Blogoversary week continues with a look back at my posts about today in Nagra tapes history: Jan. 7, 1969, a dramatic, dynamic day rich in music that has proven eternal and one that brought the Beatles to the brink as they questioned why they were even together.
Still they lead him back: Jan. 7 begins with a proper debut for “The Long and Winding Road,” poignant and revealing given the mood at the sessions and the prior day’s tension.
Sing a lullaby: “Golden Slumbers” debuts, and the day-old “Carry That Weight” isn’t all a hurting Paul fits it with that morning.
Signature song: It’s the origin story for “Get Back,” the song perhaps most identified with these sessions, featuring Paul, George and an absent Jackie Lomax.
Power Hour: Putting Paul’s Jan. 7, 1969, morning session in context, 44 years later.
Taking the easy way out, now: The Beatles, comfortable as a studio-only band and admittedly shy to perform live but also fed up playing together, get a pep talk as they try to find the desire to stage a concert.
Ain’t got no ‘pow’: Still searching for the elusive hook to their live show, the Beatles recall a misguided fan-club show, consider their lack of charity and foretell one of rock’s iconic moments.
Entertainment is almost enough: In which the Beatles are asked to embrace showbiz, because “you may never do another television show.” Perhaps a captive audience is the answer.
Have a divorce: The Beatles’ frustration with each other and the state of the group — an issue they admit dates back more than a year — reaches a tipping point as a conversation that began with the continued search for a live venue concludes with the band’s future in question.
Pulled their socks up: “Divorce” was all talk, no action for the Beatles, who casually moved to “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Oh! Darling” (briefly) after agreeing they should split up — without actually doing so — moments earlier.
Joke whistlings: Amid the “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” origin story, Paul wants a little more “razzmatazz” but please keep the whistle solos “straight,” OK?
Bangers and mashups: After making accidental musical history, The Beatles whistle while they work extensively on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”
Tumble blindly: The anachronistic, symbolic “Across the Universe” returns to The Beatles orbit, while the group also has a brief re-exploration of another John tune, “Gimme Some Truth,” as a Beatles number.
Et cetera: Picking up the pieces from remaining storylines of the day, including a few covers and a link between “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Devil in Her Heart.”
Work begins anew for the Beatles. From the opening scene in Let It Be.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were working stiffs like the rest of us* 45 years ago today, when those four, joined by a film crew, headed back to work after New Year’s.
The hours they put in over the subsequent month has stood the test of time, as documented on the Let It Be album and film, and with the results of their labor also eventually surfacing on Abbey Road and various solo albums.
But you all knew this.
I did too before I started this blog, two years ago today. But I just didn’t know how deep the story ran and how much more there was to these sessions. Especially with so much of our knowledge of this era couched in the record’s tumultuous production and release a year later and the breakup that preceded it.
A few days ago, I rewatched the Let It Be film (I’ve been watching it every few weeks in spurts as I write, but this was purely for “leisure,” having a few beers with my wife, who wanted to see it again). Knowing what I know now, both in my own immersion in the tapes and researching what is available about the sessions (far less than you think), I’m struck by what really got me interested in the tapes in the first place: You see all of the results, but absolutely none of the motivation.
Why did they move from Twickenham to Apple all of the sudden? Who’s this guy showing up to play keyboards? Why are there so many covers, and so many songs we’d see later on Abbey Road? What’s the deal with playing on the roof? Was that the first choice for the concert they allude to really late?
The movie creates more questions than it answers. And of course, that’s a part of what makes listening to the tapes so captivating.
Finding answers is also what makes for some really deep blog posts. In 2013, I wrote 13 posts on the timeline (of 19 total posts last year) covering a little less than 3 1/2 hours on the tapes.
Yes, a mere 3 1/2 hours of conversations and rehearsals were able to form the basis of 13 posts — and more than 17,000 words therein. But talk about memorable moments in just those 200-plus minutes:
It makes you wonder what kind of film Michael Lindsay-Hogg could have made if he had his way. This drama is writing itself. And with a great soundtrack!
Cheers to you all!
And to think, we’re only at the middle of Jan. 7. There’s a heck of a way to go, and I can’t wait to dig in.
I can’t say enough for the support I’ve gotten from readers, be it in comments, over Twitter, Facebook and from other blogs. It’s been amazing to share this experience — and communicate with — Beatles fans as passionate and curious as I am. I want to especially thank and point back to Hey Dullblog, Kenwood, A Mythical Monkey, Ultimate Classic Rock and the York Beatles Appreciation Society for linking to me over these years. It really makes this all the more fun to know people are reading and enjoying it.
And the most special thanks to my wife, Dianne, for being my editor and putting up with my “child-like wonder” at Paul’s playing the songs he introduced Jan. 7, 1969, live daily in 2013.
” I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”
Blogoversary week continues with a look back at my posts about today in Nagra tapes history: January 6, 1969, a truly fascinating and historic one in band history.
Icing Cream: As the new work week begins, the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg are fixated on how bad the Cream farewell documentary is
Hear Me: In which the Quiet Beatle proves he’s possibly insane by introducing another future classic to be met with complete indifference
Here comes the bird king: Jam isn’t just for toast for the Beatles on this day at Twickenham as they work on some improvisations including a song that would later appear on, of all things, Paul’s unreleased Rupert the Bear soundtrack
Cross that bridge (Pt. 2): The day’s rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” conclude with tension, but ultimately a progress on the song’s troubling bridge. But mainly tension.
Please, please you (Pt. 1): Rehearsals for “Two of Us” begin as the band argues just over how to conduct a rehearsal. We’re on the road to “whatever it is that will please you” in the beginning of a multi-part series on this historic session.
Please, please you (Pt. 2): Tensions during “Two of Us” continue to reach a boil as George admits he plain doesn’t care, while Paul evokes the pair’s experience rehearing “Hey Jude.”
That weight and this boy: Paul bookends a rough day of rehearsals with the debut of “Carry That Weight,” and now we know why Ringo is so prominent on the song’s eventual recording on Abbey Road.
Et cetera: The day’s coverage is a wrap as I tie up some loose ends — checking on a pair of curios written for Ringo, rehearsals of a couple other songs that managed to endure, a few covers and the briefest of mentions of George’s sex life.
There’s one more post that fits in here, even though it’s not precisely on the timeline.
TMBP Extra: Time to leave the capsule: The members of The Beatles and Bowie have crossed paths several times over the last 40-plus years, but here I dig into what they were doing on January 6, 1969, before they met, just miles away at the same precise moment. Bowie, The Beatles and Apollo 8 all cross paths in one post.
Hearing things: John reminds us he’s still there with a taste of a future solo classic
Let you down, leave you flat: Bootleg tracklists for the Get Back sessions are so promising, especially when you see the Beatles are playing some of their older tunes, but really, they are just joking around
Fifteen minutes of fame: The Beatles didn’t spend a whole lot of time introducing brand-new songs to the sessions this day, but the ones they (specifically, Paul) did were eventual classics
Quizzical: Paul unleashes an incomplete “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on the group as the anti-“All Things Must Pass” on this day
Et cetera: Tying up some loose ends for the day’s sessions before we move onto the next day
Today — Jan. 2, 2013 — marks the 44th anniversary of the beginning of what would ultimately be known as the Get Back (or Let it Be) sessions. And for me, it’s exactly one year since I began this labor of love.
So with another year over and a new one just begun, I wanted to quickly look back at a year of posts and share a little bit of what I’ve discovered through 40 posts that have covered 14 hours of music and conversation thus far.
Wait — Just 14 hours in?! That’s it? I’m amazed, too (maybe). When I started this blog, I didn’t think after a year’s worth of posts I’d still be on January 6, the third day of the sessions with another 83 hours of tapes (nearly three-and-half-days’ worth) remaining. Beyond the fact that life indeed is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, I found my interest in what I was listening to increase with every post. I started out planning on a couple of posts per session day, but I’ve eventually found myself writing multiple posts about a single song or even a conversation.
And about those conversations… So far, I’m finding them more interesting than the song rehearsals. Not that it should surprise anyone that two-plus hours of “Don’t Let Me Down” (in just these 14 hours) gets a bit old . But the decades-old bootlegs that first exposed me (and I’m sure many of you) to the sessions really only featured the band’s wacky covers and oddball originals (in addition to the more definitive and unique takes of the songs to eventually surface on the record and in the movie). Getting to hear George tell Paul he’ll play if he wants him to play is great. But being able to get the entirety of the context plus the rest of the conversation is gold (that specific example is subject of my next original post, in fact). The discussion they had about Cream plus the lengthy discussionabout the potentiallive show just fascinated me (and, hopefully, you!).
Run from, not for, cover: Maybe it’s just because they’re old news by now. But the covers they “play” (so far there haven’t been too many full run-throughs) aren’t all that compelling. Maybe it’s personal taste, but I just don’t care all that much. Although at times they clearly enjoyed performing those more than their originals when it’s the entire band actually playing together. But for something that has long defined these sessions, I’m eager to just get through them.
I’ve just seen a face. I don’t pay too much attention to site stats, since the blog is purely for fun, not profit. But in a very inexact study of search terms people use to find the blog, people just love searching for Paul’s beard. And I’m happy to oblige.
I have plenty of more observations, but I’ll leave them to this next year’s posts themselves. I do seem to have a tendency to ramble.
So with this blog entering its second year, I simply want to thank you all so much for reading. This is just so much fun to be able to have the chance to virtually talk about such a specific thing with so many knowledgeable people as enthusiastic as I am. Can’t wait for another year of Beatle posts/tweets/chatter.
As we enter the first few days of January, I’ll be unearthing links to my posts about those days in 1969 on the tapes, starting below with Jan. 2. After we’re caught up with my posts through Jan. 6, I’ll pick up where I left off on the timeline (that same Jan. 6) with a look at “Two of Us” and the iconic George-Paul argument that happened within.
Tell me why: In their rush to begin recording at Twickenham, nobody seems to have an exit strategy.
A little disclaimer. I’m in the process of a little bit of cleanup. Anywhere that I change content of any substance, or fix a fact, I’ll make that clear. But I won’t waste anyone’s time denoting when I found better video clip or replaced a dead link, etc.
In honor of what have been Elvis Presley’s birthday, I’m going to step out of order here for a post and offer up a few clips of the Beatles covering the King of Rock & Roll during the Get Back sessions.
This isn’t exhaustive, but hits a lot of the highlights.
From the Anthology, the Beatles discuss meeting Presley in 1965.
Turnabout is fair play, etc. Here’s Elvis covering “Get Back” in a medley with “Little Sister”:
Jan. 8 also marks David Bowie’s birthday. While the Beatles never played anything by Bowie, John Lennon of course worked with him in writing and performing on “Fame.” The same album, 1975’s Young Americans, also yielded Bowie’s cover of “Across the Universe,” which featured Lennon on guitar and backup vocals.
Like so many Beatles fans, I was born after the band broke up. It’s a mixed blessing. I’ve had their music pretty much baked into life’s soundtrack. But I didn’t have the excitement and anticipation of a new record or bit of news. And I lacked context.
And to that end, for me, Let it Be (the movie and the album) has always been as much of the band’s catalog — and identity — as anything else they did, whether it was Please Please Me, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road — or Something New, Beatles ’65 or Yesterday… and Today for that matter, having become a fan before the CDs standardized the US and UK releases.
I love Let it Be — more than just the record (which while I do love, it’s not among my favorites of theirs), but the whole experience. The movie, the sessions, the bootlegs from those sessions. I love what Let it Be … is. The awkwardness, the edginess, the overall chaotic nature of what the sessions were and the steps that led up to the album and movie’s eventual release brings a wonderful realism to everything, real fresh air.
I know it’s been described as watching your parents get divorced (I could have sworn it was Ringo saying that in the Anthology, but now I can’t find the quote). John Lennon called the recording experience “dreadful.” George Harrison said it was “unhappy and unhealthy” (both of those quotes WERE from Anthology).
But I don’t care. I wasn’t dating Yoko and going through a divorce. I didn’t just spend the fall expanding my horizons writing with Bob Dylan and was returning to the “winter of discontent.” I wasn’t desperately trying to figure out how to save a band that the other three members either had or would soon quit. I wasn’t feeling like a waste behind the kit. I didn’t — still don’t! — have the baggage they did sitting there as the band fell apart under the various personal pressures they were under.
And thus, I question the usual description of the sessions as a disaster, as insiders and outsiders alike tend to say. And here’s where the lack of context helps.
Let it Be, while not 11 perfect songs by any remote measure — and this band has certainly strung together 11 perfect songs in a row before — still gave us songs that have stood the test of time in the title track, Get Back and The Long and Winding Road. And that’s just what you’ll hear at the bank, in commercials, etc. Turn on a classic rock radio station, should such things still exist, and you’ll hear the rest of the songs.
And the rest of the output from the sessions? Only more than half of Abbey Road, what I’d argue is the best rock album, period. Only a number of songs that would later appear on the remaining Beatles singles, plus solo songs that would end up on All Things Must Pass, Imagine, McCartney and RAM (shout out to RAM).
If hundreds of mediocre covers and other useless snippets are the price to pay for that, I’m in.
And because they were the Beatles, the above disaster took one day short of a month — Jan. 2-31, 1969.
So that brings me to why we’re all here — or at least why I’m here writing to myself. I think there’s beauty in the Beatles with their warts, without pants and the like. The movie is a joy in its depression, for me. Out of such distress they produced such eternal music.
I’ve always tried to listen here and there to outtakes from the sessions for the pure fun of it — the Beatles covering Canned Heat, mocking their own back catalog, and hatching the most barebones takes of songs that I pine to listen to every day. But the sound on some of the bootlegs was so bad as to make it truly an experience that couldn’t be enjoyed. Plus, it would be prohibitive as far buying everything.
But we live in special times, no? One download (lasting many, many, many days) and you can have what’s known as the Nagra Tapes (aka the A/B Road boot). It’s more than 97 hours of the sessions, sourced, quite illicitly I believe, from the camera’s audio recorders on site at Twickenham and Savile Row during the recording of the film.
Nagra III recorder
And, quite simply, when I finally downloaded the 5.3 GB monstrosity, I thought it would be fun to write about what I’m hearing after I had poked at this track and that and finding among some of the banality many revelatory moments. I’m a fan of the niche, and this seems as niche a project as it gets.
Initially, I thought the idea of a limited, January-only blog tackling the sessions day-by-day in “real time” 43 years later was the way to go. But you know, I’m not sure I can commit six hours on Jan. 6 to listening to 28 versions of “Don’t Let Me Down.”
But I will listen to those 28 versions from Jan. 6, along with the other 84 takes of the song, the 141 takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” 68 takes of “All Things Must Pass,” 33 takes of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” 30 of “One After 909,” four tries at “Gimme Some Truth,” two at “Her Majesty” and their lone stab at Hava Nagila (I kid you not). And everything in between.
Multiple books have been written about these sessions, and none by myself. But I’m a fan who will find pleasure in the discovery and the song-building process of numbers that have been part of my life since before I knew it.
While I may chime in with the occasional non-Get Back/Let it Be sessions post, I’ll try to limit such chatter to the Twitter feed. But it’ll always be, at worst, barely off-topic, and always certainly Beatle-related.
Please join in the discussion in the comments. Otherwise, it’ll just be me saying, “Oh, man, another killer take of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. What is that, 34 so far today?”
Thanks for checking this out and being along for the ride.