Tag Archives: future solo

Jan. 13: The Lunchroom Tape (Pt. 2)

The lunchroom discussion on January 13, 1969, winds and turns, overlaps and often overwhelms. It’s sincerely impossible to give a linear rundown of this 30-minute discussion, as it isn’t a linear discussion. So here’s another disclaimer: You may have already read some of the bits below in previous posts, and if you haven’t, you may eventually read some of it again. This isn’t a straight recap — instead I’m trying to follow themes as they developed at different points in the conversation.

Also, please read Part 1 first, if you haven’t already. It’s there I lay out the background of the lunchroom conversation and the key differences between the Nagra tapes and the Get Back docuseries’ portrayal of events. It’s not insignificant.

***

John, Paul, George and Ringo.

From 1962 to this very moment, it’s how we break down the Beatles. It’s the quintessential ordinal.

Open up your eyes now, tell me what you see: From the closing credits to A Hard Day’s Night

At once, it’s a simple accounting of tenure in the Beatles dating back to the Quarrymen days, but also a power ranking, a long-term hierarchy openly affirmed during the January 13, 1969, lunchroom tape. Yet at its most elemental, it’s a listing of four ostensibly separate co-workers assigned to the same group project. They’re still individuals with their own names and agendas.

After all, “we have egos,” to quote John Lennon in the opening moments of this recorded conversation.

The full half-hour of audio from the lunchroom reveals periodic contention between John and Paul McCartney, but it’s based in candor not animosity. You can hear it in their spoken tones.

Still, John is constantly raising the subject of ego and individual and collective self to Paul. At this point early in the tapes, it’s in the specific context of wanting the departed George Harrison to return to the band. From around two minutes into the recording, following John’s “ego” declaration and in a sequence omitted from the Get Back docuseries:

Do I want him back, Paul? … [D]o I want it back, whatever it is? The myth? Then if it is, you know, I’ve had to smother my ego for you, and I’ve had to smother me jealousy for you to carry on, for whatever reasons there is.

It’s a strong statement, but Paul likely knew as much all along — he didn’t reply. John said he couldn’t be his real self, or who he wanted to be, to partake in the Beatles “myth.” He didn’t bury Paul; he’s saying he buried himself for the sake of Paul. John’s jealousy could be rooted in a lot of things — later in the lunchroom we hear John and Paul seriously discussing John’s feelings of submission at Paul’s musical direction. We’ll get to that another time.

John continued to unload in a sequence that’s complicated to follow, speaking at times to Yoko Ono and at others directly to Paul. He may even be speaking just to get his thoughts gathered out loud. Part of John’s argument is that Paul only “this year” came to recognize his own shortcomings and took responsibility not just for Paul’s treatment of George but his relationship with John, too. But he also gets into Paul’s interpersonal approach, too.

There’s plenty to unravel. John’s liberal use of pronouns instead of given names and constant shifting from first to third person is dizzying. I want to get this right, but I’m not sure this can be gotten right entirely. (I covered some of this territory earlier, in the recap of the band meeting the day before.)

John: It’s only this year that you’ve suddenly realized, like, who I am, or who he is or anything like that. But the thing is … you realize that like you were saying like George was some other part. But up till then, you had your thing that carried you forward. … I know, I’d deduced it before you … that would make me hipper than you, but I know that I’d deduced it to you before that for selfish reasons and for good reasons, not knowing what I was to do, and for all these reasons I’d adjusted to all these, and allowed you to, if you wanted to let me be that guy, whatever it is.

But this year, you’ve seen what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing, and not only felt guilty about it, the way we all feel guilty about our relationship to each other, is we could do more.

I’m not putting any blame on you for only suddenly realizing it, see. Because this was my game, you know. It might have been masochistic, but me goal was still the same — self-preservation, you know. And I knew what I liked. I know where, even though I didn’t know where I was at, you know, the table’s there, and just let him do what he wants, and George too, you know? …

But this year, see, it’s all happening to you. And you’re taking the blame suddenly as if he’ll say, “Oh yeah, you know I’m a mean guy” as if I’ve never known it. And then I thought, “Fucking hell, I know what he’s like. I know he used to kick people. I know how he connived with Len, Ivan, and I now know, you know? Fuck him.” And then, “Oh, but right, I’ve done such things.” All that.

So you’ve taken the five years … of trouble, this year. So half of me says, “All right, you know I’d do anything so save you, to help you.” And the other half of me goes, “Well, serves him fucking right. I chewed through fucking shit because of him for five years and he’d only just realized what he was doing to me.”

This is a lot, spoken rapidly and emotionally in a little under three minutes. Some takeaways, from John’s perspective, via my own perspective and listening of the discussion:

• Without visuals to help clarify who John is talking to or any body language we can decode, no amount of AI and crisp audio will get us to  understand this sequence satisfactorily, much as we’d like to. It’s in the ear of the beholder whether John was talking about George’s relationship with John and Paul or John is talking about his own dealings with Paul. Or maybe John was projecting! With every repeated listen, I try to convince myself John is complaining about Paul, but if he is, Paul’s reaction (none) is so stark and tame, it forces me to reconsider that it must instead be about George’s relationship with the others after all.

Not guilty? On the contrary! Not only John, but all the Beatles feel guilty about their treatment of each other, and he believes they can improve. This certainly makes sense. George’s departure from the group, the second by a Beatle in 4 1/2 months over real or perceived treatment from the others, could represent a tipping point to John.

• It’s not just guilt, though. Saying it “might have been masochistic,” John admitted to probably finding pleasure in the treatment of George — and in Paul bearing the recent brunt of the conflict with George.

• John’s explicit goal is” self-preservation,” without any elaboration.

• While he said he didn’t want to put any blame on Paul, that’s exactly what he did throughout.

I’m open to the description of George as “some other part” having  a further meaning beyond him simply existing as a separate entity outside the Lennon-McCartney songwriting and social circle. George is literally another part of the Beatles, and wasn’t previously treated as earning that full share.

Connivin’ with Ivan: Paul and Ivan Vaughan at Cavendish in 1968 — the year Paul suddenly realized it.

And then there are the remarks about “this year,” when Paul finally started figuring things out. Not yet a fortnight into 1969, “this year” certainly must refer to part, if not all, of 1968. That’s the year of India, the launch of Apple and the recording of the White Album. And personally for Paul, the end of his relationship with Jane Asher and the start of his life with Linda Eastman. In other words, a transitional, emotional year for Paul.

This was, in large part, a few moments of John speaking openly and directly about Paul (which viewers of Get Back were led to believe were the discussion’s only two participants).

That was enough for Yoko to interrupt at one point and plead for John to shift the conversation, without a spoken explanation. Was she uncomfortable by the discussion? Did she just want John to focus? (Why not both?)

“Go back to … talking about George.”

Moments later, she interrupted again to ask, “What about George?”

I’ve written about this next sequence over several other posts. But it’s worth a revisit and recontextualization. (When I eventually ask you all to buy They May Be Parted: The Two-Ton Tome, this will be a more orderly read.)

Paul was an optimist. He didn’t view George’s absence as a problem quite yet. (This moment comes about 5 1/2 minutes into the full recorded conversation, but it in the closing seconds of the Get Back cut).

Paul: See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back, you know? I’ll tell you, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

John: What if he isn’t?

Paul: If he isn’t, then it’s a new problem.

It’s at this point — when he suggests that “as a policy” they should retain George in the band — ostensible Beatle boss John pitched a corporate reorg that would essentially result in the Plastic Beatles Band (or is it the Plastic Ono Beatles?).

“The Beatles, to me, isn’t just the four of us,” John said with the implicit suggestion Yoko could be a Beatle if the others acquiesced.

“I think that I alone could be a Beatle. I think [Paul] could. I’m not sure whether [Ringo] could. … I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think the Beatles revolve around the four people.

“It’s like [Ringo] joining instead of Pete [Best]. To me, it is like that.”

Of course, it’s not really like that. (As I wrote previously, going from Pete to Ringo was a crafty personnel decision and musical upgrade, not part of a disruptive strategy or to keep the band fresh by employing a rotating lineup.)

“You have always been boss,” Paul continued, about 6 1/2 minutes into the near 30-minute sequence on the Nagra tapes and about halfway through the four-minutes dedicated to the lunchroom sequence in the Get Back documentary. “Now I’ve been sort of secondary boss. George has been the third boss.” (Previously, I wrote that it sounded like “third rung” — I even found a picture of George on a ladder to highlight the point! — but on fresh listen prompted by the cleaned-up audio in Get Back, I do think it’s “boss.” Regardless of exact wording, the point is the same.)

In a grand comic concession, Ringo admitted, “I’ve been the rabbit.”

The documentary doesn’t include the reference of George’s ranking, much less Ringo’s joke. Instead it ends with Paul’s placement as “sort of, secondary boss.”

John, Paul, George and Ringo. That’s what the Beatles became when Pete was sacked, and that’s the order they had in place at the beginning of these sessions in January 1969. And that’s probably why Paul was pushing for John to step up.

(Interestingly in a 1971 interview that went unpublished until 1984, John explicitly said, “What I think about the Beatles is that even if there had been Paul and John and two other people, we’d never have been the Beatles. It had to take that combination of Paul, John, George and Ringo to make the Beatles.”)

Paul had been very conscious of this concept of band leadership. Just a week earlier, he gave a vague statement about this very point.

I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know?

It’s unclear if in that January 6 quote Paul meant “for a couple years, he was scared” of taking on a leadership role or if he was acknowledging he had felt he “acted as boss, for a couple years.” If on the lunchroom tape he’s explicitly recognizing John at the alpha, then it sounds like the former.

Later during the lunchroom Nagras — about 18 minutes in and in a sequence ignored in Get Back — Paul evoked cinema’s rebellious, anti-hero “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen.  It didn’t sound like Paul was attempting to fill any power vacuum himself, but instead was giving John the space to fill it again in some fashion.

Here’s a separate mini-post snuck inside a caption. I can’t track down the exact source of this photo, although I’ve seen some say it’s one of Linda McCartney’s Polaroids. Anyway, if legit, it’s Paul and Steve McQueen, probably in the LA area around April 1974. Everybody’s hair in his era checks out. John, meanwhile, attended a benefit for actor James Stacy a few weeks earlier in 1974, and seems to to have at least met McQueen there. In 1973, when Paul was vacationing in Jamaica, McQueen and Dustin Hoffman were filming Papillon. That’s when Hoffman challenged Paul to write a song that resulted in “Picasso’s Last Words.”

Rattle the cage. Make a scene. And make a splash — on your own if that’s what it takes.

“You’re unsure because you’re not sure whether to go left or right on an issue,” Paul said to John. “You’ve noticed the two ways open to us. You know the way we all want to go. And you know the way you want to go. Which is positive! … So your positive thing might actually be to kick that telephone box in. It might occasionally be to do that.”

The metaphorical phone booth could be inspired by something in the room, outside the window or simply from thin air.

“Everybody would want to see that, actually,” said Yoko, the first to reply.

“But you don’t want to actually look like you’re kicking the telephone box in,” Paul accused John in this scenario. “So you have to sort of say to everyone, ‘Look at that over there, everyone!’ And while they’re looking, you’ll kick the telephone box in, and sort of [Paul whistles innocently like somebody who’s guilty].”

John laughed and said that wasn’t a fair representation of him.

“But I think the answer is that while you’ve got us all looking at nothing over there, and you’ve thrown us for a minute, we would actually all have dug to see you kick that telephone box in,” Paul said. “Because we wanna see you do it! … We would actually want to watch the Steve McQueen film where he kicks the telephone box in. We all want to see that.”

John: But it must be our own faults that we’ve built it up that I can’t kick the telephone box, apart from it being my fault.

Paul: You can. You could.

In preparing this post, I watched Steve McQueen’s filmography through the beginning of 1969 and asked around to more educated fans of his, and there doesn’t seem to be a scene where he explicitly kicks a phone booth. There are similar moments, like one in Bullitt (which was playing at the very hour of this discussion at the Warner West End theater, just a 10 minute walk from the Beatles’ Savile Row headquarters). McQueen doesn’t quite kick in a telephone box with no one watching, but he does get a little aggressive with a newspaper box.

McQueen was a metaphor. John’s directionless — or is it multi-directional? — impression was a reality. As Paul put it, John was “unsure if he wants to go left or right on an issue.” That included the issue of George, but really the group as a whole. But the solution — John showing some leadership, even if it’s not necessarily something directly leading the Beatles in a specific direction — was all they needed. It feels like Paul just wanted to believe in John and inspire John to believe in himself. An adjacent Plastic Ono Band, in this scenario, was a greater solution to Paul than some kind of expanded Plastic Beatles Band.

A solo career may have even been the better consequence than a compromised Beatles, and would solve the ego problem. Paul made his case by laying out an imaginary scenario in which at the end of the night, he was drunk and got on the piano just because he felt like it and he would be “singing because I don’t particularly want to show off.” In turn “everyone in that room will dig it, because it’s me really doing it.”

By contrast, when he “half-means” — a complaint that had been leveled already during these sessions, like Paul saying “sometimes [we] blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood”  — that’s when the problems emerge.

“What I’d like to do is for the four of us … I see it as you go one way, you go one way, George goes one way, and me another.”  Paul worked to continue his point but the conversation veered into a more specific discussion about musical arrangement on recent songs. We’ll get back to that digression in another post.

Sandwiching the invocation of McQueen, Paul and John sounded off on a potential solo project by Ringo, and took opposite points of view in using the LP as a representation for a larger ideal.

“Just you talking about the Stardust album … it isn’t as daft as you sort of find that it might sound,” Paul said.

Still more than a year out from being released, Ringo’s debut solo project was purely in the conceptual phase. (Eventually titled “Sentimental Journey,” the LP wouldn’t begin its recording sessions for nearly 11 months, and ultimately it came out at the end of March 1970, a few weeks before Let It Be.)

“But the great thing is that you singing like you really sing will be it. It will be!”

Ringo: Yes, but the only way is to do it on your own.

Paul:  …Until then … you’ll half-sing. … And it’s probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all sing together.  And we’ll all really sing, and we’ll all show each other … fucking die then, I don’t know.”

Singing how you really sing is a solitary endeavor. And the reunion of John, Paul, George and Ringo — once the solo careers are have concluded and in their twilight when they reassemble in the departure lounge — that is the epilogue.

Paul’s advice emerged in Get Back in condensed form, with another mis-transcription and served outside of this context as the final statement of the lunchroom sequence (emphasis is mine):

And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.

Needless to say there’s a significant difference in saying an eventual reunion would come after “we’ll all show each other” and “we’ll all agree with each other.”  Paul very clearly predicated his concept on the Beatles requiring a controlled implosion before the individuals operated apart to some degree to reach their full potential, and then — for the sake of their egos, in part — they would prove their strength to each other. Reuniting wasn’t, as the Get Back transcription asserts, something they would simply do based on unanimous consent.

This is all consistent with Paul’s contemporary statements, like the one before the lunchroom gathering when he went as far as suggesting staging the group’s breakup. (And that’s not inconsistent with various statements the four Beatles made in the breakup period regarding solo projects and an eventual reunion).

Still John echoed Ringo’s insecurities, explaining on the heels of the Steve McQueen thread that it must be “our own faults” he couldn’t kick the metaphorical phone box.

“But the feeling that I …” John stammered, “like Ringo said about his album, that what was it, ‘I won’t do it, ’cause I’m gonna let us down or look a fool.'”

This wasn’t a self-centered approach. Letting the group down. Making them look a fool. This was about the Beatles.

Earlier John made his goal explicit: “Me goal was still the same — self-preservation”

That self wasn’t just John Winston Lennon alone. It was John, Paul, George and Ringo, too.

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Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

On the afternoon of January 10, 1969, seven days into the Get Back sessions and nearly 10 years into his tenure with the band — a term that began when he was 15 years old — George Harrison quit the Beatles.

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

After a cut in the Nagra tapes, which captured the exchange, George casually continued: “Get a replacement. [Place an ad] in NME and get a few people.”

While the tapes don’t capture him saying “see you ’round the clubs,” it’s too good a line to be purely apocryphal (and it’s, in fact, alluded to by others on the tapes later in the day). George then briefly shared a few words with Mal Evans and was off, his boots echoing as he departed.

Likewise, for the sake of the complete record, there is simply no indication on the tapes of what happened between the final take of “Two of Us,” and George’s departure, the immediate spark of George’s decision (if there was any). Like the Beatles themselves, the tapes were out to lunch.

Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, so proud of his spy microphone hours earlier, had the right instincts and was prepared for this moment, but he probably should have upgraded to a better model.

“My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said,” Michael wrote in his 2011 autobiography Luck and Circumstance. In his “role as documentarian,” he had asked his sound engineer to mic the flowerpot on the dining room table as George encountered the band at lunchtime. Per Michael, George concluded by saying, “See you ’round the clubs.”

George grabs his coat on his way out of the utter sty that was the studio at Twickenham, as pictured on an earlier day. (Screen capture from Beatles Anthology)

What exactly happened over lunch is a source of legitimate dispute in Beatles history. Dig in — here are varied accounts that span 50 years.

The most contemporary retelling of the events of January 10, 1969, comes from George himself, later that day, in his personal diary.

Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunch time – left the Beatles – went home and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident Studio — had chips later at Klaus and Christines went home.

George’s diary entry for January 10, 1969, as later published in the Living in the Material World book in 2011.

There wasn’t any Twitter in 1969 (although John and Yoko probably would have dominated the platform had it existed), so when George left the Beatles, it didn’t instantaneously go viral. But within days, George’s resignation was widely reported around the world — jumping off an original report by the Daily Sketch (more on their reporting to come in a subsequent post) — though he was already back with the band by the time those reports came out.

It wasn’t just that George left the Beatles. Word was out that that things got violent.

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison did NOT have a punch-up and Apple — their business company — is NOT on any financial rocks.

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

It all began when a pop weekly reported Lennon as saying that Apple was “losing money every week” and needed tightening up.

Then came the rumour that Lennon and Harrison came to blows.

But last night, after a five-hour meeting between the four Beatles and their business associates at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters, explanations came fast.

“The so-called punch-up between John and myself? There’s no truth in it. We are still good friends.”

Ringo Starr called the story of a punch-up “a load of old rubbish.” He said: “I was there when it was supposed to have taken place — it’s quite untrue.”

A few days later, on January 21, Ringo told BBC’s David Wigg that “there’s that famous old saying, you’ll always hurt the one you love,” when he was asked if the group was still close. But he spoke without any specifics regarding George’s departure, just generic reconciliatory language.

“[W]e all love each other and we all know that,” Ringo said. “But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know. Sort it out. And so we’re still really very close people.”

One of the Beatles’ official mouthpieces, the Beatles Book Monthly fan club magazine predictably poured cold water on the idea of a physical altercation in its March 1969 issue. In his diary feature, Mal Evans went as far to write there wasn’t any argument at all when George “stalked” out.

Matching the account on the tapes, Mal said George simply came over during lunch to “quietly” say he was going home. “There WASN’T a fight, physical or verbal,” Mal wrote. “There WEREN’T any tempers or shouting. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the press afterwards.”

George Harrison maintained in subsequent interviews that no punches were thrown. But another George had another memory.

“They actually came to blows,” George Martin told Phillip Norman in his 2008 biography John Lennon: The Life. “You’d think it would have been with Paul, but it was John. It was all hushed up afterwards.”

Here’s where the retelling of the day’s events descends more deeply into farce.

According to a separate account from EMI engineer Dave Harries, a frazzled Martin only arrived at Twickenham that day as Harrison departed from the studio.

As related in Ken Womack’s Martin biography Sound Pictures:

I remember that George Martin had just backed across the car park in his Triumph Herald and knocked a dent in the door of George Harrison’s Mercedes and he didn’t have time to tell him he’d dented his car before George walked out in a huff and drove off.

Just hours after engaging in passionate car talk, this wasn’t George’s finest hour.

While George Martin was around to some arguable degree that morning (and at the sessions overall), there was no doubt fellow producer Glyn Johns was there on January 10. He was an active participant on the day’s tapes.

Johns, too, wrote of his recollections of that day in his 2014 autobiography Sound Man:

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham on that cold gray afternoon with Denis [O’Dell], the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple of days later.

While an implication is there, Glyn wouldn’t spill the beans. Although in Graeme Thompson’s 2015 George Harrison biography Behind the Locked Door, Glyn conceded there may not be too many beans to spill:

When it became apparent that there was going to be a bit of an argument those of us who weren’t in the band left the room. It was clear that it would be intrusive for us to remain. So what actually was said and and what went on I don’t know, but I do know that George left the band that day. The whole thing was very uncomfortable, and it was very embarrassing for me and others who were not in the band to be close by while this was going on — to have to watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath. It was very unpleasant and I felt really awkward.

The Beatles pre-enact their January 10, 1969, fistfight more than five months before it probably didn’t happen. (From the Mad Day Out photo session in 1968).

More than 50 years after the fact, what we know with absolute certainty is that George Harrison quit the Beatles the afternoon of January 10, 1969. Everything else — most prominently whether there was a physical altercation — is ultimately speculative.

It’s not just what happened that’s in question, but the why. We’ll never unearth that last straw, the specific reason George quit when and how he ultimately did on January 10. There’s just too much open to interpretation, and as long as the tapes of the day are considered complete, there is simply no smoking gun, no spark that broke George. The conversation with Dick James, the rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Two of Us” — these moments lacked an obvious trigger beyond what were usual pockets of growing frustration.

It’s worth mentioning the other three Beatles openly discussed their feelings and opinions in the wake of George’s departure on the Nagra tapes, directly addressing his growing sense of frustration as a junior member of the group. They were aware of this, and their conclusions were consistent with much of what is discussed below.  I’ll examine those specific conversations, which also touch on off-site meetings, however, in future posts when we reach those days on the blog’s timeline.

Still, by rewinding many of the same sources we examined above in this post to construct what happened, we can put together a loose reasoning as to why George left the Beatles. Notably absent from each of these recollections is the one mentioned specifically in the original flurry of news reports — George’s fury with John over the latter’s comments about Apple’s difficult financial situation. George and John even had light-hearted discussions about business earlier in the day. It seems clear the Apple finances excuse for George’s departure was a leap of faith by the media. Musical and personal differences were responsible.

Back to Mal’s Diary in the March ’69 Beatles Book Monthly:

Singing and playing together would always be fine with [George] and the last thing he was suggesting was any break-up of the Beatles. So that day, January 10, George didn’t want to stay at Twickenham rehearsing for a show he couldn’t believe in.

And what — or who — could make George an such an unbeliever? In published interviews over the subsequent decades, George was at least consistent on why he left: His famed filmed argument with Paul (“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play“) gave him a moment of clarity.

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway, after one of those first mornings I couldn’t stand it. I decided this is it! — it’s not fun any more — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving.

His Anthology interviews, conducted in the early 1990s and first broadcast in 1995, yielded similar memories:

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I knew John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’

Paul wanted nobody playing on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”

In other words, George’s recollections were colored by the Let It Be movie. He’s just like the rest of us!

George elevated the “I’ll play” argument in a way that other recent encounters, which were also filmed but not included in the final release, did not.

“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

Even Paul had the self-awareness to admit his role in George’s departure, saying in the Anthology book with a hilarious parenthetical: “These things had been going down in Let It Be. George leaving because he felt he was being told what to do (I think that’s why he left).”

Ringo was more certain of the reason, going way back. He corroborated George’s accounts in 1971, telling Melody Maker:

George had to leave because he thought Paul was dominating him. [H]e was, because Michael Lindsay-Hogg liked Paul I would think more than the rest of us.

Indeed, George called for a divorce one day after the “I’ll play” argument, but a move to actually leave was delayed. This, as George continued to match Paul in productivity (or come close) during the sessions, certainly lapping a creatively spent John. But it was George’s own songs that were afterthoughts and that treatment deeply affected him.

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

Yoko Ono has unjustifiably been blamed for a lot of terrible things over the last half-century. Among the dramatis personae of the Get Back sessions, she was largely out of the spotlight to this point on the tapes, often speaking for John but not fighting for overall attention, certainly not as the group actually made music. And, perhaps by the filmmaker’s design, Yoko was usually off-mic. But since the White Album sessions, she was a disruptive figure to the other three Beatles. While Paul earned his share of the blame, Yoko drove George out of Twickenham, too.

“[S]uperimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time,” George later said in interviews for Anthology. “John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

The accusation of bad vibes wasn’t something John quickly forgot. From his famously raw Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, conducted in December 1970:

George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ‘straight-forward,’ you know that game of ‘I’m going to be up front,’ because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’d got a lousy name in New York, and you give off bad vibes. That’s what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why.

(Emphasis added.)

George had a stubborn memory, too, to the point of remembering things that didn’t quite happen. From a 1977 interview in Crawdaddy:

There’s a scene [in Let It Be] where Paul and I are having an argument, and we’re trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I’m not there and Yoko’s just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that’s where I’d left.

A few years later in I Me Mine, George references “the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming.”

There’s only one problem with George’s accounts: There is no scene in Let It Be where Yoko is performing and “freaking out screaming.” She’s hardly in the movie at all, really. But the event in question — Yoko sitting in with the other three Beatles and “doing her screeching number” is an event that did happen.  The original, longer rough cut of the Let It Be film did feature Yoko jamming with the other Beatles, per Peter Jackson, and it appeared in the unreleased pre-Anthology documentary “The Long and Winding Road” (which George was not only aware of, but shared a copy with Eric Idle with as source material for The Rutles).

Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row after discussing — and denying — any fight between the two. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has closely followed the group’s history, the combination of the four Beatles, their associates and the passage of a half century makes for a most compelling but absolutely terrible narrator. Barring the emergence of additional footage or audio, we’ll never know the trigger for George’s departure.  Maybe Yoko did do something specific to put him over the edge (the digestive biscuit episode allegedly happened later, so that wouldn’t be it). Or it could have been something John said — or didn’t say, leaving his opinions to Yoko. Maybe the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” argument between George and Paul really did change everything.

Or maybe John had it all figured out for an interview he gave for Earth News in 1976 — a quote later used to great effect in Anthology:

[L]ike people do when they’re together, they start picking on each other. It was like, ‘It’s because of youyou got the tambourine wrong — that my whole life is a misery. It became petty, but the manifestations were on each other because we were the only ones we had.

George’s domestic situation at this precise moment is essential to the story yet is generally ignored. For the duration of the Twickenham sessions, he was estranged from his wife, Pattie, and involved with 20-year-old Charlotte Martin — Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend — who was living at Kinfauns with him for the duration of their brief affair.

After George left the Beatles on January 10, 1969, he drove back to his Esher home, ended the affair and began his reconciliation with Pattie. Oddly, those decisions didn’t reach the threshold of snacking with the Voormanns’ to make his diary. It wasn’t a choice of the Beatles or Pattie, but like John suggested, perhaps George’s musical issues were amplified by his marital issues.

George wasn’t working for the Beatles anymore that afternoon, but he remained on the clock. In his first act as a temporarily liberated solo artist, George played, you know, whatever he wanted to play, and he wrote “Wah-Wah,” which later appeared on the All Things Must Pass LP and was the opener of his first solo performance, at The Concert For Bangladesh. George couldn’t have found  a more symbolic beginning to his stage debut as a solo headliner, opening with a song born from his first independent moment.

“‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal,” George later wrote in I Me Mine.

George’s hand-written lyrics to “Wah-Wah.” (Published in I Me Mine)

“It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument,” George told Crawdaddy in 1977.

“It was such a headache.”

Professional clashes with Paul, personnel issues with Yoko (and John), personal crises with Charlotte and Pattie — these were all reasons George left the Beatles. If Paul wasn’t so pushy, maybe it would have made dealing with Yoko and the problems at home easier. If Yoko wasn’t so ubiquitous and John withdrawn, maybe George could work more easily with Paul with one less work distraction. If George’s marriage was fine, maybe he could have slogged through the work day, more easily accepted his continued junior role and at least had an opportunity to unwind and unload in a relaxed home.

But each of those factors played off the other. He’s just like the rest of us.

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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. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at

During a brief transition immediately preceding the extensive “Let It Be” session late on January 9, 1969, George Harrison opened himself up to significant, retrospective armchair psychoanalysis in just five minutes of music.

He also became a human bootleg.

Everybody’s got somebody to lean on: Lucky and Nelson, November 1968.

Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes with the Band (a huge influence on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions) had been privately circulating since 1968, and the first true rock bootleg — Great White Wonder, which featured two LPs of his music that stretched back to as early as 1961 — surfaced in record shops starting in July 1969.

But this January 9, George — just a few weeks removed from his first collaboration with Dylan — seized a few moments of spotlight and shared a few of his friend’s songs, and ones that the others in the room hadn’t likely heard.

“I Threw It All Away” was so fresh a cut, Dylan wouldn’t record it for his forthcoming “Nashville Skyline” until Feb. 13, precisely two weeks after the Beatles’ rooftop performance and while George was in a London hospital recovering from a tonsillectomy.

Dylan first shared the song with George and wife Pattie Boyd around Thanksgiving 1968 at his home in upstate New York. George retained quite a bit of the song in performing at Twickenham, injecting intensity in his solo acoustic take.

George didn’t perfectly nail the lyrics, but he captured guts of the chorus and parts of the verses — “No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried … And I threw it all away.”

The performance seamlessly went into “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” written in 1964, but to that point another unreleased Dylan track.

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you been on my mind

When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you

There could be no reason at all George plucked these songs out of thin air this Thursday afternoon, as meaningless as the group’s brief forays into “Tennessee” or “Slippin’ and Slidin‘” within the same hour. He’d been playing Dylan throughout the sessions, after all.

Or …

Maybe the songs reflected George’s mood as he was less than 24 hours from quitting the group. Paul transparently sang the blues about the Beatles in “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Golden Slumbers,” so why wouldn’t George do likewise? It’s not a significant stretch to consider George was speculating about what he was throwing all away, at these crossroads he was standing at.

Without question, those two Dylan songs did hit home with George.

But …

Maybe it wasn’t necessarily only for the reasons we’ve always supposed.

The January 9 tapes begin with the Paul’s muse, Linda Eastman, visiting the studio. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, had been a Beatles session fixture for months, and this day was no different.

George’s wife, Pattie, was very much not hanging around Twickenham. And when she looked inside her mirror, George wasn’t next to her, because she had walked out on him. But that didn’t mean he was alone at his Kinfauns home.

From Pattie’s autobiography Wonderful Tonight:

I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. She was always flirtatious with George, but so were a lot of girls and he, of course, loved it. Then she and Eric broke up — Eric told her to leave — and she came to stay with us at Kinfauns.

It was January 1, 1969, and George and I had seen in the new year at Cilla Black’s house. … We arrived home in good spirits but then everything went swiftly downhill. The French girl didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them, and I questioned George. He told me my imagination was running away with me, I was paranoid.

Soon I couldn’t stand it so I went to London to stay with Belinda and Jean-Claude. Six days later George phoned me to say that the girl had gone and I went home.

The French girl was 20-year-old Charlotte Martin, and she had been dating Eric for more two years. Eric has since said he left Charlotte because of his growing feelings for Pattie. Why, you can almost say George tried to give her consolation when her old man let her down.

George’s fling was in its final day on January 9 — and after leaving the Beatles the next day, he asked Charlotte to leave Kinfauns, ending the affair.  He would  reconcile with Pattie, and separately, with the rest of the Beatles shortly thereafter.

The two Dylan songs George touched on wouldn’t drift far from his consciousness. Sixteen months after this date, George joined Bob in New York City, where they recorded both “I Threw It All Away” and “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” and the sessions have since surfaced on bootlegs.

George continued to show love for “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” laying down a solo studio version in the 1980s; this was still before Dylan’s first authorized release of the song in 1991. George’s recording would get a proper release in 2012 on Early Takes, Vol. 1.

From Giles Martin, who produced the compilation:

He recorded it at home in Friar Park at some point during the ‘80s, and it originally had programmed drums and loads of keyboards on it, and George had overdubbed himself for a three-part vocal harmony.

I asked [George’s widow] Olivia if it would be OK to break it down a bit, I thought it sounded a lot better stripped to its bones. You can still hear a bit of the drum sound in the background, because there was bleed on the tape — probably coming through from George’s headphones.

George did his own three-part harmonies in the ’80s, but his first vocal partners, John and Paul, were silent on the tapes during George’s brief Dylan set on January 9, 1969.  Walking out on the group, George silenced himself the next day, not only because of his increasingly tense relationship with John and Paul, but with trouble surrounding his marriage, as well.

***

Charlotte Martin remained in rock-and-roll’s inner circle. In a coincidence of the calendar, exactly one year after her last day involved with George, on January 9, 1970,  she met Jimmy Page after a Led Zeppelin concert. The couple would maintain a relationship into the 1980s. Their daughter, Scarlet Page, is a rock photographer of note; she’s shot Paul McCartney and contributed to the Visions of Dylan photo exhibition in 2007.

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Jan. 9: Just another day

It had been a week.

Linda & Paul, 1969

With the benefit of nearly a half century of hindsight and purely from the vantage point of surviving audio tapes, it was an absolutely remarkable one for the Beatles, starting January 2 and entering the sessions on January 9. Amid sniping that peaked with a threatened walkout in unpleasant, wholly uninspiring surroundings, the Beatles put together — between mostly recently written shells and completely new originals — a compact set of fresh songs they could reasonably stage for a TV show. Just the night before, after days of deliberation, it sounded like they had come to consensus on what and where the show would be.

January 9 began, as many of the days at Twickenham Film Studios had, with Paul McCartney the first Beatle in the room. Today, he took a guest with him to the office.

“Do you know Michael Lindsay-Hogg?” Paul asked his bride-to-be, Linda Eastman.

From the conversation, it’s clear that Paul didn’t take his work home with him. She knew very little about the group’s plans regarding the live show.

Linda: So if you do it, it would be in here?

Paul: Dunno. There’s many a story …

MLH: If we do it here, we’ll do it in here.

Paul: But if we don’t, it’s on a boat to Tripoli.

Linda, like George Harrison the day before, instantly questioned the practicality of a boat trip. “What do you do with the equipment?”

Well, that’s Apple’s problem, Michael and Paul agreed.

The conversation abruptly shifted to a book Michael was reading — the title is never mentioned, but he clearly described My Father and Myself by J. R. Ackerley — before an evidently disinterested Paul bailed out minutes later: “I better go and put in some piano practice.”

Paul’s demonstration piece was an unfinished original, perhaps inspired by Linda’s time as a receptionist in New York before they met and after her first marriage. Or it may have just been another McCartney original observing life through a woman’s eyes, one Wings drummer Denny Seiwell would later call “Eleanor Rigby in New York.”

In two years’ time, “Another Day” was Paul McCartney’s first single as a solo artist (the 1970 McCartney LP yielded no singles), reaching No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 5 in the U.S. It also received a Linda McCartney co-writing credit, a fact that eventually spawned yet another Beatles-related lawsuit.

The song was name-checked that same 1971 in John Lennon’s furiously anti-Paul diatribe “How Do You Sleep”: “The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you’re gone you’re just another day.” The “Another Day” reference was actually written by Allen Klein, not Lennon.

But on January 9, 1969, Klein was a few weeks away from smashing into the Beatles orbit, and John was Paul’s partner, still a few moments from joining the day’s sessions. “Another Day,” however, was recognizable in this early state, the song’s first two verses largely identical to what Paul would record in New York in October 1970.

The sleeve of the Portuguese release of the “Another Day” single featuring Twickenham Paul.

Paul sang delicately and tentatively on the tapes, in contrast to his bolder performance on piano in his practice session. He’s searching, unsuccessfully, for a bridge to the song, and there’s no chorus. After about three minutes and two-plus repetitions of the two verses, Paul simply moved on to improvisations and several other previously debuted numbers (to be explored in subsequent posts).

The song could be heard just once more on the Nagra tapes, for less than a minute, in a fleeting rendition by Paul on acoustic guitar during an equipment change on January 25. “Another Day” was never a serious consideration for a Beatles record.

The next several songs Paul would play were.

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Jan. 8: An hors d’oeuvre

“All Things Must Pass” should have been a Beatles song, another gripping, iconic anthem dating to the group’s long goodbye.

gh-rs

By the time the Beatles were rehearsing and recording in January 1969, George Harrison’s emergence into a songwriter that rivaled John Lennon and Paul McCartney was essentially complete, with “All Things Must Pass” part of that transformation. Taste matters, but a fair argument could be made that the song could have been the band’s greatest.

“All Things Must Pass” — which had the potential to emerge during the Get Back sessions, be performed live and later land on the Let It Be LP — thus could have gone a long way to giving George his ‘moment’ prior to the group’s send-off of Abbey Road. It never happened. But on January 8, John and Paul gave George the option of taking his song, creating that moment and enjoying his own spotlight at the live show to come. They never said it, but based on the prior week’s tapes, the two senior members of the band were probably just disinterested in playing the song.

“Do you fancy just doing it on your own on an acoustic?” Paul asked. “That would work. But it’s a bit of a thing for you.” The “thing” in question was effort.

Paul would know about playing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar while the rest of the Beatles waited in the wings.

Would opportunity knock, but for George this time?

John was on board, too, condescendingly positing George could serve “an hors d’oeuvre” to the presumptive hungry crowd.

George didn’t directly knock the idea, but didn’t follow up on the suggestions, instead trying work Paul and John on the chorus’ harmonies. After scuttling Paul’s suggestion to begin the song with George’s instrumental opening straight into the chorus, instead of the first verse — hey, it worked for “Don’t Let Me Down” a few days earlier — the pair haggled over the bassist’s harmony line, with Paul complaining it moved too much.

The group spent about a half hour on the tapes working on and around “All Things Must Pass” on January 8 — returning to the song after skipping it the day before — and while there was no significant or specific alterations to the song from the previous days’ rehearsals, they capped the day’s work on the song with a legitimate, listenable and, dare I say, enjoyable take of “All Things Must Pass.” It’s a version that should have shown up, at least, on Anthology 3, in addition to George’s one-man demo from a month later.

While the day’s final take is not too dissimilar in overall form than the one ended up on the final recording on George’s solo debut the following year (excepting the orchestration and dozens of additional flourishes, of course), John’s piano part here — he had moved over from organ in the final phases of the day’s takes — added little, usually amounting to pounding out chords. Still, it’s not wholly detrimental, and Paul’s bass line is on point.  Ringo, as usual, hits the spot.

The Beatles’ greatness has been amplified by the what ifs and what could have beens, and the possibility of a “Beatles’ 1969 classic ‘All Things Must Pass’” is a genuine opportunity lost.

It sounds as good as it could at this point in what amounts to a few hours of overall rehearsal and arrangement with half to three-quarters of the band giving a fraction of effort. It’s the Beatles playing a coherent, complete version of “All Things Must Pass,” and that counts for something in a world where such a release never existed, yet we all paid money (several times, in fact, thanks to new formats, remastering, etc.) to buy “Wild Honey Pie” and “Dig It.”

There is a “rest of the story.” But the vast majority of history of “All Things Must Pass” by the Beatles is now mostly told. This pre-lunch performance marked the final time they played the song at Twickenham. They returned to it very briefly near the end of the month at Savile Row with the support of Billy Preston, who released the song a few months before George would in 1970. By January 8, 1969, the rehearsal stage was essentially over, however, and this was really the final fumes of “All Things Must Pass” as a Beatles song.

Notably, the song never appeared in the Let It Be film. “I Me Mine,” revealed earlier on January 8, did, joining “For You Blue” (which was properly introduced to the band a day later) as George’s contribution to the Get Back sessions. Despite all the hours of rehearsals, the song he carried over into January 1969 as a product of his days with Dylan and The Band, would be passed over by his own band. And it was good enough to serve as the title track of what could be argued to be the greatest Beatles solo album.

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TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartneyJohn Lennon and Ringo Starr, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.

George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career, one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.

George’s 25th birthday was celebrated in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.

Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).

With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.

That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.

Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1982), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, it was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.

Sorry, I missed the punctuation and capitalization. That’s thanks in part to “Something.” 

There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them.  February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1968, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.

You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3, with a fleshier version also on the 2019 Abbey Road anniversary deluxe edition.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.

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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. 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. 6: Here comes the bird king

Maybe all the Cream talk got the band in the mood to jam.

With the third day of rehearsing during Get Back/Let it Be sessions (for the record, we had heard “Let it Be” thus far, but not “Get Back”) under way, once everyone was settled in — and not to long after after George introduced “Hear Me Lord” on the tapes — the Beatles basically started fooling around, tuning and warming up with everyone position. Presumably: Paul on organ, John on bass, George on guitar and Ringo on drums.

And then they jammed.

Jams — and lengthy ones — weren’t unprecedented for the band, certainly — witness “Helter Skelter” and the legendary 27-minute version and various takes of “Revolution 1,” recorded just a few months earlier, or the much shorter  Take 37 of “Something” from a few months later. And pretty soon, we’ll hear the original lengthy version of “Dig It.”

I like my Beatles in 2- to 3-minute increments, for the most part (“Hey Jude” notwithstanding). But hey, it’s the Beatles. I’ll take a 10-minute improv jam by them over one by mostly anyone else.

While most serious fans know these sessions birthed songs that would later appear on Abbey Road and multiple solo Beatles albums, one song debuted in these sessions that I didn’t previously know would end up as an outtake on, of all things, Paul’s unreleased (but bootlegged) Rupert the Bear film soundtrack.

So let’s give a very special They May Be Parted welcome to “The Palace of the King of Birds.”

Slowly the group joins in, plodding along for more than 10 minutes. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s probably the kind of thing you’d never deliberately put on a playlist to listen to again. Paul and George spend the first few minutes of the song chatting with each other about equipment. Ringo does his thing. John throws in a riff or two. Paul’s active a little at the start and then a bit at the absolute end.

It’s actually not the last we hear of the song these sessions. But I think it’s the most extensive version. And the Beatles didn’t return to it after January 1969.

Nine years later, Paul would record the song with Wings for a planned Rupert the Bear movie that never came to fruition. By then, it was called “Castle of the King of Birds.” What caused the bird king to be forced to change the location his headquarters from the palace to the castle, I don’t know.

The song is a footnote in Beatles history, for sure, but a neat one from the standpoint of where the song would eventually surface.

Straight out of “…King of Birds,” comes another loose rocking jam, initiated by what sounds like John playing “Louie Louie” on the organ (it’s much more deliberate on the tapes before this below clip starts).

The band then dances around a few set pieces before a few more improvisations. “Across the Universe” is briefly attacked — it was still nearly a year from being released on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, and John is clear he isn’t happy with how the song was last recorded a few months earlier — and the band also teases a version of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You” as their own song of the same name thus far remains unrehearsed (and probably unwritten).

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road” presaged much of what would come next. (In style, that is. The song itself sprang from Paul’s one-man jam).

In the first of a few improvisations that would be at home on McCartney or as a RAM outtake, Paul belts out “You Wear Your Women Out.” This I like. Groovy bassline seems to hold things together nicely. It’s a kindred spirit to an “I’m Down” or “Lady Madonna,” even.

The group makes a pitstop with a full run-through of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which is coming together pretty decently. Paul’s in full yell on this particular take, which ends with him jokingly claiming, “The downtown rhythm and blues influence in ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ can be noted by the Aeolian cadences and the Cadaconic clusters,” in a nice old-school Beatles reference.

He then lets his bass kick off the journey into the next improvised jam, “My Imagination,” with a riff borrowed from Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (the same inspiration for “I Feel Fine” among other things) and vocal stylings that occasionally veered into something that could be called Ono-esque.

Hey, that’s not so bad! Not sure about the vocals, but it’s still relatively catchy.

The fun ends with one more apparently Paul-led jam, “I’m Gonna Pay for His Ride,” thus named for its lyric barked out by McCartney at the end.

The band sounds pretty good, and pretty loose, much like they do while running through covers during the sessions.

While there would be more jamming in these sessions, and “…King of Birds” would eventually nearly make it to release, for the final three songs mentioned here — “My Imagination,” “You Wear Your Women Out” and “I’m Gonna Pay for His Ride” — it would be the last we’d hear of them.

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