Tag Archives: Glyn Johns

Jan. 13: Picasso’s last words

At the conclusion of the 1956 French documentary “Le Mystère Picasso,” the grand old painter splashed his iconic signature on a print and announced (translated to English), “That’s the end.” He wasn’t bargaining with director Henri-Georges Clouzot, himself considered a master in his field. It was a declaration: This film was over.

Pablo Picasso’s paintings and his exhaustive creative process were the focus of the film, his hand usually invisible as it brushed across a transparent screen, at times in black and white, and at others in vibrant color. In the film, Picasso produced several completed paintings, and we catch occasional glimpses of him at work, creating art out of nothing in an spartan studio while holding an occasional dialogue with the film’s director. This should sound familiar.

Paul McCartney had a few occasions to come across the film. It was screened in Liverpool in June 1958, when Paul turned 16 and was nearly a year into his creative partnership with John Lennon. But odds are Paul saw it sometime between late January and March 1967, when the film was shown at the Academy Two in the West End, about 2 1/2 miles from where the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a very short walk from other frequent haunts like the Saville Theater and the Bag O’Nails. (The documentary was broadcast on BBC-2 in May 1968, as well, but Paul was in New York at the time).

One of several films considered a reference point in the early afternoon of January 13, 1969, “Le Mystère Picasso” was mentioned by Paul as an inspiration to Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was in the midst of directing what became known as the Beatles’ Get Back project.

“They don’t sort of fast-cut the paintings,” Paul said to Michael. “And these songs are going to be our paintings at the end of it.”

The endgame for the Beatles’ documentary of the creative process was unclear even as the documentary was underway. And unlike Picasso, here the creative powers continuously bargained with the director.

That Paul, with a comparatively quiet Ringo Starr, would even waste time debating with Michael speaks to the confidence the band had to to see out this project.

Yes, yes, and then there were two. So what, the show must go on. And that’s why the Beatles were at Twickenham Film Studios to start 1969, after all: to stage a show. The rhythm section was in tow relatively early that Monday. Of the missing half, one member had already decisively quit while another was frustratingly unreachable.

Having recapped the previous day’s difficult meeting that saw George Harrison ultimately walk out in large part due to the disruptive dynamic between John and girlfriend Yoko Ono, the present conversation only looked ahead.

This initial sequence first appeared on film in the 2021 Get Back docuseries.

“If we were going to take a ship’s pool on what our communal life is going to be in the next two weeks, what are we all betting?” Michael, in his imitable way, asked Paul and Ringo.

Paul shared his hopes the current state of limbo would only be temporary. “I think we see the end of this week out,” he said. “And something will have happened, definitely. … Then we’ll say that we don’t come in next week and we sort of chuck it. Or, we come in next week, and .. make it next week.”

“Then we send the guys off to Africa,” Michael chimed in, to laugher.

Paul continued, laying out the actual logistics.

“We’ve got to stop the clock while this is all going on. Like, this isn’t counted. We should cancel that [January] 18th date, ‘cause it should definitely be the 19th already, ‘cause we’re going to lose today.”

Timing mattered, and so did location.

“We should do it here,” said Ringo, again. His desire to stay in England was a true constant in January 1969, and he only briefly toyed with the idea of traveling a few days earlier. But that was then, and now, there seemed to be true consensus on staying put at Twickenham or nearby — and that included the better halves.

Paul: I don’t really see any point anymore [in going overseas].

Ringo: There were eight of us who didn’t see any point.

Paul: And luckily we’re the Beatles, who don’t see any point.

As had been the case for nearly two weeks, while they may not have known what they wanted out of the show, they knew what they didn’t want. At least Paul knew, speaking on behalf of Beatles present and otherwise unavailable.

At once a touchstone and a millstone, the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was filmed a month earlier in London under Michael’s direction and with John as one of the performers. Paul, who had seen an early cut of the film — it wasn’t released commercially until 1996 — made clear the fast-moving Circus wasn’t a format he wanted to follow, continuing to deflate Michael.

“It didn’t look right,” Paul said. “I know it was a bad print. But like, I didn’t ever get into any one of the Who. Ever. It was the event all the time. And no one digs that. That’s over, that sort of event, I think. It really is now, if you’re trying to show him, I just really say just stick [the camera] on him.”

A “study.”

That’s what Linda Eastman suggested, and Paul repeated.

Here’s where the conversation turned to “Le Mystère Picasso” — it showed up as “The Picasso Mystery” in British movie listings. Anecdotally, Paul called it “Picasso Paints.”

Michael contended the documentary the Beatles were filming — not the grand finale concert, wherever it may be, but this ongoing build-up — was the study, but Paul suggested the examination should extend into that live performance. He saw “Le Mystère Picasso” as analogous to this Beatles concert.

“They didn’t sort of fast-cut the paintings or anything,” Paul said to Michael, who was also familiar with the film. “He just sort of painted them. They showed how he built up, and they stayed on it.”

There’s a bit of a straw-man argument going on, since Michael never contended he should litter the film with quick cuts. To the contrary, he complained about that very technique in the recently broadcast Cream Farewell Concert.

Paul brought it back to the Circus, and justifiably, as it was Michael’s most recent production and featured fellow A-listers.  It wasn’t just contemporary, but it was competition. (And perhaps moreso personally so for Paul, with John having been a Circus performer). January 1969 had seen a lot of wandering discussions on where a Beatles concert should be. Here Paul — speaking over Michael — explained how he thought it should look, regardless of location.

“Very, very bright lights, so you see every detail about [Ringo], instead of moody things. Really totally bright-lit, it hardly needs scenery or anything. Really should be about him and his drum kit. … Says it all.

“And then John: his amp, his guitar. Actually sitting there, doing it at that minute. I think if you start going in that direction, then, I think you might think of a great idea. ‘Oh, incidentally, we think it all should be done in a black bag or something.’”

Michael pushed back, saying the Circus had a very deliberate design.

“You can’t compare the two,” Michael said. “The Circus was designed as an event. It was a different concept. The Rolling Stones needed a family show, and Mick [Jagger] wanted a family show. Mick said he wanted Ed Sullivan without Ed Sullivan.”

I’ll leave the analysis of Mick’s motivation to the Rolling Stones writers and researchers (free blog name suggestion: “Traps for Troubadours”). Those intentions, though, eventually impacted the Beatles’ decision-makers.

“You don’t go off Ringo,” Paul clarified. “Don’t go off into the scenic backgrounds. Or the audience. Or the moon. It’s not necessary.”

Swept up in the vision, Linda said, “God, you have it. Ooh.” Overwhelmed by the very thought of the Beatles, she quickly giggled before regaining her composure. Linda wore her love of the Beatles on her sleeve. It went beyond her personal affection for Paul.

Paul’s right: Michael did cut away from Pete Townshend as soon as he finished the windmill. (From Rock and Roll Circus)

“I missed a lot of that Who thing the other day,” Paul continued, with Linda occasionally interjecting and overlapping her agreement. “Pete Townshend, I never saw him. I’d really like to look at him for a long time cause he fascinates me. … I’d like to really just see what he looks like after he’s done that thing (presumably his windmill guitar move). …

“You know, [I’d like to see] Keith Moon just sort of jabbering away on the drums, just for a whole number almost. OK, so you’re going to have to cut between the four of them. But it’s just that thing, really sticking with it. And I think that’s the point of this show, for us.”

Paul evoked the news again.

“The really good coverage is the shot of the fellow with the gun to a head, and the fellow who got that [camera] shot, that was the man who covered the event,” Paul said a few moments earlier. “The fellow who got the guy on the ground afterwards with the blood coming out of his head missed it. And with all that fast-cutting, [you missed it].”

Less gruesome comparisons continued. It emerged as the best way for the director and the talent to triangulate an acceptable idea for their own production:

Top of the Pops: Michael said “they never help the act. … If you just take a wide shot of [the Who] doing their act, with no particular response from the audience, they do look like they’re lunatics, but the wrong kind of lunatics.”

Ringo brought up a recent appearance from Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose single “Fire” hit No. 1 in Summer 1968, to prove this point. “The camera needs to do something. And Arthur Brown, every time he came on … he’s so wild, and the camera’s going wild so you didn’t see anything.”

The “Hey Jude” promo film: “The comment about ‘Jude’ was that when I was doing those high bits, you didn’t see me doing them,” Paul complained to its director.

Michael, for his part, expressed regret at how the sequence turned out.

“I physically couldn’t get a camera onto you because they couldn’t hear the talk-back,” he said, referring to communication with his crew. “I should have been ready for that, but it was a mistake.”

An excerpt from “an old film” on TV the night before (probably something shown during Film Night on BBC-2): “They came down on the rooftops of Paris,” Paul said, with Glyn and Michael saying they saw the same sequence, too, at 11:15 p.m.

“And that’s really where this should all be at Twickenham. This should totally be built like those film sets. So that you can glide all over the place like on tracks and everything with your cameras, go to places that TV cameras don’t go. So you can come down out of that roof, on one long shot, right from the back there, and just come down on a thing. Slowly, like a chair lift, right down, right into Ringo’s face on the one shot, from right back from there. It’s like the old films, and have all sorts of cranes and lifts and stuff for your cameras to float around us. And just all that flowing movement. And then the songs, you know? And just really stay with us. And then that’ll create your sets then, you’ll have cameras hanging all over the place.

From Anthology

If that sequence sounds familiar, it should: It was included in the 1995 Beatles Anthology documentary. It was not included in Get Back more than a quarter-century later.

Linda continued to be unable to resist the Beatles on film, even as she sat with them in person. “Mmm, but just them,” she said.

Andy Warhol’s Empire: This was a cautionary tale. It’s one thing to linger on Ringo’s drum kit for a three minutes. It’s another to have a single, black-and-white shot of the stationary Empire State Building for eight hours.

“That idea of slowly getting into the thing and being careful not to miss anything … I really do think you’ll find the pace is there without you having to put it there,” Paul tried to explain. “It’s like with Warhol’s things is that he does go right in to the other extreme. He reckons his pace in that Empire State [sic]. But I wouldn’t agree with him, I’d think he’d be boring, but I see his point.”

Glyn does too, but he falls in with Michael, arguing that a slow study could work for a few songs, but not for a 52-minute show.

Andy and John, 1978. (Photo by Christopher Makos)

“If we’re doing that, then I really think we should do galloping horses and really go the whole hog and really have an epic,” Paul replied. “But if we are going a bit towards the Beatles, I really think get the close-up lenses and get right into one of John’s eyes. Can you do that? Look in that direction rather than trying to get a picture of John and the moon or a big amphitheater.”

It was at this moment — not Paul’s “and then there were two” line but around 15 minutes later — Paul exits the stage to speak to John on the phone.

Deep as the Nagra tapes go, and despite Michael’s prep to bug the phones, we don’t know what was said on the call. We do know the conversation continued without Paul. The top storyline coming out of the meeting at Ringo’s the day before was the frustration of Yoko speaking for John. Here, in Paul’s absence, Linda doesn’t just speak in line with Paul, but she advocates for herself, too. This sequence appears in part in Get Back.

“I have never seen a study of any musical event,” Linda said. “You want to be there, that’s the thing. (Speaking forcefully) And if I were there, I’d be staring at them. I’d never look around me once. I’d be staring at them if I were sitting in the audience. It’s like you see in the theater. Why can’t the camera be you sitting there?”

Linda’s tone is outspoken and sincere, and something that was needed to move the conversation forward, her viewpoint as an artist and a fan. It clearly put Michael at unease and somewhat on the defensive in what emerged as something of a tense, sarcastic exchange that didn’t go unnoticed 52 years later in Get Back.

MLH: I saw their last concert at Hammersmith … and I was totally aware of not only them, and they were 40 miles away [sic], but the audience, the screams, the lights.

Linda: We looked at Help! the other night again and Hard Day’s Night. And that was them playing.

MLH: Right, but it was them over an hour and a half and 30,000 [feet high]. If it is an Andy Warhol picture …

Linda (fed up and combative): Oh, don’t take the other extreme! Andy Warhol, that’s not you! .. I’m speaking like a fan! I really am.

MLH: I am too. I’m a bigger fan than you are (said laughing, and with complete sincerity)

Linda (gruffly): Oh, OK should we fight about it?

MLH: I can do it any way. But being the fan I am, I gotta keep saying I think you’re all wrong.

Linda: You want to be too sophisticated.

MLH: We ran the Circus the other night, and it’s so simple. I’m the least pretentious director you’re going to meet.

While Michael said that last line straight, it was met with laughter around the room.

Let’s just watch on a loop Linda’s body language while she talks to Michael. (From the Get Back docuseries)

This is a real argument between two artists, a photographer and a film director, with legitimate differing visions. And no one held a higher status. Linda was just 27 (older than Paul and Ringo). Michael was 28. Each had about the same amount of professional experience at their respective trades, only a couple of years.

Paul returned after a phone call that couldn’t have lasted more than two minutes. Seeing his return, as revealed in Get Back, is one of the great revealing moments in the documentary and something you never could have heard in a lifetime studying the Nagra tapes.

To this point, Paul spent the morning still in his overcoat. At any point, everyone could have called it a day and cut their losses. George wasn’t coming back. But when Paul dramatically — and joyously — removed his coat, revealing his magnificent black shirt, it was clear John wasn’t a issue.

“He’s coming in,” Paul said simply.

It’s a big deal, and the visual — of which we are now aware — really brings it to the forefront (if you’re looking for it). The Nagra tapes tell a lot, but audio alone can’t tell everything.

Through Paul’s return, Michael remained bold.

“You see, Paul, I was telling Linda when you were out, I could do it any way. Except I got to keep saying you’re wrong when I think you’re wrong.”

“Yeah, sure, great,” Paul replied, beaming and about to light a celebratory cigarette. “I’ll just keep saying I’m right when I think I’m right.

The daily circular discussion returned — again — to a pitch for Africa by Michael, one that was more quickly dismissed by Paul and Ringo than it had been, with the unspoken allegation of a trip being used as a crutch and gimmick.

Paul shared another idea he said he conceived the day before. That may have been a Sunday, but Paul’s brain had no days off.

“There’s another idea for a set: Instruments. You need a grand piano for one number, then for ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ … we should get a bit of a honky-tonk [piano]. So then you start to get the whole place just littered with instruments we could move around from. And it’s like a big game of musical chairs. Moving around on that amp, on that guitar, and it’s really planned. A whole computed setup … and then Ringo gets off and goes onto his congas for that one. That kind of sort of thing, then you get scenery, almost.

“You’re thinking of linking numbers,” Michael replied.

There were more shows used as points of reference — these guys absorbed so much TV:

The Potter’s Wheel: “They made a pot before your very eyes,” Paul explained. “Just one shot held, and it took about five minutes or something. And it was great, because you never felt bored. [I] always [watched it].”

Allow yourself the luxury of imagining a tween Paul McCartney soaking up these brief BBC interludes to the point of reminiscing about them at a moment he’s crafting on his own creative work at the height of his powers.

If the process should be the focal point, as Paul argued, it’s not enough for the instruments to create the scenery. Presaging the production of Get Back in 2021, he suggested the crew act as the supporting cast.

“Like [Glyn] switching everything over, you know, to taking all the top out of that on this track, ‘cause we want want a very biting guitar sound on this track.”

“I think that’s the documentary,” Michael argued, “because I think to go away to Glyn as opposed to a camel is distracting from you, because I think we’re getting into you. I think the documentary, we got all this in the documentary.”

Paul “totally” disagreed. “I think he’s a lot more to do with this show than a camel.”

After Neil jumped in to say Glyn was really a performer, too, Paul continued.

“That’s it! You’re going to miss him live. There he is. The camel won’t be doing anything live. Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone. It won’t be looking at your camera, it will just sort of shit in front of you. Be lucky if it does, would be a bit of action.”

Camels with Wings. “Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone.” (Photo from Paul’s Twitter).

Michael was truly exasperated, interrupting Paul who had continued his pitch, off the camel but back onto the fluidity of camera movements.

“See what I wanted to do in the desert,” Michael said, “was really make to the most dramatic thing of all time.”

Michael deserves credit for a lot of things having to do with his work in January 1969, including his real desire to create something exceptional and his willingness to exchange ideas. Here, he turned his attention back to the Beatles’ past, asking what was the band’s most successful and enjoyable TV appearance. Paul said “Around the Beatles,” an answer met with consensus from the others but unfortunately there was never any follow-up questioning to ask exactly why.

Still, it was yet another inspiration. Just like …

Some country music TV show Paul and Ringo “saw at the ranch”: Sparked off a comment from do-everything assistant Mal Evans, Paul and Ringo recalled a country music show. The “ranch” is certainly Reed Pigman’s in Alton, Mo., where the Beatles stayed Sept. 19, 1964. That would likely make Slim Wilson’s local country music show the memory. It was on at 6 p.m., right before “Flipper” — which the rancher’s son explicitly remembered watching with Ringo.

“There’s just one camera, and they all walked into it.” Paul recalled, describing Wilson’s show.

Ringo continued: “If it was the guitarist’s bit, he’d just step in and do it there. They’d all take the center, and if it was violin, he’d just walk in and do his bit, and he’d get back wherever he was. They acted all the movement.”

One memory sparked another, as often happens.

Unrealized Apple promotional film: “We were thinking of doing this once for an Apple thing, getting James Taylor, Mary Hopkin,” Paul remembered.

“We were going to get our home video things and set them up. And then have an area of the room which was lit, and that was it.. And then you came in, you did your thing and then if you wanted to say anything in close-up, you’ve walked up to the camera and you said it in close-up. Then you ducked out and someone else came in, in close-up and then walked into long shot and then did his dance.”

“So we can do a switch on this,” Paul said. “Get us to do the movement. Get us to go to the camera,”

Michael sought to punch holes in the idea, saying that if you were playing piano, movement was limited.

When Paul accused Michael of just being negative, Glyn said that was a “slight” contradiction.

“We’re all contradicting ourselves,” Michael said. “It’s the only way we ever get an idea.”

It was at this point Paul estimated John would arrive in about an hour, and with that news, the stage emptied out as everyone headed to lunch.

***

As an artist, Picasso announced when his film was complete — there was no haggling in a search for a conclusion. Sure, Picasso and Clouzot probably planned things out a little better before filming.  It’s arguable the fluid state of the Beatles’ finale concert was expected to be an unspoken initial plot point of the Let It Be film, but if so, it was never pursued in the original film, only exploited later in Get Back. Maybe there’s something important to the relative age and experience of Picasso and Clouzot compared to the Beatles and Michael, too, in how it all played out.

The revealing debate between Linda and Michael justifiably reached the small screen in Get Back, but so much of the rest of this lengthy sequence remains left to the beautiful losers who labor to listen to the Nagra tapes in full. None of the revealing TV and movie comparisons above were featured in Get Back the docuseries or the book published in 2021.

Before the Let It Be film even came out, though, that sequence owned prime real estate. The very first page of dialogue in the original Get Back bookthe one originally packaged with the Let It Be LP — spans this discussion. While the transcription is sloppy and incomplete, it’s there to set the tone for the text portion of the book, despite being from Day 8.

It’s absolutely no surprise the Beatles found inspiration in literally anything they encountered in film or television, whether it was something incredibly proximate, like the Rock and Roll Circus, or a pottery interlude they watched as kids or a rural country music show they caught just once. That’s how they synthesized their musical influences too. How George — absent for the discussion on the 13th — developed “I Me Mine” from watching a waltz on TV is a perfect example of all of this.

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” almost.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg filmed a lot a footage in 1969, and most of us didn’t really know what that meant from 1970 through late 2021. Let It Be, from 1970, was nothing like Get Back in 2021, the latter deliberately not following the former’s model. But did conversations like those on January 13, 1969, inform some of Michael’s decisions of how to build his documentary?

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” Paul suggested. And sure, we get a few seconds here and there of extreme close-ups in Michael’s Let It Be, but these are hardly studies. That’s where the luxury of an eight-hour palette benefitted films like Warhol’s 1965 Empire — and Get Back in 2021.

Michael was clear that a “wide shot … with no particular response from the audience” was the wrong route. The success of the “Hey Jude” promo — with the band surrounded by the audience — was rooted in this strategy. It may have been the unspoken reason behind the affinity for Around the Beatles, too. And perhaps it’s why the rooftop performance in Let It Be was punctuated and interrupted consistently by street-level interviews. Otherwise, the Beatles were just playing on a very tall stage (which would have worked for me, but I’m not a filmmaker).

Still, the rooftop on January 13, 1969, was simply the top level of 3 Savile Row, not The Rooftop. Inspirations, open minds and contradictions were how they got to an idea.

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Jan. 12: Anyway, here’s Wonderwall

While the Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house is the obvious focal point to the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, there was more to the day’s agenda than the important aborted gathering.

“This peculiar arrangement allows the management to offer you a large choice of interesting films” (from a January 9, 1969, ad for Cinecenta)

That evening, Wonderwall — the film which bore George Harrison’s excellent solo debut as its soundtrack — enjoyed its British premiere at London’s Cinecenta. George, who had walked out of the Apple meeting that day, didn’t attend the premiere, which also served as a sneak preview for the Panton Street theater, Europe’s first four-in-one cinema.

Rather, George spent the evening at the home of Apple press officer and close friend Derek Taylor, a fact detailed in George’s diary. Mal Evans, who did it all for the Beatles, whether it was running errands or helping with lyrics or banging silver hammers, went to the movies instead, presumably as George’s representative.

“I went to the premiere of Wonderwall last night,” Mal told the others, unprompted, early on the January 13 Nagra tapes. He said he liked the film, even though it  “really got slayed in the papers.”

Ringo, who in May 1968 joined George at the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, added, “I like the film too. After a couple of times, is that what you were going to say? First time was a lot.”

After the film, which was screened in all four theaters, Mal — resplendent in bow tie — enjoyed the crowded reception, including ice cream afterward.

Celebration day
The Beatles’ communication breakdown put Glyn Johns’ Beatles gig in jeopardy at the same moment Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” padded his resume.

Zeppelin’s self-titled debut LP hit American shops on January 12, 1969 (it came out in the UK in March), and that certainly would have made it a big day for Glyn, its engineer.

A few weeks after this date, after George had returned to the band and rehearsals shifted to 3 Savile Row, Glyn tried solicit the Beatle’s opinion on the fledgling Zep. George seemed more interested in lunch, but it’s still a neat moment in rock history.

At a 2014 Q&A to promote his memoir, Glyn said when he did finally get to play some of the LP for George, the Beatle “didn’t get one bar of it” (Mick Jagger wasn’t impressed either).

The Led Zeppelin release may not have even the biggest news for Glyn on January 12, although admittedly that’s just speculation. On the Nagra tapes recorded the next day, Glyn tells the others for the first time that he and his wife were expecting. So maybe she reached a certain point in a healthy pregnancy that weekend that made them feel comfortable to share the news starting Monday.

“Did I tell you my wife’s definitely confirmed pregnant?” he told Ringo, Michael and the other early arrivals.

Their son, Ethan, picked up his dad’s business decades later, producing, among other things, two tracks on Paul McCartney’s 2013 LP New.

Big brother is watching?
After the meeting at Ringo’s, Paul spent time with Apple head Neil Aspinall, discussing an explosive idea for the Beatles’ proposed live concert. Did Paul have time for someone else’s concert that same night?

Some books place Paul at EMI Studios that night, but it’s hard to confirm just how many McCartneys were at the Abbey Road studios. There’s no question The Scaffold, featuring Paul’s brother, Mike McGear, recorded portions of their L. The P. album there that evening. There’s also no question Paul provided the guitar for two of that album’s tracks — and he recorded those in subsequent months. Side 2 of the LP, all humor and poetry, was recorded live before an audience of London University students that Sunday, and it’s feasible Paul was also in the crowd.

Paul lived a short walk from EMI, but it would be a surprise if he went the show yet didn’t mention it the next day on the tapes, considering how much detail of their lives they did share.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was stuck to the television Sunday night, when he was tuned to the Andy Williams special on BBC-2. An hour-long show featuring several performers and beginning at 7:25 p.m., the “H. Andrew Williams Kaleidoscope Company” originally aired in the U.S. in April 1968, but was first-run to British audiences in January 1969.

From the January 4, 1969, New Music Express

While Andy Williams featured a Beatles number in the dizzying opening sequence and was presently rumored to be in line to host the band on his TV show in the coming months (see the adjacent clipping from NME), the American crooner wasn’t discussed at all on the Nagra tapes the next morning.

Instead, Simon and Garfunkel, who had four LPs among the top 26 in the UK for the period beginning January 12, 1969 — including The Graduate, which sat at No. 4 — sparked the most conversation, again, primarily from Michael.

On Mrs. Robinson, they were camping it up, which I didn’t like, because Paul Simon is not that good at it,” Michael said, before continuing. “He’s got a great face, Art Garfunkel.”

“Is he the frizz?” asked Ringo.

Michael confirmed Garfunkel was the frizz, before unexpectedly offering that he had “a very long, involved story about how Paul Simon and I don’t get on, but it’s too long and involved. … It’s funny, I’ll tell you sometime.”

(We never hear the story, but their issues must have eventually been ironed out, because Michael directed the Simon & Garfunkel reunion in Central Park in 1981 and later got his big African concert, directing Simon’s historic 1987 Graceland concert before a huge audience in Zimbabwe.)

There was another act on the Andy Williams show that drew interest.

“Who saw Ray Charles?” Ringo asked.

It’s a good question, and one unfortunately left hanging, as they moved onto other topics before anyone answered.

If anyone had, in fact, seen Ray Charles’ segment, they could have caught a fleeting glimpse of his organist: Billy Preston.

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TMBP Extra: Leave me waiting here

Had the phrase been in vogue in May 1970, a record review would have called Let It Be a “hot mess.”  I absolutely love the record, but I get how it’s a little off-kilter, off-putting and, frankly, a little bewildering. 

Apple Corps announced the 51st anniversary reissue of the Beatles’ final LP on Thursday, and befitting the record’s legacy, it’s complicated and conflicted. 

I say this as a sincere apologist of the original Let It Be. It’s a bizarre compilation album that’s nothing like anything they had done previously: Part-live, part-studio. Re-recorded and remixed older tracks, and songs written on the spot during the sessions. Novelty songs sequenced adjacent to their deepest statements. A rich overproduction of a loose session that wasn’t initially meant to be an album at all.  Packaged along with a rich book of photos and dialogue and in conjunction with the film, Let It Be was a true, albeit helter-skelter multimedia experience.

Before getting to 2021, let’s first take a quick spin at the long and winding road (ugh, sorry) that got us here, just for the sake of background. It’ll be fun!

After spending January 1969 split between Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studio at 3 Savile Row (see this fabulous blog for more on that history), the Beatles themselves were never unanimously satisfied with the record pulled together over the subsequent months. Glyn Johns, ostensibly the producer/arranger at the sessions, mixed and sequenced multiple versions of a Get Back LP throughout 1969, and told the story of his first compilation in his 2014 memoir Sound Man, outlining what became the “concept” of the album.

Having no real end in sight for the album, one evening after our session at Savile Row, I took it upon myself to take the multitrack recordings I had made during our rehearsals to Olympic Studios to mix and edit what I thought could be an idea for the album. This was to show in an audio documentary what I had witnessed in the previous days, as a “fly on the wall” insight to the four of them interacting, having fun, jamming, taking the mickey, stopping and starting and creating some wonderful music, warts and all. I had five acetates cut the following morning and gave one each to the band, keeping one for myself, saying it was just an idea and and asking them to take a listen. The next day I got a resounding NO from each of them, which I completely understood and had fully expected.

By May 1969, the Beatles reconsidered, delivering Johns a pile of multitrack tapes from the sessions, asking him to create a mix from their recordings at Savile Row on his own, without the group’s input. He wrote that he “soon realized that the real reason had to be that they had lost interest in the project.”  

“We let Glyn Johns mix it,” John Lennon said in 1970. “We didn’t want to know.”

From the June 1969 Beatle Book

After multiple postponements and revisions to the mix — delays in part because of film delays — the Get Back LP (d)evolved into the Let it Be album as John and George Harrison tasked Phil Spector to produce the final version of the record in late March 1970. 

We all have opinions on Phil Spector’s Let It Be, and I’m not here to judge.

John said Spector “worked like a pig” on the production, which used Glyn Johns’ mix as a starting point. “When I heard it, I didn’t puke,” John said.  Ringo Starr likewise kept in his lunch, going as far as saying in the Anthology book, “I like what Phil did, actually.”

Paul McCartney, meanwhile, literally sued the other Beatles over Spector’s production of “The Long and Winding Road” (among other things, of course) on the last day of 1970.  Macca has since made a cottage industry of rerecording and reissuing non-Spector versions of the song at every opportunity. 

Bootlegged since before Let It Be was even released, the first raw recordings from the sessions were officially released in 1996 on Anthology 3, with a somewhat randomly selected 12 tracks culled for the collection.

Glyn Johns (as pictured in the Peter Jackson’s Get Back trailer)

By the time Let It Be … Naked was released in 2003, half the band was dead (although George had previously given his approval to the project). Its existence is primarily owed to Paul’s wishes to avenge Spector’s production (although the addition of “Don’t Let Me Down” to the rest of Let It Be is welcome and it sounds great, even if the collection completely lacks the occasional humor of the original, stripping it of the between-song banter). It’s other saving grace is the addition of the “Fly On the Wall” disc, a little starter set for the Nagra-curious, compiling all manner of song and conversation snippets from the sessions.

And that pretty much brings us to this very glorious day, when we formally learned what would be on the “Special Edition” of Let It Be. 

This is a great time to be a fan of this era, with the Get Back book of photos and dialogue coming out October 12, the album coming out just three days later and the new six-hour Get Back documentary series by Peter Jackson streaming  November 25-27. That’s a lot of product for a period that the Beatles couldn’t stop bashing for several decades, and that we see from the start was something they weren’t really enthusiastic to release in the very first place.

The transformation of the Beatles’ Winter of Discontent in the upcoming Fall of Rehabilitation seems built around the documentary, the apparent centerpiece of the revival. 

We can guess what will be in the film (and I tried to guess — check out the above!) but now we know for sure what a Let It Be deluxe entails. Beyond the Giles Martin/Sam Okell remixed version of the original album — “guided” by Phil Spector’s version — the box will contain:

  • Glyn Johns’ mix of the Get Back LP (looks like his third compilation) 
  • An EP featuring two unreleased 1970 Johns mixes (“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine”) and two 2021 remixes (“Let It Be” and “Don’t Let Me Down” singles) 
  • 27 “previously unreleased outtakes, studio jams, rehearsals” 

It’s easy to welcome the release of the Glyn Johns mix, a historic document and true “lost album.” It’s a natural and expected addition to the set, even if all four Beatles nixed it more than half a century ago.  The two lost 1970 Johns mixes make sense as add-ons. As for the 2021 remixes … sure, why not. 

That leaves the outtakes.  Oh, the outtakes. While a microscopic fraction of what was captured at Twickenham and Savile Row, it could well be representative in a remarkably scaled down fashion. But until we hear more selections, read more reviews or get dates, even, of some of the tracks, they’ll be a bit of a mystery until we put the record on. What’s in mono (sourced from the Nagras) and what’s in stereo (recorded on multitrack) gives a hint where certain tracks were recorded, but that’s one of the very few clues for you all. 

The track list

For instance, what is “I Me Mine (rehearsal)”? The Nagra reels have more than an hour of the song being rehearsed, over more than 40 tracks.  

Every track that ultimately appeared on the original Let It Be is represented by at least one outtake/rehearsal version.  That’s not a bad thing. Some songs that dominated the sessions did not surface — like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a significant Twickenham work-in-progress. “All Things Must Pass” seems to be represented by one of these early takes, but only this one.  That’s not a good thing.

It’s nice to have the origin story of “Something” and “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) as links to Abbey Road and an early working rehearsal of “Gimme Some Truth” as a tie to their future solo career. This is a great introduction to a wider audience to the concept that the January 1969 sessions were creatively sprawling and carried a legacy beyond Let It Be alone.

All of this needs to be in there. But every track draws attention to missed opportunities of every scale. The tapes record Paul debuting “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” on separate occasions and then later linking them together alone at the piano, but these are left to the bootlegs alone. George and Paul introduce numerous future solo tracks during these sessions, but we don’t get “Here Me Lord” or “Another Day,” to name just two examples.

The set features two Savile Row versions of “Get Back,” but the signature song of the sessions and its 2021 reboot was written while the cameras were rolling over the course of early January 1969. We hear the song spring from a jam and later become a foray into politics (“No Pakistanis”)  before Paul and John work together to finalize the lyrics we know today. To those who know the takes, those earlier, nascent versions are conspicuous by its absence.

To me the development of these songs represent the essence of the January 1969 sessions. It’s what makes this collection have the potential to stand out from the others (Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road), in which the songs arrived in the studio mostly formed. The songwriting build should be central to the bonus content, but it doesn’t appear to be. 

Over the course of the Peter Jackson documentary, I would guess we’ll get such moments. And maybe this is where Let It Be and Get Back separate after 50 years of sharing the same exact space.  You almost get a sense that’s what the group is doing, when you look at the Beatles’ homepage, and the image promoting the set: “LET IT BE” is “taped” over “GET BACK,” making clear this thing is different.


To its credit, this box feels too narrow to be seen as revisionist. There’s just not enough material to redefine any narrative (barring whatever’s in the accompanying book). That job will likely be left to the documentary.

I know I’m spoiled. I’ve heard 80-something Beatles hours from January 1969. I want it all, with better sound, in a fancy box I can put on my shelf and not let my kids touch until they wash their hands twice. That beats having of a partition on my hard drive filled with MP3s.

(I’m also spoiled as a Prince fan and have been using the incredible Sign O’ The Times deluxe reissue as a point of reference, too. That had 45 unreleased studio tracks in addition to singles, remixes and different concerts on two CDs and one DVD. It’s a sexy beast of a box set.)

The thing is, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions?

Obviously, it’s impossible to market and widely release dozens of takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or nine hours of “Get Back” (the song) sessions. I may like to hear George kvetch about having to be on a boat with Beatles fans or Paul tell John to sing louder or Ringo discuss his dog, but it’s hardly a selling point to a mainstream audience and it’s most certainly not re-listenable (unless you’re literally me or a few other dozen people doing this kind of thing).  I’m not convinced what we’re getting is sufficient either, though.

So what would have been the right way to do this? 

At one point I posited that a “Beatles ’69” super-duper deluxe would have been a possible out-of-the-box box-set approach, combining Let It Be with Abbey Road, something that makes quite a bit of sense when you see how many songs from the latter were essentially demoed at the former’s sessions.

But one gigantic box was never going to happen, the Abbey Road and Let It Be “brands” would never be — and probably shouldn’t be — diminished. I get that. But we’re left with something a little halfway right now. Disc 3 of this set has five eventual Abbey Road numbers. Yet there are another seven that could have been included, but weren’t, and I’m not sure what the rationale was to select which made the cut. 

• Further, if the original Let It Be film is to be dead and buried, this box should have been its final resting place. Mark it up another $20, that’s fine, lots of us will pay it. 

And that would be another way to delineate Let It Be from the forthcoming Get Back, identical twins who finally grew up to lead separate lives. At some point, on one of my appearances on Something About the Beatles, I suggested perhaps the Get Back series should get an actual soundtrack. That would be another — albeit confusing way, to less dedicated fans — to get us to buy another box set with more of what’s missing here.

• We really could have used the originals and curios that they never did anywhere else: “Suzy Parker,” “Oh Julie, Julia,” “Because You Know I Love You So,” “Penina,” “Taking a Trip to Carolina,” “Watching Rainbows,” “There You Go, Eddie,” “Maureen” — that’s half a disc there, and I’m stopping myself from listing more.

• Likewise, there’s more than enough material to have stuffed a CD or two of oldies (beyond the medley on the Glyn Johns mix). These sessions are known for those oldies performances, and that’s something Mal Evans even broached in 1969, writing as much in Beatles Book 72, published that June.

• Given the consistent on-site song building, they could have easily taken the same approach used on the Sgt. Pepper deluxe with several songs, tracing the progression of “Get Back,” “I Me Mine,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and beyond. It’s very easy to sequence tracks to show these songs’ evolutions. This was so unique for this period, where we can literally hear in the studio, a song’s origin as a piano vamp or a guitar jam, and follow it to the end.  

• If they insisted on having an EP, one of George playing Dylan songs throughout the sessions would have been lovely.

• It pains me there’s no recorded document of the “fast” version of “Two of Us.” But that is one of the drawbacks of many of the outtakes from throughout January 1969: Not everything recorded is a complete take of a song. In fact, quite the opposite.

• We need more Billy Preston, but we always need more Billy Preston. The Beatles certainly were better for it.

The addition of Billy Preston just improved this post.

• I don’t know if we need more Yoko Ono, but I was hoping — though not necessarily expecting — her jams with the group on January 10, 1969, after George walked out. It’s a piece of history, too, regardless of what you think of Yoko’s voice.

• A dozen songs already appeared on Anthology 3. Like the other recent box sets there are a few redundancies. I credit the new set for having something different the January 1970 Threetles session, but it would have been something to have more than just the single track.

• One of the great oddities of the Beatles catalogue, “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number” needed to have a home on this set. It’s timeline was split between Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, but as the B-side to “Let It Be,” this is where it belongs (especially as it’s not packaged with either of those deluxes).

• The definitive musical moment of the sessions — the rooftop performance — is featured raw on only one track in the new set. This would have been the obvious spot to offer the whole collection for the completist and as a companion to the Get Back documentary, which includes the whole thing.

***

So to ask again, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions? I don’t think you can. There’s really no suitable middle ground. I — and many others like me — crave everything, a horrible idea for a mainstream audience. I feel the new box goes partway in the right direction with the addition of the Glyn Johns mix and some of the outtake tracks, but it doesn’t go as far as it should as a historic resource. 

That puts some pressure on the documentary, but six hours of unreleased Beatles is a long time. And like the original record, it’s only fair to treat the entire package — records, documentary, books — as a singular, albeit helter-skelter, multimedia unit.  

And in true Beatles tradition, we don’t have to agree on it anyway.

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Filed under Extra

Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

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

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

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

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

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

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

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

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

(Emphasis added.)

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

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

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

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

Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was such a headache.”

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

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

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Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1

In 1999, George Harrison called “Only a Northern Song” — recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions in early 1967 but not released until January 13, 1969, on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP — a “piss-take” against his former song publisher, whom he characterized as a con man and thief.

From an interview with Billboard, 30 years after the song’s release:

It was at the point that I realized Dick James had conned me out of the copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 18- or 19-year-old kid, I thought, ‘Great, somebody’s gonna publish my songs!’ But he never said, ‘And incidentally, when you sign this document here, you’re assigning me the ownership of the songs [Harrison had written as a Beatle],’ which is what it is. It was just a blatant theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote ‘Only A Northern Song’ as what we call a ‘piss-take,’ just to have a joke about it.

“Only a Northern Song” has absolutely nothing to do with the Get Back sessions, but the timing of its release does. Just 72 hours before the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP hit stores, the Beatles convened at Twickenham for a truly climacteric day — not just in these sessions but in the group’s history.

George Harrison and Dick James, 1964.

Three hours (on the Nagra tapes) before George Harrison quit the Beatles on January 10, 1969, the target of his lyrical furor — Dick James — was one of the very first voices heard on the day’s recordings. Starting in 1963, Dick James Music administered Northern Songs, earning the publishing company a fortune and the band’s songwriters a disproportionately scant share of those riches. George’s share was but a fraction of what Paul McCartney and John Lennon managed to earn. Dick sold his majority share of Northern Songs out from under the songwriters about two months after the conclusion of the Get Back sessions, but that’s another story altogether.

Dick James was already on the tip of the Beatles’ tongues during the sessions in the previous days — Paul’s tongue, really, when he joked the publisher would “have the children” if the Beatles would “have a divorce” and break up. And perhaps anticipating the January 10th appearance, John name-checked Dick in the improvised “Shakin’ in the Sixties” just the day before.

But if there was any significant ire toward Dick, from George or mostly anyone else on the day of his visit, it didn’t materialize in the audio, which revealed a lengthy, seemingly cordial encounter (John said some things counter to this, but more on that next post).

Like so many mornings at Twickenham, the previous night’s must-see TV was the first big subject up for discussion, with Paul, Dick, Ringo Starr, engineer/producer Glyn Johns and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg retelling an astounding confrontation between Peter Cook and Zsa Zsa Gabor in which the comedian referred to the actress as “vain, untalented and a complete non-event.” (John and George hadn’t arrived yet).

An event: The Beatles with Zsa Zsa Gabor, at rehearsals for the Night of 1,000 Stars in 1964.

Paul did his best/worst Zsa Zsa impression for her reply: “I zink you are the rudest man you’ve ever seen.”

This exchange on Eamonn Andrews’ show was literally international news — here’s a syndicated story by Reuters that appeared in that morning’s Chicago Tribune — but of course all news is local when it comes to the Beatles, who seemed to have crossed paths with everyone and everything.

“She’s very honest,” Paul said of Zsa Zsa. “Quite entertaining. One thing I don’t like her for is — she was with her daughter. Her daughter was always around EMI when we were making our last album. We saw Zsa Zsa with her daughter there … and she makes a sort of ass out of her daughter. She’s so honest, she’s a bit too honest. She sort of said, ‘Don’t wear that sweater, darling, it makes you look fat.’”

(Roger McGuinn of the Byrds later claimed that he introduced George to Ravi Shankar’s music at an “LSD party” at Zsa Zsa’s Los Angeles mansion, which the Beatles rented during their 1965 tour. This proves again, there are no Beatles footnotes, only incredible parenthetical, contextual anecdotes worthy of stories themselves.)

The conversation soon shifted to more proximate family matters, when Dick asked Paul if his father and brother, Mike, received his telegram on the birth of Mike’s daughter, Benna, a few weeks earlier — “More gear to the McGear.”

“Mike had become a Benna-ficiary,” Paul replied with what clearly was already a well-worn joke.

Not much later Dick likewise discussed family with Ringo, almost like he was an elder of the clan himself, needling the drummer about more having more kids.

Dick: How’s Maureen? You haven’t even told me.
Ringo: She’s wonderful. She’ll be here later.
Dick: Zak?
Ringo: He’s wonderful, too, thank you.
Dick: No brother or sister on the way?
Ringo: Not yet.

Dick forgot 16-month-old Jason, but Ringo didn’t seem to mind.

A great deal of the conversation between Dick, Ringo, Paul, Glyn and Michael revolved around the extensive Lawrence Wright Music catalog, which was purchased by Northern Songs a few weeks earlier in late December 1968, but clearly the extent of the collection wasn’t known to the band until this morning.

“Mind boggles with a catalog like this,” Dick said at one point. “’Cause as fast as you remember some, you forget the other titles.”

The massive song inventory was very much in the wheelhouse of Paul and Ringo, who each would occasionally interject a superlative or sing along a line from various titles.

“That’s the greatest one you’ve got,” Ringo said of “Stardust,” which he’d record that November, with Paul arranging.

As Dick aptly noted, “there are some golden oldies in there that are ridiculous.”

Ridiculously classic? Absolutely. Like the aforementioned “Stardust,” the songs included “Home on the Range,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Stormy Weather” and “Just a Gigolo.”

And it’s quite ridiculous that the Beatles held an actual financial stake in World War I propaganda songs and other novelties like “Eat Less Bread,” “He’s in the Infirmary Now,” “Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s 40.

Ringo, Paul (representing Gryffindor) and Dick James discuss the Northern Songs catalog on January 10, 1969.

A song like “Carolina Moon” stood out to Paul — “My Uncle Ron’s favorite. Sings at all the parties.” And while George presumably came to “Hard Hearted Hannah” via another source, the Tin Pan Alley-era Northern Song was a jump-off point for the late-1970s Harrisong “Soft-Hearted Hana.”

Of course the most important inventory in the Northern Songs catalog would always be the ones with the “Lennon/McCartney” credit, and those assets were discussed, too.

“They’ll release ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ by us on the continent,” Paul said. “Hopefully with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on the b-side” (and it was a few weeks later).

“How about the ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ covers and things? All right?” Dick asked.

“Yes, doing well,” Paul answered, without mentioning Marmalade’s version had just finished a run at the top of the charts.

“I brought some records over to the flat, just in case you’d like to hear it,” Dick told Paul. “Vera Lynn’s ‘Goodnight’ as a waltz. Stephen [James, Dick’s son] produced it. Done as a 3/4. Sounds beautiful.”

The Beatles had spent the previous six days writing and rehearsing the newest batch of Northern Songs, and nearly 40 minutes into the day’s tapes, the publisher was treated to a sneak peak of five songs. It’s a curious set, featuring Paul solo at the piano, and one that should have been among the clear highlights of every session bootleg. Except, very frustratingly, for much of the half hour he was merely background music.

The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” had become morning standards, so Paul’s performance for Dick wasn’t extraordinary. And to hear Paul tickle the ivories on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was likewise unremarkable. But to hear a piano-based “Don’t Let Me Down” — with Paul alone on vocals with an obvious mastery of and affection for the material — and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are true oddities.

Around the same time Paul headed over to the piano, George arrived at Twickenham for the final time.

Paul and Dick at the piano, January 10, 1969.

The greeting between George and Dick was warm, with the George offering thanks for a Christmas gift — a set of drinking glasses.

Dick, who most assuredly had no idea George’s wife had walked out on him days earlier, could be excused for his response to the guitarist.

“Useful. Something to drink out of. Or the wife can throw.”

More on Dick James’ visit to Twickenham in the moments before George Harrison left the band coming in the next post, coming soon!

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Jan. 9: It’s dead easy

It took only a few minutes on January 9, 1969, for Paul McCartney to invoke jazz guitar, classical compositions and swing percussion for a hymnal ballad being written for an R&B singer that would become a classic rock and easy listening staple.

Transcript Poem No. 1, from the Get Back Book

“Let It Be,” lovingly and deliberately crafted during much of this day, spoke clearly to Paul’s boundless musical vocabulary, and on the day’s Nagra tapes we clearly hear the well-defined, rich genetic code buried within the song. No wonder it’s so special.

Dubbed “Mother Mary” by Paul at this point, “Let it Be” received solo piano treatment early in the day’s session per Paul’s daily ritual and a brief engagement, mainly with George Harrison, midday. The full ensemble’s rehearsal treatment later in the working day crafted the song into something both concrete and familiar. But importantly and quite visibly, Paul didn’t arrange it all by himself.

To recap the chronology of “Let It Be” to this point:

September 6, 1968: The earliest-known recording of the song — released in 2018 on the White Album Deluxe — consisted of a snippet of the first verse and chorus. Paul is on piano (the group was in the midst of recording “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). If there was anything to “Let It Be” beyond this, it’s either buried inside the vaults at Abbey Road, secured in Paul’s private archives or lost amid the echoes of Cavendish Avenue. But there’s no reason to believe there was really much more, because …

January 3, 1969: While the song gained an introduction as the Beatles rehearsed in their first full day at Twickenham, Paul hadn’t advanced “Let It Be” beyond the first verse and chorus, exactly what he had in 1968.

January 8, 1969: After the weekend and a couple extra days, the song appeared on the tapes again, as Paul disclosed he wrote the song for Aretha Franklin — but he wanted the Beatles to record it, too. Paul instructed a faster pace on the drum pattern and shared the chord structure with George. The musical tag was borrowed from the introduction and applied to the song’s conclusion, as the day’s session wrapped.

On January 9, the song was a significant focal point, with rehearsals of “Let It Be” alone taking up a good 20 percent of the day’s recorded sessions on the tapes. An initial midday discussion of the tag — “just at the end of ‘Mother Mary,’ there’s, like, a riff,” as described by Paul — was nestled between rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Across The Universe,” just prior to the “Penina” origin story.

At once, Paul had an unfinished song — musically, it was sharp, but the lyrics were quite incomplete — and he solicited advice and allowed the song to evolve, while at the same time explicitly mapping out musical parts for the others.

(Ignore the subtitles in the below clip, for everyone’s sake. But enjoy the audio from this part of the session)

The first phase of the hour-plus sequence that concludes the day’s tapes has Paul walking the others through the song in a deliberate fashion.

To Ringo Starr: Play the drums “like swing.”

To John Lennon, who was on bass: “C … G … A … F,” Paul instructed, vocalizing the bass part with piano accompaniment and working his way through the verse and chorus. “You’ll get it, it’s dead easy.”

Paul continued to work the group through the song, repeating the verse-chorus sequence, methodically taking stock of every element. After the primer, the song’s iconic harmonies were casually introduced to the chorus. “It’s like ‘aahs,'” instructed Paul, who suggested harmonies that were to be delivered “very simply.”

Moments later, the former rejected choir boy evoked both church as well as a man who wrote music for it — Johann Sebastian Bach — as a further inspiration (it wasn’t the first time Paul drew from the Baroque-era composer).

There’s a lot of things with these chords. See that harmony there – it’s like church harmony. There’s all that bit of sustained. … it’s like Bach, just holding the notes. Can you hear it?

With the harmony in strong development, Paul shifted to broader aspects of the song, like “how should we start it?” (Days earlier, John asked the same thing of “Don’t Let Me Down,” unsure how to arrange the various elements of the song).

There was a go at opening “Let It Be” with the chorus, but that idea was scrapped quickly, with the song’s soon-to-be established format taking hold early on.

“OK, the first two choruses, just the piano,” Paul said. “Then the second thing to come in is your two voices on the ‘let it be.’ And then [it] builds. So maybe bass isn’t in till, like, halfway.”

While the harmonies were framed around a centuries-old inspiration, Paul invoked a contemporary to George for his guitar part.

“If you could just somehow hold the one note on guitar without making it sort of corny,” Paul said. “Like Wes Montgomery, the octaves.”

Too bad we don’t get to hear a complete picture of what happens next, because … cats.

Michael-Lindsay Hogg: “I don’t like dogs, I like cats.”

Ringo: “We’ve got a poodle, as well.”

With the tapes’ camera and microphone shifting to a conversation between the film’s director and drummer, we’re deprived of a clear listen to the continued development of the song for a few moments. But the instructional continued in the background, as John added a grating, deep baritone harmony that was thankfully abandoned ultimately, but was retained throughout most of the day.

As Ringo continued his conversations away from the rest of the band, including a chat with Denis O’Dell about the Magic Christian, Paul and John alone casually delivered a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” — which was the first song recorded by the Quarrymen (to an acetate) more than 10 years earlier.

Following John’s cheeky order — “Come on you gits, get on your fucking instruments!” — the rest of the group indeed followed their leader, enthusiastically launching into an full-band Little Richard medley, “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (as later covered by John) into “Jenny Jenny,” before Paul applied the breaks in a return to “Let It Be.”

As a nod to his muse, Paul swapped in “Oh, Aretha Franklin” where he would normally sing “speaking words of wisdom” at one point.

Resuming the song-crafting process, Paul sought to integrate the musical tag he mentioned earlier to George.

Paul:  I was thinking
John: You’ve been thinking again.
Paul: After we’ve done the “let it be, let it be,” done the whole thing through, we might make something of [played the riff]. … Like, without rhythm, but with you [John] and me doing it.

Upon Ringo questioning when the various instruments come in throughout the song, Paul begins make suggestions before stopping himself.

Enter Glyn Johns. Well, not really “enter” — he’d been with the group the entirety of the sessions in a somewhat nebulous production role.

“He seems to be arranging this, come on,” Paul said to laughter. “That’s good, come on.”

From his 2014 memoir, Sound Man, Glyn recalled his first days working for the Beatles:

After they had finally run through the first song a couple of times, Paul turned to me and asked what I thought they should do for an intro. I nearly fell over in shock. I thought I had been employed to just engineer and here I am in the first hour of rehearsals being asked for my input into the arrangement. I responded as quickly and confidently as I could and suggested a way of playing the intro, which they liked, and we were off. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was accepted, each guy individually making an attempt to put me at ease and make me feel part of the team.  …

On the second day, things came to a head among the band. …

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham at on that cold gray afternoon with Denis, 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 days later.

Glyn’s timeline isn’t precise; he wrote that the arrangement request was on the session’s first day (which was January 2) and George would quit the band the next day, but Paul was a late arrival on the first day at Twickenham and George’s departure happened on January 10, the day after the events of this post. Still, the recollection is valuable to get an idea of Glyn’s mindset early in the sessions regarding his role.

Glyn with the Beatles, from Glyn’s autobiography, Sound Man.

With Paul handing him the reins, Glyn was confident and direct in dictating his plan — based on Paul’s original idea — to a very receptive band.

“Absolutely nothing except the piano and voice the first time around,” said Glyn. “And then the voices, right? … Then you [George] come in where you come in. And you [John] come in the next time round.

“So it goes: Piano and voice.  Backing added [to the chorus], then it goes back to the top [the sound of high-hat is played]. George is in then. John comes in when John comes in. Then the the next chorus, you’re [Ringo] back in on your thing, and back on your [swinging drum pattern]”

Paul gave very simple approval — “that’s it” — before leading the group into a demonstration and subsequent instructions, like building up the percussion without any snares — “It’s like jazz,” George remarked —  and adding “big drums” on Ringo’s fill before the second round of the chorus.

The writer and arranger disagreed on when John and George should come in — Paul proposed they should join together, while Glyn thinks otherwise. “It’s all happening a little bit too quickly with the bass coming in at the same time, that’s all,” Glyn said. Paul deferred, and instructed George to come in for a solo after the “big” chorus, and to base it after the verse’s chords.

“Do it to your own discretions and sort of come in so it builds up, just so you’re not all in at the one time,” Paul said. “Let those two [Ringo and John] get in before you [George] come in.”

The group returned to a run-through as it was drawn up with George entering into the riff, after the second chorus. But it didn’t click and the placement of the riff becomes the next segment receiving attention.

“It’s very corny, really — the down, down, down, down [sang by Paul].” George quickly compares the riff to the end of the chorus in Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

Glyn suggested back-to-back plays of the riff after the second chorus, an idea Paul jumped on.

Paul: See, then that can lead into the solo, ’cause I think it’ll be time by then.

John: Just use that riff into the solo and the end [of it] for the end.

Paul: It’s going to be a short one, anyway.

Paul ordered up “two lengths of solo,” while he and John added harmonies over the second one. The conclusion of “Let It Be” was then sketched: the guitar solo, another chorus and two plays of the riff, with the second one coming in slow.

A first full run of the complete song structure clocked in at barely more than two minutes, with no additional verses after the solo. That is, what we know now as the “And when the night is cloudy…” verse — that section didn’t exist yet.

“Want to do it again? George asked. “It’s quite short, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a little bit,” Paul conceded. “It does need something else. It may be sort of ‘oohs’ though the second verse or something else when the cymbals come in. It sounds a bit sort of bare with just piano there.”

“Organ. I could play organ for that and drop it for the bass,” John suggested, forecasting Billy Preston’s eventual arrival without calling for additional personnel, for now, anyway.

Now in the final phases of the day’s rehearsals, the group put further attention on getting into and out of the riff. And in its final moments, George purposely hacked his way through the solo, building the framework of what would later appear on record. Paul gave further bass instruction to John, while George went over the drum pattern with Ringo.

Having logged more than an hour on the song at the end of the day’s session, exhaustion finally set in after a few more competent attempts of the song.  A suggested short break became a request from George to quit for the day entirely, which they all did following a final take.

As they gathered to leave, a debriefing showed the band still found room for improvement in “Let It Be”:

Paul: It should have more bits, should be more complicated.

George: I just feel [the ending] needs something really sustaining.

John: Or even some words … a big all-together.

Any further collaborative work on the “Let It Be” was going to have to wait. Paul touched on the song in a brief solo version the next morning, but later that day, George left the group.

Still, the Beatles — led by Paul but with significant help from others in the room — got through much of the musical dirty work in “Let It Be” in relatively effortless fashion on January 9.

 

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Jan. 8: The Four Powers

In a time of global crisis — isn’t it always, though? — it was the world’s greatest legislative body. OK, maybe the Beatles were the world’s greatest band that also tried to behave like a legislative body, and late in the day on January 8, 1969, it was nearing time for a decisive vote on a lingering issue: Where would the Beatles play their next — and presumably last — concert?

You know his name (look up the nation)

From the band’s outset to its imminent end, the Beatles prided themselves on what they called democracy, but it was really complete consensus. “We had a democratic thing going between us, particularly by 1962,” George Harrison told the high court in 1997 amid a lawsuit to stop the release of a Beatles recording from one of their residencies in Hamburg. “Everybody in the band had to agree with everything that was done.”

Unanimity isn’t necessary to the democratic model, but this model United Nations was extraordinary by nature of its four voting members: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The two serious veto threats earned code names from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg — Russia (Ringo) and France (George, so named “because he smoked some garlic once,” per Paul).

Continuing his earlier conversation with Ringo, and desperate to sell a show overseas, Michael laid out the situation as he saw it in hopes of chipping through the Iron Curtain.

The way it stacks up is, John is happy to go. … Paul is, I gather, in the middle, tending toward either side … and George is swinging more your way. So there’s quite a tough battle. The problem was we couldn’t talk about it because of Russia. And it’s the four powers. And if Russia says no, then the conversation is obviously in the bag and we can’t do anything with it. And I think if we now can talk about it, we may still discard it … or we may come up with something better.

In retrospect, the drama of the group’s incapability of finding agreement on a concert location, despite the suggestion of several intriguing venues, would have made for a captivating documentary for Michael. It would have given a narrative the Let It Be film lacked. But after less than a week of sessions, the director saw things differently.

“My documentary is running out of gas,” Michael admitted to John. “If we were to vote tomorrow, it’s not running out of gas.”

Fine-tuning the group’s intentions would do more than make for better television. “It might make it better again, whatever the wound is,” Michael told John moments earlier.

What octane do documentaries use? (Photo of the Beatles at Weston-super-Mare by Dezo Hoffman, 1963)

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” John replied.

And here you thought John didn’t care about the band anymore. The Beatles were a wounded group before the Get Back sessions started, and salt would soon be added when George quit in two days’ time. But the Beatles were still worth saving in January 1969, even if John himself would call it quits well before the calendar year was out.

The day’s musical session was complete, Paul having walked the group through “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be.” For these final 15 or so minutes on the tapes, all four Beatles are engaged, animated and opinionated concurrently to a degree yet unheard to this point on the Nagra reels.

All the principals immersed, Denis O’Dell makes the sell on Michael’s repeated preferred overseas adventure.

“I really think we could go and shoot a day sequence, a night sequence, a torch-light sequence, out there the sea, desert, in four days. Make it comfortable for everybody.”

Paul’s skepticism remained. But he was willing to keep options open and the live concert plans … uh, afloat.

My major objections to that: Traveling, one. Setting up and everything — I’m sure we can do that. Then, there’s that thing, which may not seem much, but we’re doing a live show, and we’re doing it in Arabia (laughter), and everyone’s waiting to see the lads rocking again. So, like, I’ll tell you what then, I’ll come in with it as long as you can get a couple of boats, the QE2. And then give away the tickets here, as you would have done, but the ticket includes a boat journey as well.

The composition of the audience was a sticking point, especially for Ringo, and there’s something virtuous to be said for the lads’ loyalty and desire to be rocking again before an audience that was with them from the start.

“We’ve got to get the right audience for Russia,” Michael said. “If we can get the right audience over there, which we can get over there.”

George wasn’t easily swayed. “What is the point of doing it abroad… apart from getting a great holiday? I’d much rather do it and then go away.”

Reminding the band of Twickenham’s relatively pedestrian features, Denis replied, presumably waving his hand at the scene around him, “To get away from that, that’s really the answer.”

“It’s ‘Around the Beatles ‘69′,” John acknowledged after a brief exchange about potential set possibilities on the Twickenham stage.

Paul, having had enough at the end of a long day, aggressively presented a compromise.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll offer you. If we’re going away, and we hire a boat to take the audience with you, we’ll do a bloody show on the boat, and then we’ll do a show when we get there, in the moonlight. … Final dress rehearsals on the boat.”

History never stopped chasing the Beatles, and sometimes it caught up to them. They didn’t want to repeat a past accomplishment, whether it was “Around The Beatles” or a stadium show. But Paul’s suggestion would have done just that: Bringing along a select audience to a performance at sea would combine a pair of episodes from the other side of their career.

Feb. 20, 1962, just a month after Brian Epstein formally signed on to manage them, the Beatles — that’s still John, Paul, George and Pete, at this point — performed an important show at Floral Hall in Southport. From Mark Lewisohn’s biblical epic Tune-In:

[Epstein’s] principal involvement in the Floral Hall night was two-fold: to help sell the 1200 tickets and to book the talent that would provide continuous dancing for four hours — five groups headed by POLYDOR RECORDING STARS, THE BEATLES. He circulated typed leaflets among Beatles fans and on the record counters at all three Nems shops, announcing affordable coach trips: fans could pay 8s, 6d for return transportation, admission to the hall and, afterwards, the chance to mingle with the musicians and get their autographs. These special all-in tickets were sold only in the Whitechapel shop, outside which the chartered buses would leave. The Beatles were taking a Liverpool audience with them for a night out up the coast.

Emphasis mine.

Instead of towing British passengers across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Beatles brought their fans from their Cavern Club base in Liverpool about 20 miles up the A565.

That was by bus. Six months before the Floral Hall show, the Beatles made the first of four appearances on the Riverboat Shuffle, a concert series on the MV Royal Iris, a ferry cruising in the River Mersey.

For Paul — who would record parts of Wings’ London Town on a boat in the Virgin Islands in May 1977 — the Royal Iris performances made enough of a lasting impact that he referenced them decades later on his 2007 LP Memory Almost Full:

The journey wasn’t as important to Michael as the destination: the Roman amphitheater in Sabratha, Libya.

“I don’t think anything is going to beat a perfect acoustic place, by the water, out of doors, a perfect theater, with perfect acoustics,” he said.

John was on board. “Just singing a number, sunset and the dawn and all that. Gentle, and the moon, and all that for the songs, you know.”

“I think we’re going to do rock and roll at dawn or at night, and we can have the change of day over something like this,” Michael replied. “Because I’m sure we can do the rock and roll there if we get the right audience.”

All-important consensus was building between the two most powerful members of the band, and it was more than wanderlust and closer to finding a way to heal that wound — do something different, but still be together as The Beatles.

“Last year, when we were doing the album, like you said, we suddenly said we don’t need to do it here, in EMI in London,” Paul said. You can listen along to this particular sequence on the “Fly on the Wall” bonus CD packed with Let It Be … Naked.

John excitedly picked up the argument.

“Every time we’ve done an album, we’ve said, ‘Why are we stuck in EMI, we could be doing it in L.A.! We could be in France! And every time we do it, and here we are again, building another bloody castle around us, and this time we [should] do it there. And not only would we be doing it, physically making the album there, but it takes [off] all that weight of, ‘Where’s the gimmick, what is it?’ God’s the gimmick. And the only problem we’ve got now is an audience, you know.”

For a moment, at least, Paul’s skepticism vanished.

“It makes it kind of an adventure, doesn’t it?”

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TMBP Extra: Around the Beatles

In this space, one post from now, you’ll see this quote from Paul McCartney as he describes a new idea for the January 1969 live show:

It’s a bit like “Around the Beatles.”

By early 1969, the nearly five-year old program was relative ancient history. Today, it’s just a footnote in the group’s momentous 1964.

The Beatles and what's around them. 1964.

The Beatles and what’s around them. 1964.

A Beatles variety show difficult to compare to much else in their career, “Around The Beatles” is notable in its own right, in addition to serving as another benchmark for the group to use in developing their January 1969 production. Yet again, a significant moment of Beatles history can be retold from within the context of the Get Back sessions.

And speaking of context, let’s precisely spot “Around The Beatles” on the band’s remarkable 1964 calendar. Here’s a drastically incomplete look at the few months surrounding the show:

— February 9 : Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan
— February 9-23: United States tour
— March 2: Filming begins for A Hard Days Night
— April 2: “Can’t Buy Me Love” hits No. 1 in UK
— April 4: Beatles own top 5 songs on Billboard U.S. chart
— April 19: Music for “Around The Beatles” recorded (they lip-synced on the show)
— April 28: “Around The Beatles” is filmed
— May 6: “Around The Beatles” broadcast in U.K.  (it was broadcast in November 1964 in the U.S.)
— June 4: Filming ends for A Hard Day’s Night
— June 26: A Hard Day’s Night LP released in U.S.
— July 6: A Hard Day’s Night premieres
— July 10: A Hard Day’s Night LP released in U.K.

A lot, lot more happened before, during and after that timeline. This period marks Beatlemania at its most Beatlemaniacal.

Jack Good, already a pioneering producer of fast-paced rock & roll variety shows with Six-Five Special and Oh Boy! and who would develop Shindig! in the U.S. just a few months after the staging of “Around The Beatles,”  was at the helm for this program. The set was a small theater in the round — this is “Around The Beatles” after all — a spartan take at the Globe Theater, with fans encircling the performers on three sides on ground level, and around the stage on elevated catwalks. Non-performing acts, including the Beatles, watched from these standing-room sections.

Play along here, and watch the entire show (in somewhat dubious quality online). It runs a little under an hour.

Something the show did not feature at its outset was music. In a sequence as campy as anything the band would partake — and trust me, I’ve seen Magical Mystery Tour several times — the Beatles took part in a nationwide tribute honoring the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (which fell April 23, just before the show was filmed and aired).

Ringo as the Lion

Specifically, the group exuberantly stages Act V Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play-within-the-play “Pyramus and Thisbe,” written as poorly acted by working class, amateur actors. It was an inspired and appropriate choice. Paul plays Pyramus, John is the woman Thisbe, Ringo is the Lion and George is Moonshine. To a staged heckling crowd, the group very much plays the part in the controlled chaos, delivering their lines with comedic injections (e.g., Ringo refers to all the money he’s making drumming).

Glimpse at the Bard a la Beatles in color here:

Nearly seven minutes pass from the show’s opening credits to the end of the sketch.

Speaking with the BBC the day after the show aired, John described how comedy has always been a Beatles trait, something fans around the world had already no doubt discovered.

Paul as Pyramus

“We used to do it, especially in the old Cavern days… Half the whole thing was just ad-libbed. We used to just mess about and jump into the audience and do anything.”

The Beatles could have lost the audience really, really quickly, but they’re so charming, so clearly joyous and having a blast, that even if they’re at times difficult to understand — between the Shakespearean English and the thick accents — it’s impossible to turn it off.

The first music we’d hear in the show, outside of the opening sequence’s fanfare, comes from Jamaican teenager Millie Small, who performed “My Boy Lollipop” as it rapidly rose on the charts en route to a peak of No. 2 in the U.K.

Money

She kicked off a lengthy, energetic sequence of artists who weren’t the Beatles taking to the stage. Long John Baldry and The Vernons Girls follow with a fast-paced medley that included Baldry handing out cash during “Money.” That sequence was backed by Sounds Incorporated — who looked a fraction of their age (which, on the whole, was a few years older than the members of the Beatles) — and they followed with their own instrumental performance before the unyielding energetic crowd.

P.J. Proby

Nearly 20 minutes in, we’re graced with the presence of a Beatle, when Paul introduces a “very good friend of ours,” P.J. Proby, whose good looks, gravely voice, lip bite and ribboned mini ponytail make even the most 40-something-aged Beatle bloggers’ heart flutter.

The Texan entered the Beatles orbit via Good, and impressed Beatles manager Brian Epstein enough that Proby was asked to come to England and be a part of the show. But while a friendship would blossom with John, according to Proby, it was a rough go at the outset with Paul. Via Finding Zoso:

So, we went to lunch that day, and at the table I was sitting there having a sandwich when I heard this voice, “Give us a song then P.J.” I turned around and I couldn’t see anybody. Then this newspaper sloooowly started coming down and this head appeared. It was Paul McCartney. And he said, “Sing us a song now P.J.”, and I said, “Sing to yourself you son of a bitch, I’m having lunch!” So, Paul didn’t speak to me from then on; fifteen days he wouldn’t speak to me.

At the end of the fifteen days when we were going to film, all The Beatles drew our names out of a hat [to introduce us] and I found out that Paul had drawn mine. So, I thought to myself, “Well, he’s not gonna do me any favors. I’m just gonna get on there, do my spot, get on the next airplane, and get back to Hollywood.” So I was just about to go on and Paul turned around to introduce me and said, “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, our dear friend, our best friend from Hollywood, California. His first appearance ever on television in England. P.J. Proby!” It shocked me so much, that I almost didn’t step onto my mark and go before the cameras.

After that, Paul and I became very good friends. What he was doing was testing me to see if I was as good as Jack Good had made out I was. So I passed the test and we’ve been friends ever since!

Proby’s performance gave way to another appearance by Millie, Sounds Incorporated, The Vernons Girls and Cilla Black, who would be another figure to later feature in the Beatles’ story. Oh, and about that Fab Four, we get the occasional glimpse of them enjoying the show from the stands.

The entire first half of this show is absolute non-stop music and action with consistently bad lip-syncing across the board.

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on

From their perch, the Beatles sing along with Long John Baldry on “Got My Mojo Workin’.”

Thirty minutes into their show, Murray the K lets the audience know, “In the U.S.A., England is what’s happening.” But it’s not until five minutes later and after another appearance from Black and her lovely hair that the show’s eponymous stars finally take the stage as musical performers.

Each member of the band is showcased on vocals on the pre-recorded, lip-synced set: “Twist and Shout” (John) starts things off, and the crowd returns to its feverish frenzy, matching the band’s own energy. “Roll Over Beethoven” (George) comes next, making it back-to-back covers. “I Wanna Be Your Man” (Ringo) follows, with “Long Tall Sally” (Paul) — another cover — leading into a true anomaly in the group’s career: a medley. Recorded separately and edited together, the group peeled off, over the course of four minutes, “Love Me Do”, “Please Please Me,” “From Me To You,” “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Why, that’s the first five Beatles singles, strung together in succession. The final three all went to No. 1. The edit came off a little jerky, but the performance was characteristically upbeat. It felt rushed, but hey, no one asked me if they needed to give Sounds Incorporated so much airtime earlier in the show.

But they weren’t done. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” their newest single and the song that was presently reigning atop the charts, followed the medley. This performance of the song was officially released on the 1+ DVD/Blu-ray set.

The Beatles had one prize left, and another cover — another Isley Brothers cover, at that. Not satisfied with “Twist and Shout” alone, the group made “Shout” their own, a complete rarity as a song that wasn’t part of their live set. In another rarity, all four Beatles alternated on vocals during a stirring rendition that did prove the Beatles still needed to work on their lip-sync skills just as much as the rest of the acts did.

With that, it’s fin.

In 2016, unsanctioned clips here on the Internet are far and away the easiest way to watch “Around The Beatles.” It did receive an official release in 1985 on VHS, and it’s an inexpensive purchase on eBay, provided you still have a working player. I personally recommend grabbing your brother’s old copy of the tape during your parents’ move (look, I’m not saying that kind of thing happens often, but it’s possible it happened once). The show has never been released on DVD/Blu-ray, but as mentioned, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is on the 1+ release.  As for the music, you can find “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Shout” and “Boys” — another cover and a song that was recorded for the show but didn’t make the final cut — on Anthology 1.

John as Thisbe

The show runs less than an hour, and there’s so much to unpack, but we have the benefit of the last 52 years of hindsight to really dig deep. Let’s start with the stars of the show, the Beatles. The show is almost treated as a belated introduction of the group to the global audience, even though by the time it aired — in May in the United Kingdom and November in the United States — the Beatles were a known, beloved quantity around the world. Their charm and sense of humor, so evident in the Shakespeare sketch, was certainly established, and this was in the weeks before A Hard Day’s Night hit theaters. The very fact that the group had four Number One hits available to perform speaks volumes, too. The show itself was a tremendous success, rating among the top shows of the year in the U.K.

It says plenty that the Beatles were assigned to carry their own show so early in their career. Obviously, they were up to task, and we know how their career played out. But what about the others? Each of the acts — which collectively seem like an anonymous gallery of C-list British Invasion acts from an era that produced far more memorable names — sharing the stage with the Beatles ultimately had an interesting story of their own, with many crossing paths with the group as the rest of the 1960s played out and several playing a part in notable moments in rock history over the subsequent decades.

Let’s start with Millie Small. A one-hit wonder in the U.S. and U.K., she’s credited as a seminal figure in popular Jamaican music. And in an alternate world, she’d have been part of Paul McCartney’s extended family. In the mid-1960s Millie briefly dated Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon, the brother of Paul’s longtime girlfriend Jane Asher.

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Paul, his ubiquitous sweater and Cilla

Liverpudlian Cilla Black was in the Beatles orbit early on and was under manager Brian Epstein’s umbrella by the time “Around The Beatles” was produced. She was an established success with a No. 1 hit (”Anyone Who Had a Heart”) before the show was recorded and had another to come (”You’re My World,” as produced by George Martin) shortly after. Her career was long and successful and included recording several Lennon/McCartney songs. One of them — “It’s For You” — was in the news within the last few days of this writing, when a long-lost demo from Paul was sold at auction.

Like Black, The Vernons Girls hailed from Liverpool, with the group’s first iteration performing while the Beatles were still in school. Ultimately whittled down from a 16-part choir to three members, the girl group shared bills with the Beatles and had modest chart success and their opportunistic 1963 single “We Love The Beatles” is remembered today, at least by certain members of the Beatles blogging community. The Vernons Girls disbanded later in 1964.

Baldry befriended the Beatles at the Cavern in Liverpool while a member of the Cyril Davis All Stars (which also included Nicky Hopkins, who played with just about everybody, including the Beatles on “Revolution” and on records from all four of them solo). Baldry, who was openly gay, had a relationship with Dave Davies of the Kinks, and would lead a band that featured a young Rod Stewart. Another group led by Baldry in the late 1960s, Bluesology, featured one Reggie Dwight on keyboard. Dwight would later adopt the stage name Elton John — “Elton” after Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and “John” in honor of Long John Baldry. Baldry remained a friend and influence to the superstar pianist; he was “Sugar Bear” in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. Baldry eventually moved to Canada and in addition to working as a blues musician, he did voice acting work.

Buoyed by his appearance on “Around The Beatles,” P.J. Proby went on to score a trio of Top 10 hits in the U.K. in 1964, and a minor hit in “That Means a Lot” a Lennon/McCartney leftover from Help!

As Proby’s career played out, he ended up crossing paths with more of rock’s heavyweights. His 1969 LP featured the New Yardbirds as his backup band; that’s Led Zeppelin before they had their own record out. Proby later would portray Elvis and Roy Orbison on stage and perform with The Who in their 1997 revival of Quadrophenia among other productions. His 1995 Savoy Sessions is absolutely bananas. Proby is still active; you can catch the recent Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee on tour in the U.K. this September and October.

Beatles insider Tony Bramwell wrote in his book “Magical Mystery Tours” of John’s relationship with Proby, which sounds like it bordered on infatuation.

Beyond his obvious talent, John was almost hypnotically fascinated by P.J.’s demonic, destructive nature. P.J. was like John’s dark twin, a man who quickly found his way into the wilder circles and excesses of London society. He was a Jack Black man, lots of it, but John wasn’t. To Cynthia’s dismay, John started to hang out with the lean Texan, who dressed like a cowboy during the day and in velvets, ruffled pirate shirts and buckled shoes by night.

Bramwell goes on to write that it was in fact Proby who introduced Lennon to marijuana — he “felt waves of nausea sweeping over him and rushed to the bathroom, where he threw up into the large white bathtub” — months before Bob Dylan was credited with exposing the Beatles to the drug.

The relationship between the Beatles and Sounds Incorporated stretched back to the groups’ shared time in Hamburg and extended deep into the 1960s. Sounds Incorporated — which would also end up managed by Epstein — became a frequent opening act for the Beatles, including at the landmark show at Shea Stadium in 1965. The saxophones you hear on “Good Morning, Good Morning” off Sgt. Pepper were delivered by the group’s horn section. Among other acts, Sounds Incorporated’s Tony Newman would go on to drum for David Bowie on the Diamond Dogs LP.

But John, Paul, George and Ringo weren’t the only figures from our January 1969 story that worked with Sounds Incorporated. More than six years before the Get Back sessions and prior to “Around The Beatles,” Sounds Incorporated recorded a song written by Billy Preston, who — at 17 — joined the group on organ.

“Around The Beatles” was a product of Beatlemania, but not forgotten by the group — and not just because Paul named his cat Thisbe. A joyous, successful production, “Around The Beatles” became another jumping-off point for the group to use in 1969, in working their way to a stage return.

Author’s note, October 2020: When this post was first written more than four years ago, I included a section on Glyn Johns’ purported role in the “Around the Beatles” recording session — the group pre-recorded their numbers and lip-synched on the show. Going back several decades, Glyn said he was the “second engineer” on that April 19, 1964, session. He wasn’t. 

Alan Florence, the session’s lead engineer, and Peter Robinson, who was the second engineer, both reached out to me to correct the record, and for that I’m grateful. I communicated with them both in the comments section of the subsequent post as well as privately.  References to Glyn’s involvement in “Around the Beatles” have been removed from his own memoirs, also. No one upgraded my hardbound copy, so I only just found out.

While Glyn’s involvement in a 1964 Beatles sessions would have made for a nice narrative bookend to his role with the group in 1969, it never actually happened. Thanks again to Alan and Pete for reaching out to me to make sure the history is clear and their own contributions are recognized. 

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TMBP Extra: Sound Man

Glyn Johns’ resume is so impressive, his work with The Beatles could be considered a footnote.

Just take the next 24 hours, and check out a fraction of songs he worked on as producer, engineer and/or was tasked with mixing on this playlist I put together. I tried to attach as many full albums as I could find on YouTube. Otherwise, I drew just a few tracks to sample. To any classic rock radio program directors reading, feel free to use this playlist to do your job for you.

Alternately, take less than a full day, but more than a few minutes and enjoy the discography posted on his website. It’s staggering, and truly touches on “the biggest names in rock” (spoken in radio promo voice).

But as impressive as his work with the likes of Zeppelin, the Stones, Kinks, Who, Dylan, Eagles and so many others (The Clash! Jools Holland!! Paul on Red Rose Speedway!!!) as well as innovating a technique for recording drums, what matters most here at They May Be Parted International HQ is Glyn’s involvement with The Beatles in January 1969. As engineer for the sessions and later producer for the aborted Get Back album that ultimately became Phil Spector’s Let It Be, Glyn is part of the fabric of the story we’re telling here, even if his actual work isn’t present on the Nagra Tapes itself that we’re listening through.  He was a brief part of Abbey Road’s story, too, having worked on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something.”  But that’s another post.

Glyn Johns autographs a book at Saturdays Rock Hall event.

Glyn Johns autographs a book at Saturday’s Rock Hall event.

Glyn, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago, was among the few to be present for the duration of the Get Back sessions, and thanks to whatever combination of good living, good genetics and good luck, he’s among the even fewer still with us in 2014. He just released a memoir, “Sound Man,” and I was lucky enough to see him at a promotional Q&A hosted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library and Archives in Cleveland on Saturday.

The briskly paced event covered specifics of his start in the recording industry at IBC, his pioneering role as a freelance engineer and his views on production today (he hates it, with the move to digital the culprit) with some short anecdotes peppered throughout.  There was a bit of discussion on the Stones (he helped them from the start and worked with them throughout the ’60s and ’70s, plus he lived with keyboardist Ian Stewart), and a he made a few one-off, matter-of-fact mentions that brought into context just how monumental his career has been (“When I was producing Jimi Hendrix” … “Oh, that was on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again'” … “I worked on ‘Exile” later on,” etc.). But his biggest raves were for Led Zeppelin, whose debut he engineered in October 1968 before its release three months later during the period of George Harrison’s walkout at Twickenham.  Glyn is still clearly moved by the music Zeppelin made in the studio as he was recording them for the first time.

George, however, was unimpressed (and he wasn’t alone).

Glyn — who in perfect deadpan answered that Zep drummer John Bonham’s most remarkable achievement in the studio was to “turn up” — told the same tale about George’s dismissal of Zeppelin in the book.

Glyn offered his first-hand observations of the Get Back sessions in pretty straightforward fashion in the memoir, although he does take credit for having the idea to play on the roof, the origin of which has been in dispute for 45 years. But per his style, Glyn doesn’t air any dirty laundry. For instance, when it comes to George’s walkout, he writes:

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. Once that was over and done with we carried on and it seemed that all was quickly forgotten.

Glyn does contest the notion he was picked by The Beatles to produce the session over George Martin because he had a union card to work on a movie. But per the official written Beatles story — Anthology — Georges Martin and Harrison are both quoted saying that Glyn was selected just for a change of pace.

As an elite engineer, Glyn’s descriptions of Magic Alex’s famed “work” at the Apple Studio are a fun read.

The console looked like something out of a 1930s Buck Rogers science fiction movie. Above it on the wall were eight loudspeakers that were about the size and thickness of a large ham and cheese sandwich.

Glyn’s overall involvement in the Get Back sessions is illustrative of how unusual January 1969 was for the Beatles compared to how they did everything else throughout their career, before and for the brief time after that they were together. The Beatles weren’t just altering how they wrote and rehearsed songs, working in a foreign studio with cameras in their faces, they went an extra step to hire a man they’ve never worked with them to capture that sound. It all ultimately came to an disappointing end for Glyn, who after the sessions made several attempts at creating the Get Back album for naught as the project was bumped back and later supplanted by Abbey Road. As he told the Rock Hall audience in 2012, “I go off thinking I’m pretty hot stuff, [but] I’m not at all. I’m sweeping up, really.”

George, Ringo and Glyn at Savile Row, late January 1969

George, Ringo and Glyn at Savile Row, late January 1969

His thoughts on the Let It Be LP, on which he has a mere “thanks to” mention on the back cover? Glyn doesn’t mince words on his opinion of the Spector version of the record, writing in Sound Man that “Phil Spector … puked all over them, turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I ever heard.”  His opinion hasn’t softened over time — two years ago he told the Rock Hall audience that “shame he wasn’t locked up earlier, really, wouldn’t have played with my record.”

All told, Glyn — who wrote that “I felt like I’d won the lottery” when he got the job to work the Get Back sessions —  spent about 25 pages of his book’s 286 pages on working with The Beatles (including a couple on his first experience working with the group, as second engineer on the 1964 TV special “Around the Beatles”).  That’s nearly 10 percent of an autobiography written about a product he never saw officially released. So perhaps the Beatles weren’t quite a footnote after all for Johns.

———-

This, however, IS a footnote: After the Q&A, I purchased Sound Man and got it autographed by the author. I let Glyn know about this blog and he gave me the wordless impression that I must be a madman to immerse myself in these tapes for pleasure (and perhaps I am). Still, he said he’d check out the blog, so if you find your way here, Glyn, welcome! And to everyone, I’m working on the next post, a continuation of Jan. 7 “Maxwell’s” session with “Across the Universe” coming up on its heels. I intend on having both out before the end of the month. As always, stay tuned for updates at twitter.com/theymaybeparted.

 

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Jan. 3, 1969: Four guys and four amps

Musical equipment, and not necessarily significant advances in songs themselves, characterized much of the Jan. 3 rehearsals, and certainly so during All Things Must Pass, from the shoctric shocks that actually made the film for the song’s only cinematic “appearance” to the more significant discussions about more macro points that occurred between takes — and during them —  as well.

During one particular take — 3.106, if you’re keeping score at home — there’s extended crosstalk that begins as the song is still being played between Paul and Glyn Johns regarding bringing in a mobile eight-track to properly record the Twickenham sessions.

“What about Wally Heider?  You know Wally Heider, ” Glyn says to Paul, and he replies, no.  “Wally Heider is the mobile guy in America. He’s got a studio on Cahuenga. It’s the Beach Boys’ studio. They have a fucking great truck.

[It’s a] big truck, does eight-track mobile. Did the Cream live album and all that. We could get that, I suppose.”

Mind you, Cream had back-to-back records with live portions, and would later have a full-live album that came out post-breakup. So really, it could be referencing any of those.

Paul replies: “Telephone America… get it here next week, that quick.”

When told EMI only had a four-track mobile, Paul quickly snapped back: “No they haven’t. They took a fucking eight-track out to the Beach Boys. They really do [have an eight-track], because I had to use the studio, and they said, ‘We’re moving the eight-track tonight.’  And that was one of the excuses they used. Really.”

Paul continues to George: “If you wanted to to get eight-track stuff to record all this, you wanted to get the greatest equipment, where would we get it? Because apparently it hasn’t been… (recording trails off).

“We lend it to ourselves,” George says. “But EMI should do it. It’s like if Benjamin Britten wants to do an album in Paris, EMI has to fucking get all that shit over to him.”

“And they do it of course,” Paul adds, disgusted.

“Seeing as we subsidize EMI, then get it out of there,” George replies.


After a break in the tape, Paul continues.

“The answer is to get here before the end of this week the best console they possibly have here. Really, the end of the week. And what’s the hangup? Is it the expense? Japan and America, they’re both very together. Germany? Germany’s very together. … See, we should hust have a mixer and everything.

“If it was America, they’d be there with 48 eight-tracks,” George later adds.  “And it’s a live album, they’re the company they get to charge on it , they have to supply it.”

The band returns to All Things Must Pass. But they weren’t done talking.  After a few more takes, the band goes back to discussing essence of the sessions (3.138).

“You know,” George begins, “the idea of doing this thing so it’s just us doing it and there’s no overdubs or you can’t get out of it , is much better, really. Because you know all the time recording you think, it’s all right, we can do that later. So you never get even the most out of that [indecipherable]… really.

John finally chimes in after briefly asking about the song’s lyrics with further ruminations on the live performance with the band just two years and four months removed from their final live show.

People who are doing live shows now, they take so much gear on stage with them like echoes, phasing, tapes. And they do it live — they do their overdubs. And we’re still thinking of it in terms of the four guys and four amps.

Before returning to playing, George talks of getting a Leslie guitar pedal for the show and then of Magic Alex working on their studio that week before the band ultimately pivots to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

Fascinating are the politics involved with EMI and the issues they apparently had domestically in the UK.

And again, I can’t get over the question of why they even have started the sessions given the questions they still had over recording and getting equipment.

More All Things Must Pass talk in the next post.

Many, many thanks to @TheLilacTime and commenters @trainman74 and anonymous for helping clear up some of the details in the above bit of dialogue, including Wally Heider’s identity, Glyn’s voice and the location of Cahuenga. 

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