing happened to “Across the Universe” It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as the Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ‘cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.

By January 1969, “Across the Universe” was completely in the can — even down to the sound effects, which the group heard for the first time on the January 7 (George Harrison wasn’t crazy about the birds). With a dearth of fresh material, John could have made “Across the Universe” a focal point during the Get Back sessions. This was John’s chance to properly record the year-old song to his ears.

But like previous occasions at Twickenham, he wouldn’t show much passion to rehearse and rejuvenate the song. Still, “Across the Universe” remained and returned to the table January 9 as the group continued to develop new and manage more established songs for an eventual live show as the sessions began its second week.

“Across the Unicorn,” as John introduced it that day, was performed at such a glacial pace in an initial take that it broke down seconds in with laughter from John. “It shouldn’t be that slow, should it?” As a reaction, the group — as they’d often do — zipped through the song double-time after another standard attempt.

While the song was fully formed, “Across the Universe” wasn’t stage-ready. George didn’t like the birds on wax, and he didn’t like the harmony with Paul as performed at Twickenham. The interplay between George and the others on this fact should sound familiar. Really, nothing was going to change his world.

John: What didn’t you like about his har-MO-ney?
George: Just in some places.
John: Ah, some places. Well that’s details, George.
Paul: Please specify then, please specify.
George: (after singing singing the first verse), It sounds a bit forced .. It wasn’t natural.
Paul: Especially in the “Nothing’s going to change my world.”
John: Just sing that in unison.
Paul: I was planning on working on those bits anyway.

Ah yes, the bland-faced saboteur was prepared to do his worst.

Continuing to work on the song, George and Paul attempted painfully high top harmonies on “jai guru deva,” prompting John to respond, “Is that a bit much?”

With additional takes, the harmonies developed into a characteristically lovely John-Paul-George blend — it’s hard for those three voices together to sound anything but — even if the rest of the song’s redevelopment remained stagnant, at best.

“The ‘nothing’s gonna change my world’ — we got to do something to it,” John said, giving Ringo some rare (for these sessions) drumming instruction — asking for “something heavier. Just play an on-beat there. Try doing the on-beat on the snare, to push it along.”

Not significantly improved and with just a single complete take over nearly 15 minutes of work on “Across the Universe,” John was clearly uninspired by his own song, asking, “Should we do something else then?”

Paul rejected the thought, suggesting they again speed things up. A subsequent attempt indeed had a little more pep — the rhythm section didn’t drag quite as much as it had, additional lead guitar licks peppered the chorus and Paul added more extensive harmonies throughout the song. Again, the song wasn’t completed to its finish, but George wasn’t displeased overall, admitting it was a “little better that time.”

John didn’t bother to offer his own review, instead breathlessly launching into a brief improvisation that has since gone by the name “Shakin’ in the Sixties.” The group followed with an upbeat cover of Cliff Richards’ 1958 hit “Move It” that in turn spilled into a sloppy but jubilant abbreviated version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

An animated discussion of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — the group were all clearly fans, trading lines from the show (”Very interesting …” “Say goodnight, Dick”) — led to something of a comic take of Carl Perkins’ “Tennessee,” with everyone enjoying playing.

(It’s nice to know: They may have been the greatest band on the face of the earth, but they still talked about TV at work, just like we do).

Ready to shift gears back to business, John asked, “Have we learned any new ones lately?” After a deliberately flippant butchering of the first verse of “Across the Universe,” John said, “I don’t want to do that one anymore.”

As George began to play “I Me Mine” — a new one from just the day before — John instead sang the words to “House of the Rising Sun.” They never do play “I Me Mine,” instead launching into a series of racially charged songs addressed at length in the last post.

“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine,” ultimately back-to-back tracks on Side 1 of Let It Be, share another piece of history: By this moment on the afternoon of January 9, 1969, both songs were completely abandoned, weeks before the end of the January 1969 sessions.

“I Me Mine” was recorded from scratch in 1970 by the Threetles, while “Across the Universe” saw its original 1968 recording … embellished and warped by Phil Spector, John’s choice to produce the final soundtrack album. That’s two songs on the Let It Be LP taken not from its associated sessions, but appearing on the record purely because of the songs’ appearance in the Let It Be film.

But while George eventually took his opportunity to properly record “I Me Mine” in the final recording session before the Beatles broke up, what of John’s “Across the Universe”? While unplayed after January 9, 1969 , the song was listed among the the possible numbers for a live show on January 21, the group’s first day of sessions at Savile Row after George left on January 10 and the rest of the Beatles took a hiatus after January 14. But when George asked if they should consider and rehearse “Across the Universe” on January 23, John passed.

“No, no, ’cause it’s going out on an EP,”  John said.

Ode to a panda bear: “Across the Universe” debuted on the “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” charity LP in December 1969.

This opens up some questions. Circa some point in 1968, “Across the Universe” was tabbed for the World Wildlife Fund’s charity LP — that’s why the birds were recently overdubbed, for use on that record. But we also know — or think we know — there was a potential Yellow Submarine EP at one point considered, and that would have included the original version of “Across the Universe.” But if that was the case, it would have been profoundly strange that the other Beatles wouldn’t have been aware of it. An odd unicorn, indeed.

But the song’s eventual release wasn’t necessarily of consequence. If John wanted a new version of his song for posterity, this was the time to craft it on his terms. The Beatles resurrected “One After 909,” after all, and breathed life into a song that had a truly bland recording gathering dust in the vault.

While it wasn’t confirmed in any way, there were certainly some occasional discussions by this early point that these sessions could easily yield a new album, in addition to serving as rehearsals for a live show. Stuck for a month, John could have rehearsed and re-calibrated the absolute daylights out of “Across the Universe.” Lord knows Paul played the hell out of “Get Back” and his songs during the sessions. But here we are on January 9, 1969, and “Across the Universe” was completely discarded, both as an option for the live show but also as a song to be revisited and rerecorded. Who sabotaged whom? Or even what?

Maybe our sources aren’t really reliable after all. Here’s John in January 1971, from his iconic “Lennon Remembers” interview in Rolling Stone:

You know, we all say a lot of things when we don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m probably doing it now, I don’t know what I say. You see, everybody takes you up on the words you said, and I’m just a guy that people ask all about things, and I blab off and some of it makes sense and some of it is bullshit and some of it’s lies and some of it is – God knows what I’m saying.

Needless to say, this issue hangs over pretty much every corner of Beatles scholarship. At least John had the self-awareness to admit this, as problematic a fact  it is.

So was the original recording of “Across the Universe” a victim of “subconscious sabotage”? Regardless of the answer, John — who we can certainly believe was never satisfied with any of the recordings of the song, even the one he helped record with David Bowie in 1975 — had the blank palate of  the January 1969 sessions to craft it in any direction he pleased. But he was bored with the song, whether he would admit it or not, and took it no further after just a week into the sessions, despite a paucity of new material.

The song as recorded would be released, as planned, in December 1969 on the World Wildlife Fund’s “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” LP with John’s voice sped up, and again in May 1970 on Let It Be, further adorned and with his voice slowed down.

Subsequent official releases of “Across the Universe” came in 1996 (Anthology 2), 2003 (Let It Be … Naked) and 2018 (White Album deluxe release). Each of those stripped down versions came after John’s death and with Paul’s presumptive partial oversight.

And every recorded version of the Beatles’ “Across The Universe”  was sourced from the original recordings from early February 1968.

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Jan. 9: Power politics

Pablo Fanque, Mao Zedong and Edgar Allen Poe are among the historical figures with a cameo in a Beatles lyric. During the Get Back sessions, former Prime Ministers — and famed taxmen — Harold Wilson and Edward Heath joined a more exclusive club, making an encore appearance in song.

A reasonable argument can be made that the improvisations littering these sessions aren’t really songs at all, but instead casually jammed interludes capturing the moment, intended to be forgotten if not for the tapes that recorded it all. But ultimately we do have the tapes, and those for January 9, 1969, contain a suite of performances inspired by a subject even more ponderous than taxation: the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference, which was in its third day as the Beatles continued their sixth at Twickenham, about 10 miles away.

Paul McCartney had already drawn upon the contemporary issue of the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya to Britain, conceiving the “No Pakistanis” iteration of “Get Back” that would be a part of the song for a few more days. After a thirty-minute detour that included a revisiting of “Across the Universe” and the bassist’s recounting of the “Penina” origin story, the news of the day recaptured Paul’s imagination.

Paul’s performance began seemingly unprompted, launched from a flippant attempt of the “House of The Rising Sun” that itself began as a bit of a mockery of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” — a song that was proposed to be rehearsed. Instead John launched into the song popularized by The Animals in 1964.

That brings the story to “Commonwealth” (or “The Commonwealth Song” as it’s often referred to. Also, if an improvisation isn’t really a song, does it really have a title?).

Paul channels Elvis vocally — and picks up on John’s ability to script a “newspaper song.” George doesn’t even participate at the outset; instead he discusses equipment issues with Glyn Johns.

The tabloids served as a literal jump-off point. From the front page of the January 9, 1969, Daily Mirror, under the three-deck headline “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”:

Britain has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa.

Home Secretary James Callaghan is making this clear in private talks with Commonwealth leaders now meeting in London.

He is telling them that many Britons share the views of Tory M P Mr. Enoch Powell, who wants to stop further immigration and encourage migrants to go home.

While Mr. Callaghan was taking this action, Premier Harold Wilson was rejecting accusations of discrimination at the Premiers’ conference inside London’s Marlborough House.

Accusations of discrimination by Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Arshad Husain brought an immediate riposte from Premier Wilson.

He reminded Mr Husain that Britain had brought in penal laws to ban discrimination.

Mr. Wilson told him: “Do not hold me responsible for the phenomenon known as Enoch Powell.”

While Wilson and Heath reappear in Beatles song, it’s fellow Member of Parliament Enoch Powell at the center of Paul’s muddled tale.

Here’s a taste of the first set of lyrics, transcribed as lovingly as possible for something at times so unintelligible:

Tonight Enoch Powell said get our immigrants, immigrants, you better go home, ha ha ha ha ha
Tonight Premier Wilson said to the immigrants, you better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said you better get back, home
Now Enoch Powell said to the folks, he said … the color of your skin
… So Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out or heads are gonna fall (?)
He said, Enoch Powell, Enoch you better go home

A deeply inflammatory political figure, Powell’s biography is defined by his April 20, 1968, “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he dramatically stoked racial fears, viciously attacking mass immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell would lose his position in the Shadow Cabinet (“Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out”) while deeply accelerating a serious divide in British public opinion. (In the 1970s, Eric Clapton would publicly embrace Powell, a terrible idea the Beatles pal would ultimately say he regretted.)

The “Rivers of Blood” speech had indescribable impact, and as an American writing more than 50 years later, I’m certainly dealing in deep understatement.

On the Beatles’ timeline, Powell’s 1968 speech coincided with the immediate aftermath of their trip to India (George alone remained overseas at the time). A month after the speech, Paul was put on the record regarding Powell as John and Paul were interviewed on their promotional tour to launch Apple.

Asked about “this racial business over in England,” Paul offered a simple answer: “That thing’s just the same question everywhere, you know? It’s no different in England. It’s a bit less harmful in England, but it’s the same thing. Some people don’t like other people ‘cause they’re not the same as them.”

“Yes?” – John Lennon, January 9, 1969

Plain-speaking regarding Powell in 1968, Paul was in standard form singing about him eight months later, on January 9, 1969, prioritizing the sound of the song over lyrics and meaning, even moreso in subsequent verses. Presaging the Kinks’ brilliant “Victoria” by several months, Paul offers a tour of mostly Commonwealth locales (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, West Indies, “Old Calcutta”) as well as Europe and “Tucson, Africa.”

(“Old Calcutta” could also be heard as “Oh! Calcutta!” a wink to John’s involvement in the forthcoming stage show, while the reference to Tucson was both an acknowledgement of the location’s growing importance the to “Get Back” lyric as well as an indicator of Paul’s monumental disinterest in improvising any sort of serious lyric to this song.)

But the clear focal point of the track is the chorus, featuring an animated John interjecting a responsive “Yes?” to each of Paul’s calls of “Commonwealth,” in a shrill, deliberately cartoonish accent, described in the book that accompanied the Let It Be LP as that of a “Boston matron.”

(Yet another aside: In a remarkable coincidence in this song’s story, Boston, Lincolnshire — site of a huge influx of immigrants in the 21st century — tallied the highest percentage of “leave” supporters in the Brexit vote.)

The first time John chimed with his “Yes?” response, Paul sounded sincerely taken by surprise, unable to suppress a laugh. This interplay, enjoyed throughout half of the song, is what makes “Commonwealth” memorable and somewhat remarkable (Paul would use a similar vocal inflection himself elsewhere in the song). Partial film of the performance of the song — focused on John alone — makes clear he is enjoying this one-off.

The collaboration of sorts was sustained throughout, as John quickly improved Paul’s original verse-closing words:

Paul: Commonwealth, but it’s much too wealthy for me
John: Much too common for me.

Paul was strong on the fly, but John was even more clever, unsurprisingly.

As “Commonwealth” petered out, Paul delivered a brief coda consisting merely of the words, “Oh, Enoch Powell … powerless” (sounding very close to “Powell-less”)

This brief interlude spilled into another lengthy improvisation and an additional moment John and Paul used to minimize the junior songwriter in the band. Originally intended by George to be an electrified take of “For You Blue,” Paul hijacked the song and veered into another direction, interjecting several mentions of “white power” — again, as inspired by headlines satirically and obviously not a celebration of such a thing — and was met with an off-timed “Get Off!” response from John. The song quickly evolved into Paul and John — both continued in high spirits — trading real and fictional names in a roll call over an enjoyable, loose blues rocker. Paul occasionally throws in a “Can you dig it?” or “Let me hear it” after a name.

More than 40 names are called out — usually by Paul — including multiple Quarrymen (Eric Griffiths, Ivan Vaughn and John Lennon himself), other Beatles insiders (Mal Evans, Peter Brown), many others in entertainment (James Brown, Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, David Frost) or in politics (Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon), with the likes of Superman alter ego Clark Kent and stain-killer Super Ajax also receiving call-outs. Paul and John are clearly enjoying every moment of it.

At one early point, the song breaks down, with John asking what the group should properly rehearse next.

George: I’ll do one, but it has acoustic guitar and no backing.
John: Get off!

And with that, “Get Off” picked right back up. It was a funny moment, with delicious comic timing on John’s part, but another occasion in which they’d offend and unnerve George.

Soon after, George begins to sing and play “For You Blue” only to have John and Paul continue to play “Get Off” over him.

During the final moments before the group did ultimately work on “For You Blue” (covered at length here), John seemingly pokes at George, who two days earlier suggested a divorce from the group and one day later would in fact temporarily leave the Beatles.

Paul (following some feedback): Noise is a little too loud for me.
John: Leave the group then, if you don’t like it (giggles).

Sure, the Beatles played “God Save the Queen” on the rooftop, but they wouldn’t be quite as overtly political in such a burst for the balance of the sessions. And while “Get Off” (and “Commonwealth,” like the similarly jubilant “Suzy Parker” ) vanished from the group’s memory, never to appear on an official release, a little bit of “Get Off” lived on, both as a stream-of-consciousness performance and through the very use of one of the song’s key phrases in “Dig It.”

With “For You Blue” begging to be rehearsed, Paul and John spent 15 minutes comically spanning and panning global issues. But all politics are ultimately local, and there were clearly internal band politics at play.

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Jan. 9: No Pakistanis

“I canceled the papers last week,” George Harrison told the rest of the Beatles early on January 9, 1969. “And they won’t stop them coming.”

Whether George reluctantly toted the Daily Express and Daily Mirror from his Kinfauns home or if they were delivered otherwise to Twickenham Film Studio, the newspapers were put to good use by the Beatles that Thursday.

“It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything.” – Paul McCartney

When looking for inspiration, we all know of John Lennon’s willingness to read the news (oh, boy), but it was Paul who ripped from the headlines to fill out some lyrics in his signature song on the sixth day of the Get Back sessions.

“Get Back” emerged from a jam two days earlier with a small set of lyrics — most of which would ultimately survive — including “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.” The chorus would never change: “Get back to where you once belonged.”

The newspapers informed additional verses to give meaning to the chorus.

But first, let’s get back to George’s opening quote. After complaining about the papers’ non-cancellation, he continued: “George Gale is such an ignorant bastard.”

Gale, who at the time wrote for the Mirror, probably caught George’s venom because of that day’s column ridiculing marijuana users in the context of the release of the Wootton Report on the potential decriminalization of the drug.

But pot, for people in this country, is a new way of fooling themselves. A man is not made more free by taking pot. Quite the reverse. He is simply made more stupid.

The whole column is the opposite of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” so the reason for disdain is obvious.

But Gale’s politics would have been antithetical to George and the rest of the band since their teenage years. It was in 1956 — the year the Quarrymen were formed — that Gale famously wrote under the headline: “Would YOU let your daughter marry a black man?”

Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was given in April 1968, less than year earlier, and its impact continued to resonate (Powell will soon enter this day’s story, too). Race issues remained a terrible plight and severely divisive issue across Britain into 1969 — and, obviously, before, beyond and basically everywhere throughout human history. In the specific context of immigration to Britain, it was in front-page news on January 9 as the Daily Mirror shouted on Page 1: “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”

BRITAIN has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa. … Mr. Callaghan insists that if Britain is forced to take more Asians from Kenya and Uganda, there will be a cutdown on other Commonwealth immigrants. The Home Secretary is giving the Premiers the strongest warning yet of serious trouble in Britain if extra migrants have to be accepted.

And that takes us back to “Get Back,” the first song the Beatles worked on after lunch. Musically it surges, spunky and alive with the four Beatles perhaps recognizing this is the upbeat rock song they were searching for a week into the sessions. It was likely the first time John played on the song, having arrived after the others when it was first played two days earlier.

From a purely musical standpoint, the song was hot and was rivaled by “One After 909” at this point in pure energy — as far as their originals were concerned. By this early moment in the song’s life, it already had the guitar riff and Ringo’s identifiable cymbal crash during the chorus.

“Think of some words, if we can. I don’t know what it’s about,” Paul admitted. “It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything” (said to laughter).

That was fine with George. “We’ll just have those words, just words like [the Band’s] ‘Caledonia Mission.’ They’re just nothing about anything, it’s just rubbish.”

So don’t count George as finding any deeper meaning into that Big Pink cut, in its hexagrams or Arkansas towns. The movement Paul needed was on his shoulder: Just write words that track to the tune, regardless of any actual meaning, and it’ll all eventually shake out.

Despite Paul’s admission to the contrary, to this point, the song did start to find a vague lyrical angle. Joe and Theresa entered the picture this afternoon — JoJo and Loretta would join eventually in their place. There remained the pursuit of California grass. Tucson — the Arizona city in which Linda Eastman went to college and close to where the McCartneys would later own a ranch (and Linda would pass away) — was specifically named for the first time.

Additional lyrics — often turns of phrases rather than coherent statements — emerged during the more than 20 minutes of high quality and high energy vamping and jamming. One pass through the verse is in the first-person, with the singer the protagonist who was a loner leaving his home for California and who was getting back to where he once belonged.

But for the majority of the rest of the time, Paul draws from the immigration news in his search for a relevant lyric, alternating verses about a Puerto Rican and a Pakistani, with the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya still such a big part of the news in Britain. (As a footnote, Paul visited Kenya in 1966, going on a safari with Mal Evans)

As you can hear below, there were several points where Paul simply garbled over a name, phrase or section of lyric just for filler. Elsewhere, we get the beginning of a narrative, with an intolerant public imploring the different nationalities “get back to where they once belonged.” The below clip compiles each of the January 9 takes of “Get Back” — the further you get in the clip, the more Paul plays with different lyric ideas.

A sampling:

  • A man came from Puerto Rico, oh, he joined the middle class/Where I came from, I don’t need no Puerto Ricans
  • Take the English job, only Pakistanis riding on the buses, man
  • All the people said we don’t need Pakistanis, so you better travel home
  • Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs
  • Don’t need no Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.A.
  • Don’t want no black man

When tapes from these sessions first leaked into the bootleg market in the mid-1970s, we would simply get single songs stitched together with no context, little dialogue and guessed song titles — like ones called “No Pakistanis.” It’s obvious the Beatles were simply making a social commentary, satirizing the segment of the public who harbored the feelings they were singing. But by the mid-80s, a wide exposure of these takes by The Sun — lacking the needed conversational context or tracing of the evolution of the song — posited the Beatles must have been xenophobes themselves. Gotta sell papers, after all. There probably aren’t too many times Paul ever commented on bootlegged tapes, but Rolling Stone got him on record in 1986, responding to the racism claims:

Sensational journalism – The Sun is not a highly reputable newspaper. What this thing is, I think, is that when we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to “Get Back” which were actually not racist at all – they were antiracist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living sixteen to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of “Get Back,” which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis. The Sun wishes to see it as a racist remark. But I’ll tell you, if there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown. Whenever we came to the States they’d say, “Who’s your favorite artists?” And we’d say, “Well, they’re mainly black, and American – Motown, man. It’s all there, you’ve got it all.” I don’t think the Beatles ever had much of a hang-up with that.

The reference he makes to the line about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” actually came on January 10, when the Beatles continued to work on the song. But the point remains. The song has been misunderstood by some unwilling or unable to see the nuance (search around the Internet for “Beatles” and “racist” at your own risk, even moreso if you read any comments).

We have on tape evidence the “get back” element of the chorus came before anything else on January 7, and was likely a riff on Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea,” and we can reasonably dispense of the myth the song’s true origin was political. It’s also pretty clear Paul simply liked the flow of “Pakistani” and “Puerto Rican” — words with four syllables that were easy to rhyme — and was searching for something that sounded appealing, while not shying away from something political. At one point he clumsily rhymes “Puerto Rican” and “Mohican” (a Native American tribe), a perfect example of how little thought out the lyrics were at this point. He was just searching.

John Lennon later said “Get Back” was directed at Yoko Ono, anyhow. But more on that another post.

The 20-plus-minute post-lunch writing and rehearsal session marked the end of the group’s work on “Get Back” for January 9, although they’d return to it nearly every day they were in the studio until the end of the month. It wasn’t the last time the group included the racial element in the song, and it wasn’t the last time they’d address the issue in song on January 9, either.

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Jan. 9: Love from Paul

Almost fifty years have passed, and we’re still unsure of how the Beatles’ ditty “Suzy Parker” came about. But the origin story for “Penina” — discussed and introduced by Paul McCartney a few hours after the somewhat mysterious performance of “Suzy Parker” — quite literally appeared in print on the very day we’re discussing, January 9, 1969, in the Daily Express.

A newsworthy trip: Paul in Portugal, December 1968

“Penina” is usually lumped into the pile of Lennon/McCartney songs given away to other artists. Why, you may have seen it on the 1979 EMI compilation “The Songs Lennon And McCartney Gave Away,” alongside far more notable tracks like Peter & Gordon’s “World Without Love” and Billy J. Kramer’s “Bad to Me.” Those were No. 1 hits. “Penina” wasn’t even released in the U.K. or U.S.

So how does “Penina” fit in and how did it come that Paul is the sole author?

Paul, who vacationed in Portugal in mid-December 1968 with Linda Eastman, her daughter Heather, and Beatles biographer Hunter Davies — a trip highlighted by Paul proposing to Linda and her discovery she was pregnant with Mary —  recounted a story of showing up drunk at La Penina, a hotel resort, one night around midnight.


“See the bit in the paper where it said about me giving a song to some group, in William Hickey this morning?” Paul asked the rest of the group a little bit after lunch.

As printed in that day’s Daily Express, under the headline “Beatle Paul writes a £20,000 holiday tip”:

McCartney had spent an evening listening to the resident band at the resort’s luxury Penina Golf Hotel. He decided to give a tip in appreciation. And composed a few bars — called Penina — for the lucky bandleader, Anibal Cunha. To help them along McCartney beat out the rhythm on the drums.

Paul elaborated: “And I sat in on drums, and they said, ‘Give us a song.’ So I said, OK.”

Good lord, is that all it takes? Someone get me in the same room as Paul McCartney, I have absolutely no good material.

“’I’ve been to Albufera, had a great time there,’” Paul sang before continuing to describe the scene. “It was called La Penina, the hotel. And they were all digging it and singing along, and it was good. And William Hickey [in the paper] said he’s giving away this 20,000-pound song.”

Per the paper’s report:

As the shareholders of Northern’ Songs (currently standing at 33s. a share) know, McCartney compositions never fail to net £20,000 at the very least.

Northern Songs shareholders in fact are presently benefiting from a rif, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney borrowed-from another performer, Jimmy Scott. The Marmalade version of this song topped the hit parade this week for the first time.

Paul didn’t mask his disgust with the report:

“Cunts. That’s what you write something, for a riff. You don’t say ‘hello,’ and you haven’t got a riff when you say ‘hello.’ That’s the riff I got off of Jimmy Scott, those two words (“Ob-la-di, Ob-La-Da”). You’d think I’d taken his life. It’s not as though he wrote the song.”

This wasn’t the only time on these tapes Paul would show his frustration with Jimmy Scott regarding ownership of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Over the years, however, Paul’s softened his view on Scott. This is from just weeks ago, during his promotional tour for Egypt Station:

Meanwhile, back in 1969, the newspaper report continued, quoting Apple press officer Derek Taylor:

“John and Paul saw him right,” says Mr. Taylor. “They, are themselves often asked for help on their travels. And it just isn’t possible for them to refuse.”

Having only heard of “Penina” from the newspaper and Paul’s own recollection, the rest of the group finally had their chance to hear — and participate — in what would be the lone known Beatles performance of the song.” Paul has a vague memory of the lyrics, and the rest of the group clearly has no idea how the song goes (this is in deep contrast to “Suzy Parker,” by the way, lending more support to the argument that song wasn’t a pure improvisation). Here’s how they sounded:

It’s not quite “Elanor Rigby” — it’s hardly “Wild Honey Pie” (or “Fuh You” for that matter, to evoke Egypt Station again). But it’s a Paul McCartney original and from the same moment in time he was writing songs like “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” so it deserves to be at least more than a footnote.

Been to Albufeira, I had a few drinks there
And now I’m on my way home
I really don’t care
La Penina, La Penina, La Penina hotel
Well it’s been a long road …

OK, maybe that could be a footnote. (Albufeira, by the way, was where Paul wrote the lyrics to “Yesterday” in 1965. How’s that for a footnote?)

When the song was finally released a few months later — by Anibal Cunha’s band, Jotta Herre — the sleeve proudly trumpeted the Beatle’s songwriting credit. And it’s a lone McCartney credit, not Lennon/McCartney. The eventual lyrics have just three verses, with the final one ending with a first-person reference. It’s a languid offering, plaintive at best sporting simplistic lyrics that recap the evening sung over a bland melody.

(Chorus)
Penina, Penina, Penina one night
Penina, Penina, Penina one night

I’ve been to Albufiera
And I had a good time there
And then I came to Penina
And found good friends

Drinking liquid, making music
Love has come to my heart
Beat the drums take me home
Helping friends free my soul

Time has come, time has gone
Time to bet for keeping friends
Take my arm girl, lets go home
Thank you all, love from Paul

In challenging the report that it was a £20,000 song, Paul was clearly giving the song little merit in January 1969. After all, it was just a riff!

In short time, however, Paul was interested in taking a little bit of ownership in “Penina,” starting soon thereafter with his blessing the band to use his name as a promotional tool.

In an interview with a Portuguese magazine published in July 1969 and beautifully titled “Jotta Herre — the godchildren of Paul McCartney,” Cunha disclosed further communication with the bearded Beatle.

Translated, roughly, from Portuguese to English via Google Translate:

I have only one thing to regret, and we must involve the name of Paul McCartney and the friendship he gave us. But, in truth, he also forced us to do so. And in a letter he sent us he tells us categorically. “Use my name without hesitation, let it be used for your publication.” And, finally, the commercial entities linked to the release of the album knew this and took advantage of the idea. Well Paul’s name has a made market and it is assumed that it will be commercially valid.

The song was not really that commercially valid, to use that term. Neither the original version nor a subsequent cover that year by two-time Portuguese Eurovision contestant Carlos Mendes — whose cut appeared on the aforementioned EMI compilation — appears to have made much of a dent in sales, despite the McCartney name behind the song. Perhaps it was the quality of the song that played a role.

A quarter century later, in a 1994 interview in his Club Sandwich fan club magazine, Paul sounded like there was more to the story than perhaps there was:

I went to Portugal on holiday and returned to the hotel one night slightly the worse for a few drinks. There was a band playing and I ended up on the drums. The hotel was called Penina, I made up a song with that name, someone made enquiries about it and I gave it to them. And, no, I shouldn’t think I’d ever record it myself!

The Summer 1995 issue of the same magazine likewise listed “Penina” among the songs Paul gave away, chronologically listed between bona-fide hits “Goodbye” (Mary Hopkin) and “Come and Get It” (Badfinger), showing a breathtaking contrast of song quality with his Portuguese throwaway.

To this day, Paul still hasn’t recorded “Penina,” but the song lives on. Mendes re-recorded it for his latest LP, which came out in April 2018.

And while “Suzy Parker” lives on only through bootlegs and YouTube clips, having become the actual footnote in Beatles lore, you can see the 71-year-old Mendes perform “Penina” live in concert in Portugal this December, nearly 50 years to the day Paul wrote the song a few hours away at the Penina Hotel and Golf Resort.

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Jan. 9: Another kind of gig

What on earth is “Suzy Parker?”

Red is the color that my baby wore: Suzy Parker, 1969

The person by that name was a seminal American supermodel and actress who on January 9, 1969 was aged 36.

“Suzy Parker” — as performed by the Beatles — requires multiple assumptions to set a complete chronology of the song’s history. What is established, however, is that the only performance made available over the last half-century is one from January 9, 1969.

The song sprung directly out of the day’s lone, solid performance of “Don’t Let Me Down” (discussed a post ago), with John introducing the song in a deliberate, low-key mumble.

“I’d like to change the tempo now a little and move over to another kind of gig, and it’s called ‘Suzy’s Parlour.’”

And with that, John plucked out the opening chords ripped straight from the Chuck Berry playbook. Paul repeated the title as John began to sing in his most shrill voice. This is my best stab at transcribing the lyrics — I listened on headphones multiple times, slowed the song down, the works — but let’s just say they’re pretty fluid and inconsistent, as is John’s wont:

C’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
I said come over, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
Get to fixing Suzy Parker, everybody gets well done

I said, c’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
I said, c’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
When you come to Suzy’s parlour, everybody gets well done

After every line, Paul and George supplied “c’mon, Suzy Parker” backup vocals — or something along those lines — and this is the place to note Paul clearly sang “Parker” not “parlour” most of the time. Their delivery is vaguely reminiscent to the “shoo-bee-doo-wop” backup vocals they provide in “Revolution 1.” After the first two verses, we get a machine-gun-style “rat-tat-tat” backup vocal, intensely delivered by Paul and George.

The verses continued, as John did John things, tweaking the lyrics on the fly.

C’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
Yeah, c’mon, Suzy parlour, everybody’s welcome to come
When you get to Suzy’s parlour, everybody gets well done

Another repeat of the rat-tat-tats refrain, and that was it, just shy of two minutes. John recapped the lyrics spoken-word, while George and Paul repeated the rat-tat-tats and a little of the instrumentation. Everything is over and done in about two minutes, a delicious respite unleashed before the group heads right into “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

You can — and should — see about half of the performance in the Let It Be film, starting about 19 minutes in. There it’s introduced by John asking, desperately, “Does anybody have a fast one?” on the heels of a lackluster take of “Dig a Pony” from January 7. Movie magic merges these two moments.

So back to the opening question: What on earth is “Suzy Parker”?

It’s a great song! Funny, upbeat, tight. And a little raunchy, even, representing a section of Suzy Parker’s home as a den of iniquity where everybody’s not only welcome to come but they get well done, too. It’s not remotely as provocative as Prince’s ode to a supermodel of his era decades later, but this was enjoyably suggestive nonetheless.

“Suzy Parker,” too, is the flip side of the sessions’ grim reputation, four guys truly enjoying playing music together. Take this and “One After 909,” and the Beatles could have propelled the Get Back experience into a different, retro (and excellent) space.

Yet as spontaneous as was the group’s mood, it feels very difficult to consider this song a one-off, impromptu jam. It’s simply too tight, too good, even if it is boilerplate John Lennon 12-bar blues.

So when and where does the song really come from, and why her? Your Beatles fan fiction is as good as mine.  Parker’s successful modeling career had peaked a decade earlier, and she was nearing her final acting role, so while the members of the band certainly had long memories, she wouldn’t have necessarily been on the tips of their tongues. With plenty of other songs featuring variants of the heroine’s first name across more than a decade, there’s no smoking gun that would place “Suzy Parker” in any particular period in Beatles history if there’s a consideration it was directly inspired by another lyrical Suzy, Suzie or Susie. It could have been influenced by one, none or all of these:

But “Suzy Parker” is not necessarily from January 1969 either. The Beatles are in sync to a degree that seems to belie a completely ad-libbed performance, when we have much sloppier performances of other ad-libbed and established songs from these sessions for comparison. Even the well-rehearsed songs are sloppier. While the Nagra tapes constantly rolled during these sessions, and this specific performance of “Suzy Parker” the only one recorded, there remains non-zero odds the song existed in some form prior.

We can, at least, be assured that it’s not a cover, and it’s not formally titled “Suzy’s Parlour,” either, despite that being the name introduced by John, repeated by Paul and the primary lyric of the the song.

Nobody involved seemingly has ever spoken about “Suzy Parker” in an interview, so most of what people know about it is based solely on years of speculation. But at least one piece of paperwork helps clear up some of the discrepancy.

It’s only a Northern Song: “Suzy Parker” listed among John & Paul’s solo efforts at the U.S. Copyright Office.

Even though the song has never appeared on a sanctioned Beatles album or single — I found its absence on Anthology 3 conspicuous — it was an official Beatles release having turned up in the Let It Be film. Therefore, the song had to have its papers. First copyrighted in 1971,  the song in question is indeed titled “Suzy Parker,” a rare (but not unprecedented) Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey original. Nowadays Northern Songs’ catalog falls under the ownership of Sony/ATV, where the song is registered as “Suzy Parker” — with the defined alternate title of “Suzy’s Parlour” (search the title here, or check this spreadsheet download for the listing).

Should the song be called “Suzy Parker” or “Suzy’s Parlour”? Probably the latter, but it actually doesn’t matter. It is what it is, and formally the song is “Suzy Parker.” And despite an endless library of film, tape and interviews of the band existing for the entirety of their careers, the Beatles’ career still holds lovely pockets of mystery like this song.

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Jan. 9: Jokes in between

Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.

This is our format.

Paul McCartney was right. There was a format. At least there was a framework developing as the Beatles rehearsed in their second week at Twickenham.

As covered in the last post, George Harrison would have to wait a few hours for attention to return to his new “For You Blue.” Instead, with the full band ready to go nearly 90 minutes into the January 9, 1969, Nagra tapes, the Beatles tackled “Two of Us” for the fifth time in six days, initiating a sequence in which the group returned to some of the finished, core songs they’d have for their live show. Why, it was their format!

This stretch also clearly exposed the side of the Beatles that everyone (else) usually cites when describing the Get Back sessions. While I’m quick to argue January 1969 at Twickenham was not of itself the downfall of the band as it was filled with harmonious, joyous and highly fruitful moments to match the uglier, fractious component of the sessions, these guys could get pretty petulant and didn’t hide it with the tapes rolling.

A quick, carefree one-off into the song the day before, this day’s “Two of Us” rehearsal stretched about a half-hour, and quite unlike the Rocky and the Rubbers’ version, Paul insisted on serious refinement.

As loose as their run-through was early on the 8th was exactly how tense things emerged on the 9th, with consistent, stuttered efforts to get through a full song.

From the top, the group can’t find the proper pacing of “Two of Us,” with Paul pushing the others to pick it up. “Keep them all quiet, keep your instruments down so we can sort of hear what’s going on.”

They had another go at the song, and “it’s still pathetic,” in Paul’s words. He suggested the issues went beyond just the song’s speed.

As Paul nitpicked what arrangement the song needed entering the bridge, John argued, “We never got into this [part] yet,” defending himself and the others as Paul criticized the group for not knowing what’s in his head.

A fiery example of the strain came during a “Two of Us” take in which Paul barked at John, who wasn’t in perfect rehearsal position, to “get on the mic.”  John, certainly responding to the tone more than the instruction itself snapped back.

“You don’t have to bitch about it, we’ll never get through it.”

The band immediately went into another take, and you can hear John loud and clear — but he came in early. You can hear Paul’s displeasure when he comes in himself at the right time. Still, they championed on.

(This sequence was in the Let It Be film, and led immediately to the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” sequence from three days earlier.

A dark moment, for sure, but as usual for these guys, they were able to compartmentalize and still harmonize figuratively and literally. Picking apart “Two of Us” to improve the various “bits” and now focusing on the middle eight, Paul started thinking out loud.

“The two things I think of are both corny, but something better are oohs  … or [a staccato “dit-dit-dit”]”

Never mind that the “oohs” are actually “aahs” when Paul, John and George instantly launch into a demonstration of the vocals, which are proposed to appear supporting the “you and I have memories” lead. This is the Beatles magic, immediate and spontaneous and completely normal, even when it comes a few minutes after one member complains about the other one’s bitchiness. The subsequent stab at the staccato vocalization came off a bit sloppier but still likable.

This below clip starts out with both of these attempts in sequence. After the first 30 seconds, though, is unrelated audio

Concerned the backup line would sound “too thin,” George proposed, “Maybe we get a few Raelettes,” marking yet another time the group evoked Ray Charles’ backup singers. “Get three girls” with some phasing on the mics.

John’s cheeky reply was to bring in three boys instead, and George named the Dallas Boys, Britian’s first boy band (by ’69 they were into their 30s).

While they never landed the Raelettes, the Beatles would soon enlist the man seated before them, Billy Preston. (Photo from late 1968).

Ultimately, Paul asked the others to “just think of something, then” for the middle eight, and off they went into another take, this one featuring the lovely “aahs.”  The song may not have dramatically improved, but the mood had over the last 25 or so minutes on the tapes.

But Paul still had something to complain about, turning his attention to a frequent (and legitimate) punching bag for the band, the equipment setup at Twickenham. If we think the tapes sound diluted, just imagine how substandard the quality must have been for the musicians on the sound stage. With the proposed show nearing — and despite some pretty ambitious ideas, uh, floated less than 24 hours earlier — improved sound needed to be addressed along with other facets of a finalized live performance.

“Just so that we can all hear, so it sounds really great here,” Paul said. “So that our voices are just as loud as they need to be. ‘Cause then we’ll be able to hear what’s wrong.”

What’s more …

“Everything we’re going to actually do like that, we could get into now. Just where the amps are going to be, and where we stand. It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way.”

And here’s where we return to a disagreement among the principals, but with a far different result than earlier.

John: I thought we’d get into that when we do a few more.

George: We still have dance steps to learn.

Paul: And the jokes in between.

The esprit de corps resumed as the group advanced to a singular take of “Don’t Let Me Down.” There was no nibbling, no exhausting search for a missing “bit,” and even when there was a screw-up on the lyric, they powered on and completed the song in a tidy 3:10.

Far less concise, and clocking in at nearly 25 minutes of torturous micromanagement, was a brutal run of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” After a perfectly adequate (for this point in the sessions) initial run-through, Paul immediately identified just one specific spot for improvement — the same part of the song that had bedeviled the group on multiple occasions, and the same point that the struggled with in several songs —  “The only bit is the break. Still not sort of dramatic enough.”

This tense sequence was up there among the least listenable parts of the entire month’s worth of tapes. Paul offered several variants on how he wants the guitar part to sound, right after his line, “All that I’ve been looking for is somebody who looks like you!”

Issues:

  • “All the notes are clipped.”
  • “There shouldn’t be any recognizable jumps.”
  • “The notes shouldn’t ring on.”
  • “At the moment, it’s like a riff.”

Solutions:

  • “[The notes should be] just like falling, falling.”
  • “Try to sort of sing it.”
  • “It’s got to be like pain.”
  • “Certainly do anything like it’s crying.”

It’s got to be like pain. What an instruction!

Paul desperately and relentlessly attempted to communicate how he wanted the part to sound — gesticulating, vocalizing, playing it on the bass — but John simply couldn’t or wouldn’t accurately nail the brief solo.

In another editing trick that showed up in the Let it Be film, John did, in fact, nail it. That’s because the film shows the January 8 “Rocky and the Rubbers” take of the song (where Paul shouts a celebratory “good evening!” after the part is played), and spliced it on both ends of a brief portion of this sequence from January 9.

Ultimately, John hit the part satisfactorily enough for the Paul to continue the group through their core set. The mood rose again for another jubilant effort of “One After 909,” although we don’t get a complete grasp of the rehearsal due to the tape cutting in and out. We can pretty safely assume, though, that like “Don’t Let Me Down,” the band tore through a single take.

As John moved over to the piano, the Beatles practiced their stage patter, in hilariously fake sincere voices.

Paul: “Certainly, it’s a great occasion for us.”

John: “First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time.”

The playful attitude continued as Paul dabbled in a bit of “Norwegian Wood” on bass, soon to be joined briefly by Ringo on drums and George on guitar and vocals before they immediately launched into, as George called it, “the one about the window.”

It was a straightforward, strong take of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” although we don’t hear the whole thing on the tapes.  Far less straightforward, but wholly enjoyable was a string of takes broken up by tape cuts, including one with John taking the lead vocal with a heavy Cockney accent.

By this point, the mood was entirely loose. The song was given a slow ballad treatment, featuring a lyric referencing the famed celebrity female impersonator Danny La Rue.  Paul completed one take by answering the phone: “Hello, this is Tuesday speaking. Is that Paul? I’d like to have a word with you.”

Now, five minutes past 1 p.m., the group broke for lunch. Paul offered a brief impression of Elvis — who someone mentioned turned 34 the day earlier.

Only a few hours into a temperamental roller-coaster of a day, John replied to the rest of the 20-somethings in the group, “We all seem to be catching up to him.”

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Jan. 9: Last-night song

“I was just so hungry today.”

Why, it’s a metaphor for George Harrison’s flowering ambition within the Beatles in their final year! OK sure, but it’s actually just the guitarist describing how famished he was before arriving at Twickenham Film Studios mid-morning on January 9, 1969.

“I had to be late, just to eat me breakfast. If you want an excuse.”

You know that what you eat you are: George enjoys breakfast at home on April 9, 1969, three months to the day after this post’s session.

Paul McCartney already had spent at least 45 minutes at the piano this Thursday, and he ceded the virtual spotlight to the new arrival, who reintroduced “For You Blue” to the sessions.

“This is his last-night song,” Paul would later describe it to John Lennon, who would show up shortly (Ringo Starr was already around when Paul was playing). Paul’s characterization of George’s song wasn’t entirely accurate. As far as the tapes are concerned, this was the third day “For You Blue” was demonstrated — but it was the first time it was properly and deliberately performed for and with the other Beatles.

A slower, bluesier version acted as background music on January 6 during a conversation about equipment. Likewise, the next day, the song wasn’t performed so much as it kept George busy amid the overwhelmingly tense debate over the band’s future.

Finally on January 9, George properly lifted the veil on “For You Blue,” offering it on an acoustic guitar as a sharper, more highly paced toe-tapper as compared to those previous, abbreviated versions. The skiffle influence was obvious, and on this morning, admitted.  The song was clearly a “last-night” project, enjoying a clear evolution heading into the 9th.

The guts of the version that would be recorded a few weeks in the future and released more than a year later existed this morning for the first time: its distinguishable introduction, the first few verses, guitar solo and its ending. The cat didn’t bop yet, and Johnny didn’t go, but the number George described as “our little blues-folk song” was indeed the same ol’ twelve-bar blues.

Paul chipped in an imperfect but not insincere stab at a piano part and a vocal harmony. Neither would stand the test of time, but the attempt wasn’t out of place.

Peaking as a songwriter, George admitted writing the lyrics was a simple process.

“You got most of the words?” Paul asked.

“They’re so easy, I just wrote about two [verses] down,” George replied. “You just make ‘em up.”

John arrived moments later, and with the fab count complete at four, proper rehearsals were finally able to commence. John initially suggested kicking things off with “For You Blue.”

“Should we learn your song then, ‘I love you sweet and honey baby.’”

Paul slammed the brakes, though, setting the terms of the rehearsals.

“Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.

“This is our format.”

For better or worse, it was. And following was a sequence in which the group tackled some of their more familiar numbers — “Two of Us,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” new favorite “Get Back” and the rehabilitated “Across the Universe” — before they got a little original and political. But that’s for another post.

Fresh out of a cover of “Honey Hush” (by Big Joe Turner, via Johnny Burnette, with John taking lead vocals), we finally got the day’s first few attempts at full-band takes of “For You Blue” on the tapes. It sweats with swagger, with George leading the way on electric guitar and Paul adding a mature though imprecise bass part.


The group picked up their parts pretty quickly and easily, because, after all, it’s a pretty basic song. George’s eventual description of the “For You Blue” in his 1980 autobiography “I Me Mine” says as much:

“For You Blue” is a simple twelve-bar song following all the normal twelve-bar principles, except that it’s happy-go-lucky!

At least one person, though, wasn’t too happy with the song after the first full go.

“Pretty short, innit?” John asked after the two-or-so-minute take.

George didn’t address his critic, instead criticizing the ad-hoc arrangement — making it at least two people unhappy with the song — saying he’d like to perform the song “on acoustic on the show. I don’t want to do it like that.”

“I’d like to do it with just an acoustic guitar. If we can get an acoustic bass, it’d be nice.”

John interrupted, almost shocked. “Acoustic bass?”

He shouldn’t have been too surprised — George suggested the same instrument just the day before, for “I Me Mine.”

George retrieved an acoustic guitar and proceeded to perform the song alone, accompanied only by hand-claps, probably from Paul.

Clearly noting the lack of enthusiasm for his own songs and probably reflecting his own increasing boredom as he endured the sessions , George — for the third time in a week — tried to deflect effort from the Beatles’ own rush to produce new material.

“Should we do some other people’s tunes as well?” George asked.

To laughter, but clearly laced with sincerity, John shot down the idea. “I can only just bear doing your lot’s songs, never mind doing strangers’.”

George: “Yeah, but those songs are so much better than ours.”

“That’s why I don’t learn them,” Paul replied.

George performed “For You Blue” one more time, and he eventually quit singing after Paul melodically read or improvised a wholly unrelated speech while George played guitar.

On January 3, the sessions’ first full day, George asked if the group would dip into their back catalog.  On January 7, he asked if other groups would join them on the bill. And now, he was feeling out the potential of mixing in covers, something they were doing relatively effortlessly throughout the sessions thus far. His most significant contributions to this point — “All Things Must Pass,” “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” — arguably matched Paul’s newest songs and certainly outpaced John’s meager output.

And still, George’s songs were downgraded or degraded by the others, nothing that was really new. Per the tapes, George’s last-night song was the only song of his rehearsed on this January 9. His hunger for an expanded role — or a significant change in the band’s operation — was growing insatiable.  On January 10, it was breakfast at home again for George, but the change he starved for came at lunch.

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