Tag Archives: 1969

TMBP Extra: Oh what joy

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

Ringo Starr, 1969

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

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

From the Anthology book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ringo & Barbara at their wedding

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

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

 

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TMBP Extra: RIP Chuck Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(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.

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TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the 73rd anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 47th 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.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

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 year began 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.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

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 1992), “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, 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.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

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. 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 1969, 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.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise, finally, 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.

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TMBP Extra: Celebrate anything you want

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.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Birthday Cake

Smile, John, it’s your birthday!

Forty-seven years ago today — October 9, 1968 — was John Lennon’s 28th birthday. The Beatles were primarily in the mixing stage of the White Album. John was in the midst of a divorce with Cynthia. Nine days later — there’s that number that follows John around — he and Yoko were victims of a drug bust at their home as they were handling the difficult release of Two Virgins.

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 creating 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, and started his own life with Linda, increasingly spending time at his farm in Scotland. The Beatles were his band.

Three weeks before the Get Back sessions, John formed the Dirty Mac for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus in December 1969. His bed-in recording of “Give Peace a Chance” was released within days of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in June 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, 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, a use of harder drugs and a willingness to move on past 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.

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