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Jan. 10: Et cetera

January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipicesomething we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so. 

Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.

***

While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism. 

“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.

“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”

“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”

Nevertheless, make the most of it.

George Martin clarified the deeper issue.

“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”

Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career. 

“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”  

***

In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.

Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.

“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”

“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”

“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”

Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”

“Hence the expression,” Michael replied, “Papa’s got a brand-new bag.”

***

When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.

“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”

It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”

When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”

George Martin, proofreader

The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.

On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.

“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.

“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”

***

While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.

“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.

“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”

***

Hugh Curry, January 1969

No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.

At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …

“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”

“Goddamn sinister”

Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure. 

“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”

After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m. 

Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple. 

“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!” 

John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.

Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.

Yoko: Oh, you like it?

Curry: No, I don’t.

The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.

“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.” 

Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”

Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.

A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada. 

And speaking of record labels … 

“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked. 

“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.” 

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Jan. 9: Et cetera

January 9, 1969, marked the last full day all four Beatles worked together at Twickenham during the Get Back sessions. Here are a few loose ends worth tying up before the pivot point of January 10.

“Junk” (Paul’s hand-written lyrics, from the White Album deluxe companion book)

Conceived in India in 1968 and born at Paul McCartney’s home in 1970, “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” were under a period of gestation in the studio in January 1969. These brothers in song, destined to be released together on Paul’s eponymous solo record, were likewise introduced to the Get Back sessions in tandem on January 9, 1969.

This wasn’t any attempt at a rehearsal, just a light breather between takes of “Across The Universe.”

“Remember that one?” Paul asked the room after a spinning off a quick, shuffling verse of “Teddy Boy.” That song’s story will continue later, after the action shifts to Savile Row.

“And ‘Junk’?” Paul continued.

That song, while lyrically incomplete, was formed enough to be among the May 1968 Esher demos, but except for this momentary appearance, it wouldn’t surface again during the Get Back sessions and it never seemed to be a contender for Abbey Road, either.

It’s a stretch to even call this a performance.

After mentioning the song’s title, Paul rattled off a few words (“epsilon,” “elephant,” “parachute” were the most recognizable) in an exaggerated French accent — John Lennon chipped in, too — to the tune of the song before they quickly return to “Across the Universe.”

A key takeaway from this sequence is the nostalgia with which Paul asks “remember that one” to John, as if these were songs from their childhood, not merely less than a year old. Paul, especially, will refer to the trip to India as if it was another era. More on that as we get to those portions of the tapes.

*****

We’re living in the wrong timeline.

John: “I’d like to do a number just on electric”

In another universe, John’s “Quit Your Messing Around” is hailed as essential proto-punk, a harsh, noisy sound brought into the mainstream. In ours, however, the song is a sub-30 second blast of chords followed by John’s four-word request, obscured by so many other electric (and acoustic) numbers throughout the day’s songs on the tapes.

*****

Surrounded by a film crew for a week already, the Beatles were still learning the extent of personal coverage a week into the sessions.

“This is the bugging device,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg said. “So we can surreptitiously bug your showbiz conversations,”

In this sequence, both Ringo Starr and George Harrison on separate occasions asked if “that” was the tape.

This bugging device will be a part of the story the next day of the sessions.

*****

Ringo was consistent, at least. He resisted traveling abroad for a concert, and he lobbied against needless travel for his role in The Magic Christian, too.

Film producer Denis O’Dell was working on selling Ringo on filming a scene in New York, mostly to get a single distinctive shot.

“We thought of doing one day in Wall Street,” Denis said, though conceding he was “two-minded about it.”

“If we’re just going to America for one scene … I mean, I’ll do it. I don’t think it’s worth it.. .. And who knows Wall Street? I don’t know Wall Street. Unless you put up a sign that says “Wall Street,” I’d have no idea what it looks like.”

The scene was never filmed. But four months later, Ringo joined the rest of the cast and crew on the QE2 as it sailed for New York to celebrate the end of filming.

*****

As the day’s session came to a close, John and Yoko Ono apologized to Paul — and notably not the film’s director or producer — for consistently rolling into the studio well after the others. Paul’s reply was a study in passive-aggressive behavior.

Yoko: Are we getting later and later?
Paul: … It’s getting to be a habit.
John: OK, we’ll come in …
Yoko: … around 10,
Paul: I’m getting used to it! Don’t throw me now.

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Jan. 7: Et cetera

Every day at Twickenham was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day the Beatles recorded together was pivotal, if not necessarily drama-filled, right?

January 7 was a particular special day. Dramatic. Pivotal. The group talked in circles about the live show and their reasons for even remaining together. Paul bestowed us with a chunk of the Abbey Road medley as well as “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back.” George triedbut didn’t — quit (yet).  John worked “Across The Universe” back into the Beatles’ plans. The band very possibly invented the mashup.

Things were so interesting that we covered just about all of it in prior the prior January 7 posts. But not everything. Here are a few other significant moments that happened this day that otherwise didn’t fit into the day’s storyline:

Following their attempts to resurrect “Across the Universe,” the group spends less than 10 minutes (on tape) on “One After 909,” and they didn’t need to spend another minute more on it. It’s clear they know the song perfectly well, and the need to develop “bits” that tortured the group elsewhere was absent. After the very first run-through, imperfect but still tight given the sub-100 percent effort, Paul remarks, “That’s all we need to know of that one.” Really,  he said it all. “It’s very simple, and we shouldn’t over-rehearse.”

Billy’s missing, but every other element from the song as we know it now sounds like it’s there, from George’s whiny guitar line and solo to Paul’s and John’s vocal and Ringo’s tight beat. The song is show-ready, even in this early rehearsal.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is rehearsed again — it would be tackled every day the band was at Twickenham until George’s departure, and then again most days at Apple when they reconvened. One particular sequence sees the band return to another song, which like “One After 909,” they originally recorded in 1963. But “Devil In Her Heart” wasn’t a contender for the live show. George’s playing on “Don’t Let Me Down” was merely evocative of the Donays song later covered by the Beatles to great effect. (Skip forward to here for the transition or listen below for the entire sequence.)

I think this is less a half-hearted attempt than the group genuinely doesn’t remember how to play that song anymore. Regardless, it was merely a blip, albeit a somewhat interesting one, in the sessions.

Unlike other days, the group didn’t pay significant time to sincerely playing covers. We get to hear a loose take of Little Richard’s “Lucille” for the second and final time on the tapes (January 3 was the previous performance). That was preceded by a rehash of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” that got better as the band played, although admittedly they kicked it off from an weak position and ended up in a slightly less-so place. There’s little question the group sounds like it’s having fun playing songs they all know, even if they’re not executing well.



John also dipped into the group’s more recent catalog, plunking a few notes of “Revolution” in a sequence that soon saw him lead the group into Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula,” a song with extensive Beatle ties. It was the first record Paul ever bought, a song John played going back to the Quarrymen days and it was played live extensively in the Beatles’ early days. Ultimately, John would record it on “Rock & Roll” more than five years after these sessions, while Paul opened his landmark Unplugged appearance with the song in 1991. The song was always with George: He scrawled “Bebobalula.” on his colorful Stratocaster, Rocky.

The tapes of the day’s sessions would end with the group in the midst of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” rehearsals. As you can hear, there was no significant work done to the song since its debut the day before.

And that wraps up our coverage of January 7, 1969. Back “tomorrow,” for coverage a compelling January 8, 1969. We’ll start things off with “I Me Mine.”

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Jan. 6: Et cetera

What a day!

Six hours of tapes that inspired 12 posts — and this one makes it a baker’s dozen. Some songs are introduced, others tortuously rehearsed and the proposed live show is discussed at length for the first time.

So before ripping off the desk calendar page and welcoming Jan. 7, 1969, I wanted to tie up some loose ends and look at a few songs and moments that were important enough to mention but not so much to warrant standalone posts.

One After 909” wasn’t the only unlikely John Lennon song resurrected in the first few days of the sessions. “Across the Universe” was recorded 11 months prior — a pre-White Album contemporary with “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” and “Hey Bulldog” — and sat finished but not yet released as of January 1969.

There’s more than enough to say about the song at this point to justify its own post — and it will. Once the song has a more prominent role, in the next day’s session, I’ll do more than offer this brief mention.

While George had introduced other songs,”All Things Must Pass” remained the primary Harrisong to this point the band was rehearsing. Jan. 6 saw just a smattering of takes running about 20 minutes on the tapes, barely memorable. Frankly, the song sounds like a dirge at times thanks in part to John’s unimaginative organ droning.

It’s such a great song, and I keep telling myself — “This is The Beatles doing ‘All Things Must Pass,’ for heaven’s sake” — but I don’t find myself caring, which pretty much puts me on par with the rest of the group. That sentiment was encapsulated in a brief exchange at the end of what would be the day’s final run-through of the song.

Paul: Wanna to do it again, George?

George: Not really.

Simple as that, they moved onto the final properly rehearsed song of the day: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.”

This was the song’s introduction to the sessions, and with the day nearing an end, it was a brief one, lasting just 15 minutes on the tapes. The song’s pretty well crafted at this early stage, as far as structure and lyrics. It took only a few takes and just a couple of minutes for the band to pick up the chords and string together a few reasonably decent takes.

It’s nice to hear the voices of George and John deliver harmonies, since we’re used to Paul double-tracked on the recorded Abbey Road version.

Eventual Abbey Road medley mate “Carry That Weight” was a Paul suggestion as a vehicle for Ringo, and he wasn’t alone thinking about giving a song to the drummer. It’s just that Paul was the only one who wrote a song that endured.

John offered up about half a minute of the upbeat “Annie,” which sounds just barely sketched out enough not to be an improvisation. There’s not much meat to the bones, but it’s pleasant enough and very easy to hear Ringo singing it.

Not to be left out, George immediately followed with a new song he likewise said was for Ringo. More fleshed out than “Annie” — or “Carry That Weight,” for that matter — “Maureen” was credited to Bob Dylan, according to George.

Maureen and George in India, Februrary 1968

Maureen and George in India, February 1968

It’s folky and laid back, and there’s no reason necessarily to think it’s not a product of the November ’68 Harrison-Dylan sessions in upstate New York, if you accept the premise Dylan was writing songs named for Ringo Starr’s wife in George’s style and less his own. As it would happen, George and Maureen did have a lengthy affair, but Pattie Boyd’s autobiography only pins it to the early 1970s. But who knows what was going on before that — I don’t, and I’m drifting badly off-topic in discussing band members’ infidelity.

What the song does do, like so many other random bits of music that passed through Twickenham, is add another curio to sessions replete with such oddities we’d never hear from again.

The group tackled a few covers, but of course they did. It’s a hallmark of these sessions, and a wildly overrated and overstated hallmark to boot.

One of the memorable covers of the day was an oldie they had mastered in the past and was so strongly associated with their live act. Surprisingly, it’s the only time they performed a take of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” at the sessions, and it apparently happened to be an instrumental (any singing was off-mic, at least). Clunkier and a little slower than the original, if it was ever to be remotely considered for this live show — and there’s no indication it was to be — they’d probably just rely on memory.

The song served as a jumping point for a few other oldies in succession: “Money,” “Fools Like Me,” “Sure to Fall” and “Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo.” (All included in the above clip.)

Perhaps the covers throughout the duration of the sessions could be described as red herrings along with the one-off originals like “Annie” and “Maureen” — interesting merely because they’re rare Beatles recordings, but not nearly as enlightening as seeing the songs we know develop or listening to the fascinating conversation about the live show and the future of the band.

With that, I’ll close the book on Jan. 6, 1969. See you “tomorrow”!

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Jan. 3: Et cetera

With Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, the band wrapped the second day of the sessions at Twickenham. This blog is ready to move onto Jan. 6, the next day the band assembled after the weekend, but first, I wanted to tie up a few loose ends and address a few items that didn’t quite merit their own separate posts.

•  After being introduced the day before, the band continued to work on “Two of Us” in a matter that totally didn’t distinguish itself. The song had the familiar architecture and same lyrics as would be eventually released, while the tune was a little bit quicker than we’d hear. Just ordinary runthroughs churned with nothing groundbreaking and no remarkable dialogue or discussion.

•  With the exception of his introduction of a pair of never-to-be-released originals, Ringo was the real quiet Beatle on Jan. 3. Totally invisible except for his drumming, which was characteristically steady.

•  As they famously did throughout the sessions, the band covered “oldies” (by this point, we’re talking some songs that in 1969 were less than a decade old, of course).  George, Paul and John each led the way at different points. And while they seemed happy — or at least not bored — they weren’t necessarily very good.

To me, this is a hallmark of what these sessions were about prior to beginning to listening to the complete tapes, when I all would see/hear were compilation bootlegs of the sessions. “The Beatles cover all these songs!” OK, great, but they’re not particularly listenable. Or at least re-listenable.



Interesting to note just how many of these songs would eventually see release by these guys on solo records (John and Paul, at least).

This environment of the oldies, however, did at least bring to the forefront their oldies, like “One After 909.”

•  Plus they touched upon a number of contemporary  songs, but “touching” is even too strong a term. Often it was just for a few seconds, and often it was mere mockery. And even then, it’s completely disingenuous to call it covering. In some cases, like “I’m a Tiger” by Lulu, Paul sings the chorus while George tunes up  (That song, incidentally, appeared on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, the record that first debuted “Across the Universe.”).

Dylan got his due with “All Along the Watchtower,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Please Mrs. Henry.”


Paul shows his love for Canned Heat at one point in a hilarious exchange with George and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

“That Canned Heat number, I love that new one. It’s cornier than the last one, not quite as good. ‘Up the Country‘ is it?”

Paul proceeds to sing the first verse before continuing.

“It’s just got flutes playing. It’s a bit of a fruity thing they do. … Almost no soul.”

“Almost no what?” George asks.

“Soul,” says Paul. “They don’t bend the flutes or anything. But it’s great because they don’t. It’s sort of a … “

Paul offers the flute part in falsetto “doo-doo-doos” and continues..

“The end is great. They do, like, a false end.”

More “doo-doo-doos.”

“They keep going with the flute!”

After some laughs, George does a few-second quote of Canned Heat’s other hit, “On the Road Again,” before the band completely changes course and reintroduces “One After 909”.

As the band departed the session, the last point of discussion caught on tape was George and Mal picking up the discussion they had about equipment earlier in the day, during the “All Things Must Pass” rehearsals. Then with the goodbyes, the day’s tapes are done.

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