Tag Archives: George Harrison

Jan. 7: Taking the easy way out, now

We pick up the scene where we left off from the last post, Jan. 7: On our own at the holiday camp, as The Beatles and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg wrestle with the question of the band’s motivation in the post-Brian Epstein era and struggle to find a live-show venue amenable to all parties.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg continues the discussion by posing a question to John, Paul, George and Ringo that seems like it has an obvious answer. After all, since Candlestick Park in Aug. 1966, The Beatles quite famously haven’t staged a concert, instead embracing all the luxuries being a full-time studio band offers.

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this point in their history.  Paul responds, speaking over the director, saying that an audience indeed should be involved with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish with this project.

“I think we’ve got a bit shy,” Paul says before the cameras. “I think I’ve got a bit shy of certain things, and it is like that.”

Lindsay-Hogg, who so badly wants to stage a grand return before an audience for the group, again suggests departing from their past experiences. Get back to where you once belonged? Not now.

MLH:  Maybe the difficulty is also getting up in front of an audience with all you’ve done in front of audiences, and trying to get something as good, but maybe not the same thing. And that’s a very hard thing to get back. In other words, you mustn’t think of getting back what you had.

The audience has indeed grown up along with the Beatles — who are all in their late 20s by now. Paul says they’re all searching for a  “desire” to perform and achieve.

And just then, Paul comes out and reminds everyone how little they enjoy working together.  After all, just three months earlier they were together at EMI Studios to finish up the White Album sessions, so the memory’s fresh.

“With all these songs, there’s some really great songs, and I just hope we don’t blow any of them,” Paul says. “Because, you know often, like on albums, we sometimes blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood, and you say, ‘This is how it goes, I’ll be back,’ and we’re all just ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ [sounds of guitars].”

So there’s just a little more proof that the Get Back sessions weren’t the specific spark that led to The Beatles’ breakup. They had already been known to mail it in on occasion for a few years now, and Paul wasn’t shy to admit it.

But Paul’s remarks didn’t drop like a bomb — they were simply acknowledged silently as the conversation resumed, with Lindsay-Hogg’s continued insistence to use a specific live-show idea as a rallying point.

1968, White Album sessions: " ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ " (Photo by Linda McCartney)

1968, White Album sessions: “You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.” (Photo by Linda McCartney)

George Harrison wouldn’t bite. His response is damning, striking at the essence of the debate of what The Beatles are, post-White Album. Are they a cooperative? Each others’ backing band? Something in between?  And what should they be, in their eyes?

What they definitely aren’t, according to Harrison, is an effective live group.

“Really, I don’t want to any of my songs on the show, because they just turn out shitty, ” he says. “They come out like a compromise. Whereas in a studio, then you can work on them till you get them how you want them.”

So for a live show, George just wants to be the band’s lead guitarist, nothing more.

Paul, audibly disgusted at that remark, is having none of it, still believing in The Beatles.

Last year, you were telling me that ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ … But you’re saying before the show is finished, and before we’ve done it … letting forth this word of, ‘They’re going to come out a compromise.’ …

I really think we’re very good, and … if we think that we want to do these songs great, we can just do it great. Thinking it’s not going to come out great, you know, that is like meditation. Where you just get into a bummer, and you come out of it, you don’t go through it.

Paul hits George where it hurts, referencing his beloved meditation.

Paul continues, hitting home the point that even he’s fed up, too, but it shouldn’t mean avoiding whatever challenge they’re setting up for themselves.

Paul: [Presumably to Ringo]: So you’re sick of playing the drums, we all got to say, ‘We’re sick too, pat pat.’ It’s all the same and go through it. There’s no use just saying, ‘Well, fuck it.’

MLH: … What’s wrong about doing the show here [Twickenham] is it’s too easy. Like, when we were in the car looking at locations at the glorified boutiques … then Dennis [O’Dell, film producer] said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham,’ and Neil [Aspinall, Apple manager]  said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham, because it’s so easy.’ … I think that’s wrong.

I don’t mean we should put obstacles in our way,  but also in a funny way, like you were talking about Brian [Epstein]. … We should have some force to resist.   But just doing it  in the backyard …  it’s too easy.  And we’re not fighting it. There’s no balls to the show at all, I’m included. There’s no balls to any of us at the moment. And that’s why I think we’re all being soft about it.

Credit the director for recognizing the dire straits at hand. He’s right: Without a show at this point, the sessions would effectively have no real purpose and would cease. Obviously, no one wants to be there merely to start recording a new album, with the possible exception of Paul.

“If you all decided to do a show, it should be the best show,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “You are The Beatles, you aren’t four jerks.  And that’s really my job. Because when you’re playing your guitar, they’re not going to be thinking about those millions of unwashed.

“I think we’re all being soft. It’s all too easy.”

Laughing, Paul asks what kind of obstacles would the director suggest the group face.

Well, I don’t know,” Lindsay-Hogg replies, “But that was the pep talk for the morning.”

With hindsight, we can call out Lindsay-Hogg’s instincts. The Beatles had the knack to make the “easy” way work and deliver something iconic. After all, a little more than three weeks after this conversation, the band merely climbed from the basement studio at 3 Savile Row to the roof of the five-story building for the much-debated live show. George, as he suggested on this day, was just the guitarist, and none of his songs were played.

Later the same year, The Beatles took the easy way out again, naming their subsequent album after the street they recorded on — Abbey Road — and shooting their cover  just outside the studio’s door.

For The Beatles, sometimes easy worked.

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Jan. 7: On their own at the holiday camp

Some time passed on the morning of Jan. 7 between when “Get Back” made its debut and when Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — plus director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and John Lennon, who had just arrived for the day’s sessions — returned to the much-needed discussion of what exactly they were doing at Twickenham Film Studios.

The arguments of the day before that culminated in George’s “just want to please you” line may be the moment etched in cultural history of these sessions, but the next 45 or so minutes did far more to define the vibe at Twickenham.

The tapes pick up the discussion already in progress, but the message and motive is clear: There’s a serious movement to abandon the documentary and live show, and, by extension, these sessions, which are only just beginning its fourth day.

From the Get Back book.

From the Get Back Book.

“If we cancel the show now, we’d still be throwing it away,” Paul said. “That’s the way we tend to do (it)… that’s where all the money goes.”

Lindsay-Hogg tries to rally the troops, suggesting the worst-case scenario is the group is left with a documentary, which is something the group could still sell, since money is being made something of an issue here by George.  John agrees, saying a documentary of the group making an LP isn’t the worst if they can’t find a gimmick for a show.

With big dreams of an African adventure still flickering, Lindsay-Hogg continues to insist there should be a show anyway. He’s not crazy about the term “gimmick,” either.

Very quietly, George shares something every Beatles fan knows in retrospect when we look back and put the pieces together.

George: Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same.

Paul: We’ve been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away. That’s why all of us,  in turn, have been sick of the group, you know? There’s nothing positive in it.  It is a bit of a drag. But the only way for it to not be really a drag, is for the four of us to say, “Should we make it positive? Or should we fuck it?”  There’s only two alternatives, innit?

It’s a fascinating exchange for several reasons, starting with how they refer to their former manager. Both Paul and George still call him Mr. Epstein, not Brian, nearly a year and a half after his death. The formality of the business relationship never broke.

More of note is not only the ease at which they’re willing to discuss their current state and lack of motivation, but how severely Paul views the band’s state. There’s “nothing” positive in it. And so we’re at the group’s climacteric moment.  These four men seem ready to walk away from at least their present phase as a four-piece. Now’s the time to find a new way of continuing as a band, return to the old way they would record and perform together or just walk away. It’s a distillation of the same conversation they had the day before, but spoken with more urgency.

It bears repeating — this strife and breakup talk isn’t at the end of a grueling, unhappy month, or after a several weeks of early mornings on the cold Twickenham soundstage, as the fable of the Get Back sessions relates. This is after the group has been back together in January for a period that can be measured in hours.

John — lacking sleep, sobriety or both — simply suggests the group just needs a little incentive.

“All the things that we do, the whole point of it is communication. And to be on TV is communication. We have a chance … to smile at people, like (in the broadcast for) “All You Need is Love.”  So that’s my incentive for doing it.”

With John referencing another Beatles television production, the director’s wheels begin to turn.

MLH: Both “All You Need is Love” and  (his own production) “Hey Jude” did communicate.

Paul: Of course, they did, course they did.

John: We need to think of an incentive, the inventive is to communicate.

Paul: You know, there really is no one there now to say: Do it.

And thus we return to Mr. Epstein’s ghost. No one is there to make them get up at 8 a.m. now, Paul says. They have to get themselves up at 8.  And this is part of growing up.

These men range in age from 25 to 28 at the time of these sessions and have been professional musicians since their teens.

“Your daddy goes away at  certain point of your life, and you stand on your own feet,” Paul continues. “And that’s all we’ve been faced with. Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own at the holiday camp. And I think we’d rather go home.

“Or,  we do it.”

So it’s crystal clear to Paul here, he’s fighting uphill. The fresh lyrics of “The Long and Winding Road” are playing out moments after he introduces the song. This here is one of the many times he’s been alone.  And he’s still waiting by his bandmates’ door.

Paul continues.

It’s discipline we like. We all agree — for everything you do, if you want to do it well, you got to have discipline, we all think that. But for this, we’ve never had discipline. A slight, symbolic discipline by Mr. Epstein. And he sort of said, ‘Get suits on,’ and we did … And so we were sort of always fighting that discipline a bit.

But now it’s silly to fight the discipline because its our own self-imposed, these days. So we put in as little as possible. But I think we need  bit more if we are going to get on with it.

Lindsay-Hogg acknowledges the decision to work at all is the group’s, not his own, but that they have indeed started work and should maximize it.  Paul, meanwhile, equates what Lindsay-Hogg is dealing with to his own work on the Jackie Lomax LP.

“Any other director in the world would say, ‘Fuck off. Get off my set, you cunt.’ I mean, wouldn’t you?” Paul asks. “I couldn’t operate. … if Jackie in the middle of the album said he won’t do it, (we) wouldn’t have the album.”

Paul suggests to George that the group used to “do it,” be “fully switched on.”  And he hearkens back to their feature film career.

“Those films, look at it, that was us doing it.”

“Well, if that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it,” George retorts. “I never liked that.”

Like the day before, George’s matter-of-fact, deflating response draws a pause followed by nervous laughter and a stammered response.

Paul (talking over George):  See nowadays, you’ve grown up and you don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t have to put the pancake on and go out in front and sweat and shake our heads because we’re not that anymore. We’ve grown up a bit.

George: And we’ve done that anyway.

Paul:What I mean is, we did it, the but it doesn’t mean to do it again means to do all that. For him (John) to do it, he has to do a thing in a black bag with Yoko. And you’re doing it.

Several voices correct Paul.

“White bag,” he says.

“You know you’re doing it then, on this level.”

Paul’s argument, that doing something is tantamount to doing “it” isn’t flying. Lindsay-Hogg changes course and questions just what the Beatles are, circa January 1969 and what is it, since we’re talking about “doing it,” that  they really want to do?

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this late stage in their career.

And its a question we hope to answer next time here at They May Be Parted!

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Jan. 7: Signature song

It was quite a morning for Paul McCartney — and thus, by extension the Beatles — on Jan. 7, 1969.

After giving the first real performance of “The Long and Winding Road” before unveiling “Golden Slumbers” and linking it with “Carry That Weight,”about 20 minutes later Macca brings us the song the sessions would arguably be most identified with and,  three months later, its first single and tangible fruit of The Beatles’ labor.

By now, Paul has shifted to acoustic guitar with George having arrived at Twickenham.  Straight out of a light-hearted zip through “What’d I Say” and “Shout” for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s benefit with a little bit of “Carry That Weight” mixed in, Paul fiddles with “Get Back” for the very first time — the tapes run for a more than 15 minutes, but cuts and fades prove they went on longer.

Following the song’s initial introduction, and seemingly apropos of nothing (a tape cut shrouds the probable spark of the conversation), Paul and George are engaging in a discussion about Randy Newman. George had borrowed a copy of his debut album from Paul, and said he “wasn’t impressed.”  He gave it a re-listen the night before because he met him “and because he’s a nice fellow, and all, but I still don’t like it.”  Why’s that, George?

It’s nice on the first one, just the idea of his voice, he sounds pissed [drunk], just going [George slurs a few words]. But when he goes on and on every track, he sounds pissed. [Laughs] Musically, it’s good. But not my cup of mead.

More to George’s liking is “Get Back,” even in this nascent state, as he jams along with Paul, working on a lead guitar part.  There’s not a whole lot to the song just yet, but we do have a strong framework, with the verse, chorus and melody line basically in place as George adds guitar lines  while Ringo provides hand-claps and possibly some shakers.

By the time they finished a few run-throughs, Ringo eventually shifted to the drum kit to lift the song’s intensity, and both lyrically and musically the song took a defined form.   Paul’s already playing with “Arizona” and “California grass” in the verse,  plus lyrics like “she thought she was a woman, but she was another man,” “say she got it coming, but she gets it while she  can” and “knew it couldn’t last” are there.  “Get back to where you once belonged”  is already the chorus. Neither Jo-Jo nor Loretta have arrived yet, but we have the makings of another enduring song.

And from this early moment, we hear how catchy it is. Just a few minutes after hearing it for, presumably, the first time, Ringo sings along to the verse and chorus.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would turn out to be one of the more interesting songs to emerge from the session, if only for its lyrical elasticity. Born from this jam, the lyrics would evolve into a political statement about immigrants, then back again to your everyday rocker about American transvestites. And we get to hear it all over the course of a month’s tapes.

Ian MacDonald in Revolution in the Head, is not alone in suggesting Canned Heat is the inspiration for the song (while admitting there’s nothing there musically).

Sure, The Beatles played a few lines of “Going up the Country” and “On the Road Again” in the days prior, and  the former was high on the charts in the U.K. at the time. But pointing to Canned Heat as the inspiration obscures the soul-singing elephant in the room, and that’s Apple Records labelmate Jackie Lomax.

Paul McCartney and Jackie Lomax (Image from jackielomax.com)

In June ’68, during the White Album sessions, Paul, Ringo and George played on the latter’s “Sour Milk Sea,” given to Lomax for his forthcoming debut album produced by George. The memory is obviously still fresh.

“Sounds like Jackie,” Paul says a few moments before deliberately warbling “get back” and “get back to where you once belonged” a number of times in Lomax’s trademark voice.  It didn’t sound like Paul was asking if he sounded like Lomax, or had any concern that he did. It was a simple acknowledgment that his vocal line resembled this one particular influence, one of so many influences the group paid tribute to during the sessions — Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Band, Motown (and the list goes on).

And with that context, it’s obvious why Paul’s voice has an odd timbre (for him).  It’s a rocker, but his delivery is nothing like it on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Helter Skelter” or any of his other recent high-energy vocals.

The voice isn’t the only inspiration from Lomax or the experience on “Sour Milk Sea.” Give the song a listen in full, and it’s easy to hear how Lomax’s “Get out of Sour Milk Sea/You don’t belong there/Get back to where you should be” — as written by George — would give Paul a good jump-off point for his new song (especially evident in the repeated “get back” as the song jams to a finish).

The rehearsal ends somewhat abruptly with a tape change. It’s the same thing responsible for keeping us from learning  just how long these sessions for “Get Back” really ran — the tape cuts out several times during the “Get Back” introduction.

We would, of course, get back to the song again and again over the subsequent three-plus weeks. And this month’s rehearsals would eventually be known for this song: The Get Back Sessions.

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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: Please, please you (Pt. 3)

This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the Jan. 6, 1969, sessions for “Two of Us.” If you haven’t already, please enjoy Part I and Part II!

George: OK, I don’t mind. 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.

The line came a little more than 16 minutes into the Let it Be film. In a movie less about words and more about music — the trailer’s promise of “rapping” not withstanding — it would stand out regardless. As it is, George’s statement to Paul during the day’s rehearsal of “Two of Us” essentially became the catchphrase for the entire sessions. It’s George’s frustrations and Paul’s bossiness — and John’s disinterest, as he’s conspicuous by his absence —  all in one. And because it was in the film, and the highlight of an extensive set of dialogue in it, it’s the moment we point to. At least, it’s the moment I point to.

“Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it” caps a sequence that lasted much longer than two or so minutes depicted in the film.

And when all was said and done, it was Paul needling George over a six-month old suggested guitar part that prompted him to say it (and was the subject of much of the last post).

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

georgeI get what Paul wants to do here, prove his point that a more spartan approach is ideal — especially here while they’re in the rehearsal stage. And he’s made that clear. But instead he finds a way to pick at a scab.

George, remember how you were wrong about “Hey Jude”? You’re wrong, just like that, today.

And because of George’s state during the sessions — his originals were blandly tolerated at best or outright dismissed at worst — the scab tears right open.

George: OK, I don’t mind. 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. But I don’t think you really know what that one is.

Missing from the film is that last line, which really gives it an extra bite. Passive-aggressive right into aggressive.

In the film, the discussion pivots from George to John wanting to listen back to tapes before he begins into “Across the Universe.” Paul’s sweater goes from orange to yellow, so not much sleuthing is needed to know that’s cut in from a different day.

After George relays his willingness to please, Paul’s actually speechless for a few seconds, before saying, audibly perturbed and in a way only Paul can say it, “OK, now come on.” He pays no mind to John, who here is actually trying to defuse the situation with a resolution that would move the session forward in the immediate.

Do you want to take the galloping bit, and I’ll just vamp?” John cuts in to ask George. Paul continues.

Paul (to George): Look, you know, it’s not like that. … We’ve gone through this, we’ve really got to sort out this, because this is the one, you know? Now we’re rehearsing,  and we’re trying to get it together for a TV show. So we really, like you said, we’ve only been through four numbers.

(George replies with an “uh-huh”)

So we’ve probably got to get some system to get through like 20 or 30 and no more. … And it’s probably going to be like sculpture. So that we get all the chords, so we can all vamp them all. Then we can all play every solo we need.

Wow! That’s a lot of songs. What a TV show that could have been, right?  (This isn’t the post for it – but it will be sooner than not: What would those 30 songs be?)  Anyway!

Paul: But… you know what I mean. It’s got to sound as though it’s improving.

George: It actually, it sounded to me, that for me, it was a waste of me time playing when we started it today. I just started remembering then what it was getting into the other day after playing it for an hour and a half. And suddenly I start finding that what I’m doing is starting to have something, Have some sculpture to it.

Paul: I know what you mean, it’s just that that way of doing it puts me off the way I’m trying to do it.

George: But that’s all. I can only do me that one way, however I do it, you know?

Silence. And then Paul decides to wave the white flag before being spurned. Just picking his fights, I guess.

Paul:  Let’s do another song, then.

George: No, we can’t.  We still have to learn this.  Do you want to do … Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?

The sarcasm drips like water from a faucet. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit the band a few days earlier than he ultimately did.

John: Let’s do this, because, I mean, we’re going to come to this,or whatever it is. And the thing is just to try to and think whatever …  it’s going to be.

Paul: This afternoon, I think we’ve wasted a long time. I think we do waste, physically, waste a lot of time, the four of us together.

It’s Paul as boss again, this time lecturing on employee efficiency. And I don’t blame him, because he’s pretty much on target here.

The slate cuts in, and there’s some cross talk and Paul’s bass muffling some dialogue.

Paul: I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know? Not pretending about that. … And that’s what we decided, you know?

This line passed right by me the first time I heard it, and it wasn’t until I was sprucing up the post that it jumped out. What’s Paul saying here? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and guess he’s saying he’s scared of the whole “be the boss” thing for a couple years? Or is he coming out and saying that he has been the boss for a couple years?  I’m not sure he doesn’t think of George as a subordinate, but I don’t think he believes that of John. But I’ll give Paul a pass here, in part because the lack of reaction.

Paul: And this is why it’s chaos. That’s why we take so long.  Because, really … we could play it shitty. We play it shitty 10 times, and so it’s sort of in there.   And then I think we could play it quite good then. But it’s just like different approaches, you know? I think we’d be better just doing it all like the Red Norvo Five. Just really like…

John:  Vamping away.

Paul: Vamping … then get the imaginative thing. … I know it’s impossible … because we don’t do it that way. … There’s no point in me trying to get you to do it how I do it.

paul-pointsA little reminder here — they’re not even done with their third day of the sessions, and things are already being described as a “waste of time” and “chaos.” Reading between the lines and maybe I’m off-base, but I think Yoko’s omnipresence is implied as part and parcel of the chaos. And maybe Paul has a bit of an idea that they’re moving too fast here, even though he’s part of that problem — nobody has any idea what songs they’re going to play at a live show, where the show will be or even how it will be staged.

Meanwhile, who the heck is Red Norvo? He led his quintet (there was a trio, octet and other combinations, too), playing modern jazz on a vibraphone and, it seems, famously vamping.

Paul: It’s terrible, though, seeing yourself really go down a path you’ve been down too many times, you don’t want to go down. Like us going on about this. I really don’t want to go down that path. It’s just silly. I just don’t see any solution.

The problem is that we should all arrange our own tunes. And if you want improvisation, then should just say it.

George: That’s the best way.

Paul: It’s like a point of theory, this, isn’t it? It’s not just to do with playing music. Far further reaching, this thing.

Far further reaching, indeed. So the path is set for Beatles 2.0, although  we’ve already seen them act, essentially, as each others’ backup band in many instances on the White Album (and certainly before that, too). Now, they discuss codifying it, taking “I’ll play if you want me to play” to its logical conclusion.

It wasn’t an angry exchange, this one, rather very matter of fact (and difficult to hear with the band playing over the conversation). But we do see how it manifested on Abbey Road, where the band often recorded parts in separate studios simultaneously.

Isn’t this moment here, very specifically, The Beatles agreeing to ultimately break up? They’re happy to relegate the other members as their respective session players, making George no different to Paul than Hamish Stewart, or Paul no different to John than Tony Levin.

Perhaps coincidentally, the group launches into a slow, almost mournful abbreviated version with John leading on vocals. Shortly thereafter, Paul gets back to business.

Paul: What I really meant to say was, let’s do the same bit on that. That’s what I really meant to say.  (“We’re on our way home”)

The band returned to the back end of the chorus, focusing on timing and cues. Mal is asked to fetch John a tea and George a beer. This can only be a good thing as the occasional brew helps fuel the odd blog post as well.

George and Ringo fool around, playing “Frère Jacques”  into Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” for less than a minute. Maybe the beer helped mellow the mood, as George, with a much friendlier vibe, asks Paul how he envisions the style of “Two of Us.”

George: It was going heavier. Do you want it more countryish?

Paul: I don’t mind, I’ll just go where it goes.

The group runs through the song a few times, sometimes able to get all the way through. Tape cuts make it hard to tell just how many times they did work on it.

In addition to giving a passing, light-hearted nod to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Loop De Loop” — they spent a bit of time on the very end of “Two of Us.” I’d most certainly say Paul was trying to “confuse it” before “unconfusing it” here, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only written about 5,000 words on just 50 minutes of “Two of Us” rehearsals.

And with that, we wrap the day’s historic and fascinating rehearsals of the song.

Having fun, the Ringo way

Having fun, the Ringo way

So given the full context of the day’s sessions (and the prior days’, too), and emotions which were especially ramped up during the torturous “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsal that immediately preceded “Two of Us,” of course  George’s famed “please you” wasn’t anything remotely out of the blue. It wasn’t even the most potent or viscous thing he said that hour.

But the delivery of “please you” was perfect, and watching it on film more than 40 years later, it’s still a great, dramatic moment. Like I wrote in the first post about “Two of Us,” it’s a  passive-aggressive greatest hit.  I’ve said it to bosses (they had no idea what I was referencing).  I’ve said it to my wife (she did).

I think it’s remembered, even in a way that “I don’t even care” — spoken seconds earlier — isn’t. Of course, that could just be terrible VCR copies and rips over the years responsible for the muddy sound. The moment, the editing — it was just perfect for “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.”

The pity in all of this? I think the song sounds great. It’s fun, upbeat — I liken it to a driving song during a buddy movie vs. the eventual acoustic cut, which sounds like something to hold hands to in a romantic comedy. Oh well. I’ll enjoy the pacing of the song while it lasts for a few more days of the sessions.

The “Two of Us” rehearsals over, John searches for the words to “Across the Universe,” while George sneaks in a little bit of Hear Me Lord. They go back into “Universe” for one take before attention shifts to “All Things Must Pass” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” to end the day.

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Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 2)

Rehearsals on January 6 — just the third day of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions — deteriorated to the point where The Beatles were arguing about the very nature of rehearsals and the extent to which a song need be complete in order to have a member bring it to the full band to actually bother with run-throughs.

paul-gb-bookWith takes of “Two of Us” under way, Paul’s already defensive, George is already passive-aggressive. And John? Seems like he just wants to run out the clock and get the hell out of there. But at least he’s not showing any desire to have confrontation at this very specific moment in time.

When we last left things, the song — while sounding great to these ears more than 40 years later — was hung up in the intro, outro and bridge (I guess that doesn’t leave a lot, does it?). Paul had just accused George of being annoyed by him and he bemoaned the presence of the cameras. After some silence and noodling by the group, and another remark by John about the opening riff that continues to torture him, Paul repeats his preferred rehearsal style.

Paul: Doesn’t everyone agree that it’s confused at the moment? So all I’m trying to say is, let’s get the confusion, unconfuse it, then confuse it.

It’s what we’ve been doing all afternoon — this is why we’re not getting anything done. We’ve just got [to get] rolling on with it. We’ve only got 12 more days, so we’ve really got to do this methodically, this one. Unconfused, then a bit more confused, then a bit more. “Now try this drumming here, try this drumming there. Now, OK, let’s stop and look into this bit.”

Well, there’s another nice, little revelation. As of Jan. 6, it seems it’s locked in that the sessions will end Jan. 18 — or, if we’re adding in weekends, make it the 21st or 22nd (depending on whether the 6th counts against that 12 days). Presumably this is how long they’ve booked Twickenham. Talk about ambitious. As history would eventually prove, The Beatles would be out of Twickenham much earlier than that, on Jan. 14 – but that would be a direct result of George leaving the band before rejoining on a condition they abandoned the soundstage for Savile Row.

After Paul’s repeated plea to simplify first, John jumps in, almost as comic relief, continuing his complete fixation on getting out of playing the opening galloping part on guitar.

“I’ve got an idea,” John graciously offers. “I should vamp, because I’ve got to sing, and it’s hard going. But it’s annoying” (and he plays the opening riff).

George fools around on guitar over a bit, making dialogue hard to pick up, until things get clearer in this next exchange.

Paul: I’m trying to stop us all playing until we know what we are playing.

George: But you got to play in order to find out which fits and what doesn’t.

Paul: I’m thinking … we’re improvising the solos, but we play strict chords and strict rhythms around the vocals… I don’t want to say, ‘cause I really just hear myself the only one saying it. All this time…I don’t, don’t get any support or anything…you know its right, and you know its right. (He’s presumably talking to George and John).

John: OK, so I just don’t know what to do about it.

George: I’ll wait until you get your bits and then work my part out if you like. It’s like a matter of working it out with you while you’re working your bit out. You know if you got your bass bit, you know… it will take even longer.

Paul: I’m not trying to say to you, you’re doing it again as though I’m trying to say, and what we said the other day, I’m not trying to get you. What I really am trying to just say is, “Look lads” — the band, you know — “should we try it like this,” you know?

George: It’s funny now how I don’t even care.

It’s amazing honesty from George. He, for one, doesn’t seem to care at all about the cameras capturing the proceedings.  But alas, the tone he spoke in was somewhat mild (and who knows what the visual was) so I can see how this didn’t end up becoming the killer line chosen for the film, like “whatever it is that will please you” became.

Meanwhile, Paul’s showing no hesitation in calling out George and John, both, in saying he’s alone in keeping things afloat. Really, for all of Paul’s flaws, he’s kind of right here about the situation. There does seem to be a bit of cart-before-the-horse when it comes to running through the songs.

And as Paul continues, not skipping a beat after George’s dismissive comment, he goes back at George, reminding him of a recent exchange the two had over a song.

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

More than 40 years later as I write this, it almost seems like “Hey Jude” was from a different generation of Beatles than the ones arguing their way through the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. But on Jan. 6, 1969, where we are today in this blog’s current timeline, it was a song recorded less than six months prior, released a little over four months earlier and had just dropped out of the UK Top 40 three weeks prior.

It’s a funny thing how prevalent the ghost of “Hey Jude” was at the time of the Twickenham sessions. The song’s sessions were easy, with rehearsals beginning July 29, ending Aug, 1. The experience of the song’s video shoot – done at the same Twickenham — helped encourage the band that the time was right to perform in front of live audiences. And like these sessions, “Hey Jude” was ultimately recorded away from the safe and familiar confines of EMI Studios at Abbey Road (where they recorded what turned out to be more rehearsals than real takes), and instead at Trident.  And if outtakes are any indication, it was a pretty upbeat affair.

Thus, the experience recording the song — which happened smack in the middle of the White Album sessions — was fresh at the time of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. Paul and George had just been discussing how much they liked Wilson Pickett’s cover version just three days prior.

So what was Paul’s beef with George on “Hey Jude”? Here’s what he has to say sometime in the 1990s, as captured to print in the Anthology book:

On “Hey Jude”, when we first sat down and I sang ‘Hey Jude…’, George went ‘nanu nanu’ on his guitar. I continued, ‘Don’t make it bad…’ and he replied ‘nanu nanu’. He was answering every line – and I said, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute now. I don’t think we want that. Maybe you’d come in with answering lines later. For now I think I should start it simply first.” He was going, ‘Oh yeah, OK, fine, fine.’ But it was getting a bit like that. He wasn’t into what I was saying.

In a group it’s democratic and he didn’t have to listen to me, so I think he got pissed off with me coming on with ideas all the time. I think to his mind it was probably me trying to dominate. It wasn’t what I was trying to do – but that was how it seemed.

This, for me, was eventually what was going to break The Beatles up. I started to feel it wasn’t a good idea to have ideas, whereas in the past I’d always done that in total innocence, even though I was maybe riding roughshod.

I did want to insist that there shouldn’t be an answering guitar phrase in ‘Hey Jude’ – and that was important to me – but of course if you tell a guitarist that, and he’s not as keen on the idea as you are, it looks as if you’re knocking him out of the picture. I think that it was like, ‘Since when are you going to tell me what to play? I’m in The Beatles too.’ So I can see his point of view.

But it burned me, and I then couldn’t come up with ideas freely, so I started to have to think twice about anything I’d say – ‘Wait a minute, is this going to be seen to be pushy?’ – whereas in the past it had just been a case of, ‘Well, the hell, this would be a good idea. Let’s do this song called “Yesterday”. It’ll be all right.’

What we see here is pretty obvious: The Get Back/Let it Be sessions have been tarnished — demonized even — in part, because we actually can hear everything that happens thanks to voluminous bootlegs. Good luck finding a recording George and Paul arguing over the “Hey Jude” extra guitar part.

So in the Anthology excerpt (among other places, like in Barry Miles’ “Many Years From Now”), Paul does a pretty good job here giving what seems like an honest presentation of what was happening in 1968-69. And nearly 30 years after the fact , he was still able to run through the specifics.

And it was Paul’s reflection — This one, it’s like, ‘Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.'” — is what directly prompted George to spew “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play.”

More from the “Two of Us” rehearsals, including George finally uttering that line I keep on going on about, coming up in the next post!

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Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 1)

It’s a passive-aggressive greatest hit.

And it’s the highlight of the series of posts — which gets under way here — I was most eager to write before I heard a minute of the complete tapes.

George to Paul: I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you… I’ll do it.

Having just heard the band make their way through a somewhat torturous rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” the context is finally here of just why George was ready to snap at Paul. But it’s a long and, well, somewhat direct road to get to “whatever it is that will please you,” and the tension isn’t one-sided as the group pivots to Paul’s “Two of Us,” an ode to his bride-to-be, Linda.

please youIn listening to the entirety of the “Two of Us” tapes, Paul’s ready to jump at anyone, feeling quite on the defensive. John, for one, doesn’t take the bait. And in fact, as the session for the song goes on, John actually attempts a bit of a peacemaker role once things begin to boil between Paul and George. But that comes later. George, on the other hand, is quite ready to share his feelings with Paul.

Musically, the song isn’t too much different than it had been before they broke for the weekend, on Jan. 3. It’s upbeat, and completely electric at this point. But like the final version, it’s a Paul-John duet. The first take of the day, straight from the top after they had moved on from “Don’t Let Me Down,” breaks down seconds in when John asks if he’s supposed to be singing.

Paul: Melody. You’re supposed to remember the words, too.

John: Yes, I’ve got them here.

Paul: But learn ’em.

John: I almost know ’em.

And we’re off and running! Just another 50 or so minutes of remaining rehearsals of “Two of Us” — and arguments — to go. Fasten your seat belts.

The tension never lets up — getting to “whatever it is that will please you” was inevitable.

Paul references past Beatles songs a number of times during the rehearsal, beginning with an early run-through, when he dictates to George that the guitar part during the verses should sound “like that bit in ‘Getting Better All the Time'” (meaning the staccato guitar part opening the song and that plays throughout).

After subsequent noodling around with the song, Paul tries to restore order and get down to actual business, in the orderly, McCartneyesque manner we’ve come to know and love/hate.

“OK, come on, come on,” Paul says to the group with a headmaster’s tone. “Let’s get it so we know it simply, and then we can add. We don’t know any one [song] yet straight. We keep trying to get to the bits.”

This is indeed true through the first few days of the sessions. “Don’t Let Me Down” is dragged down by the bridge. “I’ve Got a Feeling” isn’t quite right yet. “All Things Must Pass” is very much a work in progress. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” isn’t finished yet. You get the picture. Only “One After 909” – written more than a decade earlier, despite the slower arrangement, and born in these sessions out of an oldies jam – was in game shape.

Another pass at “Two of Us” and things break down as they enter the first bridge (“You and I have memories…”). So it’s time for a band meeting (Ringo, the passive drumming robot, says nothing throughout).

Paul: We’re going to have to sort of bring it together, because we’re all at odds. We’re doing that thing we did on The Beatles — we’re all playing, you know? Like in this verse, it’s two harmonies singing, trying to say some words, right? So it’s just… (he vocally apes a guitar vamp ). And in the bits when we need bits….

John: I’m just trying to sing it and do this thing (he plays the guitar part played during the “We’re on our way home” line).

Paul: We’ve got to get the riffs when the riffs bits come in.

George: The riffs… There’s no riffs. It’s nice just to get what you’re playing. (George then starts to sing “You and I are memories…”)

Paul: But it’s not together, so that it’s not sounding together.

George: So we keep playing until we…

Paul: Or, we can stop and say it’s not together.

George: Yes, then you’ve got to carry on until you get it together. It’s all right to keep playing until it sounds like it’s blending with the rest.

Paul: I never know what to say to that, you know? ‘Cause what I want to say is, “Now, come on,” and play, but I can’t, I know. You know, and we get into that one. OK.

They’re not talking about what sounds good, what words work or don’t or the like. This is a debate about the philosophy of how to rehearse. We’re in uncharted territory. These four men are writing a record on the spot, under strict time constraints to get these songs in working order for a show that’s going to happen at some unknown locale, and very soon.

You’d think this kind of thing would have been hashed out, but then again, why would it? When they last toured, in 1966, they played about a dozen songs — nothing brand new, and some songs they’d been playing for many years. They knew the songs inside and out, plus they weren’t writing anything special for the tour or struggled under the pressure of the clock. And when they last brought new songs to the table — a few months earlier for the White Album sessions — they didn’t have the pressure of the live show.

There’s a bit of nervous laughter from Paul before he continues to offer a logic he repeats numerous times over the “Two of Us” sessions this day.

Paul: … It’s complicated now. See, if we can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications, but it’s complicated in the bit.

George: It’s not complicated.

Paul: But, I mean, you know.

George: I’ll play just the chords if you like, and then…

While George is low-key throughout, speaking in completely passive-aggressive tones, Paul grows audibly exasperated.

Paul: No, no, come on. You always get annoyed when I say that. I’m trying to help, you know? But I always hear myself annoying you…

George: No, you’re not annoying. It’s not annoying anymore (or is it “anyone”? Hard to tell).

Paul: … And I get so where I can’t say it. But you know what I mean. Just do this then, and, I don’t know. I can’t do it on film either. I don’t know if we can do it on camera.

Funny, Paul had just said earlier in the day that he didn’t mind being filmed, that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier.

But as it would turn out, Paul would end up having to continue this discussion on camera after all, and it would become one of the iconic moments of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions and the film — behind only the rooftop concert — and truly in the group’s history overall.

The in-depth look at the “Two of Us” sessions on Jan. 6, 1969, will resume in the next post. Coming very soon!

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Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 2)

When we left the Fab Four in the previous post, the band was continuing the wrestle with the bridge in “Don’t Let Me Down.” To Paul, the section “needs things to happen.”

So he proceeds to ask Ringo for a little bit of stop-and-start drumming, some cymbal play and otherwise suggest ways to demolish the pacing of the song.

John seems to like it, or at least not dislike it. There’s a sparseness to it, and maybe I’m nuts, but I almost feel a little Plastic Ono Band thing happening here (“Hold On” maybe?).

excerpt

Excerpt from the Let it Be book

One thing that’s enjoyable to listen to as they work on this is hearing the isolations — Paul’s bass, George’s guitar. Meanwhile, Ringo’s a robot throughout the rehearsals. He literally doesn’t say a word (that you can hear on the tapes, at least), soaks up Paul’s instructions and basically steps in to lay down the same steady beat each of the 2,549 (approx.) times they try to tackle the bridge this day.

Meanwhile, the tapes cut in and out for an undetermined amount of takes, but it couldn’t have been too long, since they’re still wrestling with the same stuff. Now they’re paying a bit more attention to the instrumentation on the bridge over the vocals. Paul’s looking for more from George in the way of a lead guitar line — overall, not just in the bridge. Soon, John tells George, “We’ve got to keep fiddling around with this bit, so you want a guitar bit. … There’s a point where we’ll to have to concentrate on the guitar for each song.”

But maybe it won’t be now. John gives the band a chance to opt out of the “Don’t Let Me Down” after nearly an hour of not exactly getting very far. “Should we do something else ,then?”

Feel like letting go? Not Paul. “Stick with it,” he replies.

So they continue and struggle with the song’s pace, first going too fast, then overcompensating by going too slow. Things just aren’t getting anywhere. George complains they don’t even know what they’re singing during the bridge —  and they don’t. Tape glitches lose some time, but it doesn’t matter. When we’re back, the rehearsals are in the same state. John doesn’t bother singing the lead vocals straight every time — and there’s no point, it’s the same vocals he uses on the final take.

For a moment, they ditch the response vocals and go with simple “aahs” over the bridge, and it didn’t sound too bad. But still a bit superfluous.

So Paul shares what’s on his mind, which is what we all probably figured he’d say anyway.

Let’s do what I said in the first place. Really, just repeat what you’re doing (the response vocals). I think that’s the best. … Not as high as we were doing it.

As we enter the final few minutes of the song’s rehearsals for the day, palpable tension finally arises. George’s general objection is to the weak response vocals and undefined instrumentation in the bridge. Paul replies that “I’m just trying to get a bit we’ll try and sort of go right through. We keep talking about it.”

The next take, they do a call-and-response in the bridge, this time repeating John’s lines: “I’m in love for the first time (I’m in love for the first time)/Don’t you know it’s going to last (Don’t you know it’s going to last)…etc.

George still objects, and makes no bones about it, saying,”I think it’s awful. …  it’s terrible.”

Paul and John both fire back, speaking over each other:

John: Well, have you got anything to supplant it?

Paul: OK, you’ve got to come up with something better, then.

George makes a suggestion to the guitar part/harmony (they’re being played together) that Paul calls “just too pretty,” which is interesting on so many levels — although among them that it’s true.

They can’t get through a take of the bridge before things break down. George keeps offering up little tweaks, but Paul doesn’t want to be slowed. Now, at least.

Paul: We make it better as it goes on.  … We’ve just gone around like for an hour with nothing.”

George: [We’ve been just trying different] permutations.

Paul: I know, but let’s sort of move on now.

John: I’d like to hear any of them right once.

More stumbling through takes and Paul and John reach agreement on how the bridge should now sound, at least the lyrical combination. It’s a mixed message to George, too, since literally moments after saying it wasn’t the time to tweak the bridge, he decides it, in fact, is.

Paul: When [John sings] “Don’t you know it’s going to last,” we sing, “It’s a love that has no past.” Then we repeat “It’s a love that lasts forever” exactly, and then when you sing “It’s a love that has no past,” we sing “It’s a love that’s going to last.”

George JohnGot that?  Not sure John did or really cared — he’s let this aspect of the song be managed by Paul all day as it is — but he replied simply “Yes, I agree.”

A pair of broken takes did result, blessedly, in an epiphany and a solution that stuck.

“Forget the last line,” George said right after doing just that and playing the song’s opening riff over where they had been shoehorning in a response vocal.

They repeat this part a few more times. We still have the other extra vocals in the bridge, but the riff sticks.

While Paul’s assuaged for the moment — “So that’s near enough for the time being” — John isn’t.

John: We found out that’s the weak bit [the bridge] so we tried putting voices on it. But it’s still down to the rhythm.

Paul: But it was always weak on your guitar. That’s the weak bit of the song.   (It’s unclear here if he’s talking to John or George, or both).

Shortly after that exchange, we’re back after some kind of gap on the tapes, with a fresh attempt at the song from the top. And we clearly lost some discussion, because the bridge suddenly lacks any response vocals — but does retain George’s riff to end the section. This sounds like the “Don’t Let Me Down” we know and love, for the most part, even down to John not quite getting his own vocals straight.

The next (and final) take, we inch even closer, with Paul and George singing harmonies with John, not as a response to him in the bridge.

And with that, the band ends their 80-plus minutes (on the tapes, it was even more in reality) of “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsals on a high note. May not have been the classic “eyeball-to-eyeball”  collaborations John and Paul would do — especially with George so deeply involved. But clearly, even though it wasn’t exactly cordial, it worked. “Don’t Let Me Down” was a better song 80 minutes after they started rehearsing.

Paul then announces the next song they’ll try to work on —  “Two of Us Going Nowhere On Our Way Home” — and we’ll find out soon enough just how much George wants to please him.

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Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1)

After basically ceding to Yoko his creative role in the band’s decision-making over the live show earlier in the day, John Lennon regains a tiny bit of authority by leading the group through a lengthy rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of the primary songs the band has taken on thus far.

jlWell, he regains authority at the outset, at least, during a stretch that provides the first real look at the discord between band members that helped define the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.

On the A/B tapes, Jan. 6 rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” run in a straight shot for nearly 90 minutes, easily the longest stretch they spent on any one song this day. The structure of the song is set and doesn’t change from what will eventually be pressed to vinyl. It’s a delightfully simple song, both in lyrics and structure. But they’re not happy to leave well enough alone quite yet.

Things kick in with the song already under way in what’s labeled as Track 6.62. (I’ve also been able to track down some of this day’s rehearsals in a few YouTube clips below, as culled from the bootleg “Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 9 (1969 N° 5) – Hello Dolly.”)

Shortly into things, John asks to work on what he calls “the worst bit” — the song’s bridge. (“I’m in love for the first time…”).

Now, it’s absolutely granted that the band has a hard time working together, and that didn’t just begin on January 2, when they convened at Twickenham. But at least from the relative beginning of the sessions, they’re trying. An example of that comes right here as John wants the help on the bridge, asking openly, “What can we do to that bit, then?”

George says he likes the vocal line and harmony, it’s just lacking in some color as far as the fills in between. He suggests a rhythm change, while John replies, “That’s where the piano would come in.”

Good stuff! Collaboration!

Paul scats some falsetto to alternate with John’s lines, and George fiddles with some guitar fills. It actually sounds kind of nice with John on an acoustic guitar, but overall nothing overly impressive. But hey, it’s a work in progress. There were probably lots of bum attempts at things over the prior decade of Beatles in-studio fiddling, right? We just have these extensive rehearsals on tape, whereas we don’t have a zillion hours and hours of them wrestling with, say, “Nowhere Man.”

Paul takes things a bit more into his own hands, instructing George to join him in the vocals, and telling him just what to do.

Paul offers up his falsetto part, then gives explicit suggestions for the responses.

John: I’m in love for the first time

Paul’s suggestion: Love for the first time in my life

John: Don’t you know it’s going to last

Paul: So don’t you let it get away (he soon changes it to “Not going to let it get away”)

John: It’s a love that lasts forever

Paul: It lasts forever and a day

Paul goes onto explain that “corny’s all right in this one. What he’s [John] doing is corny. That’s the thing that will make it not corny, we sing different different words.”

I’d question the logic (and lyrical interpretation) there, but hey, Paul’s track record in writing hit songs is a lot longer than mine. The last song he referred to as “corny” was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” a few days earlier, and I think it’s safe to say they’re quite different birds. I do think he says it affectionately, at least.

George says something that’s not quite on mic, to which Paul, clearly trying to blow him off, says “OK, well, we’ll do that, that comes later. Just sing it straight first.”

The next stab at the bridge has George doing the “part that moves” that Paul had just suggested, sounding a bit Band-ish, which isn’t too much of a surprise at this point. At the same time, there’s a slight “Revolution 1” vibe here, where the “shooby-doo-wops” punctuate the chorus. I guess it works, but it definitely changes the feel of what we know as “Don’t Let Me Down” — John in fact likens the work in progress to “something like the Drifters.” (We’re still a few weeks away from the Beatles actually covering the Drifters).

They continue to run through the bridge, Paul directing.

Paul : The thing is, sing the one I’m doing, and we’ll improve upon it. Start off with a corny one, because the words aren’t that good. (Here, he’s referring to his response vocals, not John’s main ones).

John: I think the words should be corny, because there are no clever words in it.

I guess he’s right — it’s a straight rock song with deeply honest lyrics (and his first song written for Yoko, I believe), no interpretation necessary. This isn’t “I am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” lyrically. So I don’t think he meant it as an insult to the song. But I guess I’m surprised John would want to muddy up a song like this.

More run-throughs, and John still isn’t satisfied, at one point saying, “Maybe I should play piano … just to change it.” George talks about using some pedals so it “doesn’t sound like the same old shit,” — but John says “I like the same old shit, if it’s clear.”

“Just think of some riffs,” Paul suggests to George, as we see today’s first real signs of a little bit of the big boys ganging up on the perceived help.

And so they continue, with one of the takes briefly immortalized at the beginning of the “Let it Be” film (it’s taken from 6.67 on the tapes).

Of course, in this edit, the band goes straight into the Jan. 3 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer performance. In reality, they churned on, with Paul thinking the answer to the seemingly busted bridge is to change the rhythm.

“This needs this,” Paul insists. “It needs things to happen.”

Just what does happen? Find out soon in Part 2!

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Jan. 6: Adore your ballroom dancing (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 3)

Back-garden Beatles (Tittenhurst, 1969)

After a proposed overseas concert in a Roman amphitheater in Libya is scuttled by Paul, citing Ringo’s insistence on staying in England, a suggestion is made to perhaps go small and shoot a Beatles concert in a back garden, presumably somewhere in London.

Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg quickly dismisses the idea, suggesting it would end up like a “little promo film … instead of a Beatles television show.”

Sitting in on the discussion, George Martin cuts to the chase and thinks even smaller, proposing “we just do it in the other studio.”

Paul shifts the focus off the venue and back to the composition of the crowd.

Paul: We’re all prepared to do it with an audience. But what Yoko said is right — we can’t just have the same old scene. If it was the same old audience and we were … all naked when they came in, then that’d be a different scene, you know?

MLH: I think she’s totally right about that, that’s one of my big points.

As the discussion goes in circles, someone in the group asks the simple — but very difficult — question: “What can you do that’s new with them?”

Paul: We shouldn’t really try to do anything with the audience because the audience is the audience, and it’s them, and they’ve come in. It’s us that’s doing the show.

Yoko: Because If I were in New York and I watched the “Hey Jude” [promo on TV] … my interpretation would be that those people around them who are sort of climbing up and starting to sing with were just hired people. If I think that, then it’s OK. But if I thought it was a true audience, then I think, ‘Oh, so now people don’t think of The Beatles as too much’ because all the image that everybody in the world has about The Beatles is that once there’s an audience, they’re going to be frantic and pulling their clothes and tearing it away and all that.

“Hey Jude” promo video

OK, then.  Not so sure I’m on board with Yoko’s assessment of the state of The Beatles’ popularity at this point, but hey, she’s soon to be married to a member of the band and was actually there in the ’60s, whereas this blogger was yet to be born.

But still. It seems a bit out of reach to me to suggest that just because a Beatles audience wouldn’t be in full-tilt 1964-era Beatlemania, pulling out their hair and screaming over the songs, means the band isn’t as “big” anymore.  It’s 1969, not 1964 anymore. The music scene has changed.

But to avoid what Yoko thinks would be an issue, George Harrison says the solution is something The Beatles had done before.

The good thing is that we could completely create another image, reserve the image of your choice. If we could just think of an image we’d like to be and then we make it that one, which could be anything. We could just be a nightclub act, or anything, just the smoochy, low lights and 10 people.

Wheels turning, Lindsay-Hogg says, “Then you’re a little cabaret act,” before he and George Martin agree again that there should be a large audience that’s not necessarily any kind of focal point, just to be used as a sounding board.

But then Paul picks up on George’s idea and gives it a twist.

I thought, like, a ballroom. If we did go right back … and did it purely like a dance. “Come to the Tower Ballroom, there’s a dance on. Oh, incidentally, we’ll be the band there.” And we’d go on, play all the numbers and we’d play it like we’d play a dance, without trying to sort of announce anything. There’s a fast one, there’s a slow one, and everyone, like, dances. And there might be a fight or there might be the kinds of things that happened at dances. Or it might be a very sedate, quiet dance.

The Beatles, performing at the Tower Ballroom, ca. 1961-62

Presumably, Paul’s referring to the Tower Ballroom of New Brighton — just a ferry ride ‘cross the Mersey from Liverpool — a venue they played numerous times in 1961 and 1962.

I actually sort of love this idea, with the full understanding that it may just take hired hands to get an audience to ignore the fact they’re at a Beatles concert and just go ahead and actually dance.

And to do that, as my wife said to me, they’re really just making a long music video. What’s the point?

Lindsay-Hogg is on board — in essence, he says —  because he likes its simplicity. But that’s where his agreement ends. “What you’re asking for is a really, really simple approach, which I think is right,” the director says. “But I’m not sure just to have an audience dance around you is good that way. I don’t think you are just a local band.”

Paul, and the rest of the group in the conversation, agree. But after digging deeper into the idea, Lindsay-Hogg ultimately thinks it’s a non-starter.

MLH: The only time on TV it didn’t work for you was when you went on … Top of the Pops, and they did dance, do you remember that? And they didn’t really do very much. And that would look so crazy. It looked crazy for four minutes, but it would look lunatic for longer. It would have been in the bad way, it was so sedate, and you all were so sedate back then.

The essence of this idea is the simplest approach possible. The essence is correct —  totally, totally what I believe — but you’re just not the local dance band. Would that you were, but you’re not. So that’s going to be very hard to achieve.

Paul sticks with his newest idea, saying that if they’re going to be artificial and build a set at Twickenham to mirror the Tower Ballroom anyway, why not just go to the Tower itself?

We learn a little bit more about the Let it Be film’s early timeline in Lindsay-Hogg’s response.

MLH: That was one of the reasons we started veering off on these ideas was when we were looking at locations that Friday afternoon after Christmas, and all the locations looked like four steps up from a boutique, you know what I mean? Four years ago everyone was shooting in a boutique, and now it’s a disused sawmill or whatever it is. It just looked like plastic locations.

Everyone agreed it was a phony look, certainly something the group was seeking to avoid.

“Candy” co-stars Ringo Starr with Richard Burton — and Liz Taylor in 1968.

Also notable here is that the director was scouting locations on Dec. 27, 1968 — a mere 10 days earlier. Good on Lindsay-Hogg, too, for working hard; he directed “Rock & Roll Circus” just 16 days prior.

Yoko won’t give up on the band staging a show before anything remotely like a conventional audience, comparing the scenario to actor Richard Burton, and saying that people don’t want to see him performing on stage before a “fixed” audience.

No matter what kind of audience, it s going to look crummy. What he is is a legend.  Seeing him on his own private boat or just seeing him shaving is just more dignified than seeing him perform before a fixed audience. Do you see that point? That’s why it’s better to show you in your private home, or George’s home or something. “Oh, this is much better than a fixed audience.”

George and Pattie at home at Kinfauns, their home from 1964-1970

Someone, perhaps Mal or Neil, out-Yokos Yoko by suggesting a performance at The Royal Academy or Tate Gallery — “with nobody there but the pictures.” Naturally, she agrees.

Lindsay-Hogg still wants none of that, saying, “Once you get up to perform as The Beatles, you have to perform to someone, even if it’s going to be this different kind of audience.”

The debate churns on.

MLH: Certainly yes, you play straight at home. But I have a feeling that’s not big enough.

Yoko: But that’s big. See the private home of Paul McCartney or George Harrison.

MLH: We could fit that into the documentary.

George Harrison reflects on a “Bridget” documentary (presumably Bardot),  describing her taking the audience to St. Tropez as she “sings a tune over her front gate and walking around the pool.”

Insisting that kind of minutia can be incorporated in the documentary, Lindsay-Hogg then offers what turns out to be his concluding argument for the day.

If you just get up to perform, you either have to be performing directly to the people at home or to an audience. It’s only two ways. Maybe it would work for the people at home, I just don’t think there’s quite enough scope. And I think the idea’s good, because we have to think about the audience — because you are so riddled with audience. The audience is so much part of the first half of you musically — [under his breath as an aside] says the critic from the Guardian — the audience is so much part of the mystique.

After a mention of mystique, we’re left with a mystery — the tape cuts off abruptly, and the next track is merely a nondescript improvised instrumental, and there’s no return to the discussion this day again.

And what of the Tower Ballroom? Had The Beatles performed there, it would have been the last hurrah for the venue. It was destroyed by fire just three months after this discussion.

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