Tag Archives: Cream

Jan. 10: A quick one, while he’s away

Their man had been gone, for nigh on a few minutes.

John Lennon played a familiar riff on his guitar, the country-western lick from the middle of The Who’s 1966 mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Soon be home!” sang John. Paul McCartney added an aggressive harmony as John wailed the refrain.

After a brief fade in the tapes, John returned with a spontaneous scream that devolved into a wheeze, then a cough. On regaining his composure, he barked an instruction:

OK, George, take it!

Then John giggled.

George Harrison quit the Beatles after lunch on Friday, January 10, 1969, and at the end of the second week of the Get Back sessions, the Fab Four were a sub-fab three-piece — John, Paul and Ringo Starr. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, was there too, a given since the previous year.

“So pissed,” John said in response to nobody, certainly meaning drunk in the British vernacular, but it registered as the Americanism, too: anger at George’s brazen and sudden departure.

Just like they did when Ringo quit during the White Album sessions less then five months earlier, and just like they did a year later when John was far gone from the group, the remaining Beatles immediately continued as a three-piece.

The music restarted behind an angry riff from John, and Paul and Ringo quickly fell into the jam. The riff was another iteration of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which earlier in the week was manifest in Paul’s improvised “My Imagination,” and previously formed the foundation of “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.”

John taunted George again.

Soon be home!”

The band begins at ten to six: Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others at the filming of the Rock & Roll Circus.

The Beatles’ repeated riff was rough, much in the spirit of the Who, whom John watched up close a month earlier, when director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was in the same role at the scene of the crime. That was when the Who stole the show from the Rolling Stones at the latter’s own Rock & Roll Circus — an incident George himself referenced only three days before.

This quick one came grooving up slowly, with the improv running in spurts for about 20 minutes, John’s full-throated scream ending one portion of the jam. The Beatles briefly “covering” the Who, itself a terrific curio, isn’t nearly the most important takeaway.

Yoko Ono at Twickenham, January 10, 1969.

The most shocking moment filmed for a Beatles movie ended up on the cutting-room floor — perhaps it makes the final edit of the forthcoming Get Back ’21 — and came several minutes into the jam.

That’s when Yoko seized the spotlight and filled a vacuum, her voice dramatically piercing the Twickenham soundstage during what Michael later described in his autobiography as a “half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums.” But the most memorable instrument was Yoko’s voice.

Ringo recounted the afternoon in the 1990s for the Anthology book:

None of us realised until we went to lunch that George had gone home. When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.

Emphasis mine.

Before and after

She wasn’t simply there. She was there on George’s blue cushion, and she was there on George’s microphone.  George eventually found out, too. As described in the previous post, George referred to Yoko “just screaming, doing her screeching number” in a 1977 interview, a moment he didn’t witness but later saw on film.

Yoko wailed to the band’s furious, repetitive backing in a sequence of organized chaos. It’s “Whole Lotta Yoko” blended with “Helter Skelter,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko” tied into “John John (Let’s Hope For Peace)“. Previewing her vocals from the last song in the above list, she repeatedly, violently called out John’s name.  It’s a harsh listen.

Ringo Starr “playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before.” From the unreleased The Long and Winding Road documentary.

Musically, the improvisation veered into slightly different corners of blues rock and it maintained the same general, rollicking intensity throughout.

Either you like Yoko or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able to persuade you either way (and I wouldn’t try to change your mind anyway). It’s reasonable, though, to describe her performance as completely in character.

Ringo indeed played a little out of his mind, and at one point, Paul abandoned the bass line to evoke feedback — John did the same with his guitar. At a couple separate moments, John returned to the “soon be home” riff from “A Quick One,” but he didn’t sing along. Throughout the entire performance, there’s no attempt by the others to join Yoko on vocals, but the remaining Beatles were a pretty good hard-rock combo when they chose to be. Even Yoko took notice of Ringo’s aggressive performance, changing her lyric to call out Ringo’s name, an unintentionally funny moment after a hypnotic repetition of John’s name. There was no full roll call, though. Yoko never shouted “Paul.”

Somebody calls out his name …

While there was frustration and anger in the wake of George’s temporary flight from the Beatles, one can sense momentary release. Paul’s project was at a standstill, but his most difficult relation had fled. John had one fewer person — and the most vocal one — balking at Yoko’s presence. Still, the Beatles lost their lead guitarist and junior songwriter. He left them, and that clearly was a big problem.

For Yoko, though, there was no frustration, only relief. At this instant, the blue cushion was hers. She went from sitting beside John to inheriting her own equal space. If George was 25 percent of the world’s greatest democracy, then she, in this moment, owned that share — the solo vocalist alongside the guitarist, bassist and drummer. In the currently available film of this sequence, from the aborted The Long and Winding Road documentary and in various Internet destinations, we see a broad smile on Yoko’s face as she sings John’s name.

Yoko’s experience from every other day with the Beatles informs how she must have approached midday January 10, 1969. From an Anthology-era interview with Newsweek:

I was just trying to sit there very quietly without disturbing them. You know, John always wanted me there and if I was not there, John might not have gone to those sessions.

This session marked her opportunity to be an artist and create a needed disturbance. The jam couldn’t have completely satisfied her creative need, but at worst, it allowed her to collaborate with John in his primary space, and scratch a specific itch.

After about 20 minutes, starting with the initial “A Quick One” sequence, the jam abruptly concluded as John searched for technical help with a microphone.

“OK, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,'” barked John, as this incarnation of the Threetles (or the first Plastic Ono Band, for that matter) rehearsed their newest material in a fashion they’d never present onstage. The performance was jagged and angry, and just a few days after dismissing their farewell concert, the Beatles became their own version of Cream, the disintegrating power trio. Yoko did not participate in this part of the session.

Then it turned. “Everybody had a hard year,” was sung by John with such extreme gruff, it turned over into laughter. The stab at the song devolved into Paul playing the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon (for the second time that day) to close it out.

Then John yodeled.

Remember when John said he was “pissed”? The British slang was definitely the vibe. The Beatles had no care in the world and were, in this moment of relative bedlam, enjoying themselves. The full-throated “Don’t Let Me Down” was the closest they came to a sincere attempt at a song, and it wasn’t particularly sincere. The next 15 minutes on the tapes featured John and Paul trading small bites of a variety of oldies (“Til There Was You,” “C’mon Everybody” “Mack The Knife,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “On a Sunny Island”). The hilarious performance devolved into moos, baas, barks, meows and whistles.

A highlight — so to speak — from this sequence was John’s droll destruction of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” as Paul played willing accomplice.

George’s departure from the group completely stalled any momentum toward planning the Beatles’ live show as well as reasonably developing new songs in progress. Yet, John, Paul and Ringo stayed in the studio and played purely for their own amusement. This is the Beatles at Friday afternoon happy hour. Meanwhile, Michael continued to discuss how to power the show — and group — forward.

Though we’d still hear her perform with the Beatles again before the end of the day, the band’s long-term future wasn’t ever going to include Yoko Ono — the Beatles weren’t the proto-Plastic Ono Band, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul and Ringo would have allowed it even if John insisted.  The question now, was in what form the band would progress.

***

When I first started listening to the Purple Chick A/B Road bootleg about nine years ago, diving into a hulking torrent file of the Nagra Tapes, the first track I listened to was on the January 10, 1969, set of files, one marked “A Quick One While He’s Away.” I had Beatles bootlegs on vinyl and cassette for a long time, and knew full well the general scope of the Get Back sessions, but I hadn’t listened to every possible cover song or outtake from the era. (That would be crazy!)  I didn’t know they attempted “A Quick One.”

After playing the track, I realized they never did attempt it at all. But listening to the context around the track — George’s departure from the group, which I also knew much about, but never heard on tape — convinced me to make a better effort and listen to the entirety of the tapes from the very beginning, and really study what happened. That curiosity directly led to creating this blog, weeks later.

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Jan. 6: Icing Cream

When the Beatles reconvened at Twickenham Film Studios the morning of Jan. 6, 1969, it was the prior evening’s television that dominated early conversation between the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

And, hey, why not? Twickenham is their office, and the piano is the water cooler, so what else would the grunts talk about as another work day begins?

Just seconds into the day’s tapes  the discussion goes right into the Cream farewell concert that aired on BBC the evening before. And with it, it’s the Beatles’ first reasonable reference point* for their eventual film. Or, at least, a great example of what they didn’t want to do.

The documentary is, in fact, really lousy — I watched the whole damn thing in prepping this post. Cream, as a band, is great. But what a terrible program, from the seizure-inducing cuts to the wildly melodramatic narration and ridiculous band interviews. The camera’s always on the wrong thing, the songs aren’t complete, there’s continuity errors and it’s just an effort to get through.  (Try it yourself here!)

“Ginger Baker’s was the only interesting interview,” Lindsay-Hogg said to Paul, explaining that he himself is “really uncoordinated” and learned a bit of drum technique from Baker.

“I just thought they were interviewed badly,” Paul said.

Paul likened the interviewer to “a 3-year old kid” in suggesting Eric Clapton play his parts again on guitar.

The talk shifts to a tangent when Lindsay-Hogg compares the Cream production to the grandiose “Eloise” by Barry Ryan (the song itself, not the promo clip below), a chart-topper from a few weeks earlier.

“All form and no substance,” the director said of the song after using the same term to describe the Cream doc.

“It’s great I thought,” Paul replied. “I loved it.”

“All form, no substance, I hated it,” Lindsay-Hogg said before again repeating “All form and no substance.”

“That’s too big a put-down,” Paul said. “All form, and not much substance.”

“It was my least favorite record from the last five years,” Lindsay-Hogg insisted before adding under his breath,”I really hate it.”

Paul then sings a bit of “Eloise,” and Lindsay-Hogg is incredulous, although he would admit he liked the musical break.

The conversation wandered a bit, and included a quick take of “Oh Darling!” by Paul solo on the piano. But after Ringo, and then John and Yoko arrived, discussion of the Cream documentary resumed.

“We ought to think this week sometime about the show,” Lindsay-Hogg said to the group. “We could do it at the Albert Hall with those quick cuts.” Paul again expresses his disappointment, especially focusing on those edits.

Paul asked Ringo if he saw the show.

“Bits,” said the drummer.

“That’s all there were! Just bits, terrible quick-cutting,” replied Lindsay-Hogg.

Hard to tell what John or Yoko said as they were well off-mic.

George is the last to arrive. He was already good friends with Clapton — who contributed his part on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” four months earlier and had played in Lennon’s Plastic Dirty Mac just weeks earlier on the Rock & Roll Circus. Despite the friendship, George doesn’t shy from criticizing his friend’s production.

“There were some nice bits, but … what was … with the photography? You don’t see anything,” George said.

George calls Baker “great,” and Paul asks Ringo if he’s met him “as star drummers.”

George & Eric

Conversation shifted again, George talks about a new song he wrote (“Hear Me Lord”) and then his equipment arrives at the studio (“like an ambulance for ailing documentaries” according to Lindsay-Hogg).

But they can’t shake talking about Cream’s own doc, again mocking the interviewer.

Then, finally after 40 minutes of the tapes, the band’s finally ready to start the business of making music, and a documentary of their own.

I found it interesting, in retrospect, is they’re discussing a farewell concert, which is what Let it Be ended up being — not planned that way, of course (of course?) —  and that’s what they would spend so much of the sessions attempting to organize. Not that Lindsay-Hogg would end up producing anything that looked like the Cream special — nothing he’d done I’ve seen had given that indication — but Let it Be was certainly not anything like the Cream farewell.

But having that reference point so early in the sessions could only have helped light even the smallest of sparks in encouraging the band to do what they always have done, and that’s do something better than every other band.

*(Of course, Lindsay-Hogg had directed the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus weeks earlier, but it wouldn’t see the light of day for another 25 years . And, while Lindsay-Hogg was behind the camera and John Lennon in front of it, I can’t imagine the film was edited to any significant degree at this point to be considered a comparison piece for the eventual Let it Be/Get Back film barely in-progress. It wasn’t the same concept anyway — the Stones weren’t trying to document the making-of the show; it was just the show itself that was being produced.)

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