January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipice — something we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so.
Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.
While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism.
“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.
“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”
“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”
Nevertheless, make the most of it.
George Martin clarified the deeper issue.
“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”
Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career.
“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”
In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.
Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.
“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”
“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”
“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”
Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”
When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.
“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”
It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”
When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”
George Martin, proofreader
The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.
On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.
“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.
“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”
While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.
“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.
“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”
Hugh Curry, January 1969
No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.
At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …
“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”
Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure.
“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”
After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m.
Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple.
“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!”
John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.
Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.
Yoko: Oh, you like it?
Curry: No, I don’t.
The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.
“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.”
Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”
Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.
A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada.
And speaking of record labels …
“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked.
“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.”
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?
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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 activeparticipant 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 DickJames, 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 otherrecentencounters, 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.
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.
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.
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 you — you 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.
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.
Like so many of the outtakes on the “sessions” discs unearthed and unleashed on the most deluxe version of the Beatles eponymous double-album, this newest version of “Let It Be” — the oldest recording of the song — is acutely alive and profoundly captivating.
As performed on September 5, 1968 — the day after recording their iconic performance of “Hey Jude” for Frost on Sunday — here’s the world’s greatest tea-room orchestra:
Fifty years in the books, and Beatles history still has room for an edit.
In some ways, this one-minute, 18-second cosmic jam capturing the band in medias res — between takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — is just what should be expected, even if its very existence is still something of a minor surprise. A White Album-era version of “Let It Be” felt apocryphal, despite established knowledge rooting it in fact. And so it is that the disjointed, driving performance sounds like it’s out of time — it was.
Let’s dig in on some finer points:
Brother Malcolm, Paul and George Martin during the White Album sessions in 1968
Brother Malcolm, Mother Mary and the lyrics of “Let It Be”
Notably, the lyrics of the song hardly advanced in the three months between September 5, 1968 and January 3, 1969, the first recorded performance of “Let It Be” at the sessions that would ultimately bear its name.
Here’s Paul grooving alone at the piano for the song’s debut on the Nagra tapes:
The lone addition, lyrically: “In my darkest hour, she is standing right in front of me.”
“She,” of course, is Mother Mary, who presumably was in the very original lyric sourced from Paul’s dream about his mother but was absent in the 1968 early attempt. That featured “Brother Malcolm,” a nod to do-it-all assistant Mal Evans. The reference to Mal was inconsistent over January 1969 but endured to the very end of the sessions. Here are the Beatles on the final day of the sessions, January 31, 1969:
It wasn’t until a few days into the sessions at Savile Row, on January 25, 1969, that most of the verses had been added. But Paul started teaching “Let It Be” to others in the band on January 8, when we hear Paul naming chords to the others to learn. That’s also when Paul disclosed that, even at this early stage, he planned to have Aretha Franklin cover the song.
Students of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions have heard this sort of thing several times before, someone in the group veering into an original, a cover, an improvisation between songs, during a transition during a rehearsal or purely as an aside.
Some of these drop-in songs were even the same for the White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions:
And just as future songs were sampled and explored during jams in 1968, they were in ‘69 too. And probably long before that as well. A few examples:
This initial iteration of “Let It Be” may not have had “Mother Mary” but it did feature the hand of “God.”
The September 5 session of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the one that featured Eric Clapton as the Beatles’ guest on lead guitar. That places Eric at the origin of “Let It Be,” and he can be heard adding a few guitar licks to the improvisation. (Listen to the very end and you can hear George close the track imploring his friend to don his headphones: “Cans on, Eric.”)
A full 31 years later Eric would get to play the song again, joining Paul on stage at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Paul was inducted for his solo career, but the show closed with, naturally, “Let It Be.”
This same induction ceremony honored producer George Martin, who happened to miss the September 5, 1968, session whilst on vacation.
Times of trouble?
Even Paul called the White Album “the tension album.” John said worse in the early ’70s. Ringo literally left the band for a few weeks in the summer of ’68. Four Beatles, each recording in a separate studio — we all know the stories.
But while history is static, perceptions are variable.
The Get Back/Let It Be sessions inherit the same sour reputation, yet it would be very easy to compile 50 tracks from January 1969 filled with laughter, chatter and the indication that nothing could ever tear these guys apart. And I bet if and when we do see a formal reissue campaign of Let It Be (which I suspect will be attached to a larger Abbey Road/”Beatles in ‘69” re-release), we’ll see that very recalibration of Beatles history. More “Suzy Parker,” and not quite so many calls for a divorce.
And that’s OK. I’ve long posited that things weren’t necessarily so bad — or at least that much worse — for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions than in the period immediately before and after. Naturally, the reality lies somewhere in between. Neither the White Album nor Let It Be are outliers — that’s just how the group was post-1967.
It’s so obvious a statement, it sounds dumb to write: Without George Martin, who died Tuesday at 90, the Beatles would have been a completely different entity from the one he signed, nurtured and produced.
The Beatles existed before Martin agreed to sign them to Parlophone in 1962, and had he not, the group would have continued to do so. If George Martin didn’t manage and help develop the Beatles sound, someone else ultimately would have. But we can only imagine what the output would have been, and if we would still be talking about it more than 50 years later. Because of Martin, there’s no question: Here we are still talking about it.
George Martin produced, arranged, mixed, composed and was otherwise involved with hundreds of records over half a century. The Beatles’ output adds up to a fraction of it (and he notably wasn’t involved in one record). But his creativity and willingness to interpret the sounds inside the heads of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr and pull together the resources to apply it tangibly to wax earned Martin all the praise he has received as a forefather, godfather, innovator and icon. If he didn’t make the Beatles into The Beatles, maybe we’d be writing here about how innovative his work with another band was — if he crossed over from jazz and comedy records to pop music at all.
McCartney & Martin in the ’80s
This blog deals with January 1969, the precise moment when George Martin mattered least to the Beatles. He ended up something of an adviser at the Get Back sessions, and it was ultimately left to Phil Spector to, as Martin would describe it, “overproduce” Let It Be for release. As someone who brought the most out of the Beatles (I was going to list song titles as examples, then the list got too long), Martin’s view of the Spector production reveals what Martin himself thought he did best for the Beatles. From Anthology:
[Spector’s Let It Be] was bringing The Beatles’ records down a peg — that’s what I thought. Making them sound like other people’s records.
The Beatles may have pinched ideas from other bands, but when George Martin produced, they never, ever sounded like another band.
Paul McCartney — the only Beatle to work againwith Martinafter the breakup — asked him to produce Abbey Road as a swan song, and that record is damn near perfect — like so many other wildly varied Beatles efforts Martin was tasked with producing.
George Martin put up with a lot of nonsense working with the Beatles, often enabling implausible sonic ideas while increasingly dealing with, to use sports parlance, an out-of-control clubhouse. The Beatles may have wanted to make an “honest” album with Abbey Road, but that didn’t mean they got along much better than they did while working on Let It Be (or the White Album, for that matter). But recording that final album gave Martin closure, too. Again, from Anthology:
Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album — but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn’t at all surprised that they split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives — and I did, too. It was a release for me as well.
It’s 2016, and the world has been without two of the Beatles for a long time now. There have been a lot of contenders for “fifth Beatle” — George Martin, Mal Evans, Billy Preston — and we’ve lost them all, too. (A silly case could be made that Ringo is the fifth Beatle, since Pete Best is arguably part of the first four, but that’s for another rainy day). But whether it’s vinyl, cassette, CDs or MP3s, thank God we’ll always have the music.
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
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.
Having established earlier in the conversation that there will be two live shows to cap the documentary of which filming is already in progress, the band — primarily Paul — plus Yoko Ono, George Martin, Michael Lindsay Hogg and a few other insiders (probably the likes of Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor? I don’t know them as well by voice) — continue their lengthy discussion about the show, potential venues and the composition of an audience.
For a show plan first hatched more than a month earlier, things remain in total flux.
Paul latches onto Yoko’s idea of playing to an empty house, at least for one of the two proposed shows, with the second night’s performance before a conventional audience.
Hey, maybe there will be some traction here! Paul’s on board with Yoko’s ideas up front and early on (and John doesn’t seem to care, not chiming in at all during this chat), so a huge part of the battle here is over, George’s independent streak — which is about to erupt — notwithstanding. And it’s not much of a surprise, really, given Paul’s avant garde leanings.
Alas, Lindsay-Hogg punctures that idea, saying there’s no need to eschew a crowd “partly [because] the documentary is playing in silence. I know it’s not for an audience, but it’s the same thing.”
Paul replies to say that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier, repeating the “performance might be — should be — two cameras or two audiences … two something.”
But Yoko pressed on — with Paul again agreeing — saying the audience isn’t the draw for people watching the film at home, unless it’s something different, like “kings or queens coming to see it.”
The director keeps pressing back.
MLH: What I think is if you got in front of an empty house and played, it makes you look too … rich, in the bad sense. In other words, whats the point? This is the negative aspect of that. What’s the point in you getting up and playing for an empty house when you could be giving people happiness with whatever kind of full house we decided?
Yoko: Nobody’s going to think that. They’re going to think it’s a very poetic situation. And they know the Beatles are rich …
Voice of reason George Martin, as he did earlier in the conversation, again sides with Lindsay-Hogg on just what a waste a live performance to an empty room would be, putting it succinctly:
There’s no point in doing a live performance, it’s like going into a recording studio and doing one take.
He then repeats the point that an audience would give an extra something to the band they wouldn’t get otherwise.
Someone chimes to suggest one of the more exotic venues that had been in the mix, presumably since December,as the band hatched the live-show idea.
And a beautiful, unique venue the former Roman amphitheater outside Tripoli, Libya, would have been and with such an unusual audience. It’s certainly something that would one-up recent rock films like Cream at the Albert Hall and the recently completed Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.
Paul agrees with a remark that a bit of a focus on the audience (wherever it may be) isn’t a bad thing — seeing the reaction of people who have seen the band before in the Beatlemania era and how they’d react to the band now, post-1966 and the end of their live era.
Yoko: Then it should be a real scene. You have to announce in the newspaper say that it’s going to be a real alive show. It’ll be a crazy scene, like everybody queuing for it and everything.
Neil? Mal? Derek? Then it should be an Albert Hall scene.
Lindsay-Hogg, who joked earlier in the day about a Beatles show at “the Albert Hall with those quick cuts,” said a few hours later that he’s not opposed to a show at the nearly 100-year-old stage. But…
MLH: I just think it slightly smells of a few years ago. The Shea Stadiums, wherever it has been.
Yoko: Say anything, and it will slightly smell of a few years ago or slightly less than a few years ago because they topped it.
MLH: I’m not particularly supporting this idea, but it is an idea we can then say no to and go away from if we can top it. But [Sabratha] is a location which is marvelous in itself, by the sea.
The Beatles faced winter elements before
Perhaps this is just calling Ringo’s bluff. As Paul said on Jan. 2, “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”
And calling the drummer’s bluff is something the Get Back book and Let it Be Naked’s “Fly on a Wall” disc proves was done repeatedly. But for the second time this day, Paul shoots down an overseas trip, saying, “Look, it has to be in England. An outdoor scene has to be in England, because we’ve decided we’re not going abroad.”
To someone responding that a performance under the skies couldn’t be done in wintertime England, which is “too bloody cold,” Paul doubles down, after agreeing to the sentiment.
We have decided, it’s a definite decision, that we’re not going abroad, so we should sort of rule that out. It’s not even to the two-way, should we go abroad, we like, we definitely said no to that.
So as usual these days, they’re back to Square One, crossing the seas and back in just a few minutes, only to end up again home in England — and potential venues therein as the discussion continues.
An odd postscript to the Sabratha flirtation: More than 40 after the Beatles toyed with the idea of playing at Sabratha just eight months before Khadafi led a coup to take over Libya, former Apple exec and Beatles assistant Peter Brown had his PR firm hired to improve the dictator’s image.
Tune in next post, where we resume this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.
It’s the definition of insane: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. God bless George Harrison, but at times during his tenure with the Beatles I think he was insane. (It’s likely I’m an insane blogger, who feels like he’s writing the same post about George over and over again).
To wit: Every album session, George throws a number of songs at the wall (the wall also goes by the names of “John” and “Paul”), sees a couple stick for whatever the current record is and reintroduces a couple of the losers along with some new songs again some other time. Repeat until going solo.
Jan. 6 saw a pair of fresh George tunes, “For You Blue” (which stuck) and “Hear Me Lord” (which did not). Neither was given any significant time. And “Hear Me Lord” wasn’t to be heard again in these sessions or even in a Beatles context, far as I can tell. Perhaps he finally figured out he was going insane.
Or maybe there was divine intervention.
“Well, I wrote a gospel song over the weekend, lads,” George says in a lull.
“According to St. Who?,” Ringo blithely asks.
“According to the Lord,” George replies. “Hear me Lord, how I corner you,” to laughter. (At least that last bit sounded like that, it’s almost indecipherable).
A second of silence was followed with Michael Lindsay-Hogg going right into business, suggesting the band discuss the live show soon. George first touches on “High School Confidential,” then he plays and sings along to “I’ve Got a Feeling” before pivoting right into his new song.
You could hear it in the clip — George is playing background music. As he played, Paul, Ringo and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discussed “the new Bonzo’s record,” — presumably The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, which had come out in November, a few weeks earlier.
While Paul and Michael continue to chat about some equipment issues, George resumes on his guitar, now debuting “For You Blue,” an eventual survivor on the Let it Be LP. Again, it’s background music.
George cuts himself off to raise a question about Magic Alex‘s latest studio work and attempts at soundproofing the studio after Ringo asks, “Has Alex created his waves yet?” And after a bit of crosstalk about Alex and his “waves,” Paul sings along to George’s early take of “For Your Blue.”
“Those soundproof walls of silence, are ringing in my ears…”
Soon enough, the band — fully ready to play, finally, as John takes to the organ — cuts away, weaving into oldies, improvisations and rehearsing newer songs (topics ripe for subsequent posts).
Nearly an hour and a half after he first strummed it (on the tapes), George returns to “Hear Me Lord.” Again, it’s primarily a quiet soundtrack to other discussions, among them one in which we finally hear another George — Martin — a figure so absent from the Let it Be tale, here showing up for the first significant time on tape.
Ringo plays a bit of a beat, and John makes a terrible attempt at following along on guitar.
It’s more of the same after extensive rehearsals of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” among others. Again, it’s just a quick taste before they moved on.
Indifference isn’t strong enough a term for how the song is met. I suppose George could have pressed it a little further as an option.
And that was it for the song. No more rehearsals during the Get Back sessions. If it was brought up during the “Abbey Road” recordings, there’s no record of it I’ve seen. And we wouldn’t hear it again until we get to the last song on Side 4 of the All Things Must Pass LP, released nearly a year after George first brought it to the Beatles.