Tag Archives: argument

TMBP Extra: Time to leave the capsule

Today, Jan. 8, marks David Bowie’s birthday. We’ve noted Bowie’s birthday here before, purely as an afterthought in conjunction with the fact it’s also Elvis Presley’s birthday. But we focused on Elvis last time, and today’s it’s Bowie’s turn.

Life on Mars and Venus

Life on Mars and Venus

Bowie wrote and recorded with, covered and befriended John, performed with Paul, covered George and at least hung out with Ringo (were we all so blessed).

From last year’s Bowie: The Biography (which I only skimmed, but my wife thought was pretty trashy):

According to Tony Visconti, David’s friendship with John developed to such a degree that the three of them often spent a night on the town together. “We stayed up with John Lennon until 10:30 a.m. We did mountains of cocaine, it looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac,” Tony recalled. … John and David bonded over drugs, music, and a shared quirky British sense of humor.

In addition to having crossed paths to varying degrees with each of the members of the band, Bowie was deeply influenced and inspired by The Beatles, and when you try hard enough, you can hear it throughout his extensive catalog. Additionally, Ken Scott was a shared link in the studio, engineering Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album while engineering and/or producing Bowie from 1969-1973. (Visconti worked with John and Paul, too, after he first worked with Bowie).

Los Angeles, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

New York, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

But one thing Bowie did not do was have anything to do with The Beatles as a unit. His star only rose as The Beatles’ was burning out.  The Beatles closed the 1960s after defining its sound just as Bowie prepared to do the same for the ’70s. As Bowie eventually put it, when referring to his friendship with Lennon: “Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.”

After a lifetime of enjoying rock music, it somehow took until my 40th year to fully immerse myself into Bowie’s music. This is not to say I wasn’t a fan, or didn’t enjoy various releases over the years. But in 2014 I really became a superfan, getting completely absorbed into his music. Part of that immersion was to visit the truly incredible David Bowie Is exhibition that recently closed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Comprehensive and engrossing, I was blissfully overwhelmed.

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

Among the artifacts near the beginning of the exhibit was a newspaper: the Times of London showing the Earthrise, the iconic image from Apollo 8 that shows, well, the earth rising as viewed from the moon. The photo was taken Dec. 24, 1968, but was published in a special insert in the Times on Jan. 6, 1969. According to the exhibit, after seeing the paper, Bowie had “Space Oddity” written within a week.

Especially when you place yourself into that era, it’s a moving image, the blue earth rising above the moon, but that’s not what jumped out at me. And if you happened to be at the MCA that morning in mid-November and heard someone muttering, “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” and wondered who it was, that would be me.

Because on Jan. 6, 1969, David Bowie was inspired to begin writing “Space Oddity” at the precise moment The Beatles were bickering over how to rehearse “Two of Us” just miles away at Twickenham.

The Nagra tapes didn’t roll 24/7 in the lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo from Jan. 2-31, so we certainly can’t say the Apollo mission — or any other particular news event — did or didn’t inspire or influence the band. The group touched on politics, immigration in particular, in outtakes like the “No Pakistanis” version of “Get Back” and “Commonwealth” at various points during the Get Back sessions (writeups to come!), and it’s not as if The Beatles didn’t have a history of being social commentators.

But I found it illustrative with regards to where these different acts were at this very specific moment in time — Jan. 6, 1969 — that David Bowie was able to find a muse that would launch him into stardom for the first time just as The Beatles found themselves trapped –Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing The Beatles could do. Between the time Bowie started writing “Space Oddity” on Jan. 6 and finished it on the 13th, George would suggest the band “have a divorce” after an open discussion recounting how bad things have been for a year (Jan. 7), and then he’d end up quitting (Jan. 10). The Twickenham sessions ended Jan. 14.

George on David Bowie, 1974

I certainly won’t argue The Beatles were out of ideas in January 1969; This entire blog is predicated on the idea the group remained vibrant and vital during the Get Back sessions. But it’s obvious any success they had was despite themselves. The songs they wrote or worked on this month were works of art, to varying degrees, but it was often tantamount to climbing up the hill backwards, as Bowie would put it, to get anything done. We’d have lost Abbey Road and Let It Be (although you’d assume many of the songs would later resurface on solo records) but an argument can be made John and George, at least, would have been happier people had The Beatles ceased to exist sometime in 1968. Is the difference tangible between a band being pulled apart and an artist ready to burst? Oh boy, is it ever.

Used in conjunction with the BBC’s Apollo 11 moon landing coverage in July 1969, “Space Oddity” made a name of Bowie just as The Beatles were in the thick of recording Abbey Road. (About 12 hours after man first walked on the moon, The Beatles began recording “Come Together”). By the time Bowie’s eponymous LP featuring “Space Oddity” was released that November, The Beatles were effectively finished. Five years (what a surprise) later, after meeting John at a party, the Starman ultimately entered the orbit of The Beatles.

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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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Jan. 7: Have a divorce

A wandering discussion ostensibly about the staging of a Beatles live concert prior to the full-band session on Jan. 7, 1969, was light-hearted no longer as the conversation eclipsed the half-hour mark.

The pressure of the clock and calendar is very real if this thing was going to pull together the way it’s being planned — insomuch as it’s being planned at all — and Paul makes clear to everyone else just how dire the situation is.

Start caring. Now.

Paul: If we’re going to do the show here, we’re going to have to decide today. …If we’re going to do these songs, we’re going to have to learn the chords.  … We’ve got to learn the words, certain basic things we’ve just got to do if we’re going to do it.

There’s only two ways. And that’s what I was shouting at the last meeting we had. We’re going to do it, or we’re not going to do it.  And I want a decision, because I’m not interested enough to spend my fucking days farting around here while everyone makes up their minds whether they want to do it or not.

I’ll do it. If everyone wants to, then all right. It’s just a bit soft. It’s like a school, you’ve got to be here. And I haven’t. We’ve all left school, and we don’t have to come. But it to a scene where you do have to come.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: The first thing to get together is yourselves totally. And then we all follow with our kit bags and our cameras.

It’s not the first time this conversation Paul compared the experience to school. And as made clear in every great Beatles biography, we know how much these four men cared for their responsibility to the classroom.

Things are right back where the discussion started out the “Get Back” introduction earlier that hour. Paul loves this band and doesn’t think anyone else has nearly the level of commitment anymore.  And he’s right.

Keeping the Beatles as a performing unit, much less determining how their live show would come off, is not a small issue here, but a minor mystery —  the band’s initial, planned timetable for a live show – does become clear in this exchange as Paul continues.

“Five days before [the show] is a week from now,” Paul says, “and that means by the time a week from now comes, all these songs we’ve got we’ve got to know perfectly. And then five days, we really, really get us to know them.”

calendarBeautiful! The early timeline is clarified and confirmed: Five days from this is Jan. 12, a week before Jan. 19. Falling within the estimate drawn from their discussion the prior day — Jan. 18-22 —   this pinpoints the original plan for concert day.

Flash forward to the rooftop, when they ended up playing just five complete songs. Do the math, and the Beatles end up on the same timeline originally proposed here.

(Turns out they already know those five songs by Jan. 7 — the just-written “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.”)

A conversation between Georges Harrison and Martin about a Jackie Lomax session is held as Paul and Lindsay-Hogg’s continuing discussion on the urgency of the schedule.

As far as the director is concerned, the session’s first day  – the abbreviated gathering on Jan. 2 – was the best musical day yet. So at least to him, the entirety of the sessions so far as been a study in deterioration.

“If people aren’t interested, I lose interest,” Paul says.” We can’t blame our tours … and so on and so on.”

“The past couple of months, its been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.”

“What, agony?” Lindsay-Hogg asks.

“Just the whole idea of, “Do you want to do it?’” Paul says.

"And that’s the whole joke of it. After it all came about we all phoned [Neil Aspinall] individually, saying things like, 'Could you get them together.'" -- Paul McCartney, Jan. 7, 1969

“And that’s the whole joke of it. After it all came about we all phoned [Neil Aspinall] individually, saying things like, ‘Could you get them together.'” — Paul McCartney, Jan. 7, 1969

Paul relates a story of every Beatle phoning Neil Aspinall individually, with each asking the Apple Records manager and band confidant to reassemble the group.

“Instead of asking each other, we went to Neil asking what are the lads doing. You know, we should just have it out.”

It’s a damning indictment of where the band’s interpersonal communication — a reflection of their desire — stood post-White Album in late 1968, before the sessions at Twickenham would even begin.

George steps back into the conversation with a key admission and seemingly parameters for an endgame for the Beatles.

George: Like you said, ‘Well I’d like to do this, this and that. And I’d like to do this … and I’d like to do that, and I’d like to do that. And we end up doing something, again, that nobody really wants to do.

Paul: If this turns into that, it should definitely be the last for all of us. Because there just isn’t any point.

MLH: That would be sad, as an audience.

Paul: It’s stupid. But it’s even more stupid the other way. To go through it.

George: ‘Cause this time you could using for what you want to be doing: creating, instead of doldrums, which it always is.

The word struck a nerve with Lindsay-Hogg, who was keeping a diary of his recent experiences.  “‘Doldrums’ is the word I used. The doldrums have been coming like to a ship on a calm sea.”

“The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year,” George says.

Thus, at least to George – and no one disagrees – The Doldrums include the launch of Apple, the trip to India and the entirety of the White Album sessions, and could well stretch back into late ’67. How about Aug. 27, 1967, when Mr. Epstein died, as the genesis?

Today, Lindsay-Hogg – only seven months John’s senior — opts to step into that vacuum as manager/father figure.

“We all need you,” Lindsay-Hogg says as George cheekily accompanies him with an off-the-cuff rendition “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the background. “And it is communication. If you all can’t get it together, that’s really very sad. Maybe what we should do now is let you play a little and you all have lunch together.

“So should we leave you for a while?”

With Lindsay-Hogg gone, the group fiddles around, seemingly ready to begin the day’s work, musically. Then George steps in and steps up for himself.

“What I was saying about the songs is … I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound] there its gone. And slowly I can bring a couple out because I can get it more like how it should have been then.”

“It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong as long as the four of us notice it,” Paul says as George, now incredulous, sure thinks it does matter what is going wrong as he’s so often wronged.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

“And instead of just noticing it, to turn it to put it right,” Paul finishes.

But George is done.

“We should have a divorce.”

Paul admits he’s almost done.

“Well, I said that at the last meeting. But its getting near it.”

A deadpan John — mostly silent in the exchange so far — injects a laugh line, asking in the context of the divorce, “Who’d have the children?”

“Dick James,” answers Paul, referring to Northern Songs’ co-owner. (The music publisher would, coincidentally, make an in-person appearance at Twickenham about 72 hours later, immediately before George left the group).

Paul gets in one final point, and directs it squarely at John. He would have liked more input beyond the well-timed zinger.

Just because it’s so silly of us at this point in our lives to crack up. It’s just so silly, because there’s no point. We’re not going to get anywhere we want to get by doing that. The only possible direction is the other way from that. But the thing is, we’re all just theoretically agreeing with it, but we’re not doing it.

You’re doing it with your thing with you and Yoko. But it’s silly to come in and [be] talking down to us, when actually your way out is not to talk — rather than talk down to us, which you’d have to do. And you wouldn’t. And remember, I think I’m talking down to you, too. … We’re sort of talking down to each other.

George wants a divorce. Paul is desperate for John to show up. Nobody wants to be there and they’re running out of time to salvage what time they’ve already spent working on their product at Twickenham.

This moment, right here on Jan. 7, would be the moment that would make the most sense for the Beatles to break up, go on hiatus, something, anything. Everyone’s tugging at the band-aid. But no one is willing to provide the last rip.

All the arguing, backbiting, rash decisions they would be so well known for in their eventual breakup wasn’t second-nature yet. So they do the only thing that really is: play music together.

“OK,” Paul continues, and picking the song most obvious to begin with. “‘I’ve Got a Feeling.’ One-two-three-four…”

And John immediately goes into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” as the take quickly breaks down in laughter.

“How does it go?” John asks.

And then, astoundingly, the day’s sessions begin in full, starting with about 20 minutes (on tape) of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

What on earth to make of all of this?

Having “compared it to a marriage a million times” (John, from 1976, as quoted in the “Anthology” book), it stands that the band’s ultimate split would be a “divorce.” George asked for it Jan. 7, 1969, and eight-plus months later John would ask for the same thing.

“I want a divorce, like my divorce from Cynthia,” John is famously quoted as saying late September 1969 in Phillip Norman’s “Shout!”  “It’s given me a great feeling of freedom.”

The Beatles were Paul’s band, by the time they were at Twickenham, after first being John’s. The Beatles weren’t George’s — as critical and brilliant he was — and thus it wasn’t his place to ask for a divorce. He could just leave — which he would a few days later — and in that way he absolutely held sway over the band’s future, engineering Billy Preston’s arrival and the shift into cozy 3 Savile Row. Conceding to George things nobody else was wed to but having him in the Beatles beat not having George in the Beatles. But there was no getting around his junior membership, in a sense.

Even in suggesting a divorce, George was immediately met with Paul basically saying, “Me too.” But since Paul wasn’t ready and John was silent on the issue, the divorce wasn’t going to happen.

It’s clear the group’s momentum and motivation as things stand on Jan. 7  is founded on nothing. It sounds as if getting anything done post-Sgt. Pepper was a miracle.  Epstein is missed, and it’s become plainly obvious. Based on their brutal descriptions of the White Album sessions, it’s amazing, in retrospect, they finished the LP, much less recorded as many songs as they did for as many months as they did.

Paul’s right — these guys are indeed “on their own at the holiday camp.” They’re four men pushing 30 who don’t know life beyond the extremes of childhood and being a Beatle.  A day earlier, in the wake of the “I’ll play if you want me to play” argument, it sounded like it was an option for the group to remain as one in name, at least. Now, even that seemed out of reach.

The Beatles reached a pivot point on Jan. 7 to commit or bust, and, against all reason based on their arguments, they chose to commit.  To what, nobody seemed to know.

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Jan. 7: Entertainment is almost enough

"I don't mean [play] for Jimmy Saville kids. I mean for kids with broken legs. Really, kind of 1944 Hollywood musical, Bing Crosby kids. "

“I don’t mean [play] for Jimmy Savile kids. I mean for kids with broken legs. Really, kind of 1944 Hollywood musical, Bing Crosby kids. ” — Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Jan. 7, 1969. (Photo of Beatles with Jimmy Savile)

The conversation took a very silly twist before taking a sober turn.

A half-hour or so into Tuesday‘s wandering discussion attempting to define the framework for a live show, it was suggested that if the Beatles didn’t play for sick children, they should play at an orphanage. Or maybe it’s a show of all dedications.

“What’s the most charitable thing anyone can do?” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg asks before suggesting the band perform mass murder. “There are certain judicious murders in the history of the world which are very charitable.”

Paul then expands on his equally farcical — presumably farcical, at least  —  idea of playing at the Biafran airport amid the Nigeria-Biafra War. That is,  after they “rescue all the people.”

“Say we were doing it in an airport, you couldn’t stop all the people coming and going — they’ve all got planes to catch. So like you’d get a lot of people all the time, going for planes. … It’d be a scene.”

And so would a children’s hospital before an incapacitated captive audience. “They can’t get up and walk,” Paul says. “Except for the finale, when John walks up to the little girl. … aaah — she gets up and walks!”

Work your magic, John.

Alas, if only John can cure this process and heal the band. Lindsay-Hogg says he wants this to be better than any rock-and-roll show ever staged. And it’s not only because he wants to be proud of his product.

“You may never do another television show.”

It’s a bitter pill, but clearly Lindsay-Hogg knows the band is hanging by a thread here, just days into the Twickenham sessions. Feel free to read more into what George is playing low in the background during this part of the conversation: “I Shall Be Released” and “To Kingdom Come,” both by The Band.

“They just sound like that album in their house, in their living room,” George tells Mal as Paul and MLH go over (again) the possibility of filming the concert at Twickenham.

George then brings up a point not yet broached — will the Beatles be the only band on the bill? The last time they put on a TV special — Magical Mystery Tour, just over a year prior — The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performed during the strip-club scene, and Traffic was filmed but left out of the final edit.

So padding out the bill wouldn’t have been that unusual a thought, especially in the light of the Rolling Stones’ recently filmed Rock & Roll Circus and its own dazzling lineup. Then again …

“Are we going to have other people or just us —  John, Paul, Jeff and Richie?” George asks. “But then, you’re getting the bit where The Who steal the show.  But …   let the best man win.”

Lindsay-Hogg believes in his boys, saying, “If anyone can hold an hour, it’s you.”

George admits he isn’t so sure, but Paul has no doubt. What he’s struggling with is getting any semblance of a fire lit under the band.

“I don’t see why any of you — talking to whoever it is not interested —  get yourself into this then,” Paul says after Ringo says something difficult to hear, but likely being “not interested” in traveling. “What’s it for? Can’t be for the money. Why are you here? I’m here ’cause I want to do a show. But I really don’t feel an awful lot of support. Is anyone here because they want to do a show?”

Lindsay-Hogg wants to do a show. Meanwhile, haven’t we already heard this conversation several times already at Twickenham these first few days?

“Mal is right,” Lindsay-Hogg says, referring to comments from the roadie moments earlier. “Entertainment is almost enough. It’s where to put the entertainment.” Lindsay-Hogg also pushes the potential multimedia package the sessions could yield: an album, a documentary and the live concert, and George acknowledges it could be a bounty.

But he adds a caveat.

“If we can get the enthusiasm and really strength to do it.”

“All the ideas like hospital, orphanage, charity is part of it,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “It should be great, great showbiz, because that’s what’s going to make people happy. …  A smile on the lips of a small boy in France or a tear in the eye of a big girl in America is what we want.”

Part of the problem here is that Lindsay-Hogg is either wildly misreading the gravity of the situation at hand  or overreaching in setting up a diversion. Certainly it’s the latter, he’s no dummy. The Beatles are in dire straits. It’s out in the open. He’s lucky to have them in the studio together in any capacity. I’m not sure there was a stage anywhere on earth — plenty were mentioned, for sure —  that would have created any greater spark than they already had within them.

History made it clear. The group traveled a few dozen stairs at 3 Savile Row to the roof, where they did create magic. But that magic wouldn’t have been any more enchanting had they staged the same show at Sabratha, Biafra, George’s house or the Twickenham soundstage. Their hearts, collectively, were in it to a specific point, and that’s what bore out on the roof.

But more on that later.

The conversation keeps going, and even gets more depressing and deflating next post.

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Jan. 7: Ain’t got no ‘pow’

When we left the gang at Twickenham in the last post on the timeline, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was wrapping up his “pep talk,” imploring The Beatles to challenge themselves make a show worth staging. After saying he didn’t know what would make the production unique, Paul asks for a “bad example.”

“The bad example is going away,” Lindsay-Hogg replies.

An overseas adventure has been nixed several times already, and was about to be again. But less than a week into the sessions at Twickenham, the director wasn’t ready to let his dream concert die.

How could the band resist playing in the fresh, open air?

MLH. Pow, there you are. And pow, what are you going to do with it? And pow, it’s going to be fantastic. That was pow, you see. And we ain’t got no pow at the moment.

Paul: The only thing about that is [pause], we don’t want to go away. A group decision.

For George, the refusal to go overseas goes beyond Ringo’s veto. The logistics would be overwhelming.

It’s going to be the same thing as here, but it’s a bit nicer place to be in, George says. “It’s going to be even more complicated, trying to plug in all mics and tapes and all that crap, video. …”

Complications are all the more reason to go that route, Lindsay-Hogg says. Go big, and don’t put together a show like Cream’s. And if Lindsay-Hogg is going to stage a Beatles extravaganza, he’s made clear he wants precisely 2,000 Arabs in the audience. Apparently, no more, no less.

MLH: Visually, the thing that worries about here, it’s going to make it look like Cream, with a couple shots held a bit longer. .. If we went away, we’ve got the enormous plus of the visuals. Think of a helicopter shot over the amphitheater, with the water, with the lights. Torchlit, 2,000 Arabs. Visually, it is fantastic. Therefore, that was a challenge. And you see, I just myself am trying to think of any other framework to put us in to make it work. But it does really need a framework. And it doesn’t need to be done in just the back of an auditorium.

George, those kinds of obstacles are kind of good. I don’t mean this in any sense of discipline. I know you’ve done it all, but maybe you haven’t been there. Its  a very difficult thing once you are, you to create false obstacles, because what you’ve been trying to do for five years is eliminate obstacles.

You don’t want to play the show in straitjackets, that’s the wrong kind of obstacle. … At the moment, it is too soft.

Caged Beatles perform at the Palais Wimbledon, Dec. 14, 1963

While they never played in a straitjacket, The Beatles did play from inside a “cage.”

Paul’s memory of a night in Wimbledon steered the conversation to a Beatles gig in late 1963, when they played a fan-club show that included a meet-and-greet with the 3,000 fans.


In his 2006 memoir John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me: The Real Beatles Story, Beatles PR man Tony Barrow  recalls the event.

After these close encounters with the Fab Four, the fans were treated to a special stage show in the main ballroom area where an over-protective Palais management had constructed a high-walled metal cage inside which the group were to perform on an extended makeshift stage beneath a huge banner that screamed: WIMBLEDON PALAIS WELCOMES THE BEATLES. Welcomes? The cage didn’t make it look like that!

The Beatles threatened at first to walk out unless the whole intimidatiing barricade was demolished and there were mutterings about “prison conditions” and “more like a zoo than a dance hall”. Eventually, for the sake of their fan club members, they went on and gave an enthusiastic mini-concert. During this, as the crowd surged forward pinning those with a place in the front row against the cage, John remarked in a loud stage whisper: “If they press any harder they’ll come through as chips.”

At Twickenham, George remembers the night as “hell.” And no wonder Lindsay-Hogg is having a problem getting traction for a “different” kind of Beatles show, when their past is  dotted with experiences like this.

Despite calling that night “terrible,”  Paul offers an opening.

“But that kind of thing gave that particular show a different thing, because it was like playing to a hospital,” Paul says. “Playing to a thing. Like a fan club, like a hospital.”

Lindsay-Hogg brings it back to the “Hey Jude” promo.

“‘Jude’ to me is a tear-jerker the way we did it, with black and white and the postman and old mothers, and the children and the bellboy and the guy who adjusted his spectacles at one point.  I think part of your music is tear-jerky.”

Paul latches on. After all, he just ripped off a pair of brand-new tear-jerkers earlier that morning in “The Long and Winding Road” and “Golden Slumbers.”

“Really would be great for us to get something, a serious intent,” Paul says. “Say we were all very charitable.  Which we’re not, particularly. But say we were really sort of charity nuts…” And then the tape cuts off, before picking up after a roll announcement.

The group had in fact done a few shows for charity — the Royal Variety Performance most famously for its jewelry-rattling. It wasn’t until their solo careers when charity work and concerts became part of their fabric, led by George and his pioneering Concert for Bangladesh.  Now, desperately searching for a catch, they stumble into the idea of playing for a greater cause merely because it would be a unique hook.

A remark by Lindsay-Hogg about pop-culture heroes sparks an animated monologue from Paul about a recent telecast of “Late Night Line-Up,” a live, late-night talk show with a focus on the arts that wrapped BBC2’s programming day. The particular episode — Paul described at once as “incredible” and “wasn’t very good, but it was pretty good” — saw students given the keys to the show, with one segment featuring the camera zooming in and out on a man watching himself on a monitor drinking tea  as “Revolution” plays in the background.

Praising the anarchic quality of the show, Paul finds inspiration.  “It’s that kind of opportunity we’ve got for an hour.”

The potential of doing a political broadcast — like “All You Need is Love” — appeals to George for the moment, but he realizes “whatever we have to say to do with anything is always incidental, hiding behind the chords of the tune.”  Unspoken, it’s perhaps an acknowledgement the current crop of potential songs for performance lack the clear-cut message of “All You Need is Love.”

A joke from Paul about the potential of staging the show at the Houses of Parliament  — “we tried for the [Rock and Roll] Circus; they didn’t go for it” was Lindsay-Hogg’s reply — led to another thought that was quickly passed over.  But it foretold one of the greatest moments in popular music history, one which was only three-and-a half weeks away.

London police visit 3 Saville Row at the conclusion of Let It Be

London police visit 3 Savile Row at the conclusion of Let It Be

“We should do the show in a  place we’re not allowed to do it,” Paul suggested. “We should trespass. Go in, set up and then get moved, and that should be the show. Get forcibly ejected still trying to play numbers. And the police lifting you.

“You have to take a bit of violence.”

Lindsay-Hogg simply brushed it off.

“It’s too dangerous.”

The lengthy early Jan. 7 discussion resumes in the next post, here on They May Be Parted.

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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: On their own at the holiday camp

Some time passed on the morning of Jan. 7 between when “Get Back” made its debut and when Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — plus director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and John Lennon, who had just arrived for the day’s sessions — returned to the much-needed discussion of what exactly they were doing at Twickenham Film Studios.

The arguments of the day before that culminated in George’s “just want to please you” line may be the moment etched in cultural history of these sessions, but the next 45 or so minutes did far more to define the vibe at Twickenham.

The tapes pick up the discussion already in progress, but the message and motive is clear: There’s a serious movement to abandon the documentary and live show, and, by extension, these sessions, which are only just beginning its fourth day.

From the Get Back book.

From the Get Back Book.

“If we cancel the show now, we’d still be throwing it away,” Paul said. “That’s the way we tend to do (it)… that’s where all the money goes.”

Lindsay-Hogg tries to rally the troops, suggesting the worst-case scenario is the group is left with a documentary, which is something the group could still sell, since money is being made something of an issue here by George.  John agrees, saying a documentary of the group making an LP isn’t the worst if they can’t find a gimmick for a show.

With big dreams of an African adventure still flickering, Lindsay-Hogg continues to insist there should be a show anyway. He’s not crazy about the term “gimmick,” either.

Very quietly, George shares something every Beatles fan knows in retrospect when we look back and put the pieces together.

George: Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same.

Paul: We’ve been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away. That’s why all of us,  in turn, have been sick of the group, you know? There’s nothing positive in it.  It is a bit of a drag. But the only way for it to not be really a drag, is for the four of us to say, “Should we make it positive? Or should we fuck it?”  There’s only two alternatives, innit?

It’s a fascinating exchange for several reasons, starting with how they refer to their former manager. Both Paul and George still call him Mr. Epstein, not Brian, nearly a year and a half after his death. The formality of the business relationship never broke.

More of note is not only the ease at which they’re willing to discuss their current state and lack of motivation, but how severely Paul views the band’s state. There’s “nothing” positive in it. And so we’re at the group’s climacteric moment.  These four men seem ready to walk away from at least their present phase as a four-piece. Now’s the time to find a new way of continuing as a band, return to the old way they would record and perform together or just walk away. It’s a distillation of the same conversation they had the day before, but spoken with more urgency.

It bears repeating — this strife and breakup talk isn’t at the end of a grueling, unhappy month, or after a several weeks of early mornings on the cold Twickenham soundstage, as the fable of the Get Back sessions relates. This is after the group has been back together in January for a period that can be measured in hours.

John — lacking sleep, sobriety or both — simply suggests the group just needs a little incentive.

“All the things that we do, the whole point of it is communication. And to be on TV is communication. We have a chance … to smile at people, like (in the broadcast for) “All You Need is Love.”  So that’s my incentive for doing it.”

(Interestingly, there’s very little smiling at the camera in their above “Our World” segment)

With John referencing another Beatles television production, the director’s wheels begin to turn.

MLH: Both “All You Need is Love” and  (his own production) “Hey Jude” did communicate.

Paul: Of course, they did, course they did.

John: We need to think of an incentive, the inventive is to communicate.

Paul: You know, there really is no one there now to say: Do it.

And thus we return to Mr. Epstein’s ghost. No one is there to make them get up at 8 a.m. now, Paul says. They have to get themselves up at 8.  And this is part of growing up.

These men range in age from 25 to 28 at the time of these sessions and have been professional musicians since their teens.

“Your daddy goes away at  certain point of your life, and you stand on your own feet,” Paul continues. “And that’s all we’ve been faced with. Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own at the holiday camp. And I think we’d rather go home.

“Or,  we do it.”

So it’s crystal clear to Paul here, he’s fighting uphill. The fresh lyrics of “The Long and Winding Road” are playing out moments after he introduces the song. This here is one of the many times he’s been alone.  And he’s still waiting by his bandmates’ door.

Paul continues.

It’s discipline we like. We all agree — for everything you do, if you want to do it well, you got to have discipline, we all think that. But for this, we’ve never had discipline. A slight, symbolic discipline by Mr. Epstein. And he sort of said, ‘Get suits on,’ and we did … And so we were sort of always fighting that discipline a bit.

But now it’s silly to fight the discipline because its our own self-imposed, these days. So we put in as little as possible. But I think we need  bit more if we are going to get on with it.

Lindsay-Hogg acknowledges the decision to work at all is the group’s, not his own, but that they have indeed started work and should maximize it.  Paul, meanwhile, equates what Lindsay-Hogg is dealing with to his own work on the Jackie Lomax LP.

“Any other director in the world would say, ‘Fuck off. Get off my set, you cunt.’ I mean, wouldn’t you?” Paul asks. “I couldn’t operate. … if Jackie in the middle of the album said he won’t do it, (we) wouldn’t have the album.”

Paul suggests to George that the group used to “do it,” be “fully switched on.”  And he hearkens back to their feature film career.

“Those films, look at it, that was us doing it.”

“Well, if that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it,” George retorts. “I never liked that.”

Like the day before, George’s matter-of-fact, deflating response draws a pause followed by nervous laughter and a stammered response.

Paul (talking over George):  See nowadays, you’ve grown up and you don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t have to put the pancake on and go out in front and sweat and shake our heads because we’re not that anymore. We’ve grown up a bit.

George: And we’ve done that anyway.

Paul:What I mean is, we did it, the but it doesn’t mean to do it again means to do all that. For him (John) to do it, he has to do a thing in a black bag with Yoko. And you’re doing it.

Several voices correct Paul.

“White bag,” he says.

“You know you’re doing it then, on this level.”

Paul’s argument, that doing something is tantamount to doing “it” isn’t flying. Lindsay-Hogg changes course and questions just what the Beatles are, circa January 1969 and what is it, since we’re talking about “doing it,” that  they really want to do?

“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 late stage in their career.

And its a question we hope to answer next time here at They May Be Parted!

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Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 3)

This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the Jan. 6, 1969, sessions for “Two of Us.” If you haven’t already, please enjoy Part I and Part II!

George: OK, I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.

The line came a little more than 16 minutes into the Let it Be film. In a movie less about words and more about music — the trailer’s promise of “rapping” not withstanding — it would stand out regardless. As it is, George’s statement to Paul during the day’s rehearsal of “Two of Us” essentially became the catchphrase for the entire sessions. It’s George’s frustrations and Paul’s bossiness — and John’s disinterest, as he’s conspicuous by his absence —  all in one. And because it was in the film, and the highlight of an extensive set of dialogue in it, it’s the moment we point to. At least, it’s the moment I point to.

“Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it” caps a sequence that lasted much longer than two or so minutes depicted in the film.

And when all was said and done, it was Paul needling George over a six-month old suggested guitar part that prompted him to say it (and was the subject of much of the last post).

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

georgeI get what Paul wants to do here, prove his point that a more spartan approach is ideal — especially here while they’re in the rehearsal stage. And he’s made that clear. But instead he finds a way to pick at a scab.

George, remember how you were wrong about “Hey Jude”? You’re wrong, just like that, today.

And because of George’s state during the sessions — his originals were blandly tolerated at best or outright dismissed at worst — the scab tears right open.

George: OK, I don’t mind. I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it. But I don’t think you really know what that one is.

Missing from the film is that last line, which really gives it an extra bite. Passive-aggressive right into aggressive.

In the film, the discussion pivots from George to John wanting to listen back to tapes before he begins into “Across the Universe.” Paul’s sweater goes from orange to yellow, so not much sleuthing is needed to know that’s cut in from a different day.

After George relays his willingness to please, Paul’s actually speechless for a few seconds, before saying, audibly perturbed and in a way only Paul can say it, “OK, now come on.” He pays no mind to John, who here is actually trying to defuse the situation with a resolution that would move the session forward in the immediate.

Do you want to take the galloping bit, and I’ll just vamp?” John cuts in to ask George. Paul continues.

Paul (to George): Look, you know, it’s not like that. … We’ve gone through this, we’ve really got to sort out this, because this is the one, you know? Now we’re rehearsing,  and we’re trying to get it together for a TV show. So we really, like you said, we’ve only been through four numbers.

(George replies with an “uh-huh”)

So we’ve probably got to get some system to get through like 20 or 30 and no more. … And it’s probably going to be like sculpture. So that we get all the chords, so we can all vamp them all. Then we can all play every solo we need.

Wow! That’s a lot of songs. What a TV show that could have been, right?  (This isn’t the post for it – but it will be sooner than not: What would those 30 songs be?)  Anyway!

Paul: But… you know what I mean. It’s got to sound as though it’s improving.

George: It actually, it sounded to me, that for me, it was a waste of me time playing when we started it today. I just started remembering then what it was getting into the other day after playing it for an hour and a half. And suddenly I start finding that what I’m doing is starting to have something, Have some sculpture to it.

Paul: I know what you mean, it’s just that that way of doing it puts me off the way I’m trying to do it.

George: But that’s all. I can only do me that one way, however I do it, you know?

Silence. And then Paul decides to wave the white flag before being spurned. Just picking his fights, I guess.

Paul:  Let’s do another song, then.

George: No, we can’t.  We still have to learn this.  Do you want to do … Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?

Burn! The sarcasm drips like water from a faucet. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit the band a few days earlier than he ultimately did.

John: Let’s do this, because, I mean, we’re going to come to this,or whatever it is. And the thing is just to try to and think whatever …  it’s going to be.

Paul: This afternoon, I think we’ve wasted a long time. I think we do waste, physically, waste a lot of time, the four of us together.

It’s Paul as boss again, this time lecturing on employee efficiency. And I don’t blame him, because he’s pretty much on target here.

The slate cuts in, and there’s some cross talk and Paul’s bass muffling some dialogue.

Paul: I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know? Not pretending about that. … And that’s what we decided, you know?

This line passed right by me the first time I heard it, and it wasn’t until I was sprucing up the post that it jumped out. What’s Paul saying here? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and guess he’s saying he’s scared of the whole “be the boss” thing for a couple years? Or is he coming out and saying that he has been the boss for a couple years?  I’m not sure he doesn’t think of George as a subordinate, but I don’t think he believes that of John. But I’ll give Paul a pass here, in part because the lack of reaction.

Paul: And this is why it’s chaos. That’s why we take so long.  Because, really … we could play it shitty. We play it shitty 10 times, and so it’s sort of in there.   And then I think we could play it quite good then. But it’s just like different approaches, you know? I think we’d be better just doing it all like the Red Norvo Five. Just really like…

John:  Vamping away.

Paul: Vamping … then get the imaginative thing. … I know it’s impossible … because we don’t do it that way. … There’s no point in me trying to get you to do it how I do it.

paul-pointsA little reminder here — they’re not even done with their third day of the sessions, and things are already being described as a “waste of time” and “chaos.” Reading between the lines and maybe I’m off-base, but I think Yoko’s omnipresence is implied as part and parcel of the chaos. And maybe Paul has a bit of an idea that they’re moving too fast here, even though he’s part of that problem — nobody has any idea what songs they’re going to play at a live show, where the show will be or even how it will be staged.

Meanwhile, who the heck is Red Norvo? He led his quintet (there was a trio, octet and other combinations, too), playing modern jazz on a vibraphone and, it seems, famously vamping.

Paul: It’s terrible, though, seeing yourself really go down a path you’ve been down too many times, you don’t want to go down. Like us going on about this. I really don’t want to go down that path. It’s just silly. I just don’t see any solution.

The problem is that we should all arrange our own tunes. And if you want improvisation, then should just say it.

George: That’s the best way.

Paul: It’s like a point of theory, this, isn’t it? It’s not just to do with playing music. Far further reaching, this thing.

Far further reaching, indeed. So the path is set for Beatles 2.0, although  we’ve already seen them act, essentially, as each others’ backup band in many instances on the White Album (and certainly before that, too). Now, they discuss codifying it, taking “I’ll play if you want me to play” to its logical conclusion.

It wasn’t an angry exchange, this one, rather very matter of fact (and difficult to hear with the band playing over the conversation). But we do see how it manifested on Abbey Road, where the band often recorded parts in separate studios simultaneously.

Isn’t this moment here, very specifically, The Beatles agreeing to ultimately break up? They’re happy to relegate the other members as their respective session players, making George no different to Paul than Hamish Stewart, or Paul no different to John than Tony Levin.

Perhaps coincidentally, the group launches into a slow, almost mournful abbreviated version with John leading on vocals. Shortly thereafter, Paul gets back to business.

Paul: What I really meant to say was, let’s do the same bit on that. That’s what I really meant to say.  (“We’re on our way home”)

The band returned to the back end of the chorus, focusing on timing and cues. Mal is asked to fetch John a tea and George a beer. This can only be a good thing as the occasional brew helps fuel the odd blog post as well.

George and Ringo fool around, playing “Frère Jacques”  into Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” for less than a minute. Maybe the beer helped mellow the mood, as George, with a much friendlier vibe, asks Paul how he envisions the style of “Two of Us.”

George: It was going heavier. Do you want it more countryish?

Paul: I don’t mind, I’ll just go where it goes.

The group runs through the song a few times, sometimes able to get all the way through. Tape cuts make it hard to tell just how many times they did work on it.

In addition to giving a passing, light-hearted nod to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Loop De Loop” — they spent a bit of time on the very end of “Two of Us.” I’d most certainly say Paul was trying to “confuse it” before “unconfusing it” here, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only written about 5,000 words on just 50 minutes of “Two of Us” rehearsals.

And with that, we wrap the day’s historic and fascinating rehearsals of the song.

Having fun, the Ringo way

Having fun, the Ringo way

So given the full context of the day’s sessions (and the prior days’, too), and emotions which were especially ramped up during the torturous “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsal that immediately preceded “Two of Us,” of course  George’s famed “please you” wasn’t anything remotely out of the blue. It wasn’t even the most potent or viscous thing he said that hour.

But the delivery of “please you” was perfect, and watching it on film more than 40 years later, it’s still a great, dramatic moment. Like I wrote in the first post about “Two of Us,” it’s a  passive-aggressive greatest hit.  I’ve said it to bosses (they had no idea what I was referencing).  I’ve said it to my wife (she did).

I think it’s remembered, even in a way that “I don’t even care” — spoken seconds earlier — isn’t. Of course, that could just be terrible VCR copies and rips over the years responsible for the muddy sound. The moment, the editing — it was just perfect for “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

The pity in all of this? I think the song sounds great. It’s fun, upbeat — I liken it to a driving song during a buddy movie vs. the eventual acoustic cut, which sounds like something to hold hands to in a romantic comedy. Oh well. I’ll enjoy the pacing of the song while it lasts for a few more days of the sessions.

The “Two of Us” rehearsals over, John searches for the words to “Across the Universe,” while George sneaks in a little bit of Hear Me Lord. They go back into “Universe” for one take before attention shifts to “All Things Must Pass” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” to end the day.

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Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 2)

Rehearsals on Jan. 6 — just the third day of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions — deteriorated to the point where The Beatles were arguing about the very nature of rehearsals and the extent to which a song need be complete in order to have a member bring it to the full band to actually bother with run-throughs.

paul-gb-bookWith takes of “Two of Us” under way, Paul’s already defensive, George is already passive-aggressive. And John? Seems like he just wants to run out the clock and get the hell out of there. But at least he’s not showing any desire to have confrontation at this very specific moment in time.

When we last left things, the song — while sounding great to these ears more than 40 years later — was hung up in the intro, outro and bridge (I guess that doesn’t leave a lot, does it?). Paul had just accused George of being annoyed by him and he bemoaned the presence of the cameras. After some silence and noodling by the group, and another remark by John about the opening riff that continues to torture him, Paul repeats his preferred rehearsal style.

Paul: Doesn’t everyone agree that it’s confused at the moment? So all I’m trying to say is, let’s get the confusion, unconfuse it, then confuse it.

It’s what we’ve been doing all afternoon — this is why we’re not getting anything done. We’ve just got [to get] rolling on with it. We’ve only got 12 more days, so we’ve really got to do this methodically, this one. Unconfused, then a bit more confused, then a bit more. “Now try this drumming here, try this drumming there. Now, OK, let’s stop and look into this bit.”

Well, there’s another nice, little revelation. As of Jan. 6, it seems it’s locked in that the sessions will end Jan. 18 — or, if we’re adding in weekends, make it the 21st or 22nd (depending on whether the 6th counts against that 12 days). Presumably this is how long they’ve booked Twickenham. Talk about ambitious. As history would eventually prove, The Beatles would be out of Twickenham much earlier than that, on Jan. 14 – but that would be a direct result of George leaving the band before rejoining on a condition they abandoned the soundstage for Savile Row.

After Paul’s repeated plea to simplify first, John jumps in, almost as comic relief, continuing his complete fixation on getting out of playing the opening galloping part on guitar.

“I’ve got an idea,” John graciously offers. “I should vamp, because I’ve got to sing, and it’s hard going. But it’s annoying” (and he plays the opening riff).

George fools around on guitar over a bit, making dialogue hard to pick up, until things get clearer in this next exchange.

Paul: I’m trying to stop us all playing until we know what we are playing.

George: But you got to play in order to find out which fits and what doesn’t.

Paul: I’m thinking … we’re improvising the solos, but we play strict chords and strict rhythms around the vocals… I don’t want to say, ‘cause I really just hear myself the only one saying it. All this time…I don’t, don’t get any support or anything…you know its right, and you know its right. (He’s presumably talking to George and John).

John: OK, so I just don’t know what to do about it.

George: I’ll wait until you get your bits and then work my part out if you like. It’s like a matter of working it out with you while you’re working your bit out. You know if you got your bass bit, you know… it will take even longer.

Paul: I’m not trying to say to you, you’re doing it again as though I’m trying to say, and what we said the other day, I’m not trying to get you. What I really am trying to just say is, “Look lads” — the band, you know — “should we try it like this,” you know?

George: It’s funny now how I don’t even care.

Oof.

Amazing honesty from George. He, for one, doesn’t seem to care at all about the cameras capturing the proceedings.  But alas, the tone he spoke in was somewhat mild (and who knows what the visual was) so I can see how this didn’t end up becoming the killer line chosen for the film, like “whatever it is that will please you” became.

Meanwhile, Paul’s showing no hesitation in calling out George and John, both, in saying he’s alone in keeping things afloat. Really, for all of Paul’s flaws, he’s kind of right here about the situation. There does seem to be a bit of cart-before-the-horse when it comes to running through the songs.

And as Paul continues, not skipping a beat after George’s dismissive comment, he goes back at George, reminding him of a recent exchange the two had over a song.

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

More than 40 years later as I write this, it almost seems like “Hey Jude” was from a different generation of Beatles than the ones arguing their way through the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. But on Jan. 6, 1969, where we are today in this blog’s current timeline, it was a song recorded less than six months prior, released a little over four months earlier and had just dropped out of the UK Top 40 three weeks prior.

It’s a funny thing how prevalent the ghost of “Hey Jude” was at the time of the Twickenham sessions. The song’s sessions were easy, with rehearsals beginning July 29, ending Aug, 1. The experience of the song’s video shoot – done at the same Twickenham — helped encourage the band that the time was right to perform in front of live audiences. And like these sessions, “Hey Jude” was ultimately recorded away from the safe and familiar confines of EMI Studios at Abbey Road (where they recorded what turned out to be more rehearsals than real takes), and instead at Trident.  And if outtakes are any indication, it was a pretty upbeat affair.

Thus, the experience recording the song — which happened smack in the middle of the White Album sessions — was fresh at the time of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. Paul and George had just been discussing how much they liked Wilson Pickett’s cover version just three days prior.

So what was Paul’s beef with George on “Hey Jude”? Here’s what he has to say sometime in the 1990s, as captured to print in the Anthology book:

On “Hey Jude”, when we first sat down and I sang ‘Hey Jude…’, George went ‘nanu nanu’ on his guitar. I continued, ‘Don’t make it bad…’ and he replied ‘nanu nanu’. He was answering every line – and I said, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute now. I don’t think we want that. Maybe you’d come in with answering lines later. For now I think I should start it simply first.” He was going, ‘Oh yeah, OK, fine, fine.’ But it was getting a bit like that. He wasn’t into what I was saying.

In a group it’s democratic and he didn’t have to listen to me, so I think he got pissed off with me coming on with ideas all the time. I think to his mind it was probably me trying to dominate. It wasn’t what I was trying to do – but that was how it seemed.

This, for me, was eventually what was going to break The Beatles up. I started to feel it wasn’t a good idea to have ideas, whereas in the past I’d always done that in total innocence, even though I was maybe riding roughshod.

I did want to insist that there shouldn’t be an answering guitar phrase in ‘Hey Jude’ – and that was important to me – but of course if you tell a guitarist that, and he’s not as keen on the idea as you are, it looks as if you’re knocking him out of the picture. I think that it was like, ‘Since when are you going to tell me what to play? I’m in The Beatles too.’ So I can see his point of view.

But it burned me, and I then couldn’t come up with ideas freely, so I started to have to think twice about anything I’d say – ‘Wait a minute, is this going to be seen to be pushy?’ – whereas in the past it had just been a case of, ‘Well, the hell, this would be a good idea. Let’s do this song called “Yesterday”. It’ll be all right.’

What we see here is pretty obvious: The Get Back/Let it Be sessions have been tarnished — demonized even — in part, because we actually can hear everything that happens thanks to voluminous bootlegs. Good luck finding a recording George and Paul arguing over the “Hey Jude” extra guitar part.

So in the Anthology excerpt (among other places, like in Barry Miles’ “Many Years From Now”), Paul does a pretty good job here giving what seems like an honest presentation of what was happening in 1968-69. And nearly 30 years after the fact , he was still able to run through the specifics.

And it was Paul’s reflection — This one, it’s like, ‘Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.'” — is what directly prompted George to spew “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play.”

More from the “Two of Us” rehearsals, including George finally uttering that line I keep on going on about, coming up in the next post!

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Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 1)

It’s a passive-aggressive greatest hit.

And it’s the highlight of the series of posts — which gets under way here — I was most eager to write before I heard a minute of the complete tapes.

George to Paul: I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you… I’ll do it.

Having just heard the band make their way through a somewhat torturous rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” the context is finally here of just why George was ready to snap at Paul. But it’s a long and, well, somewhat direct road to get to “whatever it is that will please you,” and the tension isn’t one-sided as the group pivots to Paul’s “Two of Us,” an ode to his bride-to-be, Linda.

please youIn listening to the entirety of the “Two of Us” tapes, Paul’s ready to jump at anyone, feeling quite on the defensive. John, for one, doesn’t take the bait. And in fact, as the session for the song goes on, John actually attempts a bit of a peacemaker role once things begin to boil between Paul and George. But that comes later. George, on the other hand, is quite ready to share his feelings with Paul.

Musically, the song isn’t too much different than it had been before they broke for the weekend, on Jan. 3. It’s upbeat, and completely electric at this point. But like the final version, it’s a Paul-John duet. The first take of the day, straight from the top after they had moved on from “Don’t Let Me Down,” breaks down seconds in when John asks if he’s supposed to be singing.

Paul: Melody. You’re supposed to remember the words, too.

John: Yes, I’ve got them here.

Paul: But learn ’em.

John: I almost know ’em.

And we’re off and running! Just another 50 or so minutes of remaining rehearsals of “Two of Us” — and arguments — to go. Fasten your seat belts.

The tension never lets up — getting to “whatever it is that will please you” was inevitable.

Paul references past Beatles songs a number of times during the rehearsal, beginning with an early run-through, when he dictates to George that the guitar part during the verses should sound “like that bit in ‘Getting Better All the Time'” (meaning the staccato guitar part opening the song and that plays throughout).

After subsequent noodling around with the song, Paul tries to restore order and get down to actual business, in the orderly, McCartneyesque manner we’ve come to know and love/hate.

“OK, come on, come on,” Paul says to the group with a headmaster’s tone. “Let’s get it so we know it simply, and then we can add. We don’t know any one [song] yet straight. We keep trying to get to the bits.”

This is indeed true through the first few days of the sessions. “Don’t Let Me Down” is dragged down by the bridge. “I’ve Got a Feeling” isn’t quite right yet. “All Things Must Pass” is very much a work in progress. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” isn’t finished yet. You get the picture. Only “One After 909” – written more than a decade earlier, despite the slower arrangement, and born in these sessions out of an oldies jam – was in game shape.

Another pass at “Two of Us” and things break down as they enter the first bridge (“You and I have memories…”). So it’s time for a band meeting (Ringo, the passive drumming robot, says nothing throughout).

Paul: We’re going to have to sort of bring it together, because we’re all at odds. We’re doing that thing we did on The Beatles — we’re all playing, you know? Like in this verse, it’s two harmonies singing, trying to say some words, right? So it’s just… (he vocally apes a guitar vamp ). And in the bits when we need bits….

John: I’m just trying to sing it and do this thing (he plays the guitar part played during the “We’re on our way home” line).

Paul: We’ve got to get the riffs when the riffs bits come in.

George: The riffs… There’s no riffs. It’s nice just to get what you’re playing. (George then starts to sing “You and I are memories…”)

Paul: But it’s not together, so that it’s not sounding together.

George: So we keep playing until we…

Paul: Or, we can stop and say it’s not together.

George: Yes, then you’ve got to carry on until you get it together. It’s all right to keep playing until it sounds like it’s blending with the rest.

Paul: I never know what to say to that, you know? ‘Cause what I want to say is, “Now, come on,” and play, but I can’t, I know. You know, and we get into that one. OK.

They’re not talking about what sounds good, what words work or don’t or the like. This is a debate about the philosophy of how to rehearse. We’re in uncharted territory. These four men are writing a record on the spot, under strict time constraints to get these songs in working order for a show that’s going to happen at some unknown locale, and very soon.

You’d think this kind of thing would have been hashed out, but then again, why would it? When they last toured, in 1966, they played about a dozen songs — nothing brand new, and some songs they’d been playing for many years. They knew the songs inside and out, plus they weren’t writing anything special for the tour or struggled under the pressure of the clock. And when they last brought new songs to the table — a few months earlier for the White Album sessions — they didn’t have the pressure of the live show.

There’s a bit of nervous laughter from Paul before he continues to offer a logic he repeats numerous times over the “Two of Us” sessions this day.

Paul: … It’s complicated now. See, if we can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications, but it’s complicated in the bit.

George: It’s not complicated.

Paul: But, I mean, you know.

George: I’ll play just the chords if you like, and then…

While George is low-key throughout, speaking in completely passive-aggressive tones, Paul grows audibly exasperated.

Paul: No, no, come on. You always get annoyed when I say that. I’m trying to help, you know? But I always hear myself annoying you…

George: No, you’re not annoying. It’s not annoying anymore (or is it “anyone”? Hard to tell).

Paul: … And I get so where I can’t say it. But you know what I mean. Just do this then, and, I don’t know. I can’t do it on film either. I don’t know if we can do it on camera.

Funny, Paul had just said earlier in the day that he didn’t mind being filmed, that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier.

But as it would turn out, Paul would end up having to continue this discussion on camera after all, and it would become one of the iconic moments of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions and the film — behind only the rooftop concert — and truly in the group’s history overall.

The in-depth look at the “Two of Us” sessions on Jan. 6, 1969, will resume in the next post. Coming very soon!

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