Category Archives: Day by day

TMBP Extra: That road before

As a film, Let It Be has more backstory than story.

In Beatle-time, the 15-plus-month turnaround from the end of their January 1969 sessions until the film’s release in May 1970 was simply a glacial pace. Then from the moment it reached theaters, Let It Be has been treated as a snuff film.

You can virtually see them breaking up … it’s a wonder the picture was made at all.

That’s director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, quoted in a syndicated wire story the week of the film’s release, ostensibly to promote the film. We’ll never know if he’d have said the same thing if the film come out in sometime in 1969 as originally planned, when it was provisionally titled Get Back.

It only took 51 years, but Get Back is about to be on television after all — a movie-turned-television-show, the reverse of Let It Be’s trajectory from TV show to feature film.

To put 51 years into context, it’s more 11 years than John Lennon spent in the material world. It’s about as far away from today as the release of Let It Be was from the Treaty of Versailles. It’s a relative eternity.

Let’s pick up this story after January 1969. The Beatles completed busy and fruitful winter sessions split between Twickenham Film Studios and their own basement recording studios at 3 Savile Row with dozens of hours of audio and video that would emerge as a TV show and springtime LP, their follow-up to the White Album.

The February 1969 issue of the Beatles Book, their fan club magazine, said that while there was “still no fresh progress” on the Beatles’ next film, it was a “priority job” for the new year. They hadn’t yet realized the film was already in the can.

For the next several months, a clear pattern emerged: The release of the album was delayed because the movie was hung up.

April 29, 1969: Melody Maker reported 68 hours of footage was about to be edited down, “from which two films will be produced.”

May 3, 1969: “This film … somebody’s editing that at the moment. It’s sixty-eight hours, and they’re trying to get it down to five for several TV specials. Or then, it might be a movie. I don’t know” — John, to Melody Maker

Early July 1969: The Beatles Book reported the release of the album and a companion book would be delayed because “the fellows would like the film to go on television in August so that everything comes together at the same time.”

July 12, 1969: “[The LP] is tentatively set for September release … to coincide with the screening of the group’s TV special. … If the TV show is delayed until later in the autumn, it is possible that an alternative album … will be released first. From all the many reels of film shot during their recording sessions, the Beatles are hoping to produce a three-hour cinema film, from which the two-hour TV special would then be extracted.” — NME

The Beatles and family, at the July 20, 1969, rough cut screening.

July 20, 1969: The same day mankind made a giant leap on the moon, the stars of the film sat in place for a while to view Michael’s working cut of the film, which at the time clocked in at about 2 1/2 hours. This was about three months after editing was reported to be getting under way.

July 21, 1969: The day after the screening, Beatles assistant Peter Brown phoned Michael, asking on behalf of the group just one required edit: Whack a half-hour of John and Yoko footage. In his 2011 memoir Luck and Circumstance, Michael wrote he was told, “Let me put it this way. I’ve had three calls this morning to say it should come out.”

July 29, 1969: Variety reported plans to screen a TV special to coincide with the release of the Get Back LP. “The TV show and a three-hour cinema version are still at the editing stage,” the magazine said.

Early August 1969: The Beatles Book said the Get Back LP will be pushed back again to coincide with the film, “probably towards the end of November.”

August 30, 1969: “There is still no news of release of the … ‘Get Back’ album. … It is understood that this will still be issued as a soundtrack album for the film, however, and that Christmas is a possibility.” — NME

September 1969: After screening a new cut at some point this month, the group signed off on the film to business manager Allen Klein, according to Michael. In what could simply be a coincidence, the same month also saw John announce to the others that he was quitting the Beatles. They released Abbey Road in September, too.

September 20, 1969: Six days before that very release, NME reported the 85-minute “Get Back” film would premiere early in 1970. The paper said the documentary had been edited from “five hours of film taken at the time,” quite the error of scale. The paper does say, however, that the movie is expected to be picked up by United Artists in order to fulfill their three-film commitment. The Beatles’ priority for the year, as mentioned in February, was now complete. This is definitely a scoop, with Variety reporting the same UA deal the following April.

October 1969: Counter to the NME story, the Beatles Book maintained the LP and film would come out in December. Elsewhere in this issue, in Steve Turner’s article on the Beatles’ affect on modern culture, the rumor that the Beatles may film a version of Lord of the Rings was revived.

November 1969: The Beatles Book was back to reporting a 1970 release with UA distributing.

On the very eve of the Let It Be’s ultimate release in May, we can catch a glimpse of contemporary opinions of the film.

Based on interviews conducted prior to the release of the McCartney LP, the traditional marker for the breakup of the Beatles, BBC Radio 1 broadcast a promotional special on May 23, 1970, in conjunction with the film’s wide release in the UK.

Paul compared the film to watching a painter fill his canvas, calling it a “good film” and “interesting.”

George, however, said he “can’t stand” seeing the “pure documentary of us slogging.

“But for other people who don’t know what we’re really about, who like to go in and see our warts, it’s very good. … It’s the complete opposite to the clinical approach that we’ve normally had.”

Of the album, he says “you can actually get to know us. It’s more human.”

“Exploitation materials and posters” intended for theaters to use for promotion of Let It Be.

Speaking to Rolling Stone for a cover story on the eve of the release of his solo debut — the magazine is dated April 30, but the interview was clearly conducted prior to April 10 — Paul continued to point to the film, which he still referred to as Get Back, in positive terms.

“The Get Back film is a good film. And it is a real film. The troubles are in it as well as the happy moments.”

Paul went on to complain about the delays of the record’s release in interestingly prescient terms while blaming Klein for the holdup.

“The LP is looking to be a joke, for it is a bit of a cliff hanger. I would have liked to have seen it out there three months ago and now I don’t even remember making it.”

It’s tough to keep pace in Beatle-time. Paul’s point is clear, though, even with the tremendous exaggeration.

While the Beatles may have been in a difficult spot in early April 1970, it wasn’t the same spot — difficult or not — they were in January 1969.

When Let It Be was first shown to the public, on May 13, 1970, there was no glitz or red carpet. Instead the film was screened in ordinary theaters dotting the United States, not at a promoted premiere in New York as Apple had initially promoted.

A week later, May 20, the film received a more proper launch, premiering in London and Liverpool with the pomp missing stateside. In London, Beatle exes Jane Asher and Cynthia Lennon were among the guests, which also included Mary Hopkin, Lulu, Spike Milligan and other notables as thousands of fans showed up at the scene. Kevin Harrington, assistant roadie at the time, wrote in his memoir that he took an Apple Scruff to the premiere. No Beatles were present, however.

At this moment, two key figures were across the globe, in Los Angeles. John Lennon was in Bel Air undergoing Primal Scream therapy while Michael Lindsay-Hogg at work about a half-hour away in Hollywood (traffic pending).

The most accurate review yet: “Singing their songs, doing their thing!” (From the May 13, 1970, Californian)

John and Yoko joined Rolling Stone chief Jann Wenner and his wife, Jane, for a showing Let It Be at a sparsely attended theater in San Francisco in the early part of June 1970.

“After the show — moved at whatever level, either as participants or deep fans –we somehow cried,” recalled Wenner.

In an Los Angeles Times interview published just a few days after Lennon saw the movie, Michael again reflected on the difficulty of filming the sessions in terms dramatic enough the reporter remarked “the wonder of it is that he put together even a reel.”

In the June 10, 1970, article, Michael complained the group would disrupt “a lot of good, funny and antagonistic conversation” by playing music and moving microphones away. “I don’t think I got them when they were their most charming,” he said, essentially acknowledging they were never charming given the amount of footage he actually did get.

The article was memorable enough for Michael that he remembered his reaction to it decades later in his book.

… [I] was surprised, or concerned, that what had seemed clear to me when I’d said it had been reported without insight, with no recognition of irony or jokes. The Beatles were portrayed only as argumentative people, without extenuation, without subtlety.

The article prompted a further response, a phone call from fellow director — and father, as he later learned — Orson Wells, who asked Michael if he was happy with Let It Be.

“Some of it,” Michael replied. “It’s hard when your stars are your producers. And there were four of them. … A lot I liked got cut out. … But the footage was good.”

Let It Be arrived at theaters at various points in May 1970, but it was absolutely impossible to separate it and its impact from the April release of McCartney. Ringo’s late-March release of his solo debut, Sentimental Journey, wasn’t necessarily seen to have been as critical to the story as McCartney, but it simply piled on the narrative. Let It Be was the breakup film paired with a breakup soundtrack LP. Reviews of one usually paired with reviews of the other.

Variety’s review, published in their May 20 issue, called the movie “relatively innocuous, unimaginative piece of film. But the musicians are the Beatles, and coming hard on the group’s breakup, … [it’s] charged with it own timely mystique.

The fascination of “Let It Be” is that it is, in a sense, probably the last public appearance of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as a group, with all the gossip and speculation attending the split, reading between the spoken lines of the film becomes a game in itself.

Variety did wisely predict “McCartney … will probably emerge strongest as a major individual talent of the Seventies as a composer and singer.”

Chicago Tribune legend Gene Siskel gave Let It Be three stars, writing “Beatle fans will search the 80-miunte film for foreshadowing of the recently announced breakup.”

In the the Sydney Morning Herald’s review headlined “Let It Be For the Staunch Fans,” writer Evan Williams smartly noted:

It seems a pity that we are not shown at least one song in its early stages of composition. This might have given us a genuine insight into the way the Beatles work. … I never once had the feeling that we were witnessing the creative process at work, or sharing in the mysterious, painful rituals of music-making.

(This key point is something the 2021 Get Back film is set to get right).

Tony Palmer gave a brutal takedown of the film in the Observer’s May 23, 1970, issue.

The film is a bore. … Shot without any design, clumsily edited, defeatedly titled ‘A Feature Film,’ uninformative, awkward and naive. It would have destroyed a lesser group. How could 200,000 feet of film have produced nothing but an extended promotional exercise?

Writing for Punch magazine, Richard Mallett, who described himself “as no pop fan” called the film shapeless but wrote it “will entertain anyone not enraged by the mere idea of the Beatles.” He enjoyed the film’s mood, visuals and interplay of the four Beatles, concluding, “One feels oddly regretful that so bright a bunch has broken up.”

“The Beatles and Friend” – from Punch magazine

These are just a small sampling of reviews. I could have posted hundreds, but you get the idea.

The film performed OK at the box office, seeming to peak in Variety’s weekly rankings at No. 5 in its third week. Per those same rankings, it dropped from No. 8 to 41 on June 17 and then slowly vanished from theaters overall. The film ultimately won a Best Oscar for its score, but no there weren’t any Beatles around to pick up the trophy. 

From Billboard, June 11, 1970

It’s an understatement to say the Beatles, especially John and George, piled on subsequent years, advancing and ensuring the film’s terrible standing.

Even Capitol Records eventually called out the film’s dim reputation. Remember Reel Music? (Don’t answer that). The 1982 compilation of Beatles movie songs promoted Let It Be like this:

Let It Be poignantly documents the group’s disintegration while capturing their inimitable songwriting technique.

For his part, Paul continued a working relationship with Michael, tapping him for a few promotional videos in the 1970s.

In July 1981, a decade after it was in theaters, Let It Be saw its first home release on VHS (it was later issued on Laserdisc). Again using Variety’s rankings, the tape debuted at No. 31 and kind of bubbled around the 20s, peaking at No. 19 before eventually falling out of the Top 40.

VHS charts, August 1, 1981, Variety.

That makes it 40 years since the movie was last issued for a home audience. In January 2022, “A Hard Day’s Night” is slated for a 4K Criterion Collection reissue. You could have bought that fab film on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray and streamed it online in that same period of time. It’s a big game of telephone, but Michael says that Paul told him George blocked the DVD release in the 1990s, while a planned DVD to be released in tandem with Let It Be … Naked in 2003 never materialized.

Footage from Let It Be trickled out officially on occasion, like in Anthology in 1995, when a whole new audience was exposed to George playing if Paul wanted him to play during the “winter of discontent.” On the flip side, part of the rooftop show ran during the credits of the 2014 documentary “Eight Days a Week,” a lovely — if strictly anachronistic — conclusion to a movie about the Beatles’ touring years.

But for all intents and purposes, the original Let It Be film had its reputation established by its release, with the breakup taking on a disproportionate stake. Decades of unavailability for mainstream viewers cemented the movie as a straw man for late-era Beatles. The only two views of it were “watch the Beatles break up” or “watch for the symptoms of the Beatles breaking up.” There was little middle ground. Maybe Michael Lindsay-Hogg offered up too much subtlety.

Or maybe we also lost some context along the way.

“Once we were everyone’s darlings, George said in an interview published by AP. “But it isn’t like that anymore. They hate us.”

Ringo agreed in the same article. “It’s shocking the way some sections of the public have turned on us. It’s completely unmerited.”

Those quotes are from April 1969, a year before the band broke up.

It only took 51 years, but Let It Be is Get Back again. It’s out in conjunction with the release of the LP and a book (and within months of competing solo Beatles products). Yet with all this history behind it, it instead arrives with excitement from the band and fans alike, and it’ll draw upon its own blank slate.

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Jan. 12: Anyway, here’s Wonderwall

While the Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house is the obvious focal point to the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, there was more to the day’s agenda than the important aborted gathering.

“This peculiar arrangement allows the management to offer you a large choice of interesting films” (from a January 9, 1969, ad for Cinecenta)

That evening, Wonderwall — the film which bore George Harrison’s excellent solo debut as its soundtrack — enjoyed its British premiere at London’s Cinecenta. George, who had walked out of the Apple meeting that day, didn’t attend the premiere, which also served as a sneak preview for the Panton Street theater, Europe’s first four-in-one cinema.

Rather, George spent the evening at the home of Apple press officer and close friend Derek Taylor, a fact detailed in George’s diary. Mal Evans, who did it all for the Beatles, whether it was running errands or helping with lyrics or banging silver hammers, went to the movies instead, presumably as George’s representative.

“I went to the premiere of Wonderwall last night,” Mal told the others, unprompted, early on the January 13 Nagra tapes. He said he liked the film, even though it  “really got slayed in the papers.”

Ringo, who in May 1968 joined George at the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, added, “I like the film too. After a couple of times, is that what you were going to say? First time was a lot.”

After the film, which was screened in all four theaters, Mal — resplendent in bow tie — enjoyed the crowded reception, including ice cream afterward.

Celebration day
The Beatles’ communication breakdown put Glyn Johns’ Beatles gig in jeopardy at the same moment Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” padded his resume.

Zeppelin’s self-titled debut LP hit American shops on January 12, 1969 (it came out in the UK in March), and that certainly would have made it a big day for Glyn, its engineer.

A few weeks after this date, after George had returned to the band and rehearsals shifted to 3 Savile Row, Glyn tried solicit the Beatle’s opinion on the fledgling Zep. George seemed more interested in lunch, but it’s still a neat moment in rock history.

At a 2014 Q&A to promote his memoir, Glyn said when he did finally get to play some of the LP for George, the Beatle “didn’t get one bar of it” (Mick Jagger wasn’t impressed either).

The Led Zeppelin release may not have even the biggest news for Glyn on January 12, although admittedly that’s just speculation. On the Nagra tapes recorded the next day, Glyn tells the others for the first time that he and his wife were expecting. So maybe she reached a certain point in a healthy pregnancy that weekend that made them feel comfortable to share the news starting Monday.

“Did I tell you my wife’s definitely confirmed pregnant?” he told Ringo, Michael and the other early arrivals.

Their son, Ethan, picked up his dad’s business decades later, producing, among other things, two tracks on Paul McCartney’s 2013 LP New.

Big brother is watching?
After the meeting at Ringo’s, Paul spent time with Apple head Neil Aspinall, discussing an explosive idea for the Beatles’ proposed live concert. Did Paul have time for someone else’s concert that same night?

Some books place Paul at EMI Studios that night, but it’s hard to confirm just how many McCartneys were at the Abbey Road studios. There’s no question The Scaffold, featuring Paul’s brother, Mike McGear, recorded portions of their L. The P. album there that evening. There’s also no question Paul provided the guitar for two of that album’s tracks — and he recorded those in subsequent months. Side 2 of the LP, all humor and poetry, was recorded live before an audience of London University students that Sunday, and it’s feasible Paul was also in the crowd.

Paul lived a short walk from EMI, but it would be a surprise if he went the show yet didn’t mention it the next day on the tapes, considering how much detail of their lives they did share.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was stuck to the television Sunday night, when he was tuned to the Andy Williams special on BBC-2. An hour-long show featuring several performers and beginning at 7:25 p.m., the “H. Andrew Williams Kaleidoscope Company” originally aired in the U.S. in April 1968, but was first-run to British audiences in January 1969.

From the January 4, 1969, New Music Express

While Andy Williams featured a Beatles number in the dizzying opening sequence and was presently rumored to be in line to host the band on his TV show in the coming months (see the adjacent clipping from NME), the American crooner wasn’t discussed at all on the Nagra tapes the next morning.

Instead, Simon and Garfunkel, who had four LPs among the top 26 in the UK for the period beginning January 12, 1969 — including The Graduate, which sat at No. 4 — sparked the most conversation, again, primarily from Michael.

On Mrs. Robinson, they were camping it up, which I didn’t like, because Paul Simon is not that good at it,” Michael said, before continuing. “He’s got a great face, Art Garfunkel.”

“Is he the frizz?” asked Ringo.

Michael confirmed Garfunkel was the frizz, before unexpectedly offering that he had “a very long, involved story about how Paul Simon and I don’t get on, but it’s too long and involved. … It’s funny, I’ll tell you sometime.”

(We never hear the story, but their issues must have eventually been ironed out, because Michael directed the Simon & Garfunkel reunion in Central Park in 1981 and later got his big African concert, directing Simon’s historic 1987 Graceland concert before a huge audience in Zimbabwe.)

There was another act on the Andy Williams show that drew interest.

“Who saw Ray Charles?” Ringo asked.

It’s a good question, and one unfortunately left hanging, as they moved onto other topics before anyone answered.

If anyone had, in fact, seen Ray Charles’ segment, they could have caught a fleeting glimpse of his organist: Billy Preston.

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Jan. 12: The final bulletin

Here’s that disclaimer again. For this series of posts recounting the Beatles’ private January 12, 1969, board meeting, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly (and indirectly) address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story.  I swear!

****

The Beatles were facing a rupture; at best they were simply in another crisis. George Harrison first walked out on the group January 10, 1969, and then from an Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house two days later.

Through — and despite — the tumult, Paul McCartney continued to consider the big show that would serve as the finale of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary TV show, the grand closing statement. Paul conceived the grandest statement of all, and he shared it with Apple head Neil Aspinall the evening of the 12th. It’s not clear if he told him at Ringo’s or after at a different location, but it was Neil himself who “really finished the idea off, which made it sensational,” per Paul on the Nagra tapes recorded the morning of January 13.

While we were rehearsing the show ourselves, we should have alongside us someone sort of near, so that we’re getting the same kind of buzz but completely independent. We should get, say, the editor of the Daily Mirror. You’d have to get someone as good as him, a real hard news nut, rehearsing a team of really hard, incredible newsmen. With films, writing … so that on the night of the show, in between all our songs is news. But the fastest and hottest, from every corner of the earth.

Paul continued, attempting to sound like a serious news anchor in a breaking news environment, gravity in his voice and mimicking contemporary newsroom sounds, like a reporter tearing copy off a teletype machine.

‘We just heard there’s been an earthquake and so-and-so [makes exploding noise]’. You know, just like incredible news in between each thing, so it’s like a red-hot news program.

And at the end, the final bulletin is:

The Beatles have broken up.

So much for centering a show around 2,000 torch-lit Arabs or a boat ride. Michael is impressed by Paul’s pitch, presumably for its dramatic effect, calling it “nice” after a moment of reflection.

“Nice, but who wants to hear that?” asked Paul’s girlfriend Linda Eastman, who was present both at the meeting the day before and the recap at Twickenham.

This photo captures around the time Paul was discussing the breakup show concept, on January 13, 1969. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the new Get Back book)

“But, I mean, it would be an incredible show,” Paul said.

Cover all the earthquakes and explosions you want. It was the final implosion that would inflict the most harm to this audience. Immediately before Paul’s pitch, Michael called it “dispiriting” if the Beatles couldn’t find a way to save themselves from a breakup.

“God, it’s an event when a Beatles album comes out,” an exasperated Linda replied to Michael. “Or even a single. People listen more to that than when [President Lyndon] Johnson gives a speech.”

It was the better halves who cared more to see the the group whole.

“It’s like Maureen [Starkey] was saying [presumably at Saturday’s meeting]: We’re fans. The Beatles are it. Musically, I still think that way.”

It continued to be the problem, for at least half the group. During lunch, in a discussion secretly recorded shortly after this conversation on January 13, John decried the Beatles’ “myth” in an echo of George, who said something along those lines a few days earlier.

A mythological concept to John, the sincere fans did believe in Beatles.

Paul’s suggestion of the surprise farewell in the wake of the meeting at Ringo’s came off more for shock than true consumption — it wasn’t discussed on the tapes again, and may never have reached the ears of John or George. But Paul did show a sincere willingness for the group to stand solo in the sun, saying that he himself wasn’t completely satisfied as just a Beatle only.  He wasn’t busting any myths, only suggesting there were even more opportunities for them, and not by simply growing the number of Beatles, as John had previously suggested.

Ringo was already contemplating what would eventually become his Sentimental Journey LP a year later, and Paul pressed him to move forward with the idea of this “Stardust” album, despite the drummer’s fear of singing on a record by himself.

From the lunchroom tape on the 13th, in a remarkable exchange:

Paul: It isn’t as daft as you were sort of frightened it might sound.  … The great thing is that you singing how you really sing will be it.

Ringo: Yes, but the only way to do it is on your own.

Paul: Until then, yeah, sure. Until then, until you reach how you really sing, you’ll sing your half-soul.

And it’s probably when we’re all very old that we’ll all sing together.

And we’ll all really sing, and we’ll all show each other how good we are, and in fact we’ll die then, I don’t know. Probably something sappy or soft like that. I don’t know.

But really, I mean, it’s really down to all those sort of simple, silly things to me.

Yoko Ono: But those are the important things, you know?

This part of the lunchroom conversation covered much of the same ground as the “divorce” discussion on January 7, but with a softer, more optimistic and accepting posture. A few extra days and George’s actual absence — not merely a threat of one —  created a clear difference in the vibe.

Through this John sounded sincerely unsure of himself and the path he’d like to take. It can only be assumed that the lack of cameras or visible recorders allowed him to speak more fearlessly.

While Paul worked to reassure John — “You’ve noticed the two ways open to us. You know the way we all want to go, and you know the way you want to go. Which is positive!” — John’s insecurity overwhelmed his outsized abilities.

“Like Ringo said about his album … I won’t do it cause I’m gonna let us down or look like a fool.”

Days after pushing back on George’s concern that his songs “come out like a compromise,” Paul adjusted his stance. Maybe it’s re-positioning with George gone or maybe it’s a result of the departure and any responsibility he had in it, but Paul showed a retreat on the group micromanaging their respective songs, including his own role in doing so, at least now while they were still together.

What I’d like to do is for the four of us — and you know, we’ve all have done that things to different degrees — I think is if you [Ringo] go one way, you [John] go one way, George one way and me another. But I know it will apply to all of us, if one day you can all be singing like you’re singing, [Ringo] can be drumming like you’re drumming. George can be really playing, I mean like he plays, not like as if I’m trying to make him play. But I keep trying to make him play like that.

This dynamic reached beyond just George and Paul.

“You try and make George play competently because you’re afraid that how he’ll play won’t be like you want him to play,” John replied. “And that’s what we did, and that’s what you did to me. …

“I got to a bit where I thought it’s no good me telling you how to do it, you know? All I tried to do on [the White Album] was just sing it to you like I was drunk, you know? Just did me best to say , ‘Look, this stands up on its own.’ … It wasn’t the arrogance of  [saying,] ‘Listen, this is it, baby.’ It isn’t that I can’t tell you what to do because you won’t play here like think you should play. And I’m not going to tell you what to play.”

The differing approaches John and Paul took to arranging their songs are pretty evident on the Nagra tapes and to readers here. At this point in the lunchroom conversation, John admited he’s just too scared to stop Paul from micromanaging parts to the detail and degree he does.

John continued:

Apart from not knowing, I can’t tell you better than you have, what grooves you’d play on it. … But when you think of the other half of this, just think how much more have I done towards helping you write. I’ve never told you what to sing or what to play.

You know, I’ve always done the numbers like that. Now the only regret, just for the past numbers, is that when because I’ve been so frightened, I’ve allowed you to take it somewhere where I didn’t want. And then my only chance was to let George … take over, or interest George in it.

“‘She Said She Said‘?” Paul asked.

Of all their songs to name, it’s a notable discussion point and not accidental. The final song recorded for Revolver (and one they played in passing earlier in the week at Twickenham), Paul walked out during its sessions in June 1966, a link from that moment to this one, with a Beatle missing.

Paul, as quoted in Barry Miles’ Many Years from Now:

I’m not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatles records I never played on. I think we had a barney or something and I said, “Oh, fuck you!” and they said, “Well, we’ll do it.” I think George played bass.

Without Paul’s interference, John could let the others just play their parts as originally, and simply, arranged. “[George would] take it as is, you know?” John recalled before backhandedly crediting Paul’s management style. “It’s George, you know, if there’s anything wrong with it, because I don’t want your arrangement on it. … If you give me your suggestions, let me reject them or in the case there’s one I like, it’s when we’re writing songs.”

The situation wasn’t reciprocal, as John reminded Paul — who agreed — “there was a period where none of us could actually say anything about your criticisms, ’cause you’d reject it all.” (Still, John conceded Paul’s musical decisions would often be the correct ones.)

If this line of conversation sounds familiar, it’s because exactly a week before this lunchroom chat, Paul and George debated this very issue in the quintessential tension-filled moment of the Let It Be film. Ultimately, George wasn’t too excited to take things “as is” and Paul wasn’t necessarily insistent he do so. So the situation is characteristically blurry.

“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

Still, George will play, you know, whatever you want him to play, but at this point he’s not playing anything at all, to general displeasure.

Assuming nobody noticed the hidden microphone in the flower pot at the canteen — a phrase as ridiculous for me to type as it is for you to read — we can be certain none of the parties on the lunchroom tape were playing for the cameras and a larger degree of posterity. (Whether they were being sincere with each other in this private moment is a completely separate question.)

Without the this recording, however, we wouldn’t know just how far Paul was encouraging the others to experience outlets outside the band’s restraints, and just how warmly he spoke of what would be an eventual reunion “when we’re all very old.” It would be a return in which they all can show off how much they’ve grown as artists outside of the limitations and restrictions they posed upon each other, and this reunion would serve as their very final act. It’s sweet and in retrospect very sad, even if Paul backs off a little calling it “silly.” Two Beatles never advanced past middle age, must less having a chance to be “very old.” Thankfully Yoko appreciated Paul’s line of thinking.

Around the context of their conversations and at the precise moment these sessions — and collective future — were in question, Paul’s support for and active, repeated urging of the group to go their separate ways very much complemented his grand statement to end their proposed TV show.

Their ultimate reunion would have made a most spectacular sequel.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 2)

FYI at the outset: I’m applying the same disclaimer from last time, when I started recounting the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, meeting at Ringo Starr’s house.  For this series of posts, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story. I promise!

****

Twenty years after the breakup of the Beatles and in the midst of leading his own supergroup, George Harrison characterized the “Wilbury Attitude.”

From the March 1990 issue of Musician:

Somebody wrote in a paper things like, ‘Little Richard is a Wilbury. Madonna wouldn’t be a Wilbury but Cyndi Lauper would be.’ It was quite funny.

While there may have been “about 500” fifth Beatles, as George estimated in that same Musician profile, the four proper members of the Beatles were set in stone (Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe screw up this accounting, so let’s just stick with the figure of four), and the lineup had been stable for more than six and a half years by the time we reached January 1969.

John Lennon proposed expanding the group more than once over the course of that month. The Beatles’ board meeting on January 12 was one such occasion.

Most of what we know about that meeting we learned from recordings of John, Ringo and Paul McCartney — among several other key figures — captured a day later. And while some of those January 13 conversations were filmed openly at Twickenham Studios on the set, so to speak, of Let It Be, a clandestinely recorded lunchroom discussion fleshed out the story. Remember Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s spy microphone? Documenting this lunch became the device’s greatest legacy.

“The Beatles, to me, isn’t just limited to the four of us,” John said on the 13th, candidly recounting what became a contentious point discussed during the previous day’s meeting and in response to Ringo relaying that George wanted a meeting limited to the four Beatles. It’s worth noting there were multiple occasions during lunch that Ringo and Paul explicitly referred to the “four” Beatles.

“I think that I alone could be a Beatle. I think [Paul] could. I’m not sure whether [Ringo] could. … I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think the Beatles revolve around the four people.”

Maybe it’s hindsight speaking, but of course the Beatles revolved around four people, and it had since Stu stepped out in 1961, even if their nominal leader suggested otherwise by calling a critical upgrade at drums merely a reorientation.

“It’s like [Ringo] joining instead of Pete,” John continued. “To me, it is like that.”

We don’t hear Yoko Ono’s name explicitly mentioned in the context of being a part of an expanded Beatles, a proto-Plastic Ono Band, but it’s the clear suggestion amid her omnipresence and in the wake of her taste of the fab experience 48 hours earlier.

For her part, Yoko didn’t see George’s departure as anything but temporary. His return was, in her eyes, completely in the hands of the others.

“You could get back George so easily, you know that,” Yoko said during the lunch.

****

Reputation’s changeable, situation intolerable: George stuck on the third rung

“The third rung.”

That’s how Paul plainly described George’s place in the Beatles hierarchy on the lunchroom tape. (Paul conceded John was at the “front of the chute” and himself secondary. Ringo ranked himself as “the cabbage.”)

It was only a few days prior when George openly bemoaned his status within the group and the dead-end destiny of so many of his contributions: “I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound], there its gone.”

This complaint on January 7 came immediately before he called for “a divorce,” which he pursued when he walked out January 10. At the January 12 board meeting, it only got worse, according to John.

“It’s a festering wound … yesterday we allowed to go even deeper,” John said early in the recording of the lunchroom discussion. “But we didn’t give him any bandages.”

Not only a reluctant medic, John wasn’t sure he wanted George to even be a Beatle anymore. Maybe the Beatles could be a four-piece after all, just with Yoko and without George.

“Do I want him back, Paul?” John said. “I’m just asking, do I want it back, whatever it is — the myth?”

That remark echoed George himself from the divorce conversation, in his response to Paul, saying the band used to be “switched on,” George had replied, “If that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it.”

Like George, John was searching for motivation to maintain the group’s status quo, even when the Beatles’ status quo was really a constant state of invention and reinvention, at least to the point of view of us on the outside.

During lunch on January 13, Paul and John agreed the duo would “connive,” when it came to their marginalization of George within the band and their maintenance of creative control. This, while George “could afford to be more insensitive” himself, as “some other part,” an other acting separately from the other members of the band, perhaps musically, perhaps socially.

“I do think that as grim as it all is,” Paul said, “that [George] is right. And I do think that our sole approach is exactly what he’s been saying.”

John simply said that he knows he’s treated people this way since primary school and offered the customary breakup excuse, “It’s not him, it’s just me.”

Yet while the duo acknowledged the problem of their treatment of George as a tertiary Beatle — later Paul would admit they treated him “a bit like a mongrel” — they didn’t set forth a path to solve it directly. The board meeting on the 12th, which was supposed to be a general business meeting, went so far beyond just an attempt to reconcile George’s walkout. The band’s very existence was in question. Again.

“It’s like George said. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction anymore,” John said on the 13th. “Because of the compromise we’d have to make to be together. The end result of the records now aren’t enough. …  When something came out like Revolver or Pepper or whatever, there was still that element of surprise that we didn’t know where it came from. But now we know exactly where it comes from, and how we arrived at that particular noise and how it could have been much better.

“The only way to get it satisfactorily for yourself is to do it on your own. And then that’s fucking hard.”

Here John again mirrors another of George’s points from January 7, when the latter said he wanted no part of performing any of his own songs at the presumptive forthcoming concert “because they just turn out shitty. They come out like a compromise.”

A fab feast, July 1969

Linda Eastman, who like Yoko was at the lunch on the 13th, responded by throwing some of John’s words back in his face. “But you were saying yesterday … you write good songs and it can’t be any better way. You don’t want just studio musicians. I mean, that’s how I look at it. You make good music together, whether you like it or not.

John admitted that he liked it. Still, he was dissatisfied with the White Album. Not his own contributions, which he remained happy with, but the sum of the parts. While Ringo said he dug it “far more than Sgt. Pepper,” John struggled to reconcile how good the White Album was and what he felt it should have been.

As difficult as the situation was, Paul was the optimist. He didn’t even see George’s absence as a problem — yet.

“See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back, you know? I’ll tell you, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

“What if he isn’t?” John asked.

“If he isn’t, then it’s a new problem.”

****

A “new” problem implies previously existing problems, and on January 12, 1969, the Beatles definitely had other problems.

With the benefit of hindsight,  we know Yoko was right and Paul’s optimism was justified. It was easy to get George to return to the group. It took a couple painless concessions from the others, and he was back with the Beatles just a few days later — this wasn’t any protracted estrangement, just one with good retrospective drama and publicity. For context, Ringo’s resignation during the White Album sessions lasted almost twice as long.

While acknowledging the issue, why didn’t John and Paul go a step further and apply the bandages to salve George’s festering wounds? It’s unclear, as they had recognized, at least in the wake of the meeting — if not during it — their “conniving” problem.

“Our brains sort of … con him,” Paul said at lunch, calling those moments “so innocent” and “so simple.”

That kind of treatment came completely natural to John. “It might have been my game. It might have been masochistic,” he said describing his approach. “But the goal was still the same: self-preservation.”

Yet, John said he “had to fight it the last three years,” saying he overcompensated by feeling he was actually giving in to George for several years, going out of his way to work with and relinquish a territory on their records, while George was creatively on “a good ride.”

He didn’t use the word “connived,” but in later interviews George did consider the others’ actions selfish. None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the Beatles for the last half-century.

From George’s terrific 1977 interview with Crawdaddy:

There were too many limitations based upon our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating. The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I’d always have to wait through ten of their songs before they’d even listen to one of mine. … I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. …

Paul would always help along when you’d done his ten songs, then when he got ‘round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually.

Then there’s Yoko, who George didn’t want around the studio as a non-participant, much less as an artistic partner. He may have been insensitive to her when she entered John’s life (invoking her “bad vibes”), but he clearly felt that behavior was justified. This emerged as the red line for John. We know how the story ended, and Yoko didn’t leave John’s side while the Beatles were together. John won that part of the battle, even if she wasn’t elevated to a member of the group.  (Through tragedy she ultimately became a member of the Apple board.)

There was no punch-up on January 10, 1969, that pushed George to take a break from the Beatles, it was just, largely, the simple, sweeping con he endured for years. You could almost say George had been fobbed off and he’d been fooled, he’d been robbed and ridiculed. John and Paul recognized and acknowledged as much on the lunchroom tape.

Like it or not, in the words of Linda, the Beatles made good music together. After the meeting on January 12, 1969, it was an open question if the four of them had any mutual desire and consensus to resume doing so.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 1)

For all the company’s subsidiaries, history could have used Apple Stenography.

The Nagra tapes so ubiquitous around the Beatles during January 1969 weren’t rolling at Ringo Starr’s Brookfield House estate in Elstead on Sunday the 12th. George Harrison ditched the band midway through the January 10 sessions, and after a brief encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the 11th, he was back in the company of the entire band as they met to discuss their immediate and long-term future.

Even without minutes of the meeting, we have an excellent idea how it transpired thanks to those very recordings and the candor of others recapping and analyzing the meeting’s fallout the next day back at Twickenham.

For this and the next several posts, I’m going to be jumping between various parts of those January 13 Nagra tapes for the sake of the overall narrative. Specific quotes and certain discussion topics absent here will soon be tied back into the story. There will be redundancies and I may not get to specific points until later. But please trust the process!

We know nothing about the meeting from George’s perspective except an acknowledgment of its very existence. And we only know that much thanks to 21st century Photoshop trickery, taking his diary entry for the day before (as published in the Living In the Material World book), flipping the image and manipulating the colors to reveal what was on the opposite page.

Clearly and without further detail, George wrote: “Ringo’s for Meeting.”

Do-it-all assistant Mal Evans provided another rare written reference to the meeting, merely saying January 12 was the day “the fellows finally gave up all idea of doing the TV show.”

This tidbit was for public consumption, published in the March 1969 Beatle Books fan club magazine, months after the event, with the storm of George’s departure long passed and the group seemingly — at least in public — a unit again, the earliest Abbey Road sessions under way and more to come.

While we have reason to question if this January 12 meeting is exactly when the premise of a Beatles TV documentary was called off, at the very least because cameras were back at Twickenham the next day, remember Mal did keep a diary, so it stands to reason he checked the date.

(From the March 1969 Beatles Book)

Early January 13, the day the Get Back sessions resumed, Ringo summarized the proceedings in a dry voice: “The meeting was fine, a lot of good things. But then, you know, they all sort of fell apart at the end.”

While the meeting was held in the wake of George’s departure, it quickly became clear the missing guitarist wasn’t the group’s greatest concern.

“I love you laconic Liverpudlians,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said on the 13th. “Because I said to [Apple chief] Neil [Aspinall], ‘And then the businessmen left and then there was just the five of you there, right?’ He said, ‘No, that’s the trouble. Six,’ he said with his flat voice.”

***

Sunday’s gathering featured two distinct components:

  • A business meeting, which included John Eastman, Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, and other accountants
  • A personnel meeting, so to speak, to discuss the Beatles’ near-term future as a viable unit and to hash out issues better left to a modern HR department

There was only passing mention of the business element, with Ringo referring to “John from America” and the “new accountants we just moved with.” (On January 10, George explicitly mentioned John Eastman in the context of an imminent business meeting, a meeting that had Neil very excited and promised to have news that was “so good.”)

It’s feasible the Sunday meeting is when this document — which is only dated “January 1969” — was signed, giving the Eastman & Eastman law firm rights to negotiate contracts on the Beatles’ behalf.  The timing works out — John Eastman was working on a deal for the successor company to NEMS less than a week later.

The Eastman & Eastman management contract, January 1969.

If only to justify what Ringo described as “a lot of good things” coming of the meeting, the business aspect must have pointed to a positive development.

Most of the subsequent recollections of the Sunday meeting were about the greatest strain on group.

“[John] looked great yesterday” Linda Eastman said in the open discussion early on the 13th between Paul, Ringo, Neil, Michael and Mal.

“Who was he wearing, the usual?” Michael asked, to laughter, including Paul, who repeated the joke.

To be clear, Yoko wasn’t the only non-Beatle or Beatle employee at Ringo’s on Sunday. Linda was there, and even if she regretted her own presence, Paul’s girlfriend (and the lawyer’s sister) was critical that she — and others — were even welcome to attend.

Linda: It’s harder being at a meeting and everybody putting their two cents in, and none of you all saying anything.
Paul: But that’s the other thing, having the meeting. You came with me, and [Linda’s daughter] Heather came.
Linda: Yeah, I was going to say I shouldn’t go.
Paul: It’s such a temptation going out to Ringo’s for the afternoon. It feels like a family outing. (said to laughter)

Paul: It should have been the four of us.
Ringo: Well you (Linda) were out of the way. It nearly was.
Paul: It’s still that thing.
Linda: When there’s something serious, a few other people talking about it, and you get off the tracks.

Paul would also describe the scene as being like “board meetings of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and all the governors and all the wives, and mates and kids and animals.”

Neil explicitly said that Yoko’s participation undermined any chance for a serious discussion. “Everybody else is like, ‘Fuck it. You know it’s not going to be a board meeting, so let’s make it a party.'”

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, etc. Beatles and family at Ringo’s in Summer 1969.

Yoko did “so much talking,” Linda bemoaned.

A “key moment,” according to Paul, came when John said he didn’t understand George’s desire for a meeting consisting exclusively of the four Beatles, explicitly excluding Yoko. Twice George told John, ” I don’t believe you,” in reaction to John’s stated confusion.

“I think John knew what he was talking about, too,” Neil said. “It’s like the bullshitting bit where that can go on. It’s silly.”

Paul agreed, but absolved John to a degree.

“John does bullshit. I bullshit. Ringo bullshits. George bullshits. You know, we bullshit.

“With John, you think you can influence it, you think he’s past it. So you start giving him more credit than he’s due for. With Yoko, they mean it.”

Paul consistently placed legitimacy on John’s dedication to Yoko (we’ll see more of this in the coming posts). John alone could be a slippery figure, but here Paul was insisting John really needed Yoko at his side, completely and sincerely.

Paul’s last remark was met with derision from Linda and Neil, especially. Paul’s tone implied maybe he didn’t really believe what he was saying out loud, either.

***

This meeting was scheduled to be about Apple. It would have helped to have been about George. But it became a meeting that revolved around Yoko.

John accused the others of pushing out anyone who threatened the sanctity of the four members of the group, a balance he and Yoko disrupted months earlier. Paul freely admitted as much the next day, describing the Beatles’ conscious decision to maintain a well-defined inner circle.

“The trouble with us, like John said [during Sunday’s meeting], is anything that comes in … with the egos, we try and push out,” Paul said Monday. “It’s always been that. Anybody who’s come in, Like with Michael Braun, with that book, [he] came in for a while, within the circle for a while, and then he gets pushed out cause we don’t want him in the inner circle. And he’s got to stay on the edges.”

Braun’s book — Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress —  was published in 1964, and chronicles the group over the course of several months that year and the year prior. John later told Rolling Stone it “was a true book. He wrote how we were, which was bastards. ” Really, the book reads like a draft manuscript of the “A Hard Day’s Night” film, the group enveloped by Beatlemania with supplementary anecdotes of those dismissing the movement. It’s candid, and in the context of its original publication, it had to be a revelation by comparison to other portrayals of the group.

But to Paul’s point in January 1969, the proximity given to Braun, an American journalist who had his own colorful biography, was too much for the group in time. Yoko came in for a while, had been within the circle for a while, but she wasn’t getting pushed out. She was inner circle, with no reason to think she would be forced to the edges.

This wasn’t the only issue. John’s silence, in tandem with Yoko’s new role as his spokesperson, made for the untenable situation. After all, Linda was there too, but she didn’t attempt to speak for Paul.

Still why wouldn’t John talk? One of the greatest wits of his generation, the outspoken and leader of the Beatles — self-proclaimed by this point — silenced himself. John had already forced Yoko into the inner circle. He didn’t need to hand her his voice too. Unless, he didn’t think he needed his voice in the first place.

John openly discussed the Beatles’ ability to communicate non-verbally in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorized biography.

I think communication all the time like mad, but putting it into words is a waste of time. We talk in code to each other as Beatles. … We understand each other. It doesn’t matter about the rest.

(Listen to the terrific One Sweet Dream podcast for the deepest of dives into this corner – and many others — of the Lennon-McCartney relationship).

If John was silent because he thought he didn’t have to speak at all, Paul cried foul the next day, ultimately mocking John’s telepathic approach.

“Who was he wearing?” (From the Get Back book)

“With our heightened awareness, the answer is not to say anything,” Paul said. “But it isn’t! Cause, I mean, we screw each other up totally when we don’t do that. Cause we’re not ready for heightened vows of silence.”

Paul started to laugh before conceding, “We don’t know what the fuck each other’s talking about.”

Paul then shattered the telepathy myth, explaining why he thought Yoko spoke for John.

“There was something the other day, I said, ‘What do you think?’ And he just didn’t say anything. And I know exactly why. … If one of us is talking about it, it’s a drag if the other three aren’t.”

John’s silence only made Yoko’s outspokenness more conspicuous by contrast.

“Yoko was saying yesterday, ‘This is my opinion. This is my opinion how the Beatles should be.’”

There was no indication of what John’s opinion was.

“John didn’t talk,” Paul later said. “Yoko talked for John.”

John, too, was a laconic Liverpudlian.

***

Despite having spent several years working with the band, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was, by simple logic of not being an insider, a Beatles outsider.

He also had a film to make — a film the Beatles hired him to make — and it wasn’t for quite some time into the January 13 session he finally asked about one of his missing stars, who had hardly been mentioned at all that morning.

“Did George stay?”

“Well, in the middle of all that, actually,” Paul answered, “George went. He said, ‘I’ll see you.’”

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Jan. 11: How he was diverted

Daylight is good at arriving at the right time, but January 11, 1969, was always going to be that gray.

London was rainy that Saturday morning, a desperately needed day off for the Beatles, who finished spending five consecutive packed and charged days at Twickenham Film Studios, the final one witnessing George Harrison quitting the band after lunch.

At least George woke up to a little good news: The soundtrack to the film Wonderwall, his excellent first solo effort, cracked the Billboard 200 LP charts in the United States, where the January 11 issue of the magazine placed the LP at a very modest No. 197. (It would eventually peak at No. 49, on March 1, 1969). His presently erstwhile band’s eponymous double album remained the best-selling LP in the country, while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 56) and Magical Mystery Tour (75) remained on the top half of the charts. Bearing a sound retrospectively of so long ago, these two 1967 releases remained relevant to record-buyers.

(Still, George had one up on Paul McCartney, whose own 1967 release — the soundtrack to The Family Way, ostensibly the first “solo” release by a Beatle, albeit with little participation from Paul himself — did not chart at all.)

The same January 11, 1969, issue of Billboard shared the news of an impending Beatles “personal appearance” filmed for TV one week hence.

Meanwhile, the Beatles have finally agreed to make a personal appearance on Saturday (18) in a show which will be filmed for TV transmission. It will be the Beatles’ first public appearance since August 1966 in San Francisco, and the first in Britain since May 1966. The show, before an invited audience, will be in the London area and will feature many songs. (Fourteen new tracks were left over from the double album.) There is also a strong possibility that Apple will issue a live album of the show. Production will be by Michael Lyndsay-Hogg. [sic]

As we’ve heard on the Nagra tapes throughout the sessions so far, the show’s date and location had remained completely fluid and in constant state of negotiation to that point, beyond the fact the Beatles were now short a guitarist. We could charitably say 14 White Album leftovers wasn’t far off, although that was probably guesswork on Billboard’s part.

Left unspoken on the tapes was the Beatles Book’s competition (as described in the January 1969 issue), in which 50 winners would earn invitations to the group’s live show on January 18. The magazine said winners would receive details “no later than Saturday, January 11.” But it was the 11th, and no one had been alerted.

George was ready for his own victory, a weekend away from the band with the chance to rest and reset his private and professional problems. Then an unplanned and very personal appearance ended any search for serenity.

From George’s diary:
“Got up – John and Yoko came and diverted me at Breakfast”

George’s diary entry for January 11, 1969. From the Living in the Material World book.

To paraphrase George himself from the Beatles’ chart-topping album, we don’t know how he was diverted. We can only guess what John Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke about with George.

It’s notable, however, that the couple made the effort to intercept George as one of their very first activities that day — George probably wasn’t up at dawn, but it was still what he considered breakfast time. John didn’t offer George any cooling-off period in what could have been an attempt to make amends as much as it may have been a power play on John’s part, a multifaceted attempt to rein in George.

“I’m phoning Eric [Clapton], and he’ll be in Monday to replace you,” one could imagine John saying, with Yoko looking on. “And the others are happy to go along with the change! You should have heard them jamming with Yoko yesterday.”

That’s only a guess at what John could have told George. He could have simply said, “I’m really sorry, please come back,” but we don’t know that either.

We do know the result of the visit: Any apology on John’s part for their presumed midday argument wasn’t good enough, or George, no matter what, was never going to be receptive the day after the walkout. Instead, he would continue his holdout.

Separately, any attempt by Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr to contact George is conspicuous by its absence, a contrast notable in its own right.

The single line about John and Yoko’s visit is the lone January 11 entry in George’s diary.

It’s possible this is the day George threw out Charlotte Martin and reconciled with wife Pattie Boyd. It may have been the day he wrote “Wah-Wah.” But we don’t have any evidence either way, we just know those events happened in this narrow period while George was away from the band.

It’s unclear what Paul was doing Saturday. It’s possible that if he stayed in, he watched the Rolf Harris show at 7:30 p.m., when Vera Lynn performed “Good Night” on BBC-1, as promoted by Dick James the day before.

Ringo didn’t bother listening to a cover of the track he sang to close the White Album. Instead, he was tuned to the ITV murder mystery, which was on at the same time.

jan 11 1969 TV

Saturday night’s TV listings

“Did you see ‘[Whatever Happened To] Baby Jane?’ on Saturday?” Ringo asked Michael Lindsay-Hogg on Monday, January 13, as captured by that day’s Nagra tapes. “Great film.”

The 1962 film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is a dark thriller revolving around a tortured celebrity sibling rivalry. The mixed-up state of the Lennon-McCartney-Harrison dynamic and its internal rivalries had devolved into its own tortured state by this point.

When the calendar turned to January 12, three of them — John, Paul and George — were Sunday driving, separately arriving, on their way to Ringo’s home.

Previewed on Friday before George’s departure, this meeting didn’t occur Saturday, as it was initially discussed. And when they gathered Sunday, it wasn’t exclusively an Apple business meeting as originally scheduled, but it also turned into a rescue mission to get George back to the Get Back sessions and make the Beatles whole again.

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Jan. 10: Et cetera

January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipicesomething we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so. 

Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.

***

While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism. 

“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.

“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”

“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”

Nevertheless, make the most of it.

George Martin clarified the deeper issue.

“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”

Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career. 

“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”  

***

In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.

Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.

“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”

“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”

“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”

Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”

“Hence the expression,” Michael replied, “Papa’s got a brand-new bag.”

***

When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.

“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”

It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”

When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”

George Martin, proofreader

The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.

On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.

“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.

“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”

***

While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.

“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.

“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”

***

Hugh Curry, January 1969

No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.

At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …

“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”

“Goddamn sinister”

Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure. 

“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”

After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m. 

Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple. 

“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!” 

John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.

Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.

Yoko: Oh, you like it?

Curry: No, I don’t.

The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.

“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.” 

Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”

Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.

A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada. 

And speaking of record labels … 

“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked. 

“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.” 

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Jan. 10: Go on, as if nothing’s happening

“It seems highly unlikely we’d be on,” the guitarist told the director.

With a member of the band unexpectedly AWOL, he was justifiably skeptical the Beatles could stage the big concert to end the film.

“I mean, the law of averages are against it,” he continued. “I think if you could get the juggler on with a couple more clubs, that’d fill in a bit of time.”

That guitarist speaking was George Harrison, and the production was A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first feature, filmed Spring 1964. On the afternoon of Friday, January 10, 1969, it wasn’t a self-deprecating Ringo Starr who was missing, it was a self-reliant George himself, having sprung Twickenham during his “Winter of Discontent.” This left the remaining Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg juggling ideas for how to close what would become “Let It Be,” their final film, and who else would be on stage playing lead guitar.  

Michael and Ringo, January 1969. From Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

More than a week into the Get Back sessions, Michael continued making similar iterations of the same pitch for the show.

“One of my ideas is if we go to, like, anywhere, that we mightn’t just announce any times for the concert at all,” he said to Paul McCartney later in the day on the 10th. “We’ll set them (the Beatles) up in whatever desert we do it in, and they start to play. And one by one, and ten by ten, people will come in.”

Inane, I’d call that,” Paul replied with a comedic aggression. “Straight off the top of my head. … Imbecilic. Salacious.”

(Like in his songwriting, at times, Paul sometimes spoke words that simply sounded good, even if they didn’t make sense in context.)

Michael deflected the response, saying “‘imbecilic’ sounded like a bad bug you get the flu from.”

Regaining focus, he invoked the show’s target date, 10 days hence: “I though that could make a very kind of groovy, trendy opening. Seriously, like: January 20, 1969.”

Moments later, the director and the others in the room — which extended beyond just the band — discussed the issue of visas and difficulties several of the Beatles’ peers (Donovan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) faced getting into the United States. They were open to several options, including Mexico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations.

“And Catalina, which George said wasn’t very nice,” Michael said.

Not that it mattered what George thought then, he’d quit the group almost an hour earlier.

“So what’s our next move?” Michael asked the others. 

“We split George’s instruments,” John Lennon said to laughter.

It was clear in the immediate they were not considering splitting the band, though. If the Beatles were going to be on the move, it would just be in a different iteration. Abandoning the project wasn’t a consideration at present.

The conversation would shortly return to locations, with the Roman amphitheater at Sabratha in Tunisia remaining at the forefront, all other contenders just conversation pieces to keep the group engaged. Michael’s long-preferred destination, he enlisted a “reconnaissance team” that included Beatles assistant Mal Evans and producer Denis O’Dell slated to scout the venue the upcoming Monday.

“There has to be someone to say, ‘The weather’s fine, come on in,’” Michael said.

Paul repeated familiar, feasible suggestions (The Cavern Club, Tower Ballroom) along with new nearby options (the Underground) and  more distant, outlandish and outrageous ones (“the mouth of a volcano near Ecuador”). 

“I think we should do it for more than 500 people,” Michael added.

It was a tough time to think big. This was an afternoon and evening of distractions and interruptions.

In the wake of George’s departure, there were several coincidental arrivals at Twickenham: A package arrived for Paul (marked “‘handle tenderly”); several “EMI heavies” wandered around the soundstage; a CBC interviewer prepped John and Yoko for an infamous interview that would come a few days later.

Rather than return to a full rehearsal, the group joined Michael in telling several imbecilic (and salacious) knock-knock jokes. Of more interest was Michael discussing his career and relationship with Orson Welles, whom decades later he would discover was his father. One lengthy anecdote (which was also detailed in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance”) described Michael acting in Welles’ 1960 stage production of “Chimes of Midnight” when Welles briefly stormed out of the production in anger. 

“See you ’round the clubs!” Glyn Johns reacted, laughing — and confirming George’s earlier valedictory statement, which wasn’t caught on tape. 

An afternoon replete with nostalgia would soon continue after Paul returned to the piano (you can hear “The Long and Winding Road” and “Adagio for Strings” clearly on the tapes in the background). After quizzing the band on whether they had endured any scuffles with their fans (Ringo recalled being kicked in the head), Michael asked if they looked back fondly on their frenzied touring period.

John replied with an affected accent, the voice of a ragged bluesman looking back on a lifetime, not merely a few years earlier:

Why, I think of it every day. I think what fun we had when we was [sic] the Beatles, playing and rocking with the group around the world. I said, ‘Richard, you remember that?’ He says, ‘No, I hadn’t joined you then.’

One of the not-so-fond memories: “Having eggs thrown at us in Australia was one of my big moments,” John said.

Reminded by Ringo he had missed part of the 1964 Australian tour (although he was there for the egging in Brisbane), John evoked the name of the rare Beatle stand-in. 

Jimmie Nicol: Now making a living as the 29th Beatle in New Mexico,” John said of the fill-in drummer, who was actually in old Mexico at the time.  

Now with the band facing a new vacancy, would they soon get to Beatle No. 30?

As if on cue, moments later, Michael barked an instruction for additional equipment: 

“Glyn, Yoko wants a mic.” 

She was back, but the music was hardly intense, with Paul having moved onto his White Album ode “Martha My Dear.”  Now, her vocals were largely calm and controlled, more comedic than anything.

While Yoko once again wailed, John — in conversation with Michael — laid out his plans to replace George. He didn’t suggest Yoko. 

A few hours earlier, George told the other Beatles, “You need Eric Clapton.” The time had come for John to heed the advice, sharing it with Michael. 

“I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play, ” John said. “Eric would be pleased. He left Cream because they’re all soloists. … The point is, if George leaves, do we want to carry on as Beatles?”

Harsh feedback shortly overwhelmed the room, obscuring some of the conversation on the tapes. But the discussion continued, as Yoko again passionately called out John’s name.

MLH: Maybe for the show, you would just say George is sick.

John:  (Sincerely): No, I mean, if he leaves, he leaves.

MLH: But what’s the consensus, do you want to go on with the show and the work?

John: Yeah. If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Clapton.

Yoko: John!

John: Whaaaaat? (laughter) 

John and Yoko continued to repeat each other’s names, but this was the couple playing for laughs.  Meanwhile, John and Michael’s discussion continued through the call-and-response, bringing together the issue of show location with locking down a replacement guitarist.

MLH: And what about the venues? … If George comes back we go away, and if Clapton comes in we stay here.

John: We should just go on, as if nothing’s happening.

MLH: I think we should go away.

So eager to get the show on the road, Michael had the potential logistics lined up in his head, proposing the group spend the following week at Twickenham and the week after abroad, all conforming to the group’s timetable, which was in part defined by Ringo’s filming schedule for The Magic Christian. 

“What I’ve always thought is we leave here next weekend (January 18-19) and do the show the following weekend (January 25-26) there, if we decide to go there,” Michael said. “And then come back on Monday (January 27), which is just inside Ringo’s seven days.”  (The January 20, 1969, date floated previously must have only applied to a domestic show or an alternative, abbreviated schedule.)

Michael’s plans to this point were more extensive than expected, implying there really was no option, at least that he was eager to prepare, other than Sabratha. 

“We’ve arranged everything food-wise to come in from Germany,” Michael said, adding for the skeptics, “I do not joke. It’s the same food from the American [military] base.”

Eric Clapton and John Lennon, from the Rock & Roll Circus, December 1968.

And if it wasn’t enough John was trying to enlist Eric Clapton to join the Beatles, Michael casually suggested a near reunion of Cream, if it meant just getting Paul and John to Libya for rehearsals, and Ringo — who was least receptive to travelling — to be minimally overseas.

“We can get out a session man for a couple days,” Michael said. “Or Ginger Baker can come for a few days. Just to kind of routine it.”

The discussion between John and Michael petered out as John joined Paul and Yoko on another jam. Unlike earlier, when the Beatles played hard blues rock out of rage, this improvisation was more subdued, a more gentle and at times an arguably pleasant performance, containing elements of “Castle of the King of Birds.” Paul was on piano, John on guitar and Ringo on tambourine with Yoko providing another disruptive vocal — although not quite as consistently intense than earlier in the day.

Soon, Paul shifted to the drums — and it’s a noticeable drop in quality from Ringo to Paul, as strong as the latter is as a multi-instrumentalist. More importantly, it freed up Ringo, who returned to conversing with Michael. But first, he played up for the cameras (and tapes).

Yeah, rock it to me baby, that’s what I like. You may think this is a full orchestra, but if you look closely you can see there’s only two people playing and one person singing. I know it sounds like Benny Goodman, but don’t worry. It’s the big sound of 1969! You bet your life. Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me. (Laughter)

Interested in the filmmaking, Ringo asked Michael precisely what he was doing — “I thought what we should do is the first sessions when you came back, make it very hand-held looking,” Michael said, pulling the curtain behind the sausage-making. More importantly, Michael shared his first-hand view on what he saw after George walked out. 

“And the interesting thing is, Paul went to his amp. … I don’t know if you knew what you did, psychologically, after lunch. You (addressing Paul, who joined them) went at your amp like you shut the door into a closet. … And you (Ringo) were playing very hard. … And John was doing whatever he was doing.”

Ringo, Paul and Michael continued their conversation, as John provided background music — “Sun King” and “Dear Prudence.”

MLH: Have you ever had coverage when you were doing a whole album?

Ringo: No. 

MLH: Have you ever wanted it?

Ringo: No.

Like it or not, the Beatles — what presently remained of them — were getting blanket coverage, and the real drama was happening in the studio, not on location.

“Are we meeting again Monday?” Michael asked hopefully in the waning moments of the day’s session.

“Yeah, I’ll have Eric, Jimi (Hendrix, although it could feasibly be Jimmy Page) and Tommy (Evans of the Iveys, perhaps?) lined up,” John replied, with varying and low degrees of sincerity.

Paul’s set his bar much lower. 

“A7, D7, G7,” he instructed Maureen Starkey, who was visiting Twickenham that afternoon. “Get ’em off over the weekend and you’re in.”

(Ironically, armed with those chords, Maureen would have been able to fill in for George on his For You Blue.)

Paul with guitar protégée Maureen Starkey. From the Get Back trailer.

Before splitting for the day, Michael made sure to capture the scene. “We have this well-documented. And a lot of shots of the empty cushion.” We’ll see what Peter Jackson shows us in Get Back ’21, but this footage was left on the cutting-room floor of the final cut of Let It Be.

“And I guess that’s it,” wrapped up Michael, who wished the others luck in their planned weekend business meeting, which would include George. “And I hope everything really goes swell. I’d like to say, I’ve enjoyed our week together, hope one day we have another one like it.”

“Surely,” Paul replied. “Why not?”

And thus ended the first full work week of the Get Back sessions.  While George was kicking Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend out of his own house, John pushed the concept of welcoming Eric into the Beatles’ office. 

As you certainly know, Clapton never joined the Beatles, and John didn’t bring him in the following Tuesday, even though George wasn’t back. There clearly wasn’t an actual offer anyway.

Here’s Paul, from the Anthology book:

After George went we had a meeting out at John’s house, and I think John’s first comment was, ‘Let’s get Eric in.’ I said, “No!” I think John was half-joking. We thought, “No, wait a minute. George has left and we can’t have this — it isn’t good enough.’

For his part, Clapton repeatedly downplayed the idea he was an actual fallback option for the Beatles. In modern parlance, Clapton thought John used him as clickbait, and the friendship he had with George would have been a blocker anyway. 

Eric, from the April 1998 issue of Mojo

There may have been [a suggestion the Beatles would ask him to join]. The problem with that was, I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George — which was exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy, that I could be like a gun-slinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing, because I was too much a mate of George’s.

Several years later, after George’s death, Clapton literally laughed at the idea of joining the Beatles when he was interviewed for Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary “Living in the Material World”.

As he said in the clip, the Beatles could be the most close-knit quartet, but at the same time, “the cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled.” 

The latter led the Beatles to this moment. After their first full day at Twickenham, on January 3, George described with envy The Band‘s ability to blur their domestic and working lives, something he witnessed first-hand when he visited the group and Bob Dylan six weeks prior.  “They’ve got all that gear there, but … they’re just living, and they happen to be a band as well.”

His relationships with his wife and his band in distress, George had neither element 10 days into January 1969 — he wasn’t living properly, and he didn’t feel like a useful member of the Beatles.  

While he’d join John Lennon as a member of the Dirty Mac before and the Plastic Ono Band later, Eric Clapton was neither asked, nor was he seemingly willing to accept an assignment with the Beatles.

The Beatles didn’t need Eric Clapton, a gunslinger for hire. They needed George Harrison. 

 

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Jan. 10: A quick one, while he’s away

Their man had been gone, for nigh on a few minutes.

John Lennon played a familiar riff on his guitar, the country-western lick from the middle of The Who’s 1966 mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Soon be home!” sang John. Paul McCartney added an aggressive harmony as John wailed the refrain.

After a brief fade in the tapes, John returned with a spontaneous scream that devolved into a wheeze, then a cough. On regaining his composure, he barked an instruction:

OK, George, take it!

Then John giggled.

George Harrison quit the Beatles after lunch on Friday, January 10, 1969, and at the end of the second week of the Get Back sessions, the Fab Four were a sub-fab three-piece — John, Paul and Ringo Starr. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, was there too, a given since the previous year.

“So pissed,” John said in response to nobody, certainly meaning drunk in the British vernacular, but it registered as the Americanism, too: anger at George’s brazen and sudden departure.

Just like they did when Ringo quit during the White Album sessions less then five months earlier, and just like they did a year later when John was far gone from the group, the remaining Beatles immediately continued as a three-piece.

The music restarted behind an angry riff from John, and Paul and Ringo quickly fell into the jam. The riff was another iteration of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which earlier in the week was manifest in Paul’s improvised “My Imagination,” and previously formed the foundation of “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.”

John taunted George again.

Soon be home!”

The band begins at ten to six: Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others at the filming of the Rock & Roll Circus.

The Beatles’ repeated riff was rough, much in the spirit of the Who, whom John watched up close a month earlier, when director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was in the same role at the scene of the crime. That was when the Who stole the show from the Rolling Stones at the latter’s own Rock & Roll Circus — an incident George himself referenced only three days before.

This quick one came grooving up slowly, with the improv running in spurts for about 20 minutes, John’s full-throated scream ending one portion of the jam. The Beatles briefly “covering” the Who, itself a terrific curio, isn’t nearly the most important takeaway.

Yoko Ono at Twickenham, January 10, 1969.

The most shocking moment filmed for a Beatles movie ended up on the cutting-room floor — perhaps it makes the final edit of the forthcoming Get Back ’21 — and came several minutes into the jam.

That’s when Yoko seized the spotlight and filled a vacuum, her voice dramatically piercing the Twickenham soundstage during what Michael later described in his autobiography as a “half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums.” But the most memorable instrument was Yoko’s voice.

Ringo recounted the afternoon in the 1990s for the Anthology book:

None of us realised until we went to lunch that George had gone home. When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.

Emphasis mine.

Before and after

She wasn’t simply there. She was there on George’s blue cushion, and she was there on George’s microphone.  George eventually found out, too. As described in the previous post, George referred to Yoko “just screaming, doing her screeching number” in a 1977 interview, a moment he didn’t witness but later saw on film.

Yoko wailed to the band’s furious, repetitive backing in a sequence of organized chaos. It’s “Whole Lotta Yoko” blended with “Helter Skelter,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko” tied into “John John (Let’s Hope For Peace)“. Previewing her vocals from the last song in the above list, she repeatedly, violently called out John’s name.  It’s a harsh listen.

Ringo Starr “playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before.” From the unreleased The Long and Winding Road documentary.

Musically, the improvisation veered into slightly different corners of blues rock and it maintained the same general, rollicking intensity throughout.

Either you like Yoko or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able to persuade you either way (and I wouldn’t try to change your mind anyway). It’s reasonable, though, to describe her performance as completely in character.

Ringo indeed played a little out of his mind, and at one point, Paul abandoned the bass line to evoke feedback — John did the same with his guitar. At a couple separate moments, John returned to the “soon be home” riff from “A Quick One,” but he didn’t sing along. Throughout the entire performance, there’s no attempt by the others to join Yoko on vocals, but the remaining Beatles were a pretty good hard-rock combo when they chose to be. Even Yoko took notice of Ringo’s aggressive performance, changing her lyric to call out Ringo’s name, an unintentionally funny moment after a hypnotic repetition of John’s name. There was no full roll call, though. Yoko never shouted “Paul.”

Somebody calls out his name …

While there was frustration and anger in the wake of George’s temporary flight from the Beatles, one can sense momentary release. Paul’s project was at a standstill, but his most difficult relation had fled. John had one fewer person — and the most vocal one — balking at Yoko’s presence. Still, the Beatles lost their lead guitarist and junior songwriter. He left them, and that clearly was a big problem.

For Yoko, though, there was no frustration, only relief. At this instant, the blue cushion was hers. She went from sitting beside John to inheriting her own equal space. If George was 25 percent of the world’s greatest democracy, then she, in this moment, owned that share — the solo vocalist alongside the guitarist, bassist and drummer. In the currently available film of this sequence, from the aborted The Long and Winding Road documentary and in various Internet destinations, we see a broad smile on Yoko’s face as she sings John’s name.

Yoko’s experience from every other day with the Beatles informs how she must have approached midday January 10, 1969. From an Anthology-era interview with Newsweek:

I was just trying to sit there very quietly without disturbing them. You know, John always wanted me there and if I was not there, John might not have gone to those sessions.

This session marked her opportunity to be an artist and create a needed disturbance. The jam couldn’t have completely satisfied her creative need, but at worst, it allowed her to collaborate with John in his primary space, and scratch a specific itch.

After about 20 minutes, starting with the initial “A Quick One” sequence, the jam abruptly concluded as John searched for technical help with a microphone.

“OK, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,'” barked John, as this incarnation of the Threetles (or the first Plastic Ono Band, for that matter) rehearsed their newest material in a fashion they’d never present onstage. The performance was jagged and angry, and just a few days after dismissing their farewell concert, the Beatles became their own version of Cream, the disintegrating power trio. Yoko did not participate in this part of the session.

Then it turned. “Everybody had a hard year,” was sung by John with such extreme gruff, it turned over into laughter. The stab at the song devolved into Paul playing the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon (for the second time that day) to close it out.

Then John yodeled.

Remember when John said he was “pissed”? The British slang was definitely the vibe. The Beatles had no care in the world and were, in this moment of relative bedlam, enjoying themselves. The full-throated “Don’t Let Me Down” was the closest they came to a sincere attempt at a song, and it wasn’t particularly sincere. The next 15 minutes on the tapes featured John and Paul trading small bites of a variety of oldies (“Til There Was You,” “C’mon Everybody” “Mack The Knife,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “On a Sunny Island”). The hilarious performance devolved into moos, baas, barks, meows and whistles.

A highlight — so to speak — from this sequence was John’s droll destruction of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” as Paul played willing accomplice.

George’s departure from the group completely stalled any momentum toward planning the Beatles’ live show as well as reasonably developing new songs in progress. Yet, John, Paul and Ringo stayed in the studio and played purely for their own amusement. This is the Beatles at Friday afternoon happy hour. Meanwhile, Michael continued to discuss how to power the show — and group — forward.

Though we’d still hear her perform with the Beatles again before the end of the day, the band’s long-term future wasn’t ever going to include Yoko Ono — the Beatles weren’t the proto-Plastic Ono Band, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul and Ringo would have allowed it even if John insisted.  The question now, was in what form the band would progress.

***

When I first started listening to the Purple Chick A/B Road bootleg about nine years ago, diving into a hulking torrent file of the Nagra Tapes, the first track I listened to was on the January 10, 1969, set of files, one marked “A Quick One While He’s Away.” I had Beatles bootlegs on vinyl and cassette for a long time, and knew full well the general scope of the Get Back sessions, but I hadn’t listened to every possible cover song or outtake from the era. (That would be crazy!)  I didn’t know they attempted “A Quick One.”

After playing the track, I realized they never did attempt it at all. But listening to the context around the track — George’s departure from the group, which I also knew much about, but never heard on tape — convinced me to make a better effort and listen to the entirety of the tapes from the very beginning, and really study what happened. That curiosity directly led to creating this blog, weeks later.

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Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

On the afternoon of January 10, 1969, seven days into the Get Back sessions and nearly 10 years into his tenure with the band — a term that began when he was 15 years old — George Harrison quit the Beatles.

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

After a cut in the Nagra tapes, which captured the exchange, George casually continued: “Get a replacement. [Place an ad] in NME and get a few people.”

While the tapes don’t capture him saying “see you ’round the clubs,” it’s too good a line to be purely apocryphal (and it’s, in fact, alluded to by others on the tapes later in the day). George then briefly shared a few words with Mal Evans and was off, his boots echoing as he departed.

Likewise, for the sake of the complete record, there is simply no indication on the tapes of what happened between the final take of “Two of Us,” and George’s departure, the immediate spark of George’s decision (if there was any). Like the Beatles themselves, the tapes were out to lunch.

Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, so proud of his spy microphone hours earlier, had the right instincts and was prepared for this moment, but he probably should have upgraded to a better model.

“My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said,” Michael wrote in his 2011 autobiography Luck and Circumstance. In his “role as documentarian,” he had asked his sound engineer to mic the flowerpot on the dining room table as George encountered the band at lunchtime. Per Michael, George concluded by saying, “See you ’round the clubs.”

George grabs his coat on his way out of the utter sty that was the studio at Twickenham, as pictured on an earlier day. (Screen capture from Beatles Anthology)

What exactly happened over lunch is a source of legitimate dispute in Beatles history. Dig in — here are varied accounts that span 50 years.

The most contemporary retelling of the events of January 10, 1969, comes from George himself, later that day, in his personal diary.

Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunch time – left the Beatles – went home and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident Studio — had chips later at Klaus and Christines went home.

George’s diary entry for January 10, 1969, as later published in the Living in the Material World book in 2011.

There wasn’t any Twitter in 1969 (although John and Yoko probably would have dominated the platform had it existed), so when George left the Beatles, it didn’t instantaneously go viral. But within days, George’s resignation was widely reported around the world — jumping off an original report by the Daily Sketch (more on their reporting to come in a subsequent post) — though he was already back with the band by the time those reports came out.

It wasn’t just that George left the Beatles. Word was out that that things got violent.

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison did NOT have a punch-up and Apple — their business company — is NOT on any financial rocks.

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

It all began when a pop weekly reported Lennon as saying that Apple was “losing money every week” and needed tightening up.

Then came the rumour that Lennon and Harrison came to blows.

But last night, after a five-hour meeting between the four Beatles and their business associates at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters, explanations came fast.

“The so-called punch-up between John and myself? There’s no truth in it. We are still good friends.”

Ringo Starr called the story of a punch-up “a load of old rubbish.” He said: “I was there when it was supposed to have taken place — it’s quite untrue.”

A few days later, on January 21, Ringo told BBC’s David Wigg that “there’s that famous old saying, you’ll always hurt the one you love,” when he was asked if the group was still close. But he spoke without any specifics regarding George’s departure, just generic reconciliatory language.

“[W]e all love each other and we all know that,” Ringo said. “But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know. Sort it out. And so we’re still really very close people.”

One of the Beatles’ official mouthpieces, the Beatles Book Monthly fan club magazine predictably poured cold water on the idea of a physical altercation in its March 1969 issue. In his diary feature, Mal Evans went as far to write there wasn’t any argument at all when George “stalked” out.

Matching the account on the tapes, Mal said George simply came over during lunch to “quietly” say he was going home. “There WASN’T a fight, physical or verbal,” Mal wrote. “There WEREN’T any tempers or shouting. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the press afterwards.”

George Harrison maintained in subsequent interviews that no punches were thrown. But another George had another memory.

“They actually came to blows,” George Martin told Phillip Norman in his 2008 biography John Lennon: The Life. “You’d think it would have been with Paul, but it was John. It was all hushed up afterwards.”

Here’s where the retelling of the day’s events descends more deeply into farce.

According to a separate account from EMI engineer Dave Harries, a frazzled Martin only arrived at Twickenham that day as Harrison departed from the studio.

As related in Ken Womack’s Martin biography Sound Pictures:

I remember that George Martin had just backed across the car park in his Triumph Herald and knocked a dent in the door of George Harrison’s Mercedes and he didn’t have time to tell him he’d dented his car before George walked out in a huff and drove off.

Just hours after engaging in passionate car talk, this wasn’t George’s finest hour.

While George Martin was around to some arguable degree that morning (and at the sessions overall), there was no doubt fellow producer Glyn Johns was there on January 10. He was an active participant on the day’s tapes.

Johns, too, wrote of his recollections of that day in his 2014 autobiography Sound Man:

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham on that cold gray afternoon with Denis [O’Dell], 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 of days later.

While an implication is there, Glyn wouldn’t spill the beans. Although in Graeme Thompson’s 2015 George Harrison biography Behind the Locked Door, Glyn conceded there may not be too many beans to spill:

When it became apparent that there was going to be a bit of an argument those of us who weren’t in the band left the room. It was clear that it would be intrusive for us to remain. So what actually was said and and what went on I don’t know, but I do know that George left the band that day. The whole thing was very uncomfortable, and it was very embarrassing for me and others who were not in the band to be close by while this was going on — to have to watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath. It was very unpleasant and I felt really awkward.

The Beatles pre-enact their January 10, 1969, fistfight more than five months before it probably didn’t happen. (From the Mad Day Out photo session in 1968).

More than 50 years after the fact, what we know with absolute certainty is that George Harrison quit the Beatles the afternoon of January 10, 1969. Everything else — most prominently whether there was a physical altercation — is ultimately speculative.

It’s not just what happened that’s in question, but the why. We’ll never unearth that last straw, the specific reason George quit when and how he ultimately did on January 10. There’s just too much open to interpretation, and as long as the tapes of the day are considered complete, there is simply no smoking gun, no spark that broke George. The conversation with Dick James, the rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Two of Us” — these moments lacked an obvious trigger beyond what were usual pockets of growing frustration.

It’s worth mentioning the other three Beatles openly discussed their feelings and opinions in the wake of George’s departure on the Nagra tapes, directly addressing his growing sense of frustration as a junior member of the group. They were aware of this, and their conclusions were consistent with much of what is discussed below.  I’ll examine those specific conversations, which also touch on off-site meetings, however, in future posts when we reach those days on the blog’s timeline.

Still, by rewinding many of the same sources we examined above in this post to construct what happened, we can put together a loose reasoning as to why George left the Beatles. Notably absent from each of these recollections is the one mentioned specifically in the original flurry of news reports — George’s fury with John over the latter’s comments about Apple’s difficult financial situation. George and John even had light-hearted discussions about business earlier in the day. It seems clear the Apple finances excuse for George’s departure was a leap of faith by the media. Musical and personal differences were responsible.

Back to Mal’s Diary in the March ’69 Beatles Book Monthly:

Singing and playing together would always be fine with [George] and the last thing he was suggesting was any break-up of the Beatles. So that day, January 10, George didn’t want to stay at Twickenham rehearsing for a show he couldn’t believe in.

And what — or who — could make George an such an unbeliever? In published interviews over the subsequent decades, George was at least consistent on why he left: His famed filmed argument with Paul (“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play“) gave him a moment of clarity.

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway, after one of those first mornings I couldn’t stand it. I decided this is it! — it’s not fun any more — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving.

His Anthology interviews, conducted in the early 1990s and first broadcast in 1995, yielded similar memories:

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I knew John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’

Paul wanted nobody playing on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”

In other words, George’s recollections were colored by the Let It Be movie. He’s just like the rest of us!

George elevated the “I’ll play” argument in a way that other recent encounters, which were also filmed but not included in the final release, did not.

“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

Even Paul had the self-awareness to admit his role in George’s departure, saying in the Anthology book with a hilarious parenthetical: “These things had been going down in Let It Be. George leaving because he felt he was being told what to do (I think that’s why he left).”

Ringo was more certain of the reason, going way back. He corroborated George’s accounts in 1971, telling Melody Maker:

George had to leave because he thought Paul was dominating him. [H]e was, because Michael Lindsay-Hogg liked Paul I would think more than the rest of us.

Indeed, George called for a divorce one day after the “I’ll play” argument, but a move to actually leave was delayed. This, as George continued to match Paul in productivity (or come close) during the sessions, certainly lapping a creatively spent John. But it was George’s own songs that were afterthoughts and that treatment deeply affected him.

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

Yoko Ono has unjustifiably been blamed for a lot of terrible things over the last half-century. Among the dramatis personae of the Get Back sessions, she was largely out of the spotlight to this point on the tapes, often speaking for John but not fighting for overall attention, certainly not as the group actually made music. And, perhaps by the filmmaker’s design, Yoko was usually off-mic. But since the White Album sessions, she was a disruptive figure to the other three Beatles. While Paul earned his share of the blame, Yoko drove George out of Twickenham, too.

“[S]uperimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time,” George later said in interviews for Anthology. “John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

The accusation of bad vibes wasn’t something John quickly forgot. From his famously raw Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, conducted in December 1970:

George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ‘straight-forward,’ you know that game of ‘I’m going to be up front,’ because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’d got a lousy name in New York, and you give off bad vibes. That’s what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why.

(Emphasis added.)

George had a stubborn memory, too, to the point of remembering things that didn’t quite happen. From a 1977 interview in Crawdaddy:

There’s a scene [in Let It Be] where Paul and I are having an argument, and we’re trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I’m not there and Yoko’s just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that’s where I’d left.

A few years later in I Me Mine, George references “the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming.”

There’s only one problem with George’s accounts: There is no scene in Let It Be where Yoko is performing and “freaking out screaming.” She’s hardly in the movie at all, really. But the event in question — Yoko sitting in with the other three Beatles and “doing her screeching number” is an event that did happen. (Check the very next blog post here for the details.) We don’t know what was in the original, longer rough cut of the Let It Be film, but Yoko’s jam with the Beatles appeared in the unreleased pre-Anthology documentary “The Long and Winding Road” (which George was not only aware of, but shared a copy with Eric Idle with as source material for The Rutles).

Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has closely followed the group’s history, the combination of the four Beatles, their associates and the passage of a half century makes for a most compelling but absolutely terrible narrator. Barring the emergence of additional footage or audio, we’ll never know the trigger for George’s departure.  Maybe Yoko did do something specific to put him over the edge (the digestive biscuit episode allegedly happened later, so that wouldn’t be it). Or it could have been something John said — or didn’t say, leaving his opinions to Yoko. Maybe the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” argument between George and Paul really did change everything.

Or maybe John had it all figured out for an interview he gave for Earth News in 1976 — a quote later used to great effect in Anthology:

[L]ike people do when they’re together, they start picking on each other. It was like, ‘It’s because of youyou got the tambourine wrong — that my whole life is a misery. It became petty, but the manifestations were on each other because we were the only ones we had.

George’s domestic situation at this precise moment is essential to the story yet is generally ignored. For the duration of the Twickenham sessions, he was estranged from his wife, Pattie, and involved with 20-year-old Charlotte Martin — Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend — who was living at Kinfauns with him for the duration of their brief affair.

After George left the Beatles on January 10, 1969, he drove back to his Esher home, ended the affair and began his reconciliation with Pattie. Oddly, those decisions didn’t reach the threshold of snacking with the Voormans’ to make his diary. It wasn’t a choice of the Beatles or Pattie, but like John suggested, perhaps George’s musical issues were amplified by his marital issues.

George wasn’t working for the Beatles anymore that afternoon, but he remained on the clock. In his first act as a temporarily liberated solo artist, George played, you know, whatever he wanted to play, and he wrote “Wah-Wah,” which later appeared on the All Things Must Pass LP and was the opener of his first solo performance, at The Concert For Bangladesh. George couldn’t have found  a more symbolic beginning to his stage debut as a solo headliner, opening with a song born from his first independent moment.

“‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal,” George later wrote in I Me Mine.

George’s hand-written lyrics to “Wah-Wah.” (Published in I Me Mine)

“It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument,” George told Crawdaddy in 1977.

“It was such a headache.”

Professional clashes with Paul, personnel issues with Yoko (and John), personal crises with Charlotte and Pattie — these were all reasons George left the Beatles. If Paul wasn’t so pushy, maybe it would have made dealing with Yoko and the problems at home easier. If Yoko wasn’t so ubiquitous and John withdrawn, maybe George could work more easily with Paul with one less work distraction. If George’s marriage was fine, maybe he could have slogged through the work day, more easily accepted his continued junior role and at least had an opportunity to unwind and unload in a relaxed home.

But each of those factors played off the other. He’s just like the rest of us.

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