Category Archives: Extra

TMBP Extra: Leave me waiting here

Had the phrase been in vogue in May 1970, a record review would have called Let It Be a “hot mess.”  I absolutely love the record, but I get how it’s a little off-kilter, off-putting and, frankly, a little bewildering. 

Apple Corps announced the 51st anniversary reissue of the Beatles’ final LP on Thursday, and befitting the record’s legacy, it’s complicated and conflicted. 

I say this as a sincere apologist of the original Let It Be. It’s a bizarre compilation album that’s nothing like anything they had done previously: Part-live, part-studio. Re-recorded and remixed older tracks, and songs written on the spot during the sessions. Novelty songs sequenced adjacent to their deepest statements. A rich overproduction of a loose session that wasn’t initially meant to be an album at all.  Packaged along with a rich book of photos and dialogue and in conjunction with the film, Let It Be was a true, albeit helter-skelter multimedia experience.

Before getting to 2021, let’s first take a quick spin at the long and winding road (ugh, sorry) that got us here, just for the sake of background. It’ll be fun!

After spending January 1969 split between Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studio at 3 Savile Row (see this fabulous blog for more on that history), the Beatles themselves were never unanimously satisfied with the record pulled together over the subsequent months. Glyn Johns, ostensibly the producer/arranger at the sessions, mixed and sequenced multiple versions of a Get Back LP throughout 1969, and told the story of his first compilation in his 2014 memoir Sound Man, outlining what became the “concept” of the album.

Having no real end in sight for the album, one evening after our session at Savile Row, I took it upon myself to take the multitrack recordings I had made during our rehearsals to Olympic Studios to mix and edit what I thought could be an idea for the album. This was to show in an audio documentary what I had witnessed in the previous days, as a “fly on the wall” insight to the four of them interacting, having fun, jamming, taking the mickey, stopping and starting and creating some wonderful music, warts and all. I had five acetates cut the following morning and gave one each to the band, keeping one for myself, saying it was just an idea and and asking them to take a listen. The next day I got a resounding NO from each of them, which I completely understood and had fully expected.

By May 1969, the Beatles reconsidered, delivering Johns a pile of multitrack tapes from the sessions, asking him to create a mix from their recordings at Savile Row on his own, without the group’s input. He wrote that he “soon realized that the real reason had to be that they had lost interest in the project.”  

“We let Glyn Johns mix it,” John Lennon said in 1970. “We didn’t want to know.”

From the June 1969 Beatle Book

After multiple postponements and revisions to the mix — delays in part because of film delays — the Get Back LP (d)evolved into the Let it Be album as John and George Harrison tasked Phil Spector to produce the final version of the record in late March 1970. 

We all have opinions on Phil Spector’s Let It Be, and I’m not here to judge.

John said Spector “worked like a pig” on the production, which used Glyn Johns’ mix as a starting point. “When I heard it, I didn’t puke,” John said.  Ringo Starr likewise kept in his lunch, going as far as saying in the Anthology book, “I like what Phil did, actually.”

Paul McCartney, meanwhile, literally sued the other Beatles over Spector’s production of “The Long and Winding Road” (among other things, of course) on the last day of 1970.  Macca has since made a cottage industry of rerecording and reissuing non-Spector versions of the song at every opportunity. 

Bootlegged since before Let It Be was even released, the first raw recordings from the sessions were officially released in 1996 on Anthology 3, with a somewhat randomly selected 12 tracks culled for the collection.

Glyn Johns (as pictured in the Peter Jackson’s Get Back trailer)

By the time Let It Be … Naked was released in 2003, half the band was dead (although George had previously given his approval to the project). Its existence is primarily owed to Paul’s wishes to avenge Spector’s production (although the addition of “Don’t Let Me Down” to the rest of Let It Be is welcome and it sounds great, even if the collection completely lacks the occasional humor of the original, stripping it of the between-song banter). It’s other saving grace is the addition of the “Fly On the Wall” disc, a little starter set for the Nagra-curious, compiling all manner of song and conversation snippets from the sessions.

And that pretty much brings us to this very glorious day, when we formally learned what would be on the “Special Edition” of Let It Be. 

This is a great time to be a fan of this era, with the Get Back book of photos and dialogue coming out October 12, the album coming out just three days later and the new six-hour Get Back documentary series by Peter Jackson streaming  November 25-27. That’s a lot of product for a period that the Beatles couldn’t stop bashing for several decades, and that we see from the start was something they weren’t really enthusiastic to release in the very first place.

The transformation of the Beatles’ Winter of Discontent in the upcoming Fall of Rehabilitation seems built around the documentary, the apparent centerpiece of the revival. 

We can guess what will be in the film (and I tried to guess — check out the above!) but now we know for sure what a Let It Be deluxe entails. Beyond the Giles Martin/Sam Okell remixed version of the original album — “guided” by Phil Spector’s version — the box will contain:

  • Glyn Johns’ mix of the Get Back LP (looks like his third compilation) 
  • An EP featuring two unreleased 1970 Johns mixes (“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine”) and two 2021 remixes (“Let It Be” and “Don’t Let Me Down” singles) 
  • 27 “previously unreleased outtakes, studio jams, rehearsals” 

It’s easy to welcome the release of the Glyn Johns mix, a historic document and true “lost album.” It’s a natural and expected addition to the set, even if all four Beatles nixed it more than half a century ago.  The two lost 1970 Johns mixes make sense as add-ons. As for the 2021 remixes … sure, why not. 

That leaves the outtakes.  Oh, the outtakes. While a microscopic fraction of what was captured at Twickenham and Savile Row, it could well be representative in a remarkably scaled down fashion. But until we hear more selections, read more reviews or get dates, even, of some of the tracks, they’ll be a bit of a mystery until we put the record on. What’s in mono (sourced from the Nagras) and what’s in stereo (recorded on multitrack) gives a hint where certain tracks were recorded, but that’s one of the very few clues for you all. 

The track list

For instance, what is “I Me Mine (rehearsal)”? The Nagra reels have more than an hour of the song being rehearsed, over more than 40 tracks.  

Every track that ultimately appeared on the original Let It Be is represented by at least one outtake/rehearsal version.  That’s not a bad thing. Some songs that dominated the sessions did not surface — like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a significant Twickenham work-in-progress. “All Things Must Pass” seems to be represented by one of these early takes, but only this one.  That’s not a good thing.

It’s nice to have the origin story of “Something” and “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) as links to Abbey Road and an early working rehearsal of “Gimme Some Truth” as a tie to their future solo career. This is a great introduction to a wider audience to the concept that the January 1969 sessions were creatively sprawling and carried a legacy beyond Let It Be alone.

All of this needs to be in there. But every track draws attention to missed opportunities of every scale. The tapes record Paul debuting “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” on separate occasions and then later linking them together alone at the piano, but these are left to the bootlegs alone. George and Paul introduce numerous future solo tracks during these sessions, but we don’t get “Here Me Lord” or “Another Day,” to name just two examples.

The set features two Savile Row versions of “Get Back,” but the signature song of the sessions and its 2021 reboot was written while the cameras were rolling over the course of early January 1969. We hear the song spring from a jam and later become a foray into politics (“No Pakistanis”)  before Paul and John work together to finalize the lyrics we know today. To those who know the takes, those earlier, nascent versions are conspicuous by its absence.

To me the development of these songs represent the essence of the January 1969 sessions. It’s what makes this collection have the potential to stand out from the others (Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road), in which the songs arrived in the studio mostly formed. The songwriting build should be central to the bonus content, but it doesn’t appear to be. 

Over the course of the Peter Jackson documentary, I would guess we’ll get such moments. And maybe this is where Let It Be and Get Back separate after 50 years of sharing the same exact space.  You almost get a sense that’s what the group is doing, when you look at the Beatles’ homepage, and the image promoting the set: “LET IT BE” is “taped” over “GET BACK,” making clear this thing is different.


To its credit, this box feels too narrow to be seen as revisionist. There’s just not enough material to redefine any narrative (barring whatever’s in the accompanying book). That job will likely be left to the documentary.

I know I’m spoiled. I’ve heard 80-something Beatles hours from January 1969. I want it all, with better sound, in a fancy box I can put on my shelf and not let my kids touch until they wash their hands twice. That beats having of a partition on my hard drive filled with MP3s.

(I’m also spoiled as a Prince fan and have been using the incredible Sign O’ The Times deluxe reissue as a point of reference, too. That had 45 unreleased studio tracks in addition to singles, remixes and different concerts on two CDs and one DVD. It’s a sexy beast of a box set.)

The thing is, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions?

Obviously, it’s impossible to market and widely release dozens of takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or nine hours of “Get Back” (the song) sessions. I may like to hear George kvetch about having to be on a boat with Beatles fans or Paul tell John to sing louder or Ringo discuss his dog, but it’s hardly a selling point to a mainstream audience and it’s most certainly not re-listenable (unless you’re literally me or a few other dozen people doing this kind of thing).  I’m not convinced what we’re getting is sufficient either, though.

So what would have been the right way to do this? 

At one point I posited that a “Beatles ’69” super-duper deluxe would have been a possible out-of-the-box box-set approach, combining Let It Be with Abbey Road, something that makes quite a bit of sense when you see how many songs from the latter were essentially demoed at the former’s sessions.

But one gigantic box was never going to happen, the Abbey Road and Let It Be “brands” would never be — and probably shouldn’t be — diminished. I get that. But we’re left with something a little halfway right now. Disc 3 of this set has five eventual Abbey Road numbers. Yet there are another seven that could have been included, but weren’t, and I’m not sure what the rationale was to select which made the cut. 

• Further, if the original Let It Be film is to be dead and buried, this box should have been its final resting place. Mark it up another $20, that’s fine, lots of us will pay it. 

And that would be another way to delineate Let It Be from the forthcoming Get Back, identical twins who finally grew up to lead separate lives. At some point, on one of my appearances on Something About the Beatles, I suggested perhaps the Get Back series should get an actual soundtrack. That would be another — albeit confusing way, to less dedicated fans — to get us to buy another box set with more of what’s missing here.

• We really could have used the originals and curios that they never did anywhere else: “Suzy Parker,” “Oh Julie, Julia,” “Because You Know I Love You So,” “Penina,” “Taking a Trip to Carolina,” “Watching Rainbows,” “There You Go, Eddie,” “Maureen” — that’s half a disc there, and I’m stopping myself from listing more.

• Likewise, there’s more than enough material to have stuffed a CD or two of oldies (beyond the medley on the Glyn Johns mix). These sessions are known for those oldies performances, and that’s something Mal Evans even broached in 1969, writing as much in Beatles Book 72, published that June.

• Given the consistent on-site song building, they could have easily taken the same approach used on the Sgt. Pepper deluxe with several songs, tracing the progression of “Get Back,” “I Me Mine,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and beyond. It’s very easy to sequence tracks to show these songs’ evolutions. This was so unique for this period, where we can literally hear in the studio, a song’s origin as a piano vamp or a guitar jam, and follow it to the end.  

• If they insisted on having an EP, one of George playing Dylan songs throughout the sessions would have been lovely.

• It pains me there’s no recorded document of the “fast” version of “Two of Us.” But that is one of the drawbacks of many of the outtakes from throughout January 1969: Not everything recorded is a complete take of a song. In fact, quite the opposite.

• We need more Billy Preston, but we always need more Billy Preston. The Beatles certainly were better for it.

The addition of Billy Preston just improved this post.

• I don’t know if we need more Yoko Ono, but I was hoping — though not necessarily expecting — her jams with the group on January 10, 1969, after George walked out. It’s a piece of history, too, regardless of what you think of Yoko’s voice.

• A dozen songs already appeared on Anthology 3. Like the other recent box sets there are a few redundancies. I credit the new set for having something different the January 1970 Threetles session, but it would have been something to have more than just the single track.

• One of the great oddities of the Beatles catalogue, “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number” needed to have a home on this set. It’s timeline was split between Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, but as the B-side to “Let It Be,” this is where it belongs (especially as it’s not packaged with either of those deluxes).

• The definitive musical moment of the sessions — the rooftop performance — is featured raw on only one track in the new set. This would have been the obvious spot to offer the whole collection for the completist and as a companion to the Get Back documentary, which includes the whole thing.

***

So to ask again, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions? I don’t think you can. There’s really no suitable middle ground. I — and many others like me — crave everything, a horrible idea for a mainstream audience. I feel the new box goes partway in the right direction with the addition of the Glyn Johns mix and some of the outtake tracks, but it doesn’t go as far as it should as a historic resource. 

That puts some pressure on the documentary, but six hours of unreleased Beatles is a long time. And like the original record, it’s only fair to treat the entire package — records, documentary, books — as a singular, albeit helter-skelter, multimedia unit.  

And in true Beatles tradition, we don’t have to agree on it anyway.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 10 recap

More than a half century removed, it’s pretty easy to say George Harrison was on a clear trajectory to cut his losses and walk away from the Beatles a week into the Get Back sessions and cut bait on January 10, 1969.

But even on that Friday morning at Twickenham Film Studios, was George a man with a plan to leave the group? Here’s how the day played out:

  • Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1: Unpacking the day George quit the Beatles, a day that began with a visit from Dick James, and featured a deep dive into their extended publishing catalog, family greetings and Zsa Zsa Gabor stories.
  • Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 2: “Fascist bum” or friend to the Beatles? Maybe Dick James was both. Here’s the second part of our deep dive into the publisher’s visit to the band, hours before George left. Featuring Magic Alex stories, car talk, hidden mics and secret meetings.
  • Knew it wouldn’t last: In the hour before George quits, his performance and motivation are in question during rehearsals for the increasingly dynamic “Get Back”
  • On his way home: Deemed “faceless” by Paul McCartney “Two of Us” goes through a final set of rehearsals before the entire trajectory of the Beatles’ Get Back sessions changes completely. Plus, peeling back a myth about the song and Grapefruit.
  • See you ’round the clubs: On January 10, 1969, George Harrison quit the Beatles. This is the story of what happened that afternoon, what didn’t happen and the reasons why. It’s peak They May Be Parted, — my longest post to date.
  • A quick one, while he’s away: With George gone, the Beatles carried on as a trio with a vocal plus-one. Here’s what happened when Yoko Ono took a seat on George’s blue cushion.
  • Go on, as if nothing’s happening: No plans, no guitarist, no problem for the Beatles, who completed their first full week at Twickenham with no clarity on who, where or what the future would bring. “If (George) doesn’t come back by Tuesday,” John Lennon said, “we get Clapton.”
  • Et cetera: A box for George and a bag for John. Song notation and interview negotiation. There’s a story in these stray conversations that didn’t quite fit in other posts.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 9, 1969 recap

paulv2Paul McCartney began January 9, 1969, at the piano sketching out “Another Day,” but it was anything but for the sixth day of the Beatles’ sessions at Twickenham, where things started to get a little testy, while musically it remained deeply compelling.

  •  Just another day: The Beatles begin their second week at Twickenham with Paul at the piano and his muse by his side as he debuts an important future solo classic.
  • Road work: Twickenham is Paul’s songwriting lab as the morning’s tapes reveal his effort to put lyrics to several works-in-progress, like “Carry That Weight” and “The Long and Winding Road,” among others.
  • Last-night song:  George Harrison lifts the veil on a proper version of “For You Blue,” but are the other Beatles eager to bite on another George original?
  • Jokes in between: Harmony and discord, joy and petulance. It’s a roller-coaster of moods for the members of the Beatles as they continued work on their core set at Twickenham.
  • Another kind of gig: Get yourself well done with the backstory of the Beatles’ lively and perpetually mysterious “Suzy Parker.”
  • Love from Paul: Take an exceedingly deep dive into Paul McCartney’s “Penina,” one of the most obscure originals from the Beatles era and a “£20,000 holiday tip.”
  • No Pakistanis: Inspired by current events, Paul McCartney works on a set of satirical, racially charged — and later misunderstood — lyrics to “Get Back.” Putting this Beatles’ session into appropriate context 50 years later.
  • Power politics: “This racial business over in England” inspires a suite of upbeat, satirical improvisations. This is the story of The Beatles​’ “Commonwealth” and “Get Off.”
  • Subconscious sabotage:  To his death, John Lennon hated the recording of “Across the Universe.” But with a chance to make it anew during The Beatles’ Get Back sessions, instead of changing his world, the song would slip away.
  • It’s dead easy: An inspired Paul McCartney & Co. raid the toolbox to effortlessly shape “Let It Be” into a more coherent, familiar song. Here’s the origin story of the riffs, harmonies and arrangement with far more detail than you likely asked for.
  • Homeward bounder: After flirting the night before with the idea of a sea cruise to Libya, The Beatles’ enthusiasm for show-boating waned as Ringo Starr preached mundanity over spectacle for a planned live performance.
  • Crossroads he’s standing at: How a pair of covers of yet-to-be-released Bob Dylan songs sheds light on George Harrison’s disposition the afternoon before he’d walk out on The Beatles.
  • Et cetera: Putting a bow on The Beatles’ busy January 9, 1969. Featuring “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” from Paul, some proto-punk from John, bugs that aren’t Beatles and more.

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TMBP Extra: Here, there and everywhere

I’ve been sharing my insights on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions on this blog for the last seven years, and it’s been with great joy that recently I’ve been able to share my voice as well at some other fine locations online.

Deep thanks to Robert Rodriguez for engaging me in a terrific, lengthy discussion on the Something About the Beatles podcast on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the January 1969 sessions. Log onto your favorite podcast app (here it is on iTunes) or just click below. Perhaps do both!

Additionally, a huge thank you to the FabFourArchivist for having me on for a couple of cameos on his YouTube series about the road to the rooftop.

Greetings to all the new readers and followers who have found this site thanks to the above! We’re now more than 50 years removed from the Get Back sessions — and with this one, 100 posts on this blog — and we can’t stop talking about it. And why would we?

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TMBP: Let It Be anew

The Beatles wanted to make a Lord of the Rings movie, going back more than 50 years. A half century later, they’ve got director Peter Jackson aboard, but for an entirely different film. Will this end up a fantasy, too?

Having maintained a monthlong silence on the 50th anniversary of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, the Beatles raised the Dead Men of Dunharrow (that’s the Army of the Dead if you only saw the film) on the anniversary of the rooftop concert.

Quick takeaways here:
• The selection of Jackson was no accident. He obviously has a masterful storytelling ability while working within the constraints of very detailed and very iconic source material, as well as film restoration. While I don’t anticipate him to introduce Tauriel to, say, sit in on saxophone, I’m expecting something we’re not expecting.

Jackson’s a superfan, too, which can only be a good thing.

• I don’t believe having an “upbeat” Let It Be film is necessarily revisionist history — or fantasy, for that matter. I’ve long maintained there was plenty of sugar to along with the medicine when considering January 1969. It would be disingenuous not to include the tension, the arguing, the passive-aggressive relationships between the band members, and I think Jackson’s quote saying there was “none of the discord this project has long been associated with” is an overstatement. To whitewash that aspect of the sessions would be problematic (though not surprising, given the promotional work recasting of the White Album sessions 50 years later). But it would be likewise false to resissue the film as merely their “winter of discontent,” not that we should expect that.

Paul McCartney and Michael Lindsay-Hogg (right) “on the set” of Let It Be. (Via IMDB)

• Make no mistake: Let It Be is Michael Lindsay-Hogg‘s film. He wasn’t just behind the scenes, he was an active participant in the sessions. Listen to the tapes (or leave it to me and read this fine blog instead), and you can hear MLH’s voice more than anyone else who’s not in the band. I’m very curious to see how Jackson works with MLH’s ubiquity — he’s central to every discussion about the live show, and perhaps he’ll retroactively get his first acting credit, that’s how much screen time he could get, in theory.

• And about that live show. I’ve written it before, but clearly the film’s arc should be (and have been) the sort of near-comedy of the greatest group in the world wondering what to do next and how — and that includes debating their own future —  throwing out every idea they can think of, only to have someone argue against it. Finally, after ups and downs (George quitting), the villian (Twickenham Film Studios) is vanquished, a bit player from their past (Billy Preston) emerges out of nowhere to help return order, and everyone realizes the simplest solution (rooftop show) is what they were looking for all along. The farther one travels, the less one knows, so find the answer at home.

• I won’t call this a buried lede, but not even mentioned in the social media blitz — only the Beatles’ press release — is this news:

Following the release of this new film, a restored version of the original Let It Be movie directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg will also be made available.

Quite the “oh, by the way …”

This is, of course, good news. Let It Be is a critical document, too, despite it’s obvious flaws, and we haven’t seen an official release since it the days of LaserDisc and VHS.

• The 140 hours of audio cited by Jackson is quite a bit more — in excess of  50 hours or so — than we’ve already have heard leaked and bootlegged over the years. It could be 24 more hours of discussions about a live show (I’m hoping) or 24 more hours of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer outtakes (I’m expecting). Reality, as usual, will likely be somewhere in between. I can’t see anything that changes the direction of history, but maybe we do get a few more specifics on locations. And I’m sure we get some improvisations or clipped covers we never heard.

“It’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.” – Peter Jackson

• I’ll admit I was wrong about something — but I’ll bury it at the bottom of this post. I never thought the Beatles would release Let It Be while Paul, Ringo and Yoko were still with us. And I thought, once Paul announced several months ago that some new version of the film was to be released, we’d probably just get Let It Be content lumped in as part of an Abbey Road deluxe set — “Beatles ’69.”  But I was wrong there, too. Mea culpa.

• That said, we didn’t hear a thing about getting some of the audio outtakes — Nagra or otherwise — finally released. I’m still not expecting any sort of sweeping set — do you really think they’re going to put out tapes of Paul calling a newspaper “cunts” or, more relevantly, acknowledging how negative they are and doubting their future? — but maybe we will get a disc or two of some January 1969 upbeat highlights — “Suzy Parker,” “Oh Julie, Julia,” “Commonwealth,” etc. And there’s certainly enough terrific material to fill several Abbey Road “demo” discs, too.

The most disappointing part of the announcement is the timeline: It hasn’t been announced yet. But simply to get news of a new (and old) Let It Be is reason enough to celebrate with an unexpected party.

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TMBP Extra: Let it be first

Like so many of the outtakes on the “sessions” discs unearthed and unleashed on the most deluxe version of the Beatles eponymous double-album, this newest version of “Let It Be” — the oldest recording of the song — is acutely alive and profoundly captivating.

As performed on September 5, 1968 — the day after recording their iconic performance of “Hey Jude” for Frost on Sunday — here’s the world’s greatest tea-room orchestra:

Fifty years in the books, and Beatles history still has room for an edit.

In some ways, this one-minute, 18-second cosmic jam capturing the band in medias resbetween takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — is just what should be expected, even if its very existence is still something of a minor surprise. A White Album-era version of “Let It Be” felt apocryphal, despite established knowledge rooting it in fact. And so it is that the disjointed, driving performance sounds like it’s out of time — it was.

Let’s dig in on some finer points:

Brother Malcolm, Paul and George Martin during the White Album sessions in 1968

Brother Malcolm, Mother Mary and the lyrics of “Let It Be”
Notably, the lyrics of the song hardly advanced in the three months between September 5, 1968 and January 3, 1969, the first recorded performance of “Let It Be” at the sessions that would ultimately bear its name.

Here’s Paul grooving alone at the piano for the song’s debut on the Nagra tapes:

The lone addition, lyrically: “In my darkest hour, she is standing right in front of me.”

“She,” of course, is Mother Mary, who presumably was in the very original lyric sourced from Paul’s dream about his mother but was absent in the 1968 early attempt. That featured “Brother Malcolm,” a nod to do-it-all assistant Mal Evans. The reference to Mal was inconsistent over January 1969 but endured to the very end of the sessions. Here are the Beatles on the final day of the sessions, January 31, 1969:

It wasn’t until a few days into the sessions at Savile Row, on January 25, 1969, that most of the verses had been added. But Paul started teaching “Let It Be” to others in the band on January 8, when we hear Paul naming chords to the others to learn. That’s also when Paul disclosed that, even at this early stage, he planned to have Aretha Franklin cover the song.

Interludes
Students of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions have heard this sort of thing several times before, someone in the group veering into an original, a cover, an improvisation between songs, during a transition during a rehearsal or purely as an aside.

Some of these drop-in songs were even the same for the White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions:

And just as future songs were sampled and explored during jams in 1968, they were in ‘69 too. And probably long before that as well. A few examples:


Divine intervention
This initial iteration of “Let It Be” may not have had “Mother Mary” but it did feature the hand of “God.”

The September 5 session of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the one that featured Eric Clapton as the Beatles’ guest on lead guitar. That places Eric at the origin of “Let It Be,” and he can be heard adding a few guitar licks to the improvisation. (Listen to the very end and you can hear George close the track imploring his friend to don his headphones: “Cans on, Eric.”)

A full 31 years later Eric would get to play the song again, joining Paul on stage at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Paul was inducted for his solo career, but the show closed with, naturally, “Let It Be.”

Clapton didn’t take the solo — that’s Robbie Robertson of the Band, the group whose sound the Beatles sought to emulate during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

This same induction ceremony honored producer George Martin, who happened to miss the September 5, 1968, session whilst on vacation.

Times of trouble?
Even Paul called the White Album “the tension album.” John said worse in the early ’70s. Ringo literally left the band for a few weeks in the summer of ’68.  Four Beatles, each recording in a separate studio — we all know the stories.

But while history is static, perceptions are variable.

The 2018 reissue’s promotional campaign works to dispense with some of the darker sides of the session, from Giles Martin’s interviews to the numerous dismissals of dysfunction in the lovely hardbound book packaged with the deluxe edition. Indeed, there’s plenty of laughter and carefree spirit throughout the White Album outtakes. The outtake set even begins with laughter among John, Paul and Yoko, as if to hammer the point home.

The Get Back/Let It Be sessions inherit the same sour reputation, yet it would be very easy to compile 50 tracks from January 1969 filled with laughter, chatter and the indication that nothing could ever tear these guys apart. And I bet if and when we do see a formal reissue campaign of Let It Be (which I suspect will be attached to a larger Abbey Road/”Beatles in ‘69” re-release), we’ll see that very recalibration of Beatles history. More “Suzy Parker,” and not quite so many calls for a divorce.

And that’s OK. I’ve long posited that things weren’t necessarily so bad — or at least that much worse — for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions than in the period immediately before and after. Naturally, the reality lies somewhere in between. Neither the White Album nor Let It Be are outliers — that’s just how the group was post-1967.

On January 7, 1969, the day before the rest of the Beatles learned the chords to “Let It Be,” George Harrison made it clear: “Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same…  [the Beatles had] “been in doldrums for at least a year.” That takes the group to before their trip to India in February 1968.

Together at the beginning of that trip, the individual Beatles returned to England separately. For the final stage of their career, they produced enduring music, though they may be parted.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 8, 1969 recap

January 8, 1969, started with George Harrison unveiling “I Me Mine” and ended with the Beatles ready to work in conjunction, seemingly ready to finally reach consensus on a plan for an overseas concert.  Along the way, the group recounts Beatles history back to their days in Liverpool and through the decade.

  • All through the day: The “I Me Mine” origin story is brought to you by George Harrison, LSD, TV, a waltz and a dare. The longest post in this blog’s history, It’s everything you ever needed to know about The Beatles’ final song, but never thought to ask.
  • Take a lesson from Jude: Could James Brown prove to be an inspiration for a Beatles live show?
  • Rocky and the Rubbers:  The Beatles get serious in deed, if not demeanor, in a run-through that was, in large part, eventually featured in the Let It Be film.
  • No blue moon in history: The Beatles travel down Memory Lane with a stop at 20 Forthlin Lane as they shine light on the very first two Lennon/McCartney compositions (with a detour to 1966).
  • An hors d’oeuvre. George Harrison’s future solo classic “All Things Must Pass” reaches its apex as a song performed by the The Beatles. Would opportunity knock for George Harrison of Liverpool?
  •  Two for the RoadIt’s Twickenham as a demo venue for Abbey Road, as John Lennon re-introduces “Mean Mr. Mustard” and Paul McCartney leads The Beatles in another go at “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”
  • Look Around – An old TV show by The Beatles serves as inspiration for their new one. but will the discussion go round in circles? Features special appearances by Elvis Presley and pastry cooks from Walton-on-Thames.
  • Let it Be hers: Paul McCartney brings his future anthem to the rest of The Beatles and shares whom he wants to cover yet another of his new gospel-flavored songs.
  • Nothing is real: The Beatles consider pairing their “honest sound” with an artificial set for a final live show. Featuring Denis O’Dell.
  • The Four Powers: It’s The Beatles, fully engaged and animated as a model UN, negotiating terms for a live show. “Russia” and “France” threaten vetos, but Paul comes through with an offer inspired by a pair of incidents from 1962.
  • Syndicate any boat: The Beatles seem to approach some consensus on the terms of traveling to Africa for a one-off concert, with 1,000 fans tagging along on a boat ride.
  • TMBP Extra- Time to leave the capsule: Hey, January 8 is David Bowie’s birthday! Bowie and members of the Beatles crossed paths several times starting in the ’70s, but here I dig into what they were doing in 1969, before they met, just miles away at the same precise moment on January 6. Bowie, the Beatles and Apollo 8 cross paths.
  • TMBP Extra- Birthday for a King (and Duke): It’s Elvis’ birthday, too! A clip-heavy post has the Beatles covering Elvis and vice versa.

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TMBP Extra: Oh what joy

With birthday posts previously produced for Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, it’s about time we righted a wrong, and completed the set with the man born as Richard Starkey. Like the others and in the spirit of this blog, here’s a look at Ringo Starr’s life as it straddled the big days circled on the calendar in 1968 and 1969.

Ringo Starr, 1969

How did you spend your 29th birthday? Ringo Starr, the eldest Beatle, spent July 7, 1969, at EMI Studios on Abbey Road — like he spent so many of days in his 20s — laying down the drum track for “Here Comes The Sun.” We’ve all been stuck working on our birthdays, but this doesn’t sound like a bad gig, if you can get it.

Yet, 11 months earlier, Ringo gave up that gig, walking out on the Beatles during the White Album sessions.

From the Anthology book:

I left because I felt two things: I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider. I went to see John … I said, ‘I’m leaving the group because I”m not playing well and I feel unloved and out of it, and you three are really close.’ And John said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

So I went over to Paul’s and knocked on the door. I said the same thing: ‘I’m leaving the band. I feel you three guys are really close and I’m out of it.’ And Paul said, ‘I thought it was you three!’

I didn’t even bother going to George then. I said, ‘I’m going on holiday.’ I took the kids and we went to Sardinia.

He famously returned two weeks later after to a flower-covered drum kit as the sessions continued (they never stopped recording, with Paul filling in on drums for a few songs).

Still, Ringo’s time away was fruitful, spent on Peter Sellers’ yacht, where the captain told him stories about octopuses on the seabed.

A couple of tokes later with the guitar — and we had ‘Octopus’s Garden’!

Ringo’s relationship with Sellers — a member of The Goon Show, beloved by the teenage future Beatles, and whose novelty records had been produced by George Martin — dated back a few years and would benefit the drummer in several ways in the decade’s final years. In November 1968, Ringo took advantage of a Sellers’ market, moving into the actor’s former Brookfield House estate in Elstead, Surrey. Just a couple months later, the two would co-star in a movie. But first, Ringo had another movie to film with the Beatles.

Ringo’s resistance to go abroad during the Get Back sessions — he was most insistent of any of the Beatles — led to the beauty of the rooftop performance. This blog’s entire purpose is to tell that story.

Musically, Ringo did Ringo things in the January 1969 sessions, and as a songwriter, he continued work on “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) and also brought a few unfinished songs to the table, too.

But the sessions were just a warm-up for what came next at Twickenham Studios, where Ringo — teamed up with Sellers — filmed The Magic Christian, his first true starring role (Ringo had a small part playing a Mexican gardener in Candy, which was released in this period, too). This took time, with filming running from February into May. The film would be released in December 1969.

Let It Be — the film and the record — wouldn’t see a release until 1970, a few months before Ringo turned 30. But the Beatles weren’t finished yet in the wake of those sessions. “Octopus’s Garden” would be formally recorded in April 1969, although recording for Abbey Road, to this point sporadic, wouldn’t get into full swing until July.

In December 1969, Ringo said in an interview with the BBC that “I want to be a film actor. I don’t want to be like Cary Grant or one of them who, like, really do the same performance in everything, and the story is the only thing that changes.”

Ringo & Barbara at their wedding

That may be the biggest takeaway in the career of Ringo Starr between July 7, 1968 and 1969 — because he did look at life beyond, or at least in addition to, the Beatles and rock and roll. Without the songwriting gifts of John, Paul and George, Ringo applied his natural charm to film, and was finally able to step fully out into the spotlight and marquee, without other Beatles to his side, or front. And while he was successful in the early 1970s with his solo career, he remained active on the screen, too, even if it wasn’t to that same critical or commercial success.

If you judge success by the bigger things in life, however, Ringo’s foray into film couldn’t have been any more fruitful. A few months before his 40th birthday, in 1980, Ringo filmed Caveman, starring alongside model Barbara Bach. After meeting on the set, they would wed a year later, and have been together ever since.

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TMBP Extra: RIP Chuck Berry

From Forthin Road’s front room to their final fracture, the Beatles were openly ripping off Chuck Berry, imitating and flattering the late, great rock and roll patriarch with complete sincerity.

The bass line to “I Saw Her Standing There,” for instance, is the bass line to Berry’s “I’m Talking About You.”

Here’s Paul McCartney, getting the message through in Beat Instrumental, via Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now:

I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me.

This you can believe: The massive influence of Charles Edward Anderson Berry — who left the material world on Saturday at 90 — on the Beatles is quite impossible to minimize. The Beatles’ growth pattern wouldn’t have been the same if there was no Buddy Holly or Little Richard, Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins, Lonnie Donegan or Slim Whitman, Jim McCartney or Julia Lennon. But the mark Chuck Berry left was unique.

You’ve heard this quote for sure, if not before this weekend, then certainly since:

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it “Chuck Berry.”

That was John Lennon in 1972, spoken in Berry’s presence on the Mike Douglas show. John’s adoration took many forms in the more than decade prior to that.  Here’s Paul, as quoted in the Anthology book:

We’d go up to John’s bedroom with his little record player and listen to Chuck Berry records, trying to learn them.

And there was plenty of reason to learn them. The sheer velocity of the music was one. John explained the other in a 1972 interview, relayed in Anthology:

In the Fifties, when people were virtually singing about nothing, Chuck Berry was writing social-comment songs, with incredible metre to the lyrics. When I hear rock, good rock, of the calibre of Chuck Berry, I just fall apart and I have no other interest in life. The world could be ending if rock ‘n’ roll is playing.

As the Quarrymen moved things up a trifle further in becoming Beatles, their love of Berry’s music was written all over their performances, with more than a dozen of his songs covered live over their touring career (you can find many of those songs as performed by the Beatles on their two Live at the BBC compilations, plus the Bootleg Recordings 1963 release).

“Memphis, Tennessee” made the cut as one of the songs for their failed audition for Decca in 1962.

Rock and Roll Music,” “Roll Over Beethoven” — the Beatles blessed record buyers with those tracks on wax and also live from the stage.  The former was performed right up until their last live show in 1966, when it was the concert opener, while the latter made it as late as into their 1965 tours.

Two and a half years after that last concert — in the timeline we’re concerning ourselves with here on this blog, January 1969 — the Beatles turned to Berry’s music over and over again, if not for inspiration then at the least out of habit and comfort. For John, Paul and George, it meant filling moments amid the tension and tedium by jamming into a impromptu but completely sincere rehashes of “School Days” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Thirty Days” or “I’m Talking About You” or .. or … or …

Even when they were fooling around with their own “Back in the U.S.S.R.” at Twickenham, it was just another reminder of Berry’s influence by way of “Back in the U.S.A.”

That the Beatles would play a song by Berry wasn’t in and of itself that telling, but their universal knowledge and comfort in playing his songs, said a lot.

Months later, in the Beatles’ waning days as a unit, Berry’s inspiration struck Lennon very directly in “Come Together.”  John dismissed the claim that “You Can’t Catch Me” — a song he said he hadn’t heard in a decade, yet one that John belted out a few lines from in a jam the final week of January 1969 — sparked the Abbey Road opener.

Paul, who had no shame admitting he integrated Berry’s work into his own, felt pretty certain John did the same. As quoted in Anthology:

John came in with an up-tempo song that sounded exactly like Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me,’ even down to the ‘flat-top’ lyric. I said, ‘Lets slow it down with a swampy bass-sand-drums vibe.’ I came up with a bass line and it flowed from there. Great record.”

He’s right, it is a great record.

Turns out, they could catch John, and as part of an eventual settlement, John had a chance to re-make “You Can’t Catch Me” (as well as a few other songs owned by the prosecution) for his 1975 Rock ‘N’ Roll LP (another great record).

John’s love of that original era of rock and roll, which made him want to do it himself, gave his life and career meaning and shone on that record, and really whenever he had the opportunity to play it. The genuine glee felt by John, when he got to share the stage with Berry on the Mike Douglas Show in 1972 is palpable. If you haven’t watched it before, you should, both the performances as well as the interview segment.

John recalled that day during an interview/DJ session with Dennis Elsas on WNEW, September 24, 1974:

Because although I was there with Chuck Berry, and I’d been sitting backstage with him, I met him a few times over the years, I still have that feeling, that when I was sixteen, those were the records I listened to [in] what we called “milk bars” in England, with a jukebox. And I could never quite see him as a human ’cause there was one of my idols, actually talking to me. … It’s sort of an effort to see, “Oh, yeah, it’s a human, but it is Chuck Berry, isn’t it?”

Like John Lennon, Chuck Berry was indeed human and thus mortal, and the master was able to enjoy 50 more years on this earth than his apprentice.   The Beatles were as innovative as any act as popular music has seen, but with Berry’s genius baked into the individual members’ DNA from youth, the group didn’t have to start from scratch. It wasn’t enough that the Beatles had a backbeat they couldn’t lose,  the lyrics mattered too.

“Ever since I was in my teens I was acquainted with the works of Chuck Berry, whom I consider one of the original rock and roll poets,” John Lennon said after the Beatles’ breakup.

Said in a deposition.

Said in a deposition in which he was being sued for ripping off Berry.

But this spoke more of the litigious universe that enveloped The Beatles in the early ‘70s than anything else — Berry didn’t sue John over lyrics in “Come Together,” it was the people who owned the rights to “You Can’t Catch Me.” And the solution was simple: Just play some Chuck Berry music on another record.

Paul was never litigated for ripping off Berry, but he still went ahead and covered him decades later in 1999, cutting “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” for the most excellent Run Devil Run.

On Berry’s death, Paul (and/or his people) tweeted his condolences, and it was his turn to rip off John.

Or maybe he didn’t rip off John at all. Berry was a poet, and Paul just didn’t have any better word to describe him.

Berry’s music will live on through his own recordings and as a direct line through the Beatles, too. And as long as we’ve got a dime, the music will never stop.

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TMBP Extra: Songs for everyone

It was only 100 hours before the Beatles would return to the studio together, and the charts on both sides of the Atlantic on December 29, 1968, were a perfect illustration of why there really wasn’t any rush for them to do so.

billboard_122868

December 28, 1968 issue. Image from http://bapresley.com/silverthreads/

That day, the White Album retained the top spot in the British charts for the fifth straight week in the midst of a run that would see the double LP at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks and eight of nine. After a few weeks’ climb, it hit No. 1 in the United States a day earlier, on December 28, taking a much slower slog to the top. That climb vaulted the Beatles past Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman LP, the previous week’s No. 1 that was sunk to the runner-up position, and one of four records the country music star had in the top 30.

The Beatles owned multiple shares in the Billboard album charts, too, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 63) and Magical Mystery Tour (85). The latter would provide the title track for Sergio Mendez’s Fool on the Hill LP that sat at No. 11 this week 48 years ago.

Even with the White Album entrenched atop the British charts, there was plenty of Beatle-related materials moving off the shelves, with the Best of Cilla Black (No. 21) featuring four Lennon/McCartney credits and Jose Feliciano’s Feliciano! containing three Beatles covers and sitting one notch behind the Liverpudlian chanteuse (and higher at No. 7 in the U.S.).

The first post-Christmas LP chart in the U.K. was predictably littered with greatest hits and other compilations, with about a dozen such records in the top 50. Four Simon & Garfunkel records were simultaneously on that chart, with a few soundtracks and two separate live LPs recorded at London’s Talk of the Town (Tom Jones and The Seekers).

On the U.S. singles chart, Motown dominated with the label holding the top three spots: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Love Child.” While Beatles smash “Hey Jude” may have been fading, dropping to No. 15, “Hey Jude” the soulful Wilson Pickett cover was rising, hitting No. 43 on its way to eventually peaking at 23. That’s Duane Allman with the epic lead guitar part.

Even though the Beatles didn’t release singles from their albums (a tradition scrapped in time for their final LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be), their presence was made on the U.K. top 50 without charting a single song of their own (”Hey Jude” dropped out a week earlier). Marmalade’s sugary cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” stood at No. 7 en route to the top spot the following week, while the Bedrock’s more authentically Caribbean-sounding version of the same song was at No. 30. That cover, produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith, would peak 10 notches higher a week later. On its way down the charts was Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” dropping to No. 39 on its last week on the charts it had topped about six weeks earlier.

Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin fell to No. 24 in the U.K. with former No. 1 hit “Those Were the Days,” as produced by Paul McCartney (it was at No. 25 in the U.S., down from it’s peak at No. 2).

What held the top spot in the British charts? It was a song written by McCartney, but not that one.  Mike McCartney, Paul’s brother under his stage name Mike McGear, wrote “Lily the Pink” with fellow Scaffold members Roger McGough and John Gorman. The song remained at No. 1 for a second consecutive week, part of a run that saw the comedy folk song reign atop the charts for four of five weeks. “Lily the Pink” had no shortage of future and contemporary star power: Elton John, Graham Nash and Tim Rice provided backup vocals, while Cream’s Jack Bruce laid down the bass line.

The Beatles wouldn’t be absent from the British charts for too long. Exactly five months after December 29, 1968, “Get Back” — which Paul developed out of a jam on January 7, 1969, and was written in the studio throughout the month during the sessions that would bear its name — would debut at No. 1 in the U.K.

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