Category Archives: Extra

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?

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Extra

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. 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.

1 Comment

Filed under Extra

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 very interesting.

There are a few more posts to come about January 9 that will get added here before we turn to the 10th, when things really went haywire.

  • 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Extra, Recap

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.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Extra

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Extra, Recap

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.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Extra

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.

(Someday we’ll have to talk about how an early version of “Come Together” resembled the Kinks’ “Drivin'” off  Arthur. But that’s for another blog.)

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Extra

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 “Hey Jude” the Beatles smash 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.

2 Comments

Filed under Extra

TMBP Extra: Around the Beatles

In this space, one post from now, you’ll see this quote from Paul McCartney as he describes a new idea for the January 1969 live show:

It’s a bit like “Around the Beatles.”

By early 1969, the nearly five-year old program was relative ancient history. Today, it’s just a footnote in the group’s momentous 1964.

The Beatles and what's around them. 1964.

The Beatles and what’s around them. 1964.

A Beatles variety show difficult to compare to much else in their career, “Around The Beatles” is notable in its own right, in addition to serving as another benchmark for the group to use in developing their January 1969 production. Yet again, a significant moment of Beatles history can be retold from within the context of the Get Back sessions.

And speaking of context, let’s precisely spot “Around The Beatles” on the band’s remarkable 1964 calendar. Here’s a drastically incomplete look at the few months surrounding the show:

— February 9 : Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan
— February 9-23: United States tour
— March 2: Filming begins for A Hard Days Night
— April 2: “Can’t Buy Me Love” hits No. 1 in UK
— April 4: Beatles own top 5 songs on Billboard U.S. chart
— April 19: Music for “Around The Beatles” recorded (they lip-synced on the show)
— April 28: “Around The Beatles” is filmed
— May 6: “Around The Beatles” broadcast in U.K.  (it was broadcast in November 1964 in the U.S.)
— June 4: Filming ends for A Hard Days Night
— June 26: A Hard Days Night LP released in U.S.
— July 6: A Hard Days Night premieres
— July 10: A Hard Days Night LP released in U.K.

A lot, lot more happened before, during and after that timeline. This period marks Beatlemania at its most Beatlemaniacal.

Jack Good, already a pioneering producer of fast-paced rock & roll variety shows with Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! and who would develop Shindig! in the U.S. just a few months after the staging of “Around The Beatles,”  was at the helm for this program. The set was a small theater in the round — this is “Around The Beatles” after all — a spartan take at the Globe Theater, with fans encircling the performers on three sides on ground level, and around the stage on elevated catwalks. Non-performing acts, including the Beatles, watched from these standing-room sections.

Play along here, and watch the entire show (in somewhat dubious quality online). It runs a little under an hour.

Something the show did not feature at its outset was music. In a sequence as campy as anything the band would partake — and trust me, I’ve seen Magical Mystery Tour several times — the Beatles took part in a nationwide tribute honoring the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (which fell April 23, just before the show was filmed and aired).

Ringo as the Lion

Specifically, the group exuberantly stages Act V Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play-within-the-play “Pyramus and Thisbe,” written as poorly acted by working class, amateur actors. It was an inspired and appropriate choice. Paul plays Pyramus, John is the woman Thisbe, Ringo is the Lion and George is Moonshine. To a staged heckling crowd, the group very much plays the part in the controlled chaos, delivering their lines with comedic injections (e.g., Ringo refers to all the money he’s making drumming).

Glimpse at the Bard a la Beatles in color here:

Nearly seven minutes pass from the show’s opening credits to the end of the sketch.

Speaking with the BBC the day after the show aired, John described how comedy has always been a Beatles trait, something fans around the world had already no doubt discovered.

Paul as Pyramus

“We used to do it, especially in the old Cavern days… Half the whole thing was just ad-libbed. We used to just mess about and jump into the audience and do anything.”

The Beatles could have lost the audience really, really quickly, but they’re so charming, so clearly joyous and having a blast, that even if they’re at times difficult to understand — between the Shakespearean English and the thick accents — it’s impossible to turn it off.

The first music we’d hear in the show, outside of the opening sequence’s fanfare, comes from Jamaican teenager Millie Small, who performed “My Boy Lollipop” as it rapidly rose on the charts en route to a peak of No. 2 in the U.K.

Money

She kicked off a lengthy, energetic sequence of artists who weren’t the Beatles taking to the stage. Long John Baldry and The Vernons Girls follow with a fast-paced medley that included Baldry handing out cash during “Money.” That sequence was backed by Sounds Incorporated — who looked a fraction of their age (which, on the whole, was a few years older than the members of the Beatles) — and they followed with their own instrumental performance before the unyielding energetic crowd.

P.J. Proby

Nearly 20 minutes in, we’re graced with the presence of a Beatle, when Paul introduces a “very good friend of ours,” P.J. Proby, whose good looks, gravely voice, lip bite and ribboned mini ponytail make even the most 40-something-aged Beatle bloggers’ heart flutter.

The Texan entered the Beatles orbit via Good, and impressed Beatles manager Brian Epstein enough that Proby was asked to come to England and be a part of the show. But while a friendship would blossom with John, according to Proby, it was a rough go at the outset with Paul. Via Finding Zoso:

So, we went to lunch that day, and at the table I was sitting there having a sandwich when I heard this voice, “Give us a song then P.J.” I turned around and I couldn’t see anybody. Then this newspaper sloooowly started coming down and this head appeared. It was Paul McCartney. And he said, “Sing us a song now P.J.”, and I said, “Sing to yourself you son of a bitch, I’m having lunch!” So, Paul didn’t speak to me from then on; fifteen days he wouldn’t speak to me.

At the end of the fifteen days when we were going to film, all The Beatles drew our names out of a hat [to introduce us] and I found out that Paul had drawn mine. So, I thought to myself, “Well, he’s not gonna do me any favors. I’m just gonna get on there, do my spot, get on the next airplane, and get back to Hollywood.” So I was just about to go on and Paul turned around to introduce me and said, “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, our dear friend, our best friend from Hollywood, California. His first appearance ever on television in England. P.J. Proby!” It shocked me so much, that I almost didn’t step onto my mark and go before the cameras.

After that, Paul and I became very good friends. What he was doing was testing me to see if I was as good as Jack Good had made out I was. So I passed the test and we’ve been friends ever since!

Proby’s performance gave way to another appearance by Millie, Sounds Incorporated, The Vernons Girls and Cilla Black, who would be another figure to later feature in the Beatles’ story. Oh, and about that Fab Four, we get the occasional glimpse of them enjoying the show from the stands.

The entire first half of this show is absolute non-stop music and action with consistently bad lip-syncing across the board.

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on “Got My Mojo Workin’.”

Thirty minutes into their show, Murray the K lets the audience know, “In the U.S.A., England is what’s happening.” But it’s not until five minutes later and after another appearance from Black and her lovely hair that the show’s eponymous stars finally take the stage as musical performers.

Each member of the band is showcased on vocals on the pre-recorded, lip-synced set: “Twist and Shout” (John) starts things off, and the crowd returns to its feverish frenzy, matching the band’s own energy. “Roll Over Beethoven” (George) comes next, making it back-to-back covers. “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Ringo) follows, with “Long Tall Sally” (Paul) — another cover — leading into a true anomaly in the group’s career: a medley. Recorded separately and edited together, the group peeled off, over the course of four minutes, “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Why, that’s the first five Beatles singles, strung together in succession. The final three all went to No. 1. The edit came off a little jerky, but the performance was characteristically upbeat. It felt rushed, but hey, no one asked me if they needed to give Sounds Incorporated so much airtime earlier in the show.

But they weren’t done. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” their newest single and the song that was presently reigning atop the charts, followed the medley. This performance of the song was officially released on the 1+ DVD/Blu-ray set.

The Beatles had one prize left, and another cover — another Isley Brothers cover, at that. Not satisfied with “Twist and Shout” alone, the group made “Shout” their own, a complete rarity as a song that wasn’t part of their live set. In another rarity, all four Beatles alternated on vocals during a stirring rendition that did prove the Beatles still needed to work on their lip-sync skills just as much as the rest of the acts did.

With that, it’s fin.

In 2016, unsanctioned clips here on the Internet are far and away the easiest way to watch “Around The Beatles.” It did receive an official release in 1985 on VHS, and it’s an inexpensive purchase on eBay, provided you still have a working player. I personally recommend grabbing your brother’s old copy of the tape during your parents’ move (look, I’m not saying that kind of thing happens often, but it’s possible it happened once). The show has never been released on DVD/Blu-ray, but as mentioned, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is on the 1+ release.  As for the music, you can find “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Shout” and “Boys” — another cover and a song that was recorded for the show but didn’t make the final cut — on Anthology 1.

John as Thisbe

The show runs less than an hour, and there’s so much to unpack, but we have the benefit of the last 52 years of hindsight to really dig deep. Let’s start with the stars of the show, the Beatles. The show is almost treated as a belated introduction of the group to the global audience, even though by the time it aired — in May in the United Kingdom and November in the United States — the Beatles were a known, beloved quantity around the world. Their charm and sense of humor, so evident in the Shakespeare sketch, was certainly established, and this was in the weeks before A Hard Day’s Night hit theaters. The very fact that the group had four Number One hits available to perform speaks volumes, too. The show itself was a tremendous success, rating among the top shows of the year in the U.K.

It says plenty that the Beatles were assigned to carry their own show so early in their career. Obviously, they were up to task, and we know how their career played out. But what about the others? Each of the acts — which collectively seem like an anonymous gallery of C-list British Invasion acts from an era that produced far more memorable names — sharing the stage with the Beatles ultimately had an interesting story of their own, with many crossing paths with the group as the rest of the 1960s played out and several playing a part in notable moments in rock history over the subsequent decades.

Let’s start with Millie Small. A one-hit wonder in the U.S. and U.K., she’s credited as a seminal figure in popular Jamaican music. And in an alternate world, she’d have been part of Paul McCartney’s extended family. In the mid-1960s Millie briefly dated Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon, the brother of Paul’s longtime girlfriend Jane Asher.

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Liverpudlian Cilla Black was in the Beatles orbit early on and was under manager Brian Epstein’s umbrella by the time “Around The Beatles” was produced. She was an established success with a No. 1 hit (”Anyone Who Had a Heart”) before the show was recorded and had another to come (”You’re My World,” as produced by George Martin) shortly after. Her career was long and successful and included recording several Lennon/McCartney songs. One of them — “It’s For You” — was in the news within the last few days of this writing, when a long-lost demo from Paul was sold at auction.

Like Black, The Vernons Girls hailed from Liverpool, with the group’s first iteration performing while the Beatles were still in school. Ultimately whittled down from a 16-part choir to three members, the girl group shared bills with the Beatles and had modest chart success and their opportunistic 1963 single “We Love The Beatles” is remembered today, at least by certain members of the Beatles blogging community. The Vernons Girls disbanded later in 1964.

Baldry befriended the Beatles at the Cavern in Liverpool while a member of the Cyril Davis All Stars (which also included Nicky Hopkins, who played with just about everybody, including the Beatles on “Revolution” and on records from all four of them solo). Baldry, who was openly gay, had a relationship with Dave Davies of the Kinks, and would lead a band that featured a young Rod Stewart. Another group led by Baldry in the late 1960s, Bluesology, featured one Reggie Dwight on keyboard. Dwight would later adopt the stage name Elton John — “Elton” after Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and “John” in honor of Long John Baldry. Baldry remained a friend and influence to the superstar pianist; he was “Sugar Bear” in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. Baldry eventually moved to Canada and in addition to working as a blues musician, he did voice acting work.

Buoyed by his appearance on “Around The Beatles,” P.J. Proby went on to score a trio of Top 10 hits in the U.K. in 1964, and a minor hit in “That Means a Lot” a Lennon/McCartney leftover from Help!

As Proby’s career played out, he ended up crossing paths with more of rock’s heavyweights. His 1969 LP featured the New Yardbirds as his backup band; that’s Led Zeppelin before they had their own record out. Proby later would portray Elvis and Roy Orbison on stage and perform with The Who in their 1997 revival of Quadrophenia among other productions. His 1995 Savoy Sessions is absolutely bananas. Proby is still active; you can catch the recent Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee on tour in the U.K. this September and October.

Beatles insider Tony Bramwell wrote in his book “Magical Mystery Tours” of John’s relationship with Proby, which sounds like it bordered on infatuation.

Beyond his obvious talent, John was almost hypnotically fascinated by P.J.’s demonic, destructive nature. P.J. was like John’s dark twin, a man who quickly found his way into the wilder circles and excesses of London society. He was a Jack Black man, lots of it, but John wasn’t. To Cynthia’s dismay, John started to hang out with the lean Texan, who dressed like a cowboy during the day and in velvets, ruffled pirate shirts and buckled shoes by night.

Bramwell goes on to write that it was in fact Proby who introduced Lennon to marijuana — he “felt waves of nausea sweeping over him and rushed to the bathroom, where he threw up into the large white bathtub” — months before Bob Dylan was credited with exposing the Beatles to the drug.

The relationship between the Beatles and Sounds Incorporated stretched back to the groups’ shared time in Hamburg and extended deep into the 1960s. Sounds Incorporated — which would also end up managed by Epstein — became a frequent opening act for the Beatles, including at the landmark show at Shea Stadium in 1965. The saxophones you hear on “Good Morning, Good Morning” off Sgt. Pepper were delivered by the group’s horn section. Among other acts, Sound Incorporated’s Tony Newman would go on to drum for David Bowie on the Diamond Dogs LP.

But John, Paul, George and Ringo weren’t the only figures from our January 1969 story that worked with Sounds Incorporated. More than six years before the Get Back sessions and prior to “Around The Beatles,” Sounds Incorporated recorded a song written by Billy Preston, who — at 17 — joined the group on organ.

One more key figure from January ‘69 was involved in “Around The Beatles,” but wasn’t on stage or even at Reddifusion’s Wembley TV Studios for filming. Instead, he was involved with the Beatles’ recording session for the tracks the group used to lip-sync on stage.

“This was my first experience of The Beatles,” Get Back sessions producer Glyn Johns wrote more than 50 years later in his autobiography, Sound Man. “I say ‘experience’ as I did not really meet them, being only second engineer on the session.”

“The one thing that struck me about this session was how relatively ordinary they sounded without the vocals. They could have been any competent group of the day, but as soon as the voices were added the magic was there. It always amazed me how they progressed as writers, musicians, and producers from this already exalted position.”

By 1969, the progression was obviously massive. “Around The Beatles” was a product of Beatlemania, but not forgotten by the group — and not just because Paul named his cat Thisbe. A joyous, successful production, “Around The Beatles” became another jumping-off point for the group to use in working their way to a stage return.

3 Comments

Filed under Extra

TMBP Extra: RIP George Martin

It’s so obvious a statement, it sounds dumb to write: Without George Martin, who died Tuesday at 90, the Beatles would have been a completely different entity from the one he signed, nurtured and produced.

martin

January 1969

The Beatles existed before Martin agreed to sign them to Parlophone in 1962, and had he not, the group would have continued to do so.  If George Martin didn’t manage and help develop the Beatles sound, someone else ultimately would have. But we can only imagine what the output would have been, and if we would still be talking about it more than 50 years later. Because of Martin, there’s no question: Here we are still talking about it.

George Martin produced, arranged, mixed, composed and was otherwise involved with hundreds of records over half a century. The Beatles’ output adds up to a fraction of it (and he notably wasn’t involved in one record). But his creativity and willingness to interpret the sounds inside the heads of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr and pull together the resources to apply it tangibly to wax earned Martin all the praise he has received as a forefather, godfather, innovator and icon. If he didn’t make the Beatles into The Beatles, maybe we’d be writing here about how innovative his work with another band was — if he crossed over from jazz and comedy records to pop music at all.

McCartney & Martin in the ’80s

This blog deals with January 1969, the precise moment when George Martin mattered least to the Beatles. He ended up something of an adviser at the Get Back sessions, and it was ultimately left to Phil Spector to, as Martin would describe it, “overproduce” Let It Be for release. As someone who brought the most out of the Beatles (I was going to list song titles as examples, then the list got too long), Martin’s view of the Spector production reveals what Martin himself thought he did best for the Beatles.  From Anthology:

[Spector’s Let It Be] was bringing The Beatles’ records down a peg — that’s what I thought. Making them sound like other people’s records.

The Beatles may have pinched ideas from other bands, but when George Martin produced, they never, ever sounded like another band.

Paul McCartney — the only Beatle to work again with Martin after the breakup — asked him to produce Abbey Road as a swan song, and that record is damn near perfect — like so many other wildly varied Beatles efforts Martin was tasked with producing.

George Martin put up with a lot of nonsense working with the Beatles, often enabling implausible sonic ideas while increasingly dealing with, to use sports parlance, an out-of-control clubhouse. The Beatles may have wanted to make an “honest” album with Abbey Road, but that didn’t mean they got along much better than they did while working on Let It Be (or the White Album, for that matter).  But recording that final album gave Martin closure, too.  Again, from Anthology:

Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album — but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn’t at all surprised that they split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives — and I did, too. It was a release for me as well.

It’s 2016, and the world has been without two of the Beatles for a long time now. There have been a lot of contenders for “fifth Beatle” — George Martin, Mal Evans, Billy Preston — and we’ve lost them all, too. (A silly case could be made that Ringo is the fifth Beatle, since Pete Best is arguably part of the first four, but that’s for another rainy day). But whether it’s vinyl, cassette, CDs or MP3s, thank God we’ll always have the music.

Rest in peace, George Martin.

1 Comment

Filed under Extra