Tag Archives: For You Blue

Jan. 9: Power politics

Pablo Fanque, Mao Zedong and Edgar Allen Poe are among the historical figures with a cameo in a Beatles lyric. During the Get Back sessions, former Prime Ministers — and famed taxmen — Harold Wilson and Edward Heath joined a more exclusive club, making an encore appearance in song.

A reasonable argument can be made that the improvisations littering these sessions aren’t really songs at all, but instead casually jammed interludes capturing the moment, intended to be forgotten if not for the tapes that recorded it all. But ultimately we do have the tapes, and those for January 9, 1969, contain a suite of performances inspired by a subject even more ponderous than taxation: the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference, which was in its third day as the Beatles continued their sixth at Twickenham, about 10 miles away.

Paul McCartney had already drawn upon the contemporary issue of the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya to Britain, conceiving the “No Pakistanis” iteration of “Get Back” that would be a part of the song for a few more days. After a thirty-minute detour that included a revisiting of “Across the Universe” and the bassist’s recounting of the “Penina” origin story, the news of the day recaptured Paul’s imagination.

Paul’s performance began seemingly unprompted, launched from a flippant attempt of the “House of The Rising Sun” that itself began as a bit of a mockery of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” — a song that was proposed to be rehearsed. Instead John launched into the song popularized by The Animals in 1964.

That brings the story to “Commonwealth” (or “The Commonwealth Song” as it’s often referred to. Also, if an improvisation isn’t really a song, does it really have a title?).

Paul channels Elvis vocally — and picks up on John’s ability to script a “newspaper song.” George doesn’t even participate at the outset; instead he discusses equipment issues with Glyn Johns.

The tabloids served as a literal jump-off point. From the front page of the January 9, 1969, Daily Mirror, under the three-deck headline “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”:

Britain has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa.

Home Secretary James Callaghan is making this clear in private talks with Commonwealth leaders now meeting in London.

He is telling them that many Britons share the views of Tory M P Mr. Enoch Powell, who wants to stop further immigration and encourage migrants to go home.

While Mr. Callaghan was taking this action, Premier Harold Wilson was rejecting accusations of discrimination at the Premiers’ conference inside London’s Marlborough House.

Accusations of discrimination by Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Arshad Husain brought an immediate riposte from Premier Wilson.

He reminded Mr Husain that Britain had brought in penal laws to ban discrimination.

Mr. Wilson told him: “Do not hold me responsible for the phenomenon known as Enoch Powell.”

While Wilson and Heath reappear in Beatles song, it’s fellow Member of Parliament Enoch Powell at the center of Paul’s muddled tale.

Here’s a taste of the first set of lyrics, transcribed as lovingly as possible for something at times so unintelligible:

Tonight Enoch Powell said get our immigrants, immigrants, you better go home, ha ha ha ha ha
Tonight Premier Wilson said to the immigrants, you better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said you better get back, home
Now Enoch Powell said to the folks, he said … the color of your skin
… So Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out or heads are gonna fall (?)
He said, Enoch Powell, Enoch you better go home

A deeply inflammatory political figure, Powell’s biography is defined by his April 20, 1968, “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he dramatically stoked racial fears, viciously attacking mass immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell would lose his position in the Shadow Cabinet (“Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out”) while deeply accelerating a serious divide in British public opinion. (In the 1970s, Eric Clapton would publicly embrace Powell, a terrible idea the Beatles pal would ultimately say he regretted.)

The “Rivers of Blood” speech had indescribable impact, and as an American writing more than 50 years later, I’m certainly dealing in deep understatement.

On the Beatles’ timeline, Powell’s 1968 speech coincided with the immediate aftermath of their trip to India (George alone remained overseas at the time). A month after the speech, Paul was put on the record regarding Powell as John and Paul were interviewed on their promotional tour to launch Apple.

Asked about “this racial business over in England,” Paul offered a simple answer: “That thing’s just the same question everywhere, you know? It’s no different in England. It’s a bit less harmful in England, but it’s the same thing. Some people don’t like other people ‘cause they’re not the same as them.”

“Yes?” – John Lennon, January 9, 1969

Plain-speaking regarding Powell in 1968, Paul was in standard form singing about him eight months later, on January 9, 1969, prioritizing the sound of the song over lyrics and meaning, even moreso in subsequent verses. Presaging the Kinks’ brilliant “Victoria” by several months, Paul offers a tour of mostly Commonwealth locales (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, West Indies, “Old Calcutta”) as well as Europe and “Tucson, Africa.”

(“Old Calcutta” could also be heard as “Oh! Calcutta!” a wink to John’s involvement in the forthcoming stage show, while the reference to Tucson was both an acknowledgement of the location’s growing importance the to “Get Back” lyric as well as an indicator of Paul’s monumental disinterest in improvising any sort of serious lyric to this song.)

But the clear focal point of the track is the chorus, featuring an animated John interjecting a responsive “Yes?” to each of Paul’s calls of “Commonwealth,” in a shrill, deliberately cartoonish accent, described in the book that accompanied the Let It Be LP as that of a “Boston matron.”

(Yet another aside: In a remarkable coincidence in this song’s story, Boston, Lincolnshire — site of a huge influx of immigrants in the 21st century — tallied the highest percentage of “leave” supporters in the Brexit vote.)

The first time John chimed with his “Yes?” response, Paul sounded sincerely taken by surprise, unable to suppress a laugh. This interplay, enjoyed throughout half of the song, is what makes “Commonwealth” memorable and somewhat remarkable (Paul would use a similar vocal inflection himself elsewhere in the song). Partial film of the performance of the song — focused on John alone — makes clear he is enjoying this one-off.

The collaboration of sorts was sustained throughout, as John quickly improved Paul’s original verse-closing words:

Paul: Commonwealth, but it’s much too wealthy for me
John: Much too common for me.

Paul was strong on the fly, but John was even more clever, unsurprisingly.

As “Commonwealth” petered out, Paul delivered a brief coda consisting merely of the words, “Oh, Enoch Powell … powerless” (sounding very close to “Powell-less”)

This brief interlude spilled into another lengthy improvisation and an additional moment John and Paul used to minimize the junior songwriter in the band. Originally intended by George to be an electrified take of “For You Blue,” Paul hijacked the song and veered into another direction, interjecting several mentions of “white power” — again, as inspired by headlines satirically and obviously not a celebration of such a thing — and was met with an off-timed “Get Off!” response from John. The song quickly evolved into Paul and John — both continued in high spirits — trading real and fictional names in a roll call over an enjoyable, loose blues rocker. Paul occasionally throws in a “Can you dig it?” or “Let me hear it” after a name.

More than 40 names are called out — usually by Paul — including multiple Quarrymen (Eric Griffiths, Ivan Vaughn and John Lennon himself), other Beatles insiders (Mal Evans, Peter Brown), many others in entertainment (James Brown, Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, David Frost) or in politics (Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon), with the likes of Superman alter ego Clark Kent and stain-killer Super Ajax also receiving call-outs. Paul and John are clearly enjoying every moment of it.

At one early point, the song breaks down, with John asking what the group should properly rehearse next.

George: I’ll do one, but it has acoustic guitar and no backing.
John: Get off!

And with that, “Get Off” picked right back up. It was a funny moment, with delicious comic timing on John’s part, but another occasion in which they’d offend and unnerve George.

Soon after, George begins to sing and play “For You Blue” only to have John and Paul continue to play “Get Off” over him.

During the final moments before the group did ultimately work on “For You Blue” (covered at length here), John seemingly pokes at George, who two days earlier suggested a divorce from the group and one day later would in fact temporarily leave the Beatles.

Paul (following some feedback): Noise is a little too loud for me.
John: Leave the group then, if you don’t like it (giggles).

Sure, the Beatles played “God Save the Queen” on the rooftop, but they wouldn’t be quite as overtly political in such a burst for the balance of the sessions. And while “Get Off” (and “Commonwealth,” like the similarly jubilant “Suzy Parker” ) vanished from the group’s memory, never to appear on an official release, a little bit of “Get Off” lived on, both as a stream-of-consciousness performance and through the very use of one of the song’s key phrases in “Dig It.”

With “For You Blue” begging to be rehearsed, Paul and John spent 15 minutes comically spanning and panning global issues. But all politics are ultimately local, and there were clearly internal band politics at play.

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Jan. 9: Last-night song

“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.”

You know that what you eat you are: George enjoys breakfast at home on April 9, 1969, three months to the day after this post’s session.

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.

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Jan. 8: Rocky and the Rubbers

Our world lost — and the stars and heavens regained — David Bowie last week. I didn’t feel much like blogging about the Beatles for a little bit, even though this post had already been mostly written. But as the man once sang, time is waiting in the wings, and we should be on by now. So please enjoy the continuation of the Beatles’ Nagra tapes timeline, picking up with the morning of January 8, 1969, as David Bowie was celebrating his 22nd birthday across town and working on writing Space Oddity.

It’s tough to say “this is when they got serious” when there were laughs and smiles throughout, but after more than a half hour on the January 8, 1969, Nagra reels, the Beatles at least found a bit of motivation and a short-term goal to complete, getting serious in deed if not demeanor. With a concert to be staged, John, Paul, George and Ringo gathered their focus for a chirpy, energetic run-through of four songs deemed early contenders for a live show.

Paul led the proceedings, tabbing his original duet as the opener: “Johnny, ‘On Our Way Back Home.’”

If you’ve seen Let It Be — and I really hope you have and will one day again on some sort of modern entertainment replay device – you’ve been struck by how loose John and Paul are, hamming it up as they sing into the same microphone.

Two of Us

Paul, who Ringo in an interview the previous year referred to as“Elvis” in reference to his performance of “Lady Madonna,” was closer to the toxically impaired King, comically slurring and sneering throughout a take that both he and John sang without benefit of a lyric sheet. That’s how we end up with John, laughingly repeating his mistake “two of us wearing postcards” once the take was complete. They laughed the as they sang it during the take, too.

While Paul and John can’t often get through more than a few words without butchering a lyric, there was no turning back once they started, with this a sincere attempt at a run-through.

The sequence appears slightly edited in the film, cutting the performance in half from its actual three minutes to a minute-and-a-half. Had the group secretly abandoned the film and this leaked, conventional wisdom would have been that the group had a blast at Twickenham. Maybe they were just hamming it up for the cameras — or John was, at least — but it’s hard to deny a somewhat different spirit in the room with a watch and listen. When things were languid at Twickenham, it was painfully clear.

A visually telling edit by movie director Michael Lindsay-Hogg comes around 30 seconds into the clip, as we catch John glancing over at Yoko, who blankly stares back, as he stands oh, so close to Paul, showing some of the genuine affection that they certainly used to have and somewhere deep in there still did.

Yoko and Us

Two of us, and also Yoko

If you can use the word “tragedy” when referring to the fact a song was omitted from a compilation –- you shouldn’t, but I will, deplorably -– it’s a tragedy this take didn’t make it onto Anthology 3. It’s in the film, thus is a recognizable, published “official” release, so despite the issues with the lyrics, it’s “out there.” Consumers would have understood having an(other) imperfect take on the compilation, if not welcomed it.

In the film, the song comes out of the “shocktric shocks” sequence from a few days earlier, and then dumps into “I’ve Got a Feeling,” but in reality the group – after the improvised “You Got Me Going” and a few unserious seconds of “Twist and Shout” – delivers “Don’t Let Me Down.” Note the time between the end of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down” is less than a minute. Dallying was at a minimum. While “Don’t Let Me Down” appears several times in Let It Be, this version is not in the film.

George didn’t quite nail the introduction, but again there was no concern when the lyrics were muffed. John simply shouted “Snotgobbler!” and moves on. That’s rock and roll. So was the pre-primal scream from John as the song began.  So were the lyrics “nobody ever rubbed me like she do me,” which John subs in at one point. The band played on, and musically it was relatively tight, really an achievement at this point in the song’s lifespan.

beardclose up

Paul beard porn from the January 8 sessions, as seen in Let it Be. Thank me later.

John came out of the high-energy take with thanks from the “band.” “God bless you, ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say a sincere farewell from Rocky and the Rubbers, this is Dirty Mac himself saying …”

Paul cut in, all business: “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

goodmorning

“Good morning!”

The performance was a tick slower at the outset, and with continued lyrical miscues (especially Paul and John mismatching “oh no” and “oh yeah” early on), but it retained the same vigor as the two previous songs. Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after wailing “somebody who looks like you!” as George hits the middle-eight guitar part.

This sequence made the film, notably appended to a particularly torturous rehearsal from a day later.

Three songs into the run-through, John revealed some fatigue, perhaps reflecting the weight of the previous week more than the prior 10 minutes: “Only another two days to go, then we’ll have another two off.” But Paul then offers a pick-me-up, suggesting, “Do ‘One After 909’.” So they did.

This number marked the one point in the four-song run-through the group stopped after they started, rebooting the take after George’s solo. Once again, there’s a disconnect with the film. Based on clothes alone, this performance of “One After 909” is featured visually early in the movie — after Paul’s discussion of the song with Lindsay-Hogg from a couple days earlier (as seen in the film) — but paired with the audio of a take from January 9.

The movie and even a moment of the Let It Be LP was further fleshed out with a bit of memorable dialogue coming out of “One After 909.” You’ll hear it on the Let It Be LP prior to “For You Blue,” George’s eventual lone contribution to album that was just days old, as John reads from the newspaper.

Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.

What, you thought she’d be OK with it?

Again, we have a disconnect between the movie and the tapes, as the film moves to a previous day’s take of “Oh! Darling” while in real time, the band had completed their first commitment to a run-through for a show yet to materialize. It was rough, but it was spirited, and if anything, the set must have given them the idea there would be a light at the end of the tunnel if they chose to shine it. With at least four fully formed songs, they were on their way, and the apparent positivity could easily be read to bode good fortune ahead.

Probably inspired by “One After 909,” they continued a quick dip into their back catalog.

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Jan. 6: Hear me

It’s the definition of insane: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. God bless George Harrison, but at times during his tenure with the Beatles I think he was insane. (It’s likely I’m an insane blogger, who feels like he’s writing the same post about George over and over again).

To wit:  Every album session, George throws a  number of songs at the wall (the wall also goes by the names of “John” and “Paul”), sees a couple stick for whatever the current record is and reintroduces a couple of the losers along with some new songs again some other time. Repeat until going solo.

Jan. 6 saw a pair of fresh George tunes,  “For You Blue” (which stuck) and “Hear Me Lord” (which did not). Neither was given any significant time. And “Hear Me Lord” wasn’t to be heard again in these sessions or even in  a Beatles context, far as I can tell. Perhaps he finally figured out he was going insane.

Or maybe there was divine intervention.

“Well, I wrote a gospel song over the weekend, lads,” George says in a lull.

“According to St. Who?,” Ringo blithely asks.

“According to the Lord,” George replies. “Hear me Lord, how I corner you,” to laughter.  (At least that last bit sounded like that, it’s almost indecipherable).

A second of silence was followed with Michael Lindsay-Hogg going right into business, suggesting the band discuss the live show soon. George first touches on “High School Confidential,” then  he plays and sings along to “I’ve Got a Feeling” before pivoting right into his new song.

You could hear it in the clip — George is playing background music.  As he played, Paul, Ringo and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discussed “the new Bonzo’s record,” — presumably The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, which had come out in November, a few weeks earlier.

Soon, the strumming ended and conversation returned to the Cream discussion.

While Paul and Michael continue to chat about some equipment issues, George resumes on his guitar, now debuting “For You Blue,” an eventual survivor on the Let it Be LP. Again, it’s background music.

George cuts himself off to raise a question about Magic Alex‘s latest studio work and attempts at soundproofing the studio after Ringo asks, “Has Alex created his waves yet?” And after a bit of crosstalk about Alex and his “waves,” Paul sings along to George’s early take of “For Your Blue.”

“Those soundproof walls of silence, are ringing in my ears…”

Soon enough, the band — fully ready to play, finally, as John takes to the organ — cuts away, weaving into oldies, improvisations and rehearsing newer songs (topics ripe for subsequent posts).

Nearly an hour and a half  after he first strummed it (on the tapes), George returns to “Hear Me Lord.” Again, it’s primarily a quiet soundtrack to other discussions, among them one in which we finally hear  another George  — Martin —  a figure so absent from the Let it Be tale, here showing up for the first significant time on tape.

Ringo plays a bit of a beat, and John makes a terrible attempt at following along on guitar.

It’s more of the same after extensive rehearsals of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” among others. Again, it’s just a quick taste before they moved on.

Indifference isn’t strong enough a term for how the song is met. I suppose George could have pressed it a little further as an option.

And that was it for the song. No more rehearsals during the Get Back sessions. If it was brought up during the “Abbey Road” recordings, there’s no record of  it I’ve seen. And we wouldn’t hear it again until we get to the last song on Side 4 of the All Things Must Pass LP, released nearly a year after George first brought it to the Beatles.

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