Tag Archives: corny

Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1)

After basically ceding to Yoko his creative role in the band’s decision-making over the live show earlier in the day, John Lennon regains a tiny bit of authority by leading the group through a lengthy rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of the primary songs the band has taken on thus far.

jlWell, he regains authority at the outset, at least, during a stretch that provides the first real look at the discord between band members that helped define the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.

On the A/B tapes, Jan. 6 rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” run in a straight shot for nearly 90 minutes, easily the longest stretch they spent on any one song this day. The structure of the song is set and doesn’t change from what will eventually be pressed to vinyl. It’s a delightfully simple song, both in lyrics and structure. But they’re not happy to leave well enough alone quite yet.

Things kick in with the song already under way in what’s labeled as Track 6.62. (I’ve also been able to track down some of this day’s rehearsals in a few YouTube clips below, as culled from the bootleg “Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 9 (1969 N° 5) – Hello Dolly.”)

Shortly into things, John asks to work on what he calls “the worst bit” — the song’s bridge. (“I’m in love for the first time…”).

Now, it’s absolutely granted that the band has a hard time working together, and that didn’t just begin on Jan. 2, when they convened at Twickenham. But at least from the relative beginning of the sessions, they’re trying. An example of that comes right here as John wants the help on the bridge, asking openly, “What can we do to that bit, then?”

George says he likes the vocal line and harmony, it’s just lacking in some color as far as the fills in between. He suggests a rhythm change, while John replies, “That’s where the piano would come in.”

Good stuff! Collaboration!

Paul scats some falsetto to alternate with John’s lines, and George fiddles with some guitar fills. It actually sounds kind of nice with John on an acoustic guitar, but overall nothing overly impressive. But hey, it’s a work in progress. There were probably lots of bum attempts at things over the prior decade of Beatles in-studio fiddling, right? We just have these extensive rehearsals on tape, whereas we don’t have a zillion hours and hours of them wrestling with, say, “Nowhere Man.”

Paul takes things a bit more into his own hands, instructing George to join him in the vocals, and telling him just what to do.

Paul offers up his falsetto part, then gives explicit suggestions for the responses.

John: I’m in love for the first time

Paul’s suggestion: Love for the first time in my life

John: Don’t you know it’s going to last

Paul: So don’t you let it get away (he soon changes it to “Not going to let it get away”)

John: It’s a love that lasts forever

Paul: It lasts forever and a day

Paul goes onto explain that “corny’s all right in this one. What he’s [John] doing is corny. That’s the thing that will make it not corny, we sing different different words.”

I’d question the logic (and lyrical interpretation) there, but hey, Paul’s track record in writing hit songs is a lot longer than mine. The last song he referred to as “corny” was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” a few days earlier, and I think it’s safe to say they’re quite different birds. I do think he says it affectionately, at least.

John belting out "Don't Let Me Down" in a clip from "Let it Be"

John belting out “Don’t Let Me Down” in a clip from this very day, captured on film in “Let it Be”

George says something that’s not quite on mic, to which Paul, clearly trying to blow him off, says “OK, well, we’ll do that, that comes later. Just sing it straight first.”

The next stab at the bridge has George doing the “part that moves” that Paul had just suggested, sounding a bit Band-ish, which isn’t too much of a surprise at this point. At the same time, there’s a slight “Revolution 1” vibe here, where the “shooby-doo-wops” punctuate the chorus. I guess it works, but it definitely changes the feel of what we know as “Don’t Let Me Down” — John in fact likens the work in progress to “something like the Drifters.” (We’re still a few weeks away from the Beatles actually covering the Drifters).

They continue to run through the bridge, Paul directing.

Paul : The thing is, sing the one I’m doing, and we’ll improve upon it. Start off with a corny one, because the words aren’t that good. (Here, he’s referring to his response vocals, not John’s main ones).

John: I think the words should be corny, because there are no clever words in it.

I guess he’s right — it’s a straight rock song with deeply honest lyrics (and his first song written for Yoko, I believe), no interpretation necessary. This isn’t “I am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” lyrically. So I don’t think he meant it as an insult to the song. But I guess I’m surprised John would want to muddy up a song like this.

More run-throughs, and John still isn’t satisfied, at one point saying, “Maybe I should play piano … just to change it.” George talks about using some pedals so it “doesn’t sound like the same old shit,” — but John says “I like the same old shit, if it’s clear.”

“Just think of some riffs,” Paul suggests to George, as we see today’s first real signs of a little bit of the big boys ganging up on the perceived help.

And so they continue, with one of the takes briefly immortalized at the beginning of the “Let it Be” film (it’s taken from 6.67 on the tapes).

Of course, in this edit, the band goes straight into the Jan. 3 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer performance. In reality, they churned on, with Paul thinking the answer to the seemingly busted bridge is to change the rhythm.

“This needs this,” Paul insists. “It needs things to happen.”

Just what does happen? Find out soon in Part 2!

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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.

This clip, from the film, captures the some of this pretty well, with Paul barking out chords. 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 in a way that “Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello captures.  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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