Tag Archives: divorce

Jan. 7: Pulled their socks up

Everybody had a hard year? If we’re talking about the Beatles, that’s a fair appraisal just a week into 1969.

As rehearsals were set to get fully under way January, 7, 1969, the group openly discussed breaking up. Instead, moments later, they were trying to hammer out the details of “I’ve Got a Feeling” for more than 20 minutes before launching into an extended session dedicated to Paul’s pet “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”paul

The out was right there for them; the group was in agreement that a divorce was not unreasonable. But while we don’t know for certain, (unless this particular discussion was filmed and we can see for ourselves if the footage is ever released), it doesn’t even sound like anyone moved out of their chairs, much less high-tailed for the exits. Paul left the band during the recording of “She Said, She Said” in 1966 and Ringo split during “Back in the USSR” in ’68. But this cry for divorce, so much more severe than a walkout of a single member, didn’t immediately lead to much of anything. Nobody budged January 7, 1969, after the early takes of “Get Back,” and status quo reigned.

As tension melts and the group trades chatter for chords, it quickly becomes clear little that had led to the group to the brink had actually changed.  Paul may not enjoy his role as band leader — “I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss’” — but he’s not letting that job go, either, despite any prior protests from George or anyone else in the group.

Arranger/producer Paul made plain his preferences for “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and anything else they were to tackle going forward in preparation for the live show.

We should start off by doing everything we’re going to do on the thing. Like if you’re going to do the ‘oh yeahs’ innit, you’ve got to do ’em how you’re going to do it. No use singing ’em quiet now if you’re planning on doing them loud on the night.

Paul certainly sweats the details and is quick to dictate the construction of the song, asking John to keep the chord sequence before the chorus “kind of tight,” barking “riff” to George at the appropriate times and working on the balance of “oh yeahs” with “oh noes.” Even Ringo wasn’t spared; he received explicit directions, too: “Don’t go into the swing at the end,” Paul said as he vocalized the closing drum pattern.

Overall, special focus was paid to the transition to “Everybody’s had a hard year” and the subsequent section. Paul pushes George to add “something recognizable” just prior to the bridge (“All these years I’ve been wandering around”).

The vibe, meanwhile, is generally agreeable throughout, and there’s certainly no indication that moments earlier the band was basically trying to figure out the right way to break up.  While no songs were particularly tight by this stage of the sessions, there’s a definite, steady progression here with “I’ve Got a Feeling, ” a song that had seen time each day thus far at Twickenham. The group works their way through at least one complete take (tape cuts, as usual, keep any claim here from being definite).

Content with the state of the song, and with a lengthy pivot to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” imminent, the band detours briefly into a pair of apparent improvisations that wouldn’t be heard from again (the bluesy “Woman Where You Been So Long” and the especially catchy, Little Richard-inspired “Oh! Julie, Julia”).

John cuts off the jam to ask Paul to launch into “Oh! Darling,” an admitted favorite of John’s up to his death 11 years later. Paul was again in instruction mode here — there was no solicitation for advice on working out kinks, rather the song was set and merely needed to be taught.

Paul had already played the song twice at Twickenham — both times solo at the piano for Lindsay-Hogg (“Sounds great, Fats Domino!” the film director said on the 6th), but it was without any further accompaniment and probably without the full band even in the building.  This is the first full-band take of the song, which, despite the need for Paul to shout out chords and generally sounding in a rough state, seems to have had at least some off-tape rehearsal at some point. With John’s enthusiasm for the song only helping the cause, it’s not unlikely to think “Oh! Darling” could have been a viable option for an extended live show, were it to have actually been staged. Alas, with the rooftop featuring Paul only on bass, and the setlist short, it wasn’t meant to be, but the song certainly found a happy home on Abbey Road.

With just single take achieved, George (largely off-mic) thinks beyond “Oh! Darling.”

“‘Maxwell’s’ would be even better to go on.”

Even Paul’s skeptical as the band readies to lay down the silver hammer.

You never know.”

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TMBP Extra: All that lies ahead

As I write this, it’s Friday, Jan. 31. About three-and-a-half weeks ago was Jan. 7. Check your own personal calendars, news headlines and the like. It’s not that long ago. That matters to me, and this blog, because this is where the Beatles come in.

Flip (or click) back several calendar pages – 45 in fact – and we’re at January 1969, dominated by the Get Back sessions. Jan. 31 marked its final day, a short day dedicated to nailing for film and for tape usable takes of Paul’s non-rooftop-suitable “Two of Us,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” (The clips appeared in the movie prior to the rooftop show, but were in fact filmed the next day).

What of Jan. 7? That’s where we left off last in the session timeline, at a genuine pivot point.  George suggested the group “have a divorce,” Paul said he’d thought about that, too. The Doldrums. It hung over the band.

So what happened between Jan. 7 and Jan. 31, 1969, to recast the sessions? Well, I’m not going to give it all away at once. What else would I blog about, the recording of Sentimental Journey? (That actually seems like an interesting, star-studded, intercontinental story, but I digress.) Three and a half weeks is such a short period of time, in relative terms, and we know that the group was on the brink Jan. 7. By Jan. 31 so much memorable musical output was in the bank and in the works. Factor in that there’s 10 ½ days without George after his walkout and more than a week without any rehearsals at all, and I’m left grasping at superlatives.

To wit: From Jan. 7-13 and Jan. 21-31, 1969 (18 days, and that includes weekends not spent in the studio):

  • Paul wrote the majority of “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Get Back” and debuted future solo tracks “Another Day,” “Teddy Boy” and “Back Seat of My Car”
  • George wrote: “I Me Mine,” “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something,” as well as “Wah-Wah” at home during his break from the band.
  • Everything you hear on “Let It Be,” plus “Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded.
  • We saw the birth – and if not the birth, than at least the studio debut – of Abbey Road’s “I Want You,”  “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
  • We have the rooftop show, too.
  • The Beatles even found time to meet with Allen Klein for the first time.

And I feel like I’m understating what happened.

So, there’s just a little bit of food for thought before I return to the timeline (soon!). Context is everything, and with January here and now gone, it provided the perfect chance to put into focus how much these guys got done throughout the madness they, for the most part, created themselves.

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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: 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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