“I was just so hungry today.”
Why, it’s a metaphor for George Harrison’s flowering ambition within the Beatles in their final year! OK sure, but it’s actually just the guitarist describing how famished he was before arriving at Twickenham Film Studios mid-morning on January 9, 1969.
“I had to be late, just to eat me breakfast. If you want an excuse.”
Paul McCartney already had spent at least 45 minutes at the piano this Thursday, and he ceded the virtual spotlight to the new arrival, who reintroduced “For You Blue” to the sessions.
“This is his last-night song,” Paul would later describe it to John Lennon, who would show up shortly (Ringo Starr was already around when Paul was playing). Paul’s characterization of George’s song wasn’t entirely accurate. As far as the tapes are concerned, this was the third day “For You Blue” was demonstrated — but it was the first time it was properly and deliberately performed for and with the other Beatles.
A slower, bluesier version acted as background music on January 6 during a conversation about equipment. Likewise, the next day, the song wasn’t performed so much as it kept George busy amid the overwhelmingly tense debate over the band’s future.
Finally on January 9, George properly lifted the veil on “For You Blue,” offering it on an acoustic guitar as a sharper, more highly paced toe-tapper as compared to those previous, abbreviated versions. The skiffle influence was obvious, and on this morning, admitted. The song was clearly a “last-night” project, enjoying a clear evolution heading into the 9th.
The guts of the version that would be recorded a few weeks in the future and released more than a year later existed this morning for the first time: its distinguishable introduction, the first few verses, guitar solo and its ending. The cat didn’t bop yet, and Johnny didn’t go, but the number George described as “our little blues-folk song” was indeed the same ol’ twelve-bar blues.
Paul chipped in an imperfect but not insincere stab at a piano part and a vocal harmony. Neither would stand the test of time, but the attempt wasn’t out of place.
Peaking as a songwriter, George admitted writing the lyrics was a simple process.
“You got most of the words?” Paul asked.
“They’re so easy, I just wrote about two [verses] down,” George replied. “You just make ‘em up.”
John arrived moments later, and with the fab count complete at four, proper rehearsals were finally able to commence. John initially suggested kicking things off with “For You Blue.”
“Should we learn your song then, ‘I love you sweet and honey baby.’”
Paul slammed the brakes, though, setting the terms of the rehearsals.
“Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.
“This is our format.”
For better or worse, it was. And following was a sequence in which the group tackled some of their more familiar numbers — “Two of Us,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” new favorite “Get Back” and the rehabilitated “Across the Universe” — before they got a little original and political. But that’s for another post.
Fresh out of a cover of “Honey Hush” (by Big Joe Turner, via Johnny Burnette, with John taking lead vocals), we finally got the day’s first few attempts at full-band takes of “For You Blue” on the tapes. It sweats with swagger, with George leading the way on electric guitar and Paul adding a mature though imprecise bass part.
The group picked up their parts pretty quickly and easily, because, after all, it’s a pretty basic song. George’s eventual description of the “For You Blue” in his 1980 autobiography “I Me Mine” says as much:
“For You Blue” is a simple twelve-bar song following all the normal twelve-bar principles, except that it’s happy-go-lucky!
At least one person, though, wasn’t too happy with the song after the first full go.
“Pretty short, innit?” John asked after the two-or-so-minute take.
George didn’t address his critic, instead criticizing the ad-hoc arrangement — making it at least two people unhappy with the song — saying he’d like to perform the song “on acoustic on the show. I don’t want to do it like that.”
“I’d like to do it with just an acoustic guitar. If we can get an acoustic bass, it’d be nice.”
John interrupted, almost shocked. “Acoustic bass?”
He shouldn’t have been too surprised — George suggested the same instrument just the day before, for “I Me Mine.”
George retrieved an acoustic guitar and proceeded to perform the song alone, accompanied only by hand-claps, probably from Paul.
Clearly noting the lack of enthusiasm for his own songs and probably reflecting his own increasing boredom as he endured the sessions , George — for the third time in a week — tried to deflect effort from the Beatles’ own rush to produce new material.
“Should we do some other people’s tunes as well?” George asked.
To laughter, but clearly laced with sincerity, John shot down the idea. “I can only just bear doing your lot’s songs, never mind doing strangers’.”
George: “Yeah, but those songs are so much better than ours.”
“That’s why I don’t learn them,” Paul replied.
George performed “For You Blue” one more time, and he eventually quit singing after Paul melodically read or improvised a wholly unrelated speech while George played guitar.
On January 3, the sessions’ first full day, George asked if the group would dip into their back catalog. On January 7, he asked if other groups would join them on the bill. And now, he was feeling out the potential of mixing in covers, something they were doing relatively effortlessly throughout the sessions thus far. His most significant contributions to this point — “All Things Must Pass,” “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” — arguably matched Paul’s newest songs and certainly outpaced John’s meager output.
And still, George’s songs were downgraded or degraded by the others, nothing that was really new. Per the tapes, George’s last-night song was the only song of his rehearsed on this January 9. His hunger for an expanded role — or a significant change in the band’s operation — was growing insatiable. On January 10, it was breakfast at home again for George, but the change he starved for came at lunch.