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 (to this point), It’s everything you ever needed to know about The Beatles’ final song, but never thought to ask.
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 Road: It’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.
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.
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.
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 BBCcompilations, plus the Bootleg Recordings 1963 release).
“Memphis, Tennessee” made the cut as one of the songs for their failed audition for Decca in 1962.
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.”
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.
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, December 28, 1968
That day, The Beatles (WhiteAlbum) 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).
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
“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.
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.
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 “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.
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
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.
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, Sounds 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.
“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 1969, in working their way to a stage return.
Author’s note, October 2020: When this post was first written more than four years ago, I included a section on Glyn Johns’ purported role in the “Around the Beatles” recording session — the group pre-recorded their numbers and lip-synched on the show. Going back several decades, Glyn said he was the “second engineer” on that April 19, 1964, session. He wasn’t.
Alan Florence, the session’s lead engineer, and Peter Robinson, who was the second engineer, both reached out to me to correct the record, and for that I’m grateful. I communicated with them both in the comments section of the subsequent post as well as privately. References to Glyn’s involvement in “Around the Beatles” have been removed from his own memoirs, also. No one upgraded my hardbound copy, so I only just found out.
While Glyn’s involvement in a 1964 Beatles sessions would have made for a nice narrative bookend to his role with the group in 1969, it never actually happened. Thanks again to Alan and Pete for reaching out to me to make sure the history is clear and their own contributions are recognized.
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.
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 againwith Martinafter 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.
Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.
India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.
George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career, one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.
George’s 25th birthday was celebrated in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.
Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).
With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.
That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.
George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.
He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.
Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1982), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, it was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.
Enjoy it all on this YouTube playlist (it’s not just “Badge” — click around!):
Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — the mighty “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.
George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.
Sorry, I missed the punctuation and capitalization. That’s thanks in part to “Something.”
There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them. February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1968, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.
You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3, with a fleshier version also on the 2019 Abbey Road anniversary deluxe edition.
The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.
Three years ago in this space, we celebrated Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday with a brief look back at the period between June 18, 1968 and 1969, a stretch that straddled the Get Back/Let It Be sessions that we explore here. On the occasion of the diamond jubilee of John Lennon’s birth, we’ll do the same thing people have done for more than 50 years: compare John and Paul, and as usual, with much different results.
In the coming months, the White Album was completed and released, the Beatles assembled in January 1969 for a monthlong writing and recording session and they subsequently recorded and completed Abbey Road (along with other songs, like John’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” a No. 1 hit). Those achievements fell in the same period as between Paul’s 1968 and 1969 birthdays. So what’s different for John and in the time frame that’s shifted by four months?
Yoko, obviously, and her dramatically increased role in John’s life, replacing Paul as his primary collaborator. It wasn’t just her, but what she enabled John to be willing to do. John, with Yoko, created their own art and performance outside of the Beatles — bed-ins, experimental music, films, publications — all things that grew from being an outlet away from the band to becoming a full replacement for the band that Paul was expending his energy to keep together and internally manage. Like John and Yoko, Paul got married, too (less than 10 days earlier), and started his own life with Linda, increasingly spending time at his farm in Scotland. The Beatles had become his band, if it was anyone’s.
Three weeks before the Get Back sessions, John formed the Dirty Mac for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus in December 1968. His bed-in recording of “Give Peace a Chance” was released within weeks of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in July 1969. Two weeks before the release of Abbey Road in September 1969, his first iteration of the Plastic Ono Band took the stage in Toronto. Upon his return on Sept. 20, he told the rest of the Beatles he quit the group. He wouldn’t perform together with the other three Beatles again. Ten days later he recorded “Cold Turkey.”
All of the Beatles by this point had their own lives, marriages and projects outside the band. For John, the Beatles had become the outside project in a wildly tumultuous period coinciding with his divorce, his immersion into Yoko, the use of harder drugs and his disengagement from Paul. All the factors are related. This may not have been John’s greatest period as a pop music songwriter, at least in volume, but given the variety of artistic pursuits and chances he was willing to take — including the biggest one of all, replacing Paul with Yoko — it was a remarkable period in John Lennon’s career and life.
On August 28, 1969, Linda gave birth to Mary, Paul’s first child. On October 9, John’s 29th birthday and the end of the period we’re recalling here, Yoko miscarried. They would have their first child together, Sean, exactly six years later, on October 9, 1975.
Today, Jan. 8, marks David Bowie’s birthday. We’ve noted Bowie’s birthday here before, purely as an afterthought in conjunction with the fact it’s also Elvis Presley’s birthday. But we focused on Elvis last time, and today’s it’s Bowie’s turn.
According to Tony Visconti, David’s friendship with John developed to such a degree that the three of them often spent a night on the town together. “We stayed up with John Lennon until 10:30 a.m. We did mountains of cocaine, it looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac,” Tony recalled. … John and David bonded over drugs, music, and a shared quirky British sense of humor.
In addition to having crossed paths to varying degrees with each of the members of the band, Bowie was deeply influenced and inspired by the Beatles, and when you try hard enough, you can hearit throughouthisextensivecatalog. Additionally, Ken Scott was a shared link in the studio, engineering Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album while engineering and/or producing Bowie from 1969-1973. (Visconti worked with Paul, too, after he first worked with Bowie).
New York, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon
But one thing Bowie did not do was have anything to do with the Beatles as a unit. His star only rose as the Beatles’ was burning out. The Beatles closed the 1960s after defining its sound just as Bowie prepared to do the same for the ’70s. As Bowie eventually put it, when referring to his friendship with Lennon: “Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.”
After a lifetime of enjoying rock music, it somehow took until my 40th year to fully immerse myself into Bowie’s music. This is not to say I wasn’t a fan, or didn’t enjoy various releases over the years. But in 2014 I really became a superfan, getting completely absorbed into his music. Part of that immersion was to visit the truly incredible David Bowie Is exhibition that recently closed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Comprehensive and engrossing, I was blissfully overwhelmed.
The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)
Among the artifacts near the beginning of the exhibit was a newspaper: the Times of London showing the Earthrise, the iconic image from Apollo 8 that shows, well, the earth rising as viewed from the moon. The photo was taken Dec. 24, 1968, but was published in a special insert in the Times on Jan. 6, 1969. According to the exhibit, after seeing the paper, Bowie had “Space Oddity” written within a week.
Especially when you place yourself into that era, it’s a moving image, the blue earth rising above the moon, but that’s not what jumped out at me. And if you happened to be at the MCA that morning in mid-November and heard someone muttering, “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” and wondered who it was, that would be me.
The Nagra tapes didn’t roll 24/7 in the lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo from Jan. 2-31, so we certainly can’t say the Apollo mission — or any other particular news event — did or didn’t inspire or influence the band. The group touched on politics, immigration in particular, in outtakes like the “No Pakistanis” version of “Get Back” and “Commonwealth” at various points during the Get Back sessions, and it’s not as if the Beatles didn’t have a history of being social commentators.
But I found it illustrative with regards to where these different acts were at this very specific moment in time — Jan. 6, 1969 — that David Bowie was able to find a muse that would launch him into stardom for the first time just as the Beatles found themselves trapped –Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing the Beatles could do. Between the time Bowie started writing “Space Oddity” on Jan. 6 and finished it on the 13th, George would suggest the band “have a divorce” after an open discussion recounting how bad things have been for a year (Jan. 7), and then he’d end up quitting (Jan. 10). The Twickenham sessions ended after Jan. 14.
George on David Bowie, 1974
I certainly won’t argue the Beatles were out of ideas in January 1969; this entire blog is predicated on the idea the group remained vibrant and vital during the Get Back sessions. But it’s obvious any success they had was despite themselves. The songs they wrote or worked on this month were works of art, to varying degrees, but it was often tantamount to climbing up the hill backwards, as Bowie would put it, to get anything done. We’d have lost Abbey Road and Let It Be (although you’d assume many of the songs would later resurface on solo records) but an argument can be made John and George, at least, may have been happier people had the Beatles ceased to exist in their present form sometime in 1968. Is the difference tangible between a band being pulled apart and an artist ready to burst? Oh boy, is it ever.
Used in conjunction with the BBC’s Apollo 11 moon landing coverage in July 1969, “Space Oddity” made a name of Bowie just as the Beatles were in the thick of recording Abbey Road. (About 12 hours after man first walked on the moon, the Beatles began recording “Come Together”). By the time Bowie’s eponymous LP featuring “Space Oddity” was released that November, the Beatles were effectively finished. Five years (what a surprise) later, after meeting John at a party, the Starman ultimately entered the orbit of the Beatles.
On Nov. 22, 1968, The Beatles graced us with The Beatles, ie., the White Album. It’s as brilliant on a listen today as I’m sure it was then. Yet, less than six weeks after it hit stores, John, Paul, George and Ringo were at Twickenham writing and rehearsing songs that would eventually populate Let It Be, Abbey Road, All Things Must Pass, McCartney and sporadically on other releases.
The Get Back sessions story – what we’re telling here via the Nagra reels — can’t be told completely without the context and seen through, in part, the lens of the rocky White Album sessions. Ringo left the band three months into recording The Beatles. It took only eight days for George to flee the group at Twickenham. Just listen to the group’s own words on Jan. 7, 1969.
Paul: The past couple of months, it’s been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.
George: The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year.
Perhaps to snap out of those doldrums, the group flirted with the idea of a live show to promote the White Album into the new year – ie., 1969 – but that idea soon fizzled. That flirtation and subsequent search for a live show scenario, however, was a prevalent theme all January 1969 long with the rooftop show the ultimate answer.
Of course, another important connection linking the White Album and the Get Back sessions are the songs. And not just wacky takes like this:
The Get Back sessions continued the White Album’s larger focus on playing together as a band (further distancing themselves from Sgt. Pepper) and ostensibly served as a writing lab and demo venue for Abbey Road, the clear bridge between the two records. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Something” both dated to 1968, while “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” were rehearsed in the White Album demo session at Kinfauns. “I’ve Got a Feeling” (and “Everybody Had a Hard Year”) and “Don’t Let Me Down” similarly dated to 1968.
So while proximity (1968 vs. 1970 releases) and the ultimate productions do a lot to blur some of the relations between the White Album and Let It Be (via the Get Back sessions), the anniversary of The Beatles’ release offers as good an opportunity as any to briefly mark those ties.
To celebrate, here’s “Revolution,” filmed at Twickenham nearly four months to the day before the band returned to the same soundstage to begin the Get Back sessions.