Tag Archives: Abbey Road

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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Jan. 6: Et cetera

What a day!

Six hours of tapes that inspired 12 posts — and this one makes it a baker’s dozen. Some songs are introduced, others tortuously rehearsed and the proposed live show is discussed at length for the first time.

So before ripping off the desk calendar page and welcoming Jan. 7, 1969, I wanted to tie up some loose ends and look at a few songs and moments that were important enough to mention but not so much to warrant standalone posts.

One After 909” wasn’t the only unlikely John Lennon song resurrected in the first few days of the sessions. “Across the Universe” was recorded 11 months prior — a pre-White Album contemporary with “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” and “Hey Bulldog” — and sat finished but not yet released as of January 1969.

There’s more than enough to say about the song at this point to justify its own post — and it will. Once the song has a more prominent role, in the next day’s session, I’ll do more than offer this brief mention.

While George had introduced other songs,”All Things Must Pass” remained the primary Harrisong to this point the band was rehearsing. Jan. 6 saw just a smattering of takes running about 20 minutes on the tapes, barely memorable. Frankly, the song sounds like a dirge at times thanks in part to John’s unimaginative organ droning.

It’s such a great song, and I keep telling myself — “This is The Beatles doing ‘All Things Must Pass,’ for heaven’s sake” — but I don’t find myself caring, which pretty much puts me on par with the rest of the group. That sentiment was encapsulated in a brief exchange at the end of what would be the day’s final run-through of the song.

Paul: Wanna to do it again, George?

George: Not really.

Simple as that, they moved onto the final properly rehearsed song of the day: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.”

This was the song’s introduction to the sessions, and with the day nearing an end, it was a brief one, lasting just 15 minutes on the tapes. The song’s pretty well crafted at this early stage, as far as structure and lyrics. It took only a few takes and just a couple of minutes for the band to pick up the chords and string together a few reasonably decent takes.

It’s nice to hear the voices of George and John deliver harmonies, since we’re used to Paul double-tracked on the recorded Abbey Road version.

Eventual Abbey Road medley mate “Carry That Weight” was a Paul suggestion as a vehicle for Ringo, and he wasn’t alone thinking about giving a song to the drummer. It’s just that Paul was the only one who wrote a song that endured.

John offered up about half a minute of the upbeat “Annie,” which sounds just barely sketched out enough not to be an improvisation. There’s not much meat to the bones, but it’s pleasant enough and very easy to hear Ringo singing it.

Not to be left out, George immediately followed with a new song he likewise said was for Ringo. More fleshed out than “Annie” — or “Carry That Weight,” for that matter — “Maureen” was credited to Bob Dylan, according to George.

Maureen and George in India, Februrary 1968

Maureen and George in India, February 1968

It’s folky and laid back, and there’s no reason necessarily to think it’s not a product of the November ’68 Harrison-Dylan sessions in upstate New York, if you accept the premise Dylan was writing songs named for Ringo Starr’s wife in George’s style and less his own. As it would happen, George and Maureen did have a lengthy affair, but Pattie Boyd’s autobiography only pins it to the early 1970s. But who knows what was going on before that — I don’t, and I’m drifting badly off-topic in discussing band members’ infidelity.

What the song does do, like so many other random bits of music that passed through Twickenham, is add another curio to sessions replete with such oddities we’d never hear from again.

The group tackled a few covers, but of course they did. It’s a hallmark of these sessions, and a wildly overrated and overstated hallmark to boot.

One of the memorable covers of the day was an oldie they had mastered in the past and was so strongly associated with their live act. Surprisingly, it’s the only time they performed a take of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” at the sessions, and it apparently happened to be an instrumental (any singing was off-mic, at least). Clunkier and a little slower than the original, if it was ever to be remotely considered for this live show — and there’s no indication it was to be — they’d probably just rely on memory.

The song served as a jumping point for a few other oldies in succession: “Money,” “Fools Like Me,” “Sure to Fall” and “Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo.” (All included in the above clip.)

Perhaps the covers throughout the duration of the sessions could be described as red herrings along with the one-off originals like “Annie” and “Maureen” — interesting merely because they’re rare Beatles recordings, but not nearly as enlightening as seeing the songs we know develop or listening to the fascinating conversation about the live show and the future of the band.

With that, I’ll close the book on Jan. 6, 1969. See you “tomorrow”!

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Jan. 6: That weight and this boy

It’s as if one James Paul McCartney had a crystal ball on this Monday morning, fully aware of the serious depth of frustration these Jan. 6 sessions would ultimately become in the ensuing hours with their iconic struggles with “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Two of Us.”

So in serving as rough bookends to what was, well, a rough day of rehearsals, it’s easy to read even more into “Carry That Weight” than Paul ultimately disclosed.  While not a complete template to the eventual cut on Abbey Road — it’s in standalone form, not attached to “Golden Slumbers” yet —  its introduction informs just why the song is as much a Ringo song than anyone’s. And I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally expecting this to be a post that much about Ringo.

On Abbey Road, the track is listed at a mere 1:37, much of that a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and the only real, tangible identification of the song as its own independent work of art is repeat of the dozen words in the chorus — “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time”

As Paul tells Barry Miles in “Many Years From Now”:

We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this [Allen] Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like for ever! That’s what I meant.

‘Heavy’ was a very operative word at the time — ‘Heavy, man’ — but now it actually felt heavy. That’s what ‘Carry That Weight’ was about: not the light, rather easy-going heaviness, albeit witty and sometimes cruel, but with an edge you could exist within and which always had a place for you to be. It was serious, paranoid heaviness and it was just very uncomfortable.

Talk about heavy — that’s some pretty heavy analysis for a minute-or-so chant, no?

On this day, just under 40 minutes into the Jan. 6 tapes and before they do any heavy lifting, we learn it’s no mere chant. At least for this, the song’s debut, which comes mere moments after George’s futile introduction of “Hear Me Lord.”

“I have a bit there which might interest you,” Paul said. “I was thinking for a song for Ringo.”

And off he goes, solo organ accompaniment to the familiar chorus we would all know from Abbey Road, sung alone. He implores the rest of the gang to sing along, which they do less than enthusiastically.

After the full-group singalong, the “Carry That Weight” we ultimately would know and love for so long delivers something unexpected:  a verse.

When I’ve been told the first time that I’d seen that wasn’t done, but I can’t get over the way he treat me wrong.

I guess that could be about dealings at Apple. Or it could just be generic filler lyric Paul’s so good at creating.

Another verse, mainly actual gibberish, spilled into a brief description of chords. Things broke up with John and Yoko’s arrival moments later. As the couple discuss  “that diary” with George, Ringo hits the ivories and introduces a bit of “Octopus’ Garden,” before Paul steers it back into “Carry That Weight.” Ringo sings enthusiastically.

Unintelligible chatter makes way to another revelation.

That bit, I was trying to do, like, a country song.

So Paul writing something — even just a “bit” for Ringo —  makes perfect sense, with country songs obviously in his wheelhouse. That Paul’s looking to write something for Ringo also speaks of his confidence in the future of songs like “Taking a Trip to Carolina” and “Picasso” (“Octopus’ Garden,” too).

There’s another verse, but nothing that’s particularly understandable. Country-ish, in the way Paul writes country.

Paul suggests perhaps Ringo sings the chorus alone — or maybe it’s everyone.

With that, and an alternate take of the chorus — “Boy, you’re going to open that gate,” suggested by George, and in what sounds like something inspired by something that just happened in the studio — the group moved on to some instrumentals and improvisational songs before they later fell into “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Two of Us” and other works-in-progress.

And with Paul proposing “Carry That Weight” could have been a song to be sung by the drummer from the start, we have an answer to the question (that I always wondered) of why Ringo is just so wonderfully prominent on Abbey Road’s recorded version.

Having carried the weight of keeping a semblance of cohesion of the group, the sessions and a very long day, Paul sounds slap-happy in singing the chorus to “Carry That Weight” on his way out of the studio at the conclusion of the Jan. 6 rehearsals, completing the other half of the bookend.

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TMBP Extra: They say it’s his birthday

I originally put this post together in 2012, to mark Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday. Since then, I’ve added similar, more extensive birthday posts for John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Like the many millions of Beatles-focused blogs, of course I need to recognize Paul McCartney’s milestone birthday.

I’ve wrestled with just how. This blog is a niche, focused on January 1969’s Get Back/Let It Be sessions and its reasonable relations (the Let It Be album and movie). June 18 is half a year away from January, so there’s no direct tie to the timeline.

The easy way out is to post a relevant video of Paul from the sessions, pluck out some classic tune, and I just leave it there.

But I got to thinking about June 1969, a few months after the sessions, and just what the band was doing. And the answer was… nothing.

“Get Back” — the single — was already a hit. The Get Back album was alive and being worked on by Glyn Johns.  A couple of songs for Abbey Road were worked on, but not extensively. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was quickly written and recorded in April and released the end of May.

But June? No studio time.

Come July 1, the full recording sessions for Abbey Road would formally begin. Before September was out, it was in stores. Think about that. It took less than three months for the vast majority of Abbey Road to be recorded. It took me about three months to bang out 10 posts for this blog.

So with nothing going on June 18, 1969, I backed up a year to the same date in 1968. There was no recording session that day, either,  but the band was about three weeks into the White Album sessions, with “Revolution” “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Blackbird” having been worked on to that point.

And yet again, like I always am by the Beatles and keep finding myself as I work on this blog, I’m left marveling at things I already knew but didn’t think much about. Between Paul’s birthday in 1968 and 1969, the band recorded the vast majority of the White Album, the entirety of what would become Let It Be and had gotten Abbey Road under way (with most of the songs already written) — not to mention recording and releasing things like “Hey Jude,” too. Tack on three more months, and over 15 months we had all three albums in the can. Remarkable. (And that’s just what they did on vinyl — they also built Apple, had personal lives, side projects, etc.).

So where does that leave this post? Well, back to the start I think:  Pluck something from the sessions and leave it at that.

So for Paul’s 70th, here’s one of the greatest of them all, and the song from which this blog’s name came from, “Let It Be.”

Happy birthday, Paul!

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Jan. 3: Quizzical

Well before it was derided by John as more “granny music,” George as “so fruity” and Ringo as “worst session ever” (in reference to the Abbey Road recording),  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” on Jan. 3, 1969, was simply “the corny one,” a song The Beatles had yet to rehearse so many times that it literally caused bandmembers to refuse to participate or go ahead and quit the band.

Written in October 1968, just too late for inclusion on the White Album (per Lewisohn) — but apparently never rehearsed then — we hear it for the first time as Paul doodles on the piano to start the Jan. 3 sessions.

With Paul in novelty-song mode for much of the White Album (a planned topic of a post for the distant future, when I’m done with the Nagra timeline), this tune would have fit like a glove on that record.  And, perhaps it’s in retrospect, but it didn’t fit at all with Get Back/Let it Be, at least what we’ve heard in these first few days.

Hours after the piano sketch, we get to hear the full band tackle the song for the first time in rehearsals that clock in at less than 35 minutes.

It’s an interesting contrast with the “All Things Must Pass” rehearsals that had just occurred earlier in the day. George played and sang his heart out, clearly exasperated and desperate for the band to appreciate the song. Paul, meanwhile, is slogging through “Maxwell’s.” He knows he band will learn it, even if they hate it (and they will in time!).

While George is desperate to bring “All Things Must Pass” to the band, he’s fully aware no one is listening.

Paul, meanwhile, laughs, scats the lyrics, has an extremely relaxed demeanor, especially impressive given the long day that’s near to ending.

The Let it Be film captures some of this pretty well, with Paul barking out chords. If you’re able to follow along at home, the first 45 seconds or so are indeed from these Jan. 3 sessions, with the edit coming right as the anvil hits.

With Paul in instructional mode, George is proactive in offering suggestions to the harmonies as well as guitar licks. Again, quite the opposite experience from “All Things Must Pass,” where the other members of the band did little to add to the song George brought to them.

The origin of the song’s most notable feature — the anvil — is discussed  by Paul during one of the takes.

“Originally, I was trying to get a hammer, which we might get Mal [Evans] to do. A hammer, like on an anvil. A big hammer on an anvil.

You can’t make it with anything else. Bang, bang!”

As they had done earlier in the sessions on “Don’t Let Me Down” and “All Things Must Pass,” the band shakes  up the lineup as the “Maxwell’s” rehearsals progress, with Paul shifting to piano and George taking over on bass, preferring the six-string. At one point, Paul asks George for his bass to sound like it was “from those movies” — a shivering sound during the “Joan was dead” bit.

It’s a fun, bouncy song at this point, none of the weight of the Moog on the Abbey Road version, and a circus-like groove from the rhythm section. There is the old-timey movie feel to it, and it works for whatever the song at present is.

In something of a telling, but confusing exchange, George asks about the seemingly incomplete state of the lyrics. At this point, all we’ve heard in both the early solo piano sketch and the afternoon full-band rehearsals are just the two verses and the chorus.

To my ears, this is what they say:

Paul: There’s only two verses. … But I don’t really know where it goes after that.

John: Finish three of them. You need another one, yeah?

George: Do the words, like, resolve the story?

Paul: Well, they will do.

George: I mean, there’s no more to write?

Paul: No, no not more to write.

Here it seems Paul is content to have the song’s lyrics stay as they are in truncated form — no P.C. 31, testimonial pictures, Rose, Valerie or the judge — and perhaps the musical arrangement alone is what he plans to finish.

Again, the contrast with “All Things Must Pass” is fascinating. “Maxwell’s” isn’t brand-new — it’s a few months old — but it’s still incomplete. If anything, “ATMP” is newer, and it’s a finished product when it was brought to the band.

Really, I  think what we’re learning here George is a saint — he not only brings polished work to the group only to have it passively embraced, he’s busy working to improve everyone else’s songs. Sure, we know he actually quits the band in a few days, but you’d have to think this is a pattern that appeared on prior records, but we only have tape of these sessions to hear it.

Further, and it’s a point I’ve obsessed on before, but why bring an incomplete song to a session that seemingly had a purpose and endgame, a live show soon to be recorded? Shouldn’t everyone be bringing their best material to the table? Was “Maxwell’s” — and we know, ultimately, on Abbey Road it didn’t change that much musically and would only get the extra verse — really something worth spending valuable time on when we know what great stuff Paul had in the bank already (“Two of Us,” “Long And Winding Road,” “Let it Be,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” etc.)? They’re rehearsing an incomplete song, they’d have to get back to it regardless. Paul makes a brief mention of where an orchestra would come in — clearly he was thinking beyond just the live rock show.

At least this early version of “Maxwell’s” gives us the memorable lines: “Back in class again/Maxwell is an ass again” and “She tells Max to stay/when his ass has gone away.”  Alas, never to make the final cut.

With the end of the “Maxwell’s” sessions, the band wraps it up for the day, a Friday.  The day’s tapes end with the band saying their goodbyes and, the working stiffs they were,  agreeing to reassemble Monday at 10 a.m.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Revelation 1

Much like I can never listen to Hey Jude the same way after knowing where John Paul drops the F-bomb, it’s hard to hear “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Sun King” the same way after hearing them debuted at Twickenham on the first day of rehearsals.

And that’s because, after hearing each of those songs quite literally countless times over my life, it never occurred to me that they’re one in the same. Insomuch that “Sun King,” ostensibly, is part of “Don’t Let Me Down.”

Maybe it had always been obvious to everyone else. But to me, it was revelatory.

How was this missing from my life all these years? Am I the last to know? This, easily, was the most interesting thing about the first day, for me. Something I’d never even approached thinking about.

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