Tag Archives: Abbey Road

Jan. 8: Two for the Road

Formal recording for Abbey Road wouldn’t come until months after the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions and not until the project was shelved along with its stable of new songs. It’s with the luxury of retrospection we can establish that the sessions served as a demo venue for Abbey Road, not a bad byproduct of the weeks in the studio.

To this point — the pre-lunch portion of the January 8 session — the Beatles had in one form or another performed six future Abbey Road tracks (”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Oh! Darling,” “Sun King,””She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight”) that were either contenders for the live show or simply unfinished bits for another day, if any.

“All Things Must Pass,” deplorably, didn’t make the cut on either Abbey Road or Let It Be. On this day, the final stabs at that Harrisong (which were the best ones to that point in these sessions, too) found John at piano, and it was there he re-introduced a future piece of the Abbey Road medley, “Mean Mr. Mustard.”

New to the Get Back sessions, “Mean Mr. Mustard” wasn’t at all new to the other Beatles, who had heard John’s demo for the song the previous May at Kinfauns. You, too, can hear it for yourself if you crack open your copy of Anthology 3 and pop in the first disc. Or just listen below!

Pretty earthy, but that’s Kinfauns for you. Like “All Things Must Pass” and others, the influence of the group’s February 1968 India trip stretched far past the subsequent White Album. Back in Twickenham, Mr. Mustard’s sister was still Shirley, and he’s yet to rediscover his roots with Polythene Pam. Her sordid story will come later. First, we can enjoy John performing “Mean Mr. Mustard” at the Get Back sesssions.

A bit more fleshed out with full instrumentation, the first 1969 take of “Mean Mr. Mustard” is roughly what it was nearly a year earlier, and not awfully far off from what it would become later on Abbey Road. It also stands as an alternate version of his work-in-progress “Madman,” which was a few days away from debut at these sessions. But the Madman’s story will come later, too.

Ultimately, John trashed the song, calling it, along with “Sun King” and “Polythene Pam,” merely “bits of crap that I wrote in India.”

But is one man’s trash another’s treasure?

All right, fine. Paul probably wasn’t inspired by this take of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” despite sharing bouncy piano chords, but it wouldn’t have been the first time a song drawn from these sessions would bizarrely resurface many years later.

Before breaking for a bite, the Beatles returned to another song that would later be separated only by one track on the Abbey Road Side 2 medley. The number had already had a few rehearsals over the last few days, but it finally was given its formal name on January 8.

Paul: I think it’s called “Bathroom Window” … But it’s funny. It doesn’t sound like a title. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”

Paul, Linda and Mary McCartney in the bathroom, 1969. The window is out of the frame.

Paul, Linda, Mary and Martha in the bathroom, 1969. The window is out of frame.

An earlier stab at a rehearsal never materialized, but after the Beatles spent about a half hour focusing on “All Things Must Pass” and John’s quick “Mean Mister Mustard” detour, the “Window” was reopened.  “Do you want to stay on that for ‘Bathroom Window?'” Paul asked John, who was still at the piano. He did, and it marked the third consecutive day the group spent time on the song.

Mentioned previously in this space, one delight of the Twickenham takes of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” is the chance to hear Paul harmonizing with John on the song. Remember the Abbey Road version features Paul double-tracked.

Still, it’s hard to call these takes ultimately pleasurable. After some brief instruction, we hear three total takes of the song, with the first two dragging to the finish. The final take is a bit livelier. Unlike other McCartney compositions in the first week of the sessions, the song is indeed complete, though, with the same lyrics, melody and general instrumentation as we’d hear on Abbey Road, once that blessed day would come.

Now with “Mustard” on the table and the “Window” closed, the Beatles adjourned, quite appropriately, for lunch.

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TMBP Extra: RIP George Martin

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

martin

January 1969

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

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

McCartney & Martin in the ’80s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, George Martin.

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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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Jan. 7: Bangers and mashups

OK, stick with me here.

Nearly 46 years ago, somewhere between lunch and the resumption of the day’s writing session-cum-rehearsals for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” it sure sounds like Paul McCartney may just have invented the mashup, or at least a rough approximation.

Really!

This is not a medley, sampling, sound collage or musique concrete a la “Revolution No. 9” and others before it. This is turn-of-the-21st century-style mashup: Think The Grey Album, Girl Talk or the Beatles’ own Love with elements of two or more songs layered on top of each other.  The kind of stuff Paul got roped into a few years back before an audience, he and George performed live to tape decades earlier in a little bit of completely obscure history.

(The uploader’s caption is wrong as it’s obviously Paul reciting the lyrics, but it’s the right clip).

That would be 1967’s “When I’m 64” (written a decade earlier as one of Paul’s first songs and described here by Paul as the “beautiful geriatric Beatles song”) sung atop “Speak to Me,” which would ultimately lead off Jackie Lomax’s debut album, as produced by George and released two months later.  We already heard George briefly play a more proper version of “Speak to Me” to John a few days earlier.

As Paul’s “When I’m 64” vocals eventually drop out – and his mouth clicks chime in – we go from a forgotten moment of debatable history to one that would have a lasting impact on wax: the debut of Maxwell’s actual Silver Hammer, the anvil, as ordered before lunch.

The band comfortably eases out of “Speak to Me” with a fun and increasingly polished run through of “Oh! Darling” – polished for this point in the sessions, for sure –  the second time they played the song in a few hours, and with John having rejoined the group back on guitar. The song is essentially complete and by all accounts should have been by now part of the core considered for the live show at this early stage. It doesn’t get any further attention this afternoon as Paul immediately returns to “Maxwell’s” for the better part of another hour. This initial launch into the song is captured in the Let it Be film, spliced in from the point where Mal strikes the anvil.  It’s a truncated slice of the song, and in the film we end up getting thrust into the Shockrick Shocks incident, which actually occurred four days earlier.

Paul doesn’t introduce any new wrinkles yet in this first go-round after lunch. He’s pleased, though. “It’s catchy enough, then,” he says after the first full take. He soon boasts of the dramatis personæ and vibe of the song, “It’s so cartoon … such caricatures.”

Paul remains a delightful caricature of himself, remaining fixated on the whistles that color the song throughout. “We want a mic for John and George on this ’cause the whistle on this,” is Paul’s first and primary direction to the crew. George’s initial concern in the early going of the post-lunch session is getting the song’s timing and cues down, especially for the sake of Mal, who wielded the hammer. Not that George didn’t try to give his drummer an additional bit of work.

“I’m sorry, George, the hammer’s too heavy for me,” Ringo says to laughter.  As it turned out, Ringo would end up carrying that weight after all, striking the anvil in July, when the group properly recorded “Maxwell’s” for Abbey Road.

By Paul’s thinking, the roadie was the man for the job.

Mal’s more like Maxwell, anyway. … He should be very scholarly. Very straight, in a striped tie and a blazer, sort of. Big chrome hammer. That’s how I see him anyway. [He’s] Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, in fact.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Resplendent in a smart gray blazer and striped tie, Mal Evans is already dressed for the role of Maxwell Edison, medical student, as he rides the Magical Mystery Tour bus.

Sparked by a question from George about the repeated of “bang, bang” in the chorus, Paul runs through the song structure again with the usual caveat: “I haven’t written the last bit.”

That’s fine with George, who thinks he knows how the song goes. “I just know it in my head, rather than the words, because the words are not in the right order anyway.”

Loose as he can be, Paul repeats the song structure: “It’s like two verses (scatting and singing) Bang, bang. … Clang, clang. … Whistle. … That’s nice fellas.”

As work continues, George shows a bit of concern with his own instrumentation.

George: To the man that’s producing me, whenever I play bass, because I don’t know anything about it, I don’t know what the sound is. I just plug it in and play it. So if somebody knows how to get the sound or record it. I mean Glyn’ll have to do that if he’s around. So you can mention that to him.

That’s some pretty self-deprecating talk from George, but he really has few bass credits under his belt to this point.

Straight out of the Small Faces’ playbook, John ad libs a narrative introduction to the song, laying out Maxwell Edison’s origin story, with Paul picking up in the middle.

John: Let me tell you the story about Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. He got it from F.D. Cohen, the pawnbroker from Bayswater.

Paul: Maxwell was a young boy just like any other boy, and he might’ve lived a life like any other young boy’s life had it not been for some certain unforeseen circumstances.

And … whistle!

Given that the band spent more than an hour on the song of about five hours of recorded tapes this day, it’s no surprise it was a very early contender for the live act. So much so, George began offering up suggestions on how to stage it, beyond costuming for the band and Mal. There’s a practical side to his suggestions, too.

George: I think we can do it with lots of people singing the chorus, ‘Bang, bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’ but it’s very difficult for me to whistle and sing and keep in sync. … It should be like the end of [Hey] Jude.

John:  ‘You all know it, join in, gang, because we don’t know it.’

George: We could just project it up, have the chorus projected up there.

We’re not sure what Paul thinks of that idea, since there’s whistling to be done, and no joke whistling, please.  “Really, do it like it’s straight,” he says, telling George how the notes of the chorus solo goes. That’s a whistle solo, not a guitar solo, mind you.  Paul does work on improving the song, spending a few minutes crafting a harmony based on a short, partial climb up a scale “with jumps on the hammer,” in his words. It’s pretty and adds to the carnival-like atmosphere the song has to this point.

For the final takes of the day of the song, the rest of the group still doesn’t have the song’s structure completely down, and Paul resorts to vocal cues to alert when the whistling solos come. John asks Paul to shout out “blow it, boys” at the appropriate time. Paul can’t help but repeat his helpful reminder: “It should be very straight, the whistling.”  He really does keep saying this, to a near obsessive state, and at no point is he kidding about it.

The “Maxwell’s” rehearsals for the day end with a final, full run through. The song’s basic elements are there: new harmonies, whistle solos, the anvil and a full strong structure. What it lacks is a complete set of lyrics, but Paul isn’t sweating it, concluding with a simple, “OK, that’s Maxwell’s.”

While the song did progress with the work on Jan. 7, there was a noticeable missed opportunity shortly after lunch as a lead-in to the mashup sequence. For a few brief moments as the group warms up, a sloppy yet sincere take of “Maxwell’s” features Ringo on vocals, and it sounded like the perfect fit. Paul’s song eventually drove the other three Beatles to fury; giving Ringo an extended vocal role could have changed a little corner of Beatles history.

As the sessions continue, John takes the reins for the next song, one that not only has its lyrics set, but the instrumentation as well.

“Should we do ‘Across the Universe?’ We almost know that, don’t we?”

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TMBP Extra: White anniversary

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.

whitealbumThe 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:

Or 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.

 

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TMBP Extra: Sound Man

Glyn Johns’ resume is so impressive, his work with The Beatles could be considered a footnote.

Just take the next 24 hours, and check out a fraction of songs he worked on as producer, engineer and/or was tasked with mixing on this playlist I put together. I tried to attach as many full albums as I could find on YouTube. Otherwise, I drew just a few tracks to sample. To any classic rock radio program directors reading, feel free to use this playlist to do your job for you.

Alternately, take less than a full day, but more than a few minutes and enjoy the discography posted on his website. It’s staggering, and truly touches on “the biggest names in rock” (spoken in radio promo voice).

But as impressive as his work with the likes of Zeppelin, the Stones, Kinks, Who, Dylan, Eagles and so many others (The Clash! Jools Holland!! Paul on Red Rose Speedway!!!) as well as innovating a technique for recording drums, what matters most here at They May Be Parted International HQ is Glyn’s involvement with The Beatles in January 1969. As engineer for the sessions and later producer for the aborted Get Back album that ultimately became Phil Spector’s Let It Be, Glyn is part of the fabric of the story we’re telling here, even if his actual work isn’t present on the Nagra Tapes itself that we’re listening through.  He was a brief part of Abbey Road’s story, too, having worked on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something.”  But that’s another post.

Glyn Johns autographs a book at Saturdays Rock Hall event.

Glyn Johns autographs a book at Saturday’s Rock Hall event.

Glyn, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago, was among the few to be present for the duration of the Get Back sessions, and thanks to whatever combination of good living, good genetics and good luck, he’s among the even fewer still with us in 2014. He just released a memoir, “Sound Man,” and I was lucky enough to see him at a promotional Q&A hosted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives in Cleveland on Saturday.

The briskly paced event covered specifics of his start in the recording industry at IBC, his pioneering role as a freelance engineer and his views on production today (he hates it, with the move to digital the culprit) with some short anecdotes peppered throughout.  There was a bit of discussion on the Stones (he helped them from the start and worked with them throughout the ’60s and ’70s, plus he lived with keyboardist Ian Stewart), and a he made a few one-off, matter-of-fact mentions that brought into context just how monumental his career has been (“When I was producing Jimi Hendrix” … “Oh, that was on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again'” … “I worked on ‘Exile” later on,” etc.). But his biggest raves were for Led Zeppelin, whose debut he engineered in October 1968 before its release three months later during the period of George Harrison’s walkout at Twickenham.  Glyn is still clearly moved by the music Zeppelin made in the studio as he was recording them for the first time.

George, however, was unimpressed (and he wasn’t alone).

Glyn — who in perfect deadpan answered that Zep drummer John Bonham’s most remarkable achievement in the studio was to “turn up” — told the same tale about George’s dismissal of Zeppelin in the book. While Glyn didn’t share much insight to working with the Beatles at this event, he did spend close to 10 minutes on the Get Back experience for another Q&A for the Rock Hall two years ago (that somehow I completely missed at the time).

Glyn elaborates on these first-hand observations of the Get Back sessions in pretty straightforward fashion in the book, although he does take credit for having the idea to play on the roof, the origin of which has been in dispute for 45 years. But per his style, Glyn doesn’t air any dirty laundry. For instance, when it comes to George’s walkout, he writes:

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple of days later. Once that was over and done with we carried on and it seemed that all was quickly forgotten.

Glyn does contest the notion he was picked by The Beatles to produce the session over George Martin because he had a union card to work on a movie. But per the official written Beatles story — Anthology — Georges Martin and Harrison are both quoted saying that Glyn was selected just for a change of pace.

As an elite engineer, Glyn’s descriptions of Magic Alex’s famed “work” at the Apple Studio are a fun read.

The console looked like something out of a 1930s Buck Rogers science fiction movie. Above it on the wall were eight loudspeakers that were about the size and thickness of a large ham and cheese sandwich.

Glyn’s overall involvement in the Get Back sessions is illustrative of how unusual January 1969 was for the Beatles compared to how they did everything else throughout their career, before and for the brief time after that they were together. The Beatles weren’t just altering how they wrote and rehearsed songs, working in a foreign studio with cameras in their faces, they went an extra step to hire a man they’ve never worked with them to capture that sound. It all ultimately came to an disappointing end for Glyn, who after the sessions made several attempts at creating the Get Back album for naught as the project was bumped back and later supplanted by Abbey Road. As he told the Rock Hall audience in 2012, “I go off thinking I’m pretty hot stuff, [but] I’m not at all. I’m sweeping up, really.”

George, Ringo and Glyn at Savile Row, late January 1969

George, Ringo and Glyn at Savile Row, late January 1969

His thoughts on the Let It Be LP, on which he has a mere “thanks to” mention on the back cover? Glyn doesn’t mince words on his opinion of the Spector version of the record, writing in Sound Man that “Phil Spector … puked all over them, turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I ever heard.”  His opinion hasn’t softened over time — two years ago he told the Rock Hall audience that “shame he wasn’t locked up earlier, really, wouldn’t have played with my record.”

All told, Glyn — who wrote that “I felt like I’d won the lottery” when he got the job to work the Get Back sessions —  spent about 25 pages of his book’s 286 pages on working with The Beatles (including a couple on his first experience working with the group, as second engineer on the 1964 TV special “Around the Beatles”).  That’s nearly 10 percent of an autobiography written about a product he never saw officially released. So perhaps the Beatles weren’t quite a footnote after all for Johns.

———-

This, however, IS a footnote: After the Q&A, I purchased Sound Man and got it autographed by the author. I let Glyn know about this blog and he gave me the wordless impression that I must be a madman to immerse myself in these tapes for pleasure (and perhaps I am). Still, he said he’d check out the blog, so if you find your way here, Glyn, welcome! And to everyone, I’m working on the next post, a continuation of Jan. 7 “Maxwell’s” session with “Across the Universe” coming up on its heels. I intend on having both out before the end of the month. As always, stay tuned for updates at twitter.com/theymaybeparted.

 

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Jan. 7: Joke whistlings

From the Let It Be film

Mal at work. From the Let It Be film

If there’s a tape of Paul and John asking Mal Evans to manage the alarm clock in “A Day in the Life,” it hasn’t surfaced. Likewise, we never hear John telling George Martin he wanted to “smell the sawdust” in adding the fairground feel to “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

But among the days’ worth of Nagra reels covering the Get Back sessions on Jan. 7, 1969, as the band lurched toward what became at least a temporary split later that week  — this is Tuesday, and George walks out on Friday —  we do get to hear  play out in real time the origin story of unique and memorable instrumentation to appear later on Abbey Road.

Unremarkable in the moment, Paul’s suggestion, made for the second time in three days, Mal “should have a hammer. … an anvil” comes about 20 minutes into the day’s work on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

Like, on steel. You know, a [bang, bang]. So it sounds silver, steel.

Sprouting from a short rehearsal of “I’ve Got a Feeling” with a quick touch of “Oh! Darling,” the “Maxwell” session on Jan. 7 runs for more than an hour on the tapes, straddling both ends of a lunch break. It’s far and away the longest time spent on any single song this day.

The key to appreciating the “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” rehearsals is to view them completely in a vacuum. In a sense, it’s incredibly frustrating to think of the time spent on this when George has “All Things Must Pass,” for instance, withering to group disinterest. Or that John has a skeleton of what would become “Gimme Some Truth” two years later, unfinished — a song tinkered with briefly this very day. Paul himself could have spent the extra time on “Oh! Darling,” which purportedly had interest from other bandmates at this very specific moment in time. So on its face, just listening to this portion of the tapes is infuriating, because WHY IS PAUL MAKING US LISTEN TO “MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER” FOR HOURS??? STOP KILLING JOAN!!!

But in a vacuum — and with the understanding that all of The Beatles’ musical children are beautiful and deserving of love — this is a very instructive and iconic moment in the history of the song, and we see significant progress in the song’s overall development. This, even though Paul himself admits he hasn’t finished writing it.

The band hit the ground running with the song, having already spent time on it Jan. 3 (when Paul also made reference to getting a hammer for the song, but didn’t follow through as he would today), but it’s a bit of a bumpy start as Paul is still reminding the rest of the group of the chords — the alignment is Paul on piano, George on bass and John on a jaunty guitar.  When Paul remarks he “doesn’t like the waltz” drum pattern that coming out of the chorus into the verse, Ringo laughingly bemoaned, “it’s the only bit I remembered in the whole piece!” It’s just an early reminder and reflection that the song was Paul’s priority and his alone, something that would continue into the song’s recording for Abbey Road six months later.

Paul doesn’t always play it straight, hamming it up lounge-singer style, delivering cringe-worthy tongue clicks and scats along where he still needs to write lyrics. Sure, he’s completely contradicting his own instructions moments earlier as they worked on “I’ve Got a Feeling” — “We should start off by doing everything we’re going to do on the thing. Like if you’re going to do the ‘oh yeahs’ innit, you’ve got to do ‘em how you’re going to do it.”  It wasn’t the first (or last) time he wouldn’t take his own advice, either.   But here it probably shows the more advanced, but unpolished state “I’ve Got a Feeling” was in, the song in true rehearsal stage, while “Maxwell’s” was clearly an unfinished product.

Like on so many of these tapes, and especially on Paul’s songs — which more often seem to be delivered to the band incomplete  — we get an incredible windows into Paul’ s songwriting technique. As he plays along on piano, he’ll hum a suggested bassline.  Without notice, he’ll change it. Once he gets a certain part down — whether it’s a drum pattern or a whistle — he’ll interrupt and make clear it’s what he’s looking for. Until he decides to change it again. That’s in contrast to George’s songs, which more often are closer to complete and accompanying parts are set in George’s mind. While John wasn’t nearly as productive as Paul or George during the sessions, we’ve seen how he’s more willing to get open input from the rest of the band.

What Paul’s looking for here is a far more whimsical production than what surfaced on Abbey Road months later. It’s not just the tongue clicks. Paul’s looking to go all out, proposing ukulele solos and looking to Ringo for some “razzmatazz there on the cymbals.”

Then there’s the whistling. There was plenty of whistling in these early takes of “Maxwell’s.” But lapsing into caricature, Paul — interrupting an unrelated question from George — explains just what he’s looking for from his band.

If we do a solo, whistling, we should try and do like a real whistling solo, ’cause it is a bit much if it’s those joke whistlings.

The man was nothing if not a perfectionist. Of all the things that would put the song over the top, Paul was sure here it would be insincere whistling. Just to make sure everyone knew he was serious, during a subsequent stab at a part whistled in unison between verses, Paul barks out “straight” just to make sure any joke whistlings didn’t sneak its way in.

In all, the song was definitely coming together nicely. Incomplete, it still had shape and vibrancy, and the rest of the group beyond Paul gave every indication they were enjoying performing it, despite continued confusion at times over cues.

It was in this context Paul suggested a figurative bell to add to his literal whistles.

We should have a hammer. … Mal, on an anvil. Like, on steel. You know, a [bang, bang]. So it sounds silver, steel.

Wearing bow ties for this one.

Paul doesn’t just see the anvil as part of the instrumentation. It gives Paul the excuse to think more broadly about the song in the context of the live show. “We’ll all be wearing bow ties for this one, blazers.”  The Beatles were on the verge of breaking up earlier this day, and now Paul’s suggesting costume changes during a performance of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Moods swing rapidly at Twickenham.

The group is in a jocular mood — probably as much as we’ve heard to this point on the tapes — as the band laughs, whoops and hams it up during the final takes of this portion of the “Maxwell’s” rehearsals and as they head out for lunch.

They’d return with full stomachs and pieces of steel.

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TMBP Extra: All that lies ahead

As I write this, it’s Friday, Jan. 31. About three-and-a-half weeks ago was Jan. 7. Check your own personal calendars, news headlines and the like. It’s not that long ago. That matters to me, and this blog, because this is where the Beatles come in.

Flip (or click) back several calendar pages – 45 in fact – and we’re at January 1969, dominated by the Get Back sessions. Jan. 31 marked its final day, a short day dedicated to nailing for film and for tape usable takes of Paul’s non-rooftop-suitable “Two of Us,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” (The clips appeared in the movie prior to the rooftop show, but were in fact filmed the next day).

What of Jan. 7? That’s where we left off last in the session timeline, at a genuine pivot point.  George suggested the group “have a divorce,” Paul said he’d thought about that, too. The Doldrums. It hung over the band.

So what happened between Jan. 7 and Jan. 31, 1969, to recast the sessions? Well, I’m not going to give it all away at once. What else would I blog about, the recording of Sentimental Journey? (That actually seems like an interesting, star-studded, intercontinental story, but I digress.) Three and a half weeks is such a short period of time, in relative terms, and we know that the group was on the brink Jan. 7. By Jan. 31 so much memorable musical output was in the bank and in the works. Factor in that there’s 10 ½ days without George after his walkout and more than a week without any rehearsals at all, and I’m left grasping at superlatives.

To wit: From Jan. 7-13 and Jan. 21-31, 1969 (18 days, and that includes weekends not spent in the studio):

  • Paul wrote the majority of “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Get Back” and debuted future solo tracks “Another Day,” “Teddy Boy” and “Back Seat of My Car”
  • George wrote: “I Me Mine,” “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something,” as well as “Wah-Wah” at home during his break from the band.
  • Everything you hear on “Let It Be,” plus “Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded.
  • We saw the birth – and if not the birth, than at least the studio debut – of Abbey Road’s “I Want You,”  “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
  • We have the rooftop show, too.
  • The Beatles even found time to meet with Allen Klein for the first time.

And I feel like I’m understating what happened.

So, there’s just a little bit of food for thought before I return to the timeline (soon!). Context is everything, and with January here and now gone, it provided the perfect chance to put into focus how much these guys got done throughout the madness they, for the most part, created themselves.

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Jan. 7: Taking the easy way out, now

We pick up the scene where we left off from the last post, Jan. 7: On our own at the holiday camp, as The Beatles and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg wrestle with the question of the band’s motivation in the post-Brian Epstein era and struggle to find a live-show venue amenable to all parties.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg continues the discussion by posing a question to John, Paul, George and Ringo that seems like it has an obvious answer. After all, since Candlestick Park in Aug. 1966, The Beatles quite famously haven’t staged a concert, instead embracing all the luxuries being a full-time studio band offers.

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this point in their history.  Paul responds, speaking over the director, saying that an audience indeed should be involved with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish with this project.

“I think we’ve got a bit shy,” Paul says before the cameras. “I think I’ve got a bit shy of certain things, and it is like that.”

Lindsay-Hogg, who so badly wants to stage a grand return before an audience for the group, again suggests departing from their past experiences. Get back to where you once belonged? Not now.

MLH:  Maybe the difficulty is also getting up in front of an audience with all you’ve done in front of audiences, and trying to get something as good, but maybe not the same thing. And that’s a very hard thing to get back. In other words, you mustn’t think of getting back what you had.

The audience has indeed grown up along with the Beatles — who are all in their late 20s by now. Paul says they’re all searching for a  “desire” to perform and achieve.

And just then, Paul comes out and reminds everyone how little they enjoy working together.  After all, just three months earlier they were together at EMI Studios to finish up the White Album sessions, so the memory’s fresh.

“With all these songs, there’s some really great songs, and I just hope we don’t blow any of them,” Paul says. “Because, you know often, like on albums, we sometimes blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood, and you say, ‘This is how it goes, I’ll be back,’ and we’re all just ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ [sounds of guitars].”

So there’s just a little more proof that the Get Back sessions weren’t the specific spark that led to The Beatles’ breakup. They had already been known to mail it in on occasion for a few years now, and Paul wasn’t shy to admit it.

But Paul’s remarks didn’t drop like a bomb — they were simply acknowledged silently as the conversation resumed, with Lindsay-Hogg’s continued insistence to use a specific live-show idea as a rallying point.

1968, White Album sessions: " ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ " (Photo by Linda McCartney)

1968, White Album sessions: “You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.” (Photo by Linda McCartney)

George Harrison wouldn’t bite. His response is damning, striking at the essence of the debate of what The Beatles are, post-White Album. Are they a cooperative? Each others’ backing band? Something in between?  And what should they be, in their eyes?

What they definitely aren’t, according to Harrison, is an effective live group.

“Really, I don’t want to any of my songs on the show, because they just turn out shitty, ” he says. “They come out like a compromise. Whereas in a studio, then you can work on them till you get them how you want them.”

So for a live show, George just wants to be the band’s lead guitarist, nothing more.

Paul, audibly disgusted at that remark, is having none of it, still believing in The Beatles.

Last year, you were telling me that ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ … But you’re saying before the show is finished, and before we’ve done it … letting forth this word of, ‘They’re going to come out a compromise.’ …

I really think we’re very good, and … if we think that we want to do these songs great, we can just do it great. Thinking it’s not going to come out great, you know, that is like meditation. Where you just get into a bummer, and you come out of it, you don’t go through it.

Paul hits George where it hurts, referencing his beloved meditation.

Paul continues, hitting home the point that even he’s fed up, too, but it shouldn’t mean avoiding whatever challenge they’re setting up for themselves.

Paul: [Presumably to Ringo]: So you’re sick of playing the drums, we all got to say, ‘We’re sick too, pat pat.’ It’s all the same and go through it. There’s no use just saying, ‘Well, fuck it.’

MLH: … What’s wrong about doing the show here [Twickenham] is it’s too easy. Like, when we were in the car looking at locations at the glorified boutiques … then Dennis [O’Dell, film producer] said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham,’ and Neil [Aspinall, Apple manager]  said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham, because it’s so easy.’ … I think that’s wrong.

I don’t mean we should put obstacles in our way,  but also in a funny way, like you were talking about Brian [Epstein]. … We should have some force to resist.   But just doing it  in the backyard …  it’s too easy.  And we’re not fighting it. There’s no balls to the show at all, I’m included. There’s no balls to any of us at the moment. And that’s why I think we’re all being soft about it.

Credit the director for recognizing the dire straits at hand. He’s right: Without a show at this point, the sessions would effectively have no real purpose and would cease. Obviously, no one wants to be there merely to start recording a new album, with the possible exception of Paul.

“If you all decided to do a show, it should be the best show,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “You are The Beatles, you aren’t four jerks.  And that’s really my job. Because when you’re playing your guitar, they’re not going to be thinking about those millions of unwashed.

“I think we’re all being soft. It’s all too easy.”

Laughing, Paul asks what kind of obstacles would the director suggest the group face.

Well, I don’t know,” Lindsay-Hogg replies, “But that was the pep talk for the morning.”

With hindsight, we can call out Lindsay-Hogg’s instincts. The Beatles had the knack to make the “easy” way work and deliver something iconic. After all, a little more than three weeks after this conversation, the band merely climbed from the basement studio at 3 Savile Row to the roof of the five-story building for the much-debated live show. George, as he suggested on this day, was just the guitarist, and none of his songs were played.

Later the same year, The Beatles took the easy way out again, naming their subsequent album after the street they recorded on — Abbey Road — and shooting their cover  just outside the studio’s door.

For The Beatles, sometimes easy worked.

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Jan. 7: Sing a lullaby

With Paul McCartney seated at the piano at Twickenham on the morning of Jan. 7, 1969, the seeds of the Abbey Road medley are planted. Or, at least, unveiled on tape.

Famously pinched, in part, from a poem that was more than 350 years old, “Golden Slumbers” debuted minutes into the Jan. 7 tapes, another of Paul’s performances solo at the piano.

Lyrically and musically, the song is just about what would end up on Abbey Road.

Once there was a way to travel homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

While the song has its origin in a Thomas Dekker poem from 1603, the recollection of a “way back home” is Paul. Here’s the inspiration, the original verse by Dekker:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy therefore sleep you.

You are care and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

After repeats of the song, Paul transitions right into “Carry that Weight.” Of course, it sounds like the songs are made for each other, but that could be more than 40 years of built-in bias.

It’s unclear if the link was simply improvised that morning, conjured over breakfast or what. But “Carry That Weight” sure did seem to be a standalone piece when brought to the band the day before.

As the piano part winds down, implying “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which is yet to be written), instead he goes right back into “The Long and Winding Road,” the same song Paul began to play prior to “Golden Slumbers.”

Any other day, it wouldn’t strike a chord, no pun intended (really!). But on this morning, “Golden Slumbers” and “The Long and Winding Road,” separated by five months in the studio and eight on vinyl, are pieces of a puzzle that  I didn’t realize existed.

Of course, book-ending “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight”with “The Long and Winding Road” could just as well be coincidence, too. But this context, deliberate or not, sheds light on what sounds like shared DNA.

Paul’s incomplete lyric to “The Long and Winding Road” — truly debuted as the tapes began to roll on Jan. 7, 1969, just moments earlier — spoke of  this sad, Sisyphean journey.

The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.

Having completed that performance, Paul unveils the song’s echo in “Golden Slumbers.”

HL_DDS_9079800pW60Dl5XJ“Golden Slumbers” shares the yearning as “The Long and Winding Road” but, side-by-side, it sounds further removed with a stronger sense of contemplative acceptance to the singer’s situation.

The time has passed: There “once” was a way to get back homeward. So while  “The Long and Winding Road” (as written to this point, at least)  has  a sense of distant, desperate hope, “Golden Slumbers” delivers acceptance but a promise of a better tomorrow via Dekker’s original lyric (“Smiles awake you when you rise”).

It’s Paul’s “All Things Must Pass.”

Bundle “The Long and Winding Road” and “Golden Slumbers” with “Carry That Weight” — not to mention “Let it Be,” which is absent from this sequence but was first played four days prior —  and in Paul you have a man who seems to readily acknowledge and be at peace with the fate of his band more than a year before they would actually split.

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