Tag Archives: Get Back

Jan. 9: No Pakistanis

“I canceled the papers last week,” George Harrison told the rest of the Beatles early on January 9, 1969. “And they won’t stop them coming.”

Whether George reluctantly toted the Daily Express and Daily Mirror from his Kinfauns home or if they were delivered otherwise to Twickenham Film Studio, the newspapers were put to good use by the Beatles that Thursday.

“It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything.” – Paul McCartney

When looking for inspiration, we all know of John Lennon’s willingness to read the news (oh, boy), but it was Paul who ripped from the headlines to fill out some lyrics in his signature song on the sixth day of the Get Back sessions.

“Get Back” emerged from a jam two days earlier with a small set of lyrics — most of which would ultimately survive — including “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.” The chorus would never change: “Get back to where you once belonged.”

The newspapers informed additional verses to give meaning to the chorus.

But first, let’s get back to George’s opening quote. After complaining about the papers’ non-cancellation, he continued: “George Gale is such an ignorant bastard.”

Gale, who at the time wrote for the Mirror, probably caught George’s venom because of that day’s column ridiculing marijuana users in the context of the release of the Wootton Report on the potential decriminalization of the drug.

But pot, for people in this country, is a new way of fooling themselves. A man is not made more free by taking pot. Quite the reverse. He is simply made more stupid.

The whole column is the opposite of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” so the reason for disdain is obvious.

But Gale’s politics would have been antithetical to George and the rest of the band since their teenage years. It was in 1956 — the year the Quarrymen were formed — that Gale famously wrote under the headline: “Would YOU let your daughter marry a black man?”

Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was given in April 1968, less than year earlier, and its impact continued to resonate (Powell will soon enter this day’s story, too). Race issues remained a terrible plight and severely divisive issue across Britain into 1969 — and, obviously, before, beyond and basically everywhere throughout human history. In the specific context of immigration to Britain, it was in front-page news on January 9 as the Daily Mirror shouted on Page 1: “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”

BRITAIN has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa. … Mr. Callaghan insists that if Britain is forced to take more Asians from Kenya and Uganda, there will be a cutdown on other Commonwealth immigrants. The Home Secretary is giving the Premiers the strongest warning yet of serious trouble in Britain if extra migrants have to be accepted.

And that takes us back to “Get Back,” the first song the Beatles worked on after lunch. Musically it surges, spunky and alive with the four Beatles perhaps recognizing this is the upbeat rock song they were searching for a week into the sessions. It was likely the first time John played on the song, having arrived after the others when it was first played two days earlier.

From a purely musical standpoint, the song was hot and was rivaled by “One After 909” at this point in pure energy — as far as their originals were concerned. By this early moment in the song’s life, it already had the guitar riff and Ringo’s identifiable cymbal crash during the chorus.

“Think of some words, if we can. I don’t know what it’s about,” Paul admitted. “It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything” (said to laughter).

That was fine with George. “We’ll just have those words, just words like [the Band’s] ‘Caledonia Mission.’ They’re just nothing about anything, it’s just rubbish.”

So don’t count George as finding any deeper meaning into that Big Pink cut, in its hexagrams or Arkansas towns. The movement Paul needed was on his shoulder: Just write words that track to the tune, regardless of any actual meaning, and it’ll all eventually shake out.

Despite Paul’s admission to the contrary, to this point, the song did start to find a vague lyrical angle. Joe and Theresa entered the picture this afternoon — JoJo and Loretta would join eventually in their place. There remained the pursuit of California grass. Tucson — the Arizona city in which Linda Eastman went to college and close to where the McCartneys would later own a ranch (and Linda would pass away) — was specifically named for the first time.

Additional lyrics — often turns of phrases rather than coherent statements — emerged during the more than 20 minutes of high quality and high energy vamping and jamming. One pass through the verse is in the first-person, with the singer the protagonist who was a loner leaving his home for California and who was getting back to where he once belonged.

But for the majority of the rest of the time, Paul draws from the immigration news in his search for a relevant lyric, alternating verses about a Puerto Rican and a Pakistani, with the East Asians community’s flight from Kenya still such a big part of the news in Britain. (As a footnote, Paul visited Kenya in 1966, going on a safari with Mal Evans)

As you can hear below, there were several points where Paul simply garbled over a name, phrase or section of lyric just for filler. Elsewhere, we get the beginning of a narrative, with an intolerant public imploring the different nationalities “get back to where they once belonged.” The below clip compiles each of the January 9 takes of “Get Back” — the further you get in the clip, the more Paul plays with different lyric ideas.

A sampling:

  • A man came from Puerto Rico, oh, he joined the middle class/Where I came from, I don’t need no Puerto Ricans
  • Take the English job, only Pakistanis riding on the buses, man
  • All the people said we don’t need Pakistanis, so you better travel home
  • Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs
  • Don’t need no Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.A.
  • Don’t want no black man

When tapes from these sessions first leaked into the bootleg market in the mid-1970s, we would simply get single songs stitched together with no context, little dialogue and guessed song titles — like ones called “No Pakistanis.” It’s obvious the Beatles were simply making a social commentary, satirizing the segment of the public who harbored the feelings they were singing. But by the mid-80s, a wide exposure of these takes by The Sun — lacking the needed conversational context or tracing of the evolution of the song — posited the Beatles must have been xenophobes themselves. Gotta sell papers, after all. There probably aren’t too many times Paul ever commented on bootlegged tapes, but Rolling Stone got him on record in 1986, responding to the racism claims:

Sensational journalism – The Sun is not a highly reputable newspaper. What this thing is, I think, is that when we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to “Get Back” which were actually not racist at all – they were antiracist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living sixteen to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of “Get Back,” which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis. The Sun wishes to see it as a racist remark. But I’ll tell you, if there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown. Whenever we came to the States they’d say, “Who’s your favorite artists?” And we’d say, “Well, they’re mainly black, and American – Motown, man. It’s all there, you’ve got it all.” I don’t think the Beatles ever had much of a hang-up with that.

The reference he makes to the line about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” actually came on January 10, when the Beatles continued to work on the song. But the point remains. The song has been misunderstood by some unwilling or unable to see the nuance (search around the Internet for “Beatles” and “racist” at your own risk, even moreso if you read any comments).

We have on tape evidence the “get back” element of the chorus came before anything else on January 7, and was likely a riff on Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea,” and we can reasonably dispense of the myth the song’s true origin was political. It’s also pretty clear Paul simply liked the flow of “Pakistani” and “Puerto Rican” — words with four syllables that were easy to rhyme — and was searching for something that sounded appealing, while not shying away from something political. At one point he clumsily rhymes “Puerto Rican” and “Mohican” (a Native American tribe), a perfect example of how little thought out the lyrics were at this point. He was just searching.

John Lennon later said “Get Back” was directed at Yoko Ono, anyhow. But more on that another post.

The 20-plus-minute post-lunch writing and rehearsal session marked the end of the group’s work on “Get Back” for January 9, although they’d return to it nearly every day they were in the studio until the end of the month. It wasn’t the last time the group included the racial element in the song, and it wasn’t the last time they’d address the issue in song on January 9, either.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 7 Power Hour

Sirvana, July 20, 2013

Before I move on with the Twickenham happenings on January 7, 1969, I wanted to offer up this bit of context as Paul McCartney circles the globe on his latest world tour.

It’s more than 44 years since Jan. 7, 1969, and Paul McCartney is still playing the four songs he began that day with live: “The Long and Winding Road,” “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” and “Get Back.”

As in, 60-something hours before I posted this, the same James Paul McCartney that sat before a piano at Twickenham introducing these songs to a room of just a few people, played the very same numbers to 47,000 at Safeco Field in Seattle (playing “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “Get Back” with the surviving members of Nirvana). That’s after performing them hundreds and hundreds of times over the decades.

Four songs he introduced over the course of about an hour one morning in 1969 at age 26. He turned 71 in June.

According to setlist.fm, Paul played 39 songs in Seattle — seven that were introduced in January 1969 and a whopping 14 (!) originating from 1968-1969. That’s 36 percent of his show in 2013 spanning less than 24 months, the remainder covering another 50 or so years of his career.

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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.

(In the below clip, the first 90 seconds or so is from this session)

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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TMBP Extra: Rooftopaversary

I need to make one more interruption before returning to the day-by-day tapes breakdown to recognize the 43nd anniversary of the rooftop concert atop 3 Savile Row that just about concluded the Get Back sessions and wrapped the Beatles’ career as a live act. More on this iconic event as I eventually reach it in the Nagra tapes timeline down the road.

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TMBP Extra: Birthday for a King (and Duke)

elvis paperIn honor of what have been Elvis Presley’s birthday, I’m going to step out of order here for a post and offer up a few clips of the Beatles covering the King of Rock & Roll during the Get Back sessions.

This isn’t exhaustive, but hits a lot of the highlights.



From the Anthology, the Beatles discuss meeting Presley in 1965.

Turnabout is fair play, etc. Here’s Elvis covering “Get Back” in a medley with “Little Sister”:

Jan. 8 also marks David Bowie’s birthday. While the Beatles never played anything by Bowie, John Lennon of course worked with him in writing and performing on “Fame.” The same album, 1975’s Young Americans, also yielded Bowie’s cover of “Across the Universe,” which featured Lennon on guitar and backup vocals.


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In which Doris gets her oats (An introduction)

Like so many Beatles fans, I was born after the band broke up. It’s a mixed blessing. I’ve had their music pretty much baked into life’s soundtrack. But I didn’t have the excitement and anticipation of a new record or bit of news. And I lacked context.

And to that end, for me, Let it Be (the movie and the album) has always been as much of the band’s catalog — and identity — as anything else they did, whether it was Please Please Me, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road — or Something New, Beatles ’65 or Yesterday… and Today for that matter, having become a fan before the CDs standardized the US and UK releases.

I love Let it Be — more than just the record (which while I do love, it’s not among my favorites of theirs), but the whole experience. The movie, the sessions, the bootlegs from those sessions. I love what Let it Be … is.  The awkwardness, the edginess, the overall chaotic nature of what the sessions were and the steps that led up to the album and movie’s eventual release brings a wonderful realism to everything, real fresh air.

I know it’s been described as watching your parents get divorced (I could have sworn it was Ringo saying that in the Anthology, but now I can’t find the quote). John Lennon called the recording experience “dreadful.” George Harrison said it was “unhappy and unhealthy” (both of those quotes WERE from Anthology).

But I don’t care. I wasn’t dating Yoko and going through a divorce. I didn’t just spend the fall expanding my horizons writing with Bob Dylan and was returning to the “winter of discontent.” I wasn’t desperately trying to figure out how to save a band that the other three members either had or would soon quit. I wasn’t feeling like a waste behind the kit. I didn’t — still don’t! — have the baggage they did sitting there as the band fell apart under the various personal pressures they were under.

And thus, I question the usual description of the sessions as a disaster, as insiders and outsiders alike tend to say. And here’s where the lack of context helps.

Let it Be, while not 11 perfect songs by any remote measure — and this band has certainly strung together 11 perfect songs in a row before — still gave us songs that have stood the test of time in the title track, Get Back and The Long and Winding Road. And that’s just what you’ll hear at the bank, in commercials, etc. Turn on a classic rock radio station, should such things still exist, and you’ll hear the rest of the songs.

And the rest of the output from the sessions? Only more than half of Abbey Road, what I’d argue is the best rock album, period. Only a number of songs that would later appear on the remaining Beatles singles, plus solo songs that would end up on All Things Must Pass, Imagine, McCartney and RAM (shout out to RAM).

If hundreds of mediocre covers and other useless snippets are the price to pay for that, I’m in.

And because they were the Beatles, the above disaster took one day short of a month — Jan. 2-31, 1969.

So that brings me to why we’re all here — or at least why I’m here writing to myself.  I think there’s beauty in the Beatles with their warts, without pants and the like. The movie is a joy in its depression, for me. Out of such distress they produced such eternal music.

I’ve always tried to listen here and there to outtakes from the sessions for the pure fun of it — the Beatles covering Canned Heat, mocking their own back catalog, and hatching the most barebones takes of songs that I pine to listen to every day. But the sound on some of the bootlegs was so bad as to make it truly an experience that couldn’t be enjoyed. Plus, it would be prohibitive as far buying everything.

But we live in special times, no? One download (lasting many, many, many days) and you can have what’s known as the Nagra Tapes (aka the A/B Road boot). It’s more than 97 hours of the sessions, sourced, quite illicitly I believe, from the camera’s audio recorders on site at Twickenham and Savile Row during the recording of the film.

Nagra III recorder

And, quite simply, when I finally downloaded the 5.3 GB monstrosity, I thought it would be fun to write about what I’m hearing after I had poked at this track and that and finding among some of the banality many revelatory moments. I’m a fan of the niche, and this seems as niche a project as it gets.

Initially, I thought the idea of a limited, January-only blog tackling the sessions day-by-day in “real time” 43 years later was the way to go. But you know,  I’m not sure I can commit six hours on Jan. 6 to listening to 28 versions of “Don’t Let Me Down.”

But I will listen to those 28 versions from Jan. 6, along with the other 84 takes of the song, the 141 takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” 68 takes of “All Things Must Pass,” 33 takes of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,”  30 of “One After 909,” four tries at “Gimme Some Truth,” two at “Her Majesty” and their lone stab at Hava Nagila (I kid you not). And everything in between.

Multiple books have been written about these sessions, and none by myself. But I’m a fan who will find pleasure in the discovery and the song-building process of numbers that have been part of my life since before I knew it.

While I may chime in with the occasional non-Get Back/Let it Be sessions post, I’ll try to limit such chatter to the Twitter feed.  But it’ll always be, at worst, barely off-topic, and always certainly Beatle-related.

Please join in the discussion in the comments. Otherwise, it’ll just be me saying, “Oh, man, another killer take of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. What is that, 34 so far today?”

Thanks for checking this out and being along for the ride.

-Dan

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