More than a half century removed, it’s pretty easy to say George Harrison was on a clear trajectory to cut his losses and walk away from the Beatles a week into the Get Back sessions and cut bait on January 10, 1969.
But even on that Friday morning at Twickenham Film Studios, was George a man with a plan to leave the group? Here’s how the day played out:
Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1: Unpacking the day George quit the Beatles, a day that began with a visit from Dick James, and featured a deep dive into their extended publishing catalog, family greetings and Zsa Zsa Gabor stories.
Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 2: “Fascist bum” or friend to the Beatles? Maybe Dick James was both. Here’s the second part of our deep dive into the publisher’s visit to the band, hours before George left. Featuring Magic Alex stories, car talk, hidden mics and secret meetings.
Knew it wouldn’t last: In the hour before George quits, his performance and motivation are in question during rehearsals for the increasingly dynamic “Get Back”
On his way home: Deemed “faceless” by Paul McCartney “Two of Us” goes through a final set of rehearsals before the entire trajectory of the Beatles’ Get Back sessions changes completely. Plus, peeling back a myth about the song and Grapefruit.
See you ’round the clubs: On January 10, 1969, George Harrison quit the Beatles. This is the story of what happened that afternoon, what didn’t happen and the reasons why. It’s peak They May Be Parted, — my longest post to date.
A quick one, while he’s away: With George gone, the Beatles carried on as a trio with a vocal plus-one. Here’s what happened when Yoko Ono took a seat on George’s blue cushion.
Go on, as if nothing’s happening: No plans, no guitarist, no problem for the Beatles, who completed their first full week at Twickenham with no clarity on who, where or what the future would bring. “If (George) doesn’t come back by Tuesday,” John Lennon said, “we get Clapton.”
Et cetera: A box for George and a bag for John. Song notation and interview negotiation. There’s a story in these stray conversations that didn’t quite fit in other posts.
January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipice — something we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so.
Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.
While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism.
“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.
“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”
“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”
Nevertheless, make the most of it.
George Martin clarified the deeper issue.
“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”
Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career.
“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”
In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.
Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.
“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”
“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”
“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”
Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”
When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.
“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”
It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”
When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”
George Martin, proofreader
The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.
On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.
“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.
“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”
While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.
“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.
“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”
Hugh Curry, January 1969
No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.
At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …
“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”
Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure.
“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”
After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m.
Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple.
“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!”
John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.
Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.
Yoko: Oh, you like it?
Curry: No, I don’t.
The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.
“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.”
Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”
Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.
A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada.
And speaking of record labels …
“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked.
“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.”
“It seems highly unlikely we’d be on,” the guitarist told the director.
With a member of the band unexpectedly AWOL, he was justifiably skeptical the Beatles could stage the big concert to end the film.
“I mean, the law of averages are against it,” he continued. “I think if you could get the juggler on with a couple more clubs, that’d fill in a bit of time.”
That guitarist speaking was George Harrison, and the production was A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first feature, filmed Spring 1964. On the afternoon of Friday, January 10, 1969, it wasn’t a self-deprecating Ringo Starr who was missing, it was a self-reliant George himself, having sprung Twickenham during his “Winter of Discontent.” This left the remaining Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg juggling ideas for how to close what would become “Let It Be,” their final film, and who else would be on stage playing lead guitar.
Michael and Ringo, January 1969. From Peter Jackson’s Get Back.
More than a week into the Get Back sessions, Michael continued making similar iterations of the same pitch for the show.
“One of my ideas is if we go to, like, anywhere, that we mightn’t just announce any times for the concert at all,” he said to Paul McCartney later in the day on the 10th. “We’ll set them (the Beatles) up in whatever desert we do it in, and they start to play. And one by one, and ten by ten, people will come in.”
“Inane, I’d call that,” Paul replied with a comedic aggression. “Straight off the top of my head. … Imbecilic. Salacious.”
(Like in his songwriting, at times, Paul sometimes spoke words that simply sounded good, even if they didn’t make sense in context.)
Michael deflected the response, saying “‘imbecilic’ sounded like a bad bug you get the flu from.”
Regaining focus, he invoked the show’s target date, 10 days hence: “I though that could make a very kind of groovy, trendy opening. Seriously, like: January 20, 1969.”
Moments later, the director and the others in the room — which extended beyond just the band — discussed the issue of visas and difficulties several of the Beatles’ peers (Donovan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) faced getting into the United States. They were open to several options, including Mexico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations.
“And Catalina, which George said wasn’t very nice,” Michael said.
Not that it mattered what George thought then, he’d quit the group almost an hour earlier.
“So what’s our next move?” Michael asked the others.
“We split George’s instruments,” John Lennon said to laughter.
It was clear in the immediate they were not considering splitting the band, though. If the Beatles were going to be on the move, it would just be in a different iteration. Abandoning the project wasn’t a consideration at present.
The conversation would shortly return to locations, with the Roman amphitheater at Sabratha in Tunisia remaining at the forefront, all other contenders just conversation pieces to keep the group engaged. Michael’s long-preferred destination, he enlisted a “reconnaissance team” that included Beatles assistant Mal Evans and producer Denis O’Dell slated to scout the venue the upcoming Monday.
“There has to be someone to say, ‘The weather’s fine, come on in,’” Michael said.
Paul repeated familiar, feasible suggestions (The Cavern Club, Tower Ballroom) along with new nearby options (the Underground) and more distant, outlandish and outrageous ones (“the mouth of a volcano near Ecuador”).
“I think we should do it for more than 500 people,” Michael added.
It was a tough time to think big. This was an afternoon and evening of distractions and interruptions.
In the wake of George’s departure, there were several coincidental arrivals at Twickenham: A package arrived for Paul (marked “‘handle tenderly”); several “EMI heavies” wandered around the soundstage; a CBC interviewer prepped John and Yoko for an infamous interview that would come a few days later.
Rather than return to a full rehearsal, the group joined Michael in telling several imbecilic (and salacious) knock-knock jokes. Of more interest was Michael discussing his career and relationship with Orson Welles, whom decades later he would discover was his father. One lengthy anecdote (which was also detailed in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance”) described Michael acting in Welles’ 1960 stage production of “Chimes of Midnight” when Welles briefly stormed out of the production in anger.
An afternoon replete with nostalgia would soon continue after Paul returned to the piano (you can hear “The Long and Winding Road” and “Adagio for Strings” clearly on the tapes in the background). After quizzing the band on whether they had endured any scuffles with their fans (Ringo recalled being kicked in the head), Michael asked if they looked back fondly on their frenzied touring period.
John replied with an affected accent, the voice of a ragged bluesman looking back on a lifetime, not merely a few years earlier:
Why, I think of it every day. I think what fun we had when we was [sic] the Beatles, playing and rocking with the group around the world. I said, ‘Richard, you remember that?’ He says, ‘No, I hadn’t joined you then.’
Now with the band facing a new vacancy, would they soon get to Beatle No. 30?
As if on cue, moments later, Michael barked an instruction for additional equipment:
“Glyn, Yoko wants a mic.”
She was back, but the music was hardly intense, with Paul having moved onto his White Album ode “Martha My Dear.” Now, her vocals were largely calm and controlled, more comedic than anything.
While Yoko once again wailed, John — in conversation with Michael — laid out his plans to replace George. He didn’t suggest Yoko.
A few hours earlier, George told the other Beatles, “You need Eric Clapton.” The time had come for John to heed the advice, sharing it with Michael.
“I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play, ” John said. “Eric would be pleased. He left Cream because they’re all soloists. … The point is, if George leaves, do we want to carry on as Beatles?”
Harsh feedback shortly overwhelmed the room, obscuring some of the conversation on the tapes. But the discussion continued, as Yoko again passionately called out John’s name.
MLH: Maybe for the show, you would just say George is sick.
John: (Sincerely): No, I mean, if he leaves, he leaves.
MLH: But what’s the consensus, do you want to go on with the show and the work?
John: Yeah. If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Clapton.
John: Whaaaaat? (laughter)
John and Yoko continued to repeat each other’s names, but this was the couple playing for laughs. Meanwhile, John and Michael’s discussion continued through the call-and-response, bringing together the issue of show location with locking down a replacement guitarist.
MLH: And what about the venues? … If George comes back we go away, and if Clapton comes in we stay here.
John: We should just go on, as if nothing’s happening.
MLH: I think we should go away.
So eager to get the show on the road, Michael had the potential logistics lined up in his head, proposing the group spend the following week at Twickenham and the week after abroad, all conforming to the group’s timetable, which was in part defined by Ringo’s filming schedule for The Magic Christian.
“What I’ve always thought is we leave here next weekend (January 18-19) and do the show the following weekend (January 25-26) there, if we decide to go there,” Michael said. “And then come back on Monday (January 27), which is just inside Ringo’s seven days.” (The January 20, 1969, date floated previously must have only applied to a domestic show or an alternative, abbreviated schedule.)
Michael’s plans to this point were more extensive than expected, implying there really was no option, at least that he was eager to prepare, other than Sabratha.
“We’ve arranged everything food-wise to come in from Germany,” Michael said, adding for the skeptics, “I do not joke. It’s the same food from the American [military] base.”
Eric Clapton and John Lennon, from the Rock & Roll Circus, December 1968.
And if it wasn’t enough John was trying to enlist Eric Clapton to join the Beatles, Michael casually suggested a near reunion of Cream, if it meant just getting Paul and John to Libya for rehearsals, and Ringo — who was least receptive to travelling — to be minimally overseas.
“We can get out a session man for a couple days,” Michael said. “Or Ginger Baker can come for a few days. Just to kind of routine it.”
The discussion between John and Michael petered out as John joined Paul and Yoko on another jam. Unlike earlier, when the Beatles played hard blues rock out of rage, this improvisation was more subdued, a more gentle and at times an arguably pleasant performance, containing elements of “Castle of the King of Birds.” Paul was on piano, John on guitar and Ringo on tambourine with Yoko providing another disruptive vocal — although not quite as consistently intense than earlier in the day.
Soon, Paul shifted to the drums — and it’s a noticeable drop in quality from Ringo to Paul, as strong as the latter is as a multi-instrumentalist. More importantly, it freed up Ringo, who returned to conversing with Michael. But first, he played up for the cameras (and tapes).
Yeah, rock it to me baby, that’s what I like. You may think this is a full orchestra, but if you look closely you can see there’s only two people playing and one person singing. I know it sounds like Benny Goodman, but don’t worry. It’s the big sound of 1969! You bet your life. Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me. (Laughter)
Interested in the filmmaking, Ringo asked Michael precisely what he was doing — “I thought what we should do is the first sessions when you came back, make it very hand-held looking,” Michael said, pulling the curtain behind the sausage-making. More importantly, Michael shared his first-hand view on what he saw after George walked out.
“And the interesting thing is, Paul went to his amp. … I don’t know if you knew what you did, psychologically, after lunch. You (addressing Paul, who joined them) went at your amp like you shut the door into a closet. … And you (Ringo) were playing very hard. … And John was doing whatever he was doing.”
Ringo, Paul and Michael continued their conversation, as John provided background music — “Sun King” and “Dear Prudence.”
MLH: Have you ever had coverage when you were doing a whole album?
MLH: Have you ever wanted it?
Like it or not, the Beatles — what presently remained of them — were getting blanket coverage, and the real drama was happening in the studio, not on location.
“Are we meeting again Monday?” Michael asked hopefully in the waning moments of the day’s session.
“Yeah, I’ll have Eric, Jimi (Hendrix, although it could feasibly be Jimmy Page) and Tommy (Evans of the Iveys, perhaps?) lined up,” John replied, with varying and low degrees of sincerity.
Paul’s set his bar much lower.
“A7, D7, G7,” he instructed Maureen Starkey, who was visiting Twickenham that afternoon. “Get ’em off over the weekend and you’re in.”
(Ironically, armed with those chords, Maureen would have been able to fill in for George on his For You Blue.)
Paul with guitar protégée Maureen Starkey. From the Get Back trailer.
Before splitting for the day, Michael made sure to capture the scene. “We have this well-documented. And a lot of shots of the empty cushion.” We’ll see what Peter Jackson shows us in Get Back ’21, but this footage was left on the cutting-room floor of the final cut of Let It Be.
“And I guess that’s it,” wrapped up Michael, who wished the others luck in their planned weekend business meeting, which would include George. “And I hope everything really goes swell. I’d like to say, I’ve enjoyed our week together, hope one day we have another one like it.”
After George went we had a meeting out at John’s house, and I think John’s first comment was, ‘Let’s get Eric in.’ I said, “No!” I think John was half-joking. We thought, “No, wait a minute. George has left and we can’t have this — it isn’t good enough.’
For his part, Clapton repeatedly downplayed the idea he was an actual fallback option for the Beatles. In modern parlance, Clapton thought John used him as clickbait, and the friendship he had with George would have been a blocker anyway.
There may have been [a suggestion the Beatles would ask him to join]. The problem with that was, I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George — which was exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy, that I could be like a gun-slinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing, because I was too much a mate of George’s.
Several years later, after George’s death, Clapton literally laughed at the idea of joining the Beatles when he was interviewed for Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary “Living in the Material World”.
As he said in the clip, the Beatles could be the most close-knit quartet, but at the same time, “the cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled.”
The latter led the Beatles to this moment. After their first full day at Twickenham, on January 3, George described with envy The Band‘s ability to blur their domestic and working lives, something he witnessed first-hand when he visited the group and Bob Dylan six weeks prior. “They’ve got all that gear there, but … they’re just living, and they happen to be a band as well.”
Their man had been gone, for nigh on a few minutes.
John Lennon played a familiar riff on his guitar, the country-western lick from the middle of The Who’s 1966 mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”
“Soon be home!” sang John. Paul McCartney added an aggressive harmony as John wailed the refrain.
After a brief fade in the tapes, John returned with a spontaneous scream that devolved into a wheeze, then a cough. On regaining his composure, he barked an instruction:
OK, George, take it!
Then John giggled.
George Harrison quit the Beatles after lunch on Friday, January 10, 1969, and at the end of the second week of the Get Back sessions, the Fab Four were a sub-fab three-piece — John, Paul and Ringo Starr. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, was there too, a given since the previous year.
“So pissed,” John said in response to nobody, certainly meaning drunk in the British vernacular, but it registered as the Americanism, too: anger at George’s brazen and sudden departure.
Just like they did when Ringo quit during the White Album sessions less then five months earlier, and just like they did a year later when John was far gone from the group, the remaining Beatles immediately continued as a three-piece.
The music restarted behind an angry riff from John, and Paul and Ringo quickly fell into the jam. The riff was another iteration of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which earlier in the week was manifest in Paul’s improvised “My Imagination,” and previously formed the foundation of “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.”
John taunted George again.
“Soon be home!”
The band begins at ten to six: Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others at the filming of the Rock & Roll Circus.
This quick one came grooving up slowly, with the improv running in spurts for about 20 minutes, John’s full-throated scream ending one portion of the jam. The Beatles briefly “covering” the Who, itself a terrific curio, isn’t nearly the most important takeaway.
Yoko Ono at Twickenham, January 10, 1969.
The most shocking moment filmed for a Beatles movie ended up on the cutting-room floor — perhaps it makes the final edit of the forthcoming Get Back ’21 — and came several minutes into the jam.
That’s when Yoko seized the spotlight and filled a vacuum, her voice dramatically piercing the Twickenham soundstage during what Michael later described in his autobiography as a “half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums.” But the most memorable instrument was Yoko’s voice.
Ringo recounted the afternoon in the 1990s for the Anthology book:
None of us realised until we went to lunch that George had gone home. When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.
Before and after
She wasn’t simply there. She was there on George’s blue cushion, and she was there on George’s microphone. George eventually found out, too. As described in the previous post, George referred to Yoko “just screaming, doing her screeching number” in a 1977 interview, a moment he didn’t witness but later saw on film.
Ringo Starr “playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before.” From the unreleased The Long and Winding Road documentary.
Musically, the improvisation veered into slightly different corners of blues rock and it maintained the same general, rollicking intensity throughout.
Either you like Yoko or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able to persuade you either way (and I wouldn’t try to change your mind anyway). It’s reasonable, though, to describe her performance as completely in character.
Ringo indeed played a little out of his mind, and at one point, Paul abandoned the bass line to evoke feedback — John did the same with his guitar. At a couple separate moments, John returned to the “soon be home” riff from “A Quick One,” but he didn’t sing along. Throughout the entire performance, there’s no attempt by the others to join Yoko on vocals, but the remaining Beatles were a pretty good hard-rock combo when they chose to be. Even Yoko took notice of Ringo’s aggressive performance, changing her lyric to call out Ringo’s name, an unintentionally funny moment after a hypnotic repetition of John’s name. There was no full roll call, though. Yoko never shouted “Paul.”
Somebody calls out his name …
While there was frustration and anger in the wake of George’s temporary flight from the Beatles, one can sense momentary release. Paul’s project was at a standstill, but his most difficult relation had fled. John had one fewer person — and the most vocal one — balking at Yoko’s presence. Still, the Beatles lost their lead guitarist and junior songwriter. He left them, and that clearly was a big problem.
The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’ – Yoko Ono, January 10, 1969 (or was it Nigel Tufnel, 1984?)
For Yoko, though, there was no frustration, only relief. At this instant, the blue cushion was hers. She went from sitting beside John to inheriting her own equal space. If George was 25 percent of the world’s greatest democracy, then she, in this moment, owned that share — the solo vocalist alongside the guitarist, bassist and drummer. In the currently available film of this sequence, from the aborted The Long and Winding Road documentary and in various Internet destinations, we see a broad smile on Yoko’s face as she sings John’s name.
I was just trying to sit there very quietly without disturbing them. You know, John always wanted me there and if I was not there, John might not have gone to those sessions.
This session marked her opportunity to be an artist and create a needed disturbance. The jam couldn’t have completely satisfied her creative need, but at worst, it allowed her to collaborate with John in his primary space, and scratch a specific itch.
After about 20 minutes, starting with the initial “A Quick One” sequence, the jam abruptly concluded as John searched for technical help with a microphone.
“OK, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,'” barked John, as this incarnation of the Threetles (or the first Plastic Ono Band, for that matter) rehearsed their newest material in a fashion they’d never present onstage. The performance was jagged and angry, and just a few days after dismissing their farewell concert, the Beatles became their own version of Cream, the disintegrating power trio. Yoko did not participate in this part of the session.
Then it turned. “Everybody had a hard year,” was sung by John with such extreme gruff, it turned over into laughter. The stab at the song devolved into Paul playing the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon (for the second time that day) to close it out.
Remember when John said he was “pissed”? The British slang was definitely the vibe. The Beatles had no care in the world and were, in this moment of relative bedlam, enjoying themselves. The full-throated “Don’t Let Me Down” was the closest they came to a sincere attempt at a song, and it wasn’t particularly sincere. The next 15 minutes on the tapes featured John and Paul trading small bites of a variety of oldies (“Til There Was You,” “C’mon Everybody” “Mack The Knife,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “On a Sunny Island”). The hilarious performance devolved into moos, baas, barks, meows and whistles.
A highlight — so to speak — from this sequence was John’s droll destruction of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” as Paul played willing accomplice.
George’s departure from the group completely stalled any momentum toward planning the Beatles’ live show as well as reasonably developing new songs in progress. Yet, John, Paul and Ringo stayed in the studio and played purely for their own amusement. This is the Beatles at Friday afternoon happy hour. Meanwhile, Michael continued to discuss how to power the show — and group — forward.
Though we’d still hear her perform with the Beatles again before the end of the day, the band’s long-term future wasn’t ever going to include Yoko Ono — the Beatles weren’t the proto-Plastic Ono Band, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul and Ringo would have allowed it even if John insisted. The question now, was in what form the band would progress.
When I first started listening to the Purple Chick A/B Road bootleg about nine years ago, diving into a hulking torrent file of the Nagra Tapes, the first track I listened to was on the January 10, 1969, set of files, one marked “A Quick One While He’s Away.” I had Beatles bootlegs on vinyl and cassette for a long time, and knew full well the general scope of the Get Back sessions, but I hadn’t listened to every possible cover song or outtake from the era. (That would be crazy!) I didn’t know they attempted “A Quick One.”
After playing the track, I realized they never did attempt it at all. But listening to the context around the track — George’s departure from the group, which I also knew much about, but never heard on tape — convinced me to make a better effort and listen to the entirety of the tapes from the very beginning, and really study what happened. That curiosity directly led to creating this blog, weeks later.
On the afternoon of January 10, 1969, seven days into the Get Back sessions and nearly 10 years into his tenure with the band — a term that began when he was 15 years old — George Harrison quit the Beatles.
George: I’m leaving the band now.
John Lennon: When?
After a cut in the Nagra tapes, which captured the exchange, George casually continued: “Get a replacement. [Place an ad] in NME and get a few people.”
Likewise, for the sake of the complete record, there is simply no indication on the tapes of what happened between the final take of “Two of Us,” and George’s departure, the immediate spark of George’s decision (if there was any). Like the Beatles themselves, the tapes were out to lunch.
“My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said,” Michael wrote in his 2011 autobiography Luck and Circumstance. In his “role as documentarian,” he had asked his sound engineer to mic the flowerpot on the dining room table as George encountered the band at lunchtime. Per Michael, George concluded by saying, “See you ’round the clubs.”
George grabs his coat on his way out of the utter sty that was the studio at Twickenham, as pictured on an earlier day. (Screen capture from Beatles Anthology)
What exactly happened over lunch is a source of legitimate dispute in Beatles history. Dig in — here are varied accounts that span 50 years.
The most contemporary retelling of the events of January 10, 1969, comes from George himself, later that day, in his personal diary.
Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunch time – left the Beatles – went home and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident Studio — had chips later at Klaus and Christines went home.
George’s diary entry for January 10, 1969, as later published in the Living in the Material World book in 2011.
There wasn’t any Twitter in 1969 (although John and Yoko probably would have dominated the platform had it existed), so when George left the Beatles, it didn’t instantaneously go viral. But within days, George’s resignation was widely reported around the world — jumping off an original report by the Daily Sketch (more on their reporting to come in a subsequent post) — though he was already back with the band by the time those reports came out.
It wasn’t just that George left the Beatles. Word was out that that things got violent.
Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison did NOT have a punch-up and Apple — their business company — is NOT on any financial rocks.
The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.
It all began when a pop weekly reported Lennon as saying that Apple was “losing money every week” and needed tightening up.
Then came the rumour that Lennon and Harrison came to blows.
But last night, after a five-hour meeting between the four Beatles and their business associates at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters, explanations came fast.
“The so-called punch-up between John and myself? There’s no truth in it. We are still good friends.”
Ringo Starr called the story of a punch-up “a load of old rubbish.” He said: “I was there when it was supposed to have taken place — it’s quite untrue.”
A few days later, on January 21, Ringo told BBC’s David Wigg that “there’s that famous old saying, you’ll always hurt the one you love,” when he was asked if the group was still close. But he spoke without any specifics regarding George’s departure, just generic reconciliatory language.
“[W]e all love each other and we all know that,” Ringo said. “But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know. Sort it out. And so we’re still really very close people.”
One of the Beatles’ official mouthpieces, the Beatles Book Monthly fan club magazine predictably poured cold water on the idea of a physical altercation in its March 1969 issue. In his diary feature, Mal Evans went as far to write there wasn’t any argument at all when George “stalked” out.
Matching the account on the tapes, Mal said George simply came over during lunch to “quietly” say he was going home. “There WASN’T a fight, physical or verbal,” Mal wrote. “There WEREN’T any tempers or shouting. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the press afterwards.”
George Harrison maintained in subsequent interviews that no punches were thrown. But another George had another memory.
“They actually came to blows,” George Martin told Phillip Norman in his 2008 biography John Lennon: The Life. “You’d think it would have been with Paul, but it was John. It was all hushed up afterwards.”
Here’s where the retelling of the day’s events descends more deeply into farce.
According to a separate account from EMI engineer Dave Harries, a frazzled Martin only arrived at Twickenham that day as Harrison departed from the studio.
As related in Ken Womack’s Martin biography Sound Pictures:
I remember that George Martin had just backed across the car park in his Triumph Herald and knocked a dent in the door of George Harrison’s Mercedes and he didn’t have time to tell him he’d dented his car before George walked out in a huff and drove off.
While George Martin was around to some arguable degree that morning (and at the sessions overall), there was no doubt fellow producer Glyn Johns was there on January 10. He was an activeparticipant on the day’s tapes.
Johns, too, wrote of his recollections of that day in his 2014 autobiography Sound Man:
I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham on that cold gray afternoon with Denis [O’Dell], the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.
It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple of days later.
While an implication is there, Glyn wouldn’t spill the beans. Although in Graeme Thompson’s 2015 George Harrison biography Behind the Locked Door, Glyn conceded there may not be too many beans to spill:
When it became apparent that there was going to be a bit of an argument those of us who weren’t in the band left the room. It was clear that it would be intrusive for us to remain. So what actually was said and and what went on I don’t know, but I do know that George left the band that day. The whole thing was very uncomfortable, and it was very embarrassing for me and others who were not in the band to be close by while this was going on — to have to watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath. It was very unpleasant and I felt really awkward.
The Beatles pre-enact their January 10, 1969, fistfight more than five months before it probably didn’t happen. (From the Mad Day Out photo session in 1968).
More than 50 years after the fact, what we know with absolute certainty is that George Harrison quit the Beatles the afternoon of January 10, 1969. Everything else — most prominently whether there was a physical altercation — is ultimately speculative.
It’s not just what happened that’s in question, but the why. We’ll never unearth that last straw, the specific reason George quit when and how he ultimately did on January 10. There’s just too much open to interpretation, and as long as the tapes of the day are considered complete, there is simply no smoking gun, no spark that broke George. The conversation with DickJames, the rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Two of Us” — these moments lacked an obvious trigger beyond what were usual pockets of growing frustration.
It’s worth mentioning the other three Beatles openly discussed their feelings and opinions in the wake of George’s departure on the Nagra tapes, directly addressing his growing sense of frustration as a junior member of the group. They were aware of this, and their conclusions were consistent with much of what is discussed below. I’ll examine those specific conversations, which also touch on off-site meetings, however, in future posts when we reach those days on the blog’s timeline.
Still, by rewinding many of the same sources we examined above in this post to construct what happened, we can put together a loose reasoning as to why George left the Beatles. Notably absent from each of these recollections is the one mentioned specifically in the original flurry of news reports — George’s fury with John over the latter’s comments about Apple’s difficult financial situation. George and John even had light-hearted discussions about business earlier in the day. It seems clear the Apple finances excuse for George’s departure was a leap of faith by the media. Musical and personal differences were responsible.
Back to Mal’s Diary in the March ’69 Beatles Book Monthly:
Singing and playing together would always be fine with [George] and the last thing he was suggesting was any break-up of the Beatles. So that day, January 10, George didn’t want to stay at Twickenham rehearsing for a show he couldn’t believe in.
And what — or who — could make George an such an unbeliever? In published interviews over the subsequent decades, George was at least consistent on why he left: His famed filmed argument with Paul (“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play“) gave him a moment of clarity.
From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:
I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway, after one of those first mornings I couldn’t stand it. I decided this is it! — it’s not fun any more — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving.
His Anthology interviews, conducted in the early 1990s and first broadcast in 1995, yielded similar memories:
They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’
Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I knew John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’
Paul wanted nobody playing on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”
In other words, George’s recollections were colored by the Let It Be movie. He’s just like the rest of us!
George elevated the “I’ll play” argument in a way that otherrecentencounters, which were also filmed but not included in the final release, did not.
“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”
Even Paul had the self-awareness to admit his role in George’s departure, saying in the Anthology book with a hilarious parenthetical: “These things had been going down in Let It Be. George leaving because he felt he was being told what to do (I think that’s why he left).”
Ringo was more certain of the reason, going way back. He corroborated George’s accounts in 1971, telling Melody Maker:
George had to leave because he thought Paul was dominating him. [H]e was, because Michael Lindsay-Hogg liked Paul I would think more than the rest of us.
Yoko Ono has unjustifiably been blamed for a lot of terrible things over the last half-century. Among the dramatis personae of the Get Back sessions, she was largely out of the spotlight to this point on the tapes, often speaking for John but not fighting for overall attention, certainly not as the group actually made music. And, perhaps by the filmmaker’s design, Yoko was usually off-mic. But since the White Album sessions, she was a disruptive figure to the other three Beatles. While Paul earned his share of the blame, Yoko drove George out of Twickenham, too.
“[S]uperimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time,” George later said in interviews for Anthology. “John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”
The accusation of bad vibes wasn’t something John quickly forgot. From his famously raw Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, conducted in December 1970:
George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ‘straight-forward,’ you know that game of ‘I’m going to be up front,’ because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’d got a lousy name in New York, and you give off bad vibes. That’s what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why.
There’s a scene [in Let It Be] where Paul and I are having an argument, and we’re trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I’m not there and Yoko’s just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that’s where I’d left.
Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row after discussing — and denying — any fight between the two. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has closely followed the group’s history, the combination of the four Beatles, their associates and the passage of a half century makes for a most compelling but absolutely terrible narrator. Barring the emergence of additional footage or audio, we’ll never know the trigger for George’s departure. Maybe Yoko did do something specific to put him over the edge (the digestive biscuit episode allegedly happened later, so that wouldn’t be it). Or it could have been something John said — or didn’t say, leaving his opinions to Yoko. Maybe the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” argument between George and Paul really did change everything.
Or maybe John had it all figured out for an interview he gave for Earth News in 1976 — a quote later used to great effect in Anthology:
[L]ike people do when they’re together, they start picking on each other. It was like, ‘It’s because of you — you got the tambourine wrong — that my whole life is a misery. It became petty, but the manifestations were on each other because we were the only ones we had.
After George left the Beatles on January 10, 1969, he drove back to his Esher home, ended the affair and began his reconciliation with Pattie. Oddly, those decisions didn’t reach the threshold of snacking with the Voormanns’ to make his diary. It wasn’t a choice of the Beatles or Pattie, but like John suggested, perhaps George’s musical issues were amplified by his marital issues.
George wasn’t working for the Beatles anymore that afternoon, but he remained on the clock. In his first act as a temporarily liberated solo artist, George played, you know, whatever he wanted to play, and he wrote “Wah-Wah,” which later appeared on the All Things Must Pass LP and was the opener of his first solo performance, at The Concert For Bangladesh. George couldn’t have found a more symbolic beginning to his stage debut as a solo headliner, opening with a song born from his first independent moment.
“‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal,” George later wrote in I Me Mine.
George’s hand-written lyrics to “Wah-Wah.” (Published in I Me Mine)
“It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument,” George told Crawdaddy in 1977.
“It was such a headache.”
Professional clashes with Paul, personnel issues with Yoko (and John), personal crises with Charlotte and Pattie — these were all reasons George left the Beatles. If Paul wasn’t so pushy, maybe it would have made dealing with Yoko and the problems at home easier. If Yoko wasn’t so ubiquitous and John withdrawn, maybe George could work more easily with Paul with one less work distraction. If George’s marriage was fine, maybe he could have slogged through the work day, more easily accepted his continued junior role and at least had an opportunity to unwind and unload in a relaxed home.
But each of those factors played off the other. He’s just like the rest of us.
Following a lengthy but productive workshop of “Get Back” early on January 10, 1969, Paul McCartney conceded the Beatles were “going to hate these [new songs by the time] we do them [live].” And they were already starting to feel it.
“My favorite” was John Lennon’s glib reply after Paul introduced “Two of Us” as the next song to be rehearsed.
The song’s author himself was salty, too, with Paul criticizing the song at the start of this 30-minute sequence as “faceless” after the day’s first run-through.
(This throwaway joke is worthy of a brief sidebar. It’s treated as fact that the band Grapefruit, who were signed to Apple Publishing and named by John after Yoko Ono’s book of the same name, were offered — but refused — to record “Two of Us.” That fact appears sourced entirely from the above quote by John, which also appeared in the book packaged with the Let It Be LP. Not discernible in print, John said this with a laugh, seemingly underwhelmed by Grapefruit at this point in their career and jokingly ready to hand off this faceless effort to a juice-less Grapefruit.)
A slightly defensive Paul backed off his critique. “No, it’s all right, the song. It’s just not very interesting to me yet.”
“The question’s always the same, and the answer’s always the same. Maybe in the studio, it’s acoustic.”
When he wasn’t micromanaging (see below), Paul had no problem opening the floor to an organic solution, and he sounded especially — and uncharacteristically — happy to see the working week nearly over. “OK, just run through it. … See, George, you can just [plays galloping guitar part], and then try to tart it up. I know that’s what I said not to do last time, but it’s Friday. Let’s try it.”
After another attempt petered out, Paul refocused on the song’s bridge, sounding an air of desperation. “We’ve just got to do something about this middle eight before it’s too late. … It’s time for riffs. That’s the only thing that’s going to help all of this.” Still, his own detailed suggestions crossed into the comical.
“Do something slow, four in the bar, with a little bit of kick to it,” Paul said before laughing at the absurdity of his requested word salad. Still, the group added minor flourishes here and there, with Ringo working a bossa-nova tempo in the bridge at one point, while later trying a “Peggy Sue”-inspired pattern.
Frustrated, Paul conceded that he’d “never been stuck with the middle eight, but it’s all right.” John countered that it was a typical middle eight, while George — who was largely quiet during the “Two of Us” session — suggested the group mix in a Mellotron part.
And while Paul said the middle eight remained lacking — John proposed, to laughs, some choreography –“Two of Us” rehearsals wrapped up on the tapes, with the final takes featuring a variety of experimental parts, including a guitar part from George that had a echo of the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney” (or maybe it’s just by way of his own “If I Needed Someone”).
In those same final moments — and ultimately the song didn’t advance much further from where they began that day — Paul sang “four of us” at one point. That was quite poignant, because just minutes later on the tapes, the Beatles would, in fact, consist of just three of them.
If I needed someone, George Harrison vs. Eric Clapton edition. (Insert Pattie Boyd joke here)
“You need Eric Clapton.”
“No, you need George Harrison.”
As the Beatles worked on the days-old “Get Back,” it was Harrison himself who suggested they call on his friend, the erstwhile Cream sharpshooter, to add an extra line or a solo to the quickly developing song. John Lennon and Paul McCartney disagreed, trying to prop up George’s confidence and desire — and offer a specific instruction, too, as the band continued work after Dick James departed Twickenham on January 10, 1969.
With George the next to leave the venue and indeed the group, the exchange reads as a tidy — albeit exaggerated and deceptive — emblematic microcosm of the present situation. George was itching to leave, but maybe the rest of the band didn’t know it. Maybe George wasn’t certain just yet either.
The full group worked on “Get Back” and “Two of Us” that Friday, and both songs received a bit of tough love, mainly from its songwriter. But Paul pushed the others, too.
A deep, ongoing concern for Paul was George’s power chord that immediately followed the phrase “Get Back,” a chord he called “passé” in an earlier exchange with session arranger Glyn Johns.
“That suggests something to be, this chord,” Paul said. “We should try to get away from that,” as Paul subsequently refers to the chord as “passé” again, this time directly to George.
Paul: It was a couple of years ago.
George: No it wasn’t, it’s just a chord. … Some chords fit things.
Paul: Chords, like fashions and stuff. But it’s like drainies (drainpipe trousers).
George: Some drainies suit different occasions.
He eventually shrugged off the cross-talk, and the group continued to attack “Get Back,” with George searching for a power chord more in line with the latest trouser fashion.
“For the three of us, that’s good enough for the rock-and-roll thing,” Paul said just prior to George bringing up Clapton as a supplement to the song.
“Just doing simple things until it’s your go,” Paul told George. “Because otherwise you get the guitar conflicting with what you’re singing and all that. And then I’m trying to sing louder to get over the guitar. If you (George) vamp, then it takes away from his (John’s) vamping. It’s like the big, soft, lead guitarist, who just stands there and …”
“Little, soft, lead guitarist” interrupted George — who at 5-foot-10 stood the same height as Clapton (who would famously be called on again soon, but that’s for another post).
“No, the big one in our head, who just sort of goes [Paul played straight, staccato power chords]. You can either do that soft or good. I really think it’ll happen better if we’re just keeping it going. A clipped offbeat. ‘She’s a Woman.’ That was just a better rhythm than we have. And ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on the organ.”
Facing this tall order, the group moved into other facets of “Get Back,” including Ringo’s drum pattern, the vocal combinations, guitar solos — including a proposal for both John and George to each have one — and the lyrical content. While “Pakistanis” and “Puerto Ricans” tracked well enough to remain useful to Paul (“Meanwhile back at home there’s 20 Pakistanis living in a council flat”), he didn’t try to further deepen the political discourse. Instead characters like Sweet Loretta Martin and Jojo Jackson were introduced, and while the latter eventually lost the surname, both survived to the rooftop and into posterity.
“It fits — it’s a drag queen. ‘Get back to where you once belonged,’ Paul said.
John chipped in another line that mostly stuck: “But he knew it wouldn’t last.” Paul added the companion rhyme “California grass” although he conceded, “It’s daft, but we’ll straighten it out later.” (He didn’t).
While John and Paul actively hashed out the lyrics as a team, George was uninvolved and clearly disinterested in collaborating beyond defending his guitar parts (and later, making suggestions on a drum pattern to Ringo). Still, there was serious momentum toward building “Get Back,” and John was clearly into the song throughout, delivering a ripping vocal on several takes, at times singing the verses and chorus in unison with Paul or even solo.
Repeated stabs offered positive results, including funky takes featuring a groovy wah-wah solo by George. The song was fast and electric, and a strong example of the Twickenham sessions at their best, genuinely spirited.
And while John was eager to deepen the arrangement, Paul again tempered the organic enthusiasm. “We still haven’t gotten one straight through yet.” If it wasn’t the guitar part in the chorus, it was the guitar in the verses that nagged him.
Paul also worked to manage a since-discarded introduction that featured the three guitarists playing a “big, long, clear chord” while Ringo was asked to work out an extended arrangement on tom toms, squeezing in as long an introduction as feasible.
Despite the work, the mood at the moment was light. The melody line of “Get Back” reminded John of the old Perry Como hit “Catch a Falling Star,” prompting some giggles followed by a verse of that song. An even more unlikely reference came moments earlier, when — in referencing “Long Tall Sally” — Paul broke into the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon, with Ringo joining in.
As the Beatles wrapped this early-day stab at “Get Back,” the song settled into a defined structure, really starting to resemble the song Paul still trots out in concert a half-century later.
With the group ready to shift to “Two of Us,” John took note of the overall pace of the sessions at Twickenham.
“We’ve never learned this many numbers at once, have we?”
The pace of new material strained John’s attention span. That’s not a surprise. But in the hours before George left the band on January 10, 1969, the message from Paul to the lead guitarist was clear: You need to keep up, too. It wasn’t about handling the quantity of songs, which was John’s problem. It was about keeping up with the quality.
George’s chord selection was “passé.” It was of “a couple years ago.” George may have been matching Paul in productivity, consistently delivering newsongstothesessions, lapping John’s contributions. But he sill was very much the junior partner in this first month of the band’s final full year.
When George suggested the group bring in Clapton, it wasn’t a genuine dismissal of his own talents. It came from a clear weariness, an exhaustion. How could George not feel completely weary for the position he was put in by Paul, who was quick to call his own lyrics “daft” yet also describe George’s playing as “passé”?
A half-hour or so into the January 10 Nagra tapes, the visiting Dick James finally noticed something unusual at Twickenham.
“Are we interviewing?”
“This is my bug,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg answered. “I carry it with me, always.”
Paul McCartney chimed in: “We’re just constantly on film these days.”
“Oh, I see. Something’s happening,” Dick finally concluded.
He was half-right: Something was happening soon.
George Harrison was the third Beatle to arrive at Twickenham on the 10th, continuing a pattern over the first week of the group’s January 1969 sessions. He was the first to leave a few hours later, and he wouldn’t return to this studio again.
Liberal as the members of the band were to speak their minds — or at least not be transparently cagey — with knowledge of film and tapes rolling (including Michael’s not-so-undercover portable mic), the Beatles had a secret they wanted to discuss, but they never went so far as letting the cat out of the bag or into the bug.
Dick James and the group, January 10, 1969.
“Did Neil [Aspinall] ring you last night?” Paul asked earlier in the day, with Ringo answering in the negative. “Sad news on the wheeling and dealing scene. … I don’t think he wants to say much.”
Later, on John’s arrival, George goes into slightly further detail on the meeting of the Flocculent Four.
“Neil would like us to have a shave tomorrow” — a Saturday — “only because we’re busy every other day.”
George further discussed the upcoming meeting – spinning it as a positive, in contrast with Paul’s interpretation — without other details beyond the hopes of it happening at 8 or 9 in the morning “so we can have the rest of the day to ourselves. Neil was very excited.”
John: Good news? George: Yes, very. … It’s so good, he just told me briefly what it was. But I’d have to whisper it or write it on a paper and you’d have to swallow it.
Without further detail, George mentions John Eastman by name right as the microphone refocuses on Dick and Paul, clearly suggesting the meeting involved Paul’s future brother-in-law, whose legal counsel the Beatles received at some point in January 1969 regarding NEMS.
“Do you think if I paint this brown and put red on top it’ll look like like a cigar?” Michael asked of his spy microphone.
George: You wouldn’t see the red, just the ash. Ringo: Hide it in one of those film cigars. MLH: Yes, like Groucho Marx.
Perhaps the inventive director wanted to get his bug in the ear of Apple Electronics’ Magic Alex.
“To change the subject,” Glyn Johns asked as the morning continued, “That phasing device that Alexis [Mardas] has built, have you actually tried it out?” (Glyn — along with the Beatles — are counted among the pioneersof the technique.)
“He just comes across things as he’s designing,” said George of Alex. “He just designs it and then he says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve done this.’ But he hasn’t actually made it because he’s busy building recording studios.”
Everyone would soon learn “building” was a loose interpretation. More on that when the action shifts to 3 Savile Row.
At Michael’s request, George retold the origin story of Alex’s relationship with the Beatles.
“He met John Dunbar — or John Dunbar met him. Alex asked if he could stay and build a light machine for the Stones tour. So he stayed and did that. … And then he met John, and then he met us. And he’s been there ever since.”
“Is that device he’s going to put out on records going to work?” Michael asked. “Where you can’t tape it? Great idea.”
Home taping is(n’t) killing music. (Source: Ebay)
Ringo agreed with Alex’s primitive, unrealized copy-protection scheme, but said John was against it — why would the Beatles want to stop the kids from getting their hands on music? But John held the minority opinion.
“In America they have those cassette tapes,” George said. “That means its easy if somebody buys one and then rolls off their own 4 million and sell it. Everybody loses out on that because people bought it, and yet some cunts made all the money for doing fuck-all except thieving it.”
The idea of an intrusive “This is an Apple Record” messaging dropped into the record was embraced too. “It’s a good idea,” Michael said, “because if you’re rich enough to buy a tape recorder, you’re rich enough to buy a record, really.”
Conversation quickly shifted from Alex — “We should get all his tricks,” George said — and the record business at large to the immediate business at hand. And it gives a clear picture to George’s state of mind in the hours before he quit the Beatles.
“I’m getting tired … just coming here, I’m bored stiff.” Openly frustrated with the directionless situation and feeling trapped at Twickenham, George asked if the group was still planning on rehearsing the next day, which would be their sixth straight at work.
Michael doubted it — he wanted to get rid of a nagging cough, and anyway, “I think we’ve had quite a good week.” This was, remember, the last day of their first full week for these sessions, and just their seventh day in the studio overall.
At this point, John, who was pretty much always the last to arrive to Twickenham, did just that with Yoko. Again, Michael touts his discreet yet disclosed microphone.
“If anyone says anything interesting, will you remember it?”
“Dick James is a fascist bum,” John replied loudly, though clearly out of earshot of the publisher, who was in the midst of another business-related exchange with an inattentive Paul, touting things like “the consistency of earnings.” Referring to Dick as “pig” moments later, John’s feelings were certainly clear, but he also wasn’t confronting him, this morning anyway.
Whether it was playing for the cameras (and microphones) or just trying to keep the darker side of the business out of the studio, John was upbeat and friendly in chatting directly with Dick.
Step on the gas: The Daily Mirror from January 4, 1969.
Having hyped the “tremendous music book trade” and briefly addressing and then downplaying a published quote from the Daily Mirror from the previous weekend — “Will the Beatles record any of [the songs from the Lawrence Wright collection]? Said Mr. James: ” Now, that’s an interesting thought. … I doubt it, but it would be a gas if they did!” — the conversation turned as at often did, back to television.
John sounded sincerely charmed his song was getting the prime-time treatment. “Oh, she’s doing that? I thought she did ‘Fool on the Hill’.”
Alas for John, “[‘Good Night’ is the] B-side,” replied Dick. “We put them back to back. … it’s a nice medium waltz. It sounds like “True Love,” that kind of feel, makes it very commercial. (Because everything in Beatles history ties together, it’s worth nothing seven years after this conversation, George himself recorded “True Love” for his 33 1/3 LP, albeit without the original waltz arrangement.
Another cover, Arthur Conley’s version of “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” — as likely pictured in one of the photos from the Get Back Book that accompanied the Let It Be LP (look for the ATCO label) — drew George’s interest. “That’ll be the big American one? … It’s gone 50 now? Great!”
After fishing for a cigarette, Dick steered the conversation with George to a deep shared interest: cars.
“I would never have a Yankee car, not for this country,” Dick said. “They’re just a bit too big. Nineteen-feet long. ”
George: You look at it, and there’s all this plastic. Dick: A load of bull all over the place. George: Even the wood in it is like wallpaper.
They could hardly find a redeeming characteristic in American cars. “I can’t stand brakes on American cars,” Dick said, with George likewise bemoaning power brakes. “I nearly killed myself,” Dick said of owning a Buick Skylark.
George’s ride at the time was a Mercedes 600, as seen in the Let It Be film.
Not quite the driver and six months away from wrecking his British-made Austin Maxi, John broke to tell Paul, who had finished his piano stint and rejoined the others, the good news: “Vera Lynn’s done ‘Good Night’ and ‘Fool on the Hill.'”
After Dick recapped Lynn’s promotional schedule, Paul was ready to really get to work.
“OK, should we start?”
Dick left the scene having promised Paul to “send some discs down.”
And with that, the group returned to work on what had the potential to be their own next disc and the next batch of Northern Songs.
“If you’re listening late at night/You may think the band are not quite right But they are/They just play it like that”
The second verse of “Only A Northern Song” was written almost two years before the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions; coincidentally, it was released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP 72 hours after the events of this post (in the U.S. — it came out in the U.K. a week later).
The Beatles most definitely were not quite right on January 10, 1969. George Harrison, John and Paul’s bandmate since 1958, before anyone was a Beatles, would soon the Beatles and there’s nothing right about that. But in a sense, they were quite right, they “just play (it) like that.”
There are multiple reasons George left the Beatles on January 10, but Dick James wasn’t one of them, despite the timing of his visit and the publisher and Northern Songs historically irritating George to the point it inspired a song. Dick wasn’t a true villain in the Beatles’ story contemporaneously, and he wasn’t a divisive figure to the group until he chose to leave their orbit by selling off Northern Songs to ATV a few months later. To this point relationship may have been deteriorating, but hadn’t in any way collapsed.
Tuesday’s on the phone to Dick James. 1968 at Savile Row.
Status as “a fascist bum” notwithstanding, Dick — a generally respected elder like George Martin or Brian Epstein — could still talk music-hall numbers with Paul and Ringo, and cars with George. This visit said more about the Beatles themselves than Dick, reinforcing the group’s innate ability to isolate business from pleasure, whether the pleasure was making music amongst themselves or happily discussing frivolities with a man George later called a con man and thief. And even when talking business — like ownership of “Boomps-A-Daisy” and how “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” covers fared on the charts — conversation could easily veer to power brakes or the kids at home.
It may have been in Hunter Davies’ words, but in his authorized biography of the Beatles that was published only a few months earlier, he conceded “they all loved Dick James.”
The same 1968 Apple promotional film touting Magic Alex’s electronics department (as posted above) also serves a glimpse of Paul and John confronting Dick over money, with Paul firmly directing Dick to “go away, and you come back with something which you know won’t start this argument again.” Months later at Twickenham, with Dick not even aware the Beatles were filming their sessions, there was no such encounter. The argument wasn’t started again, but there wasn’t any change in their arrangement, either.
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.
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 manymornings 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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.
Continuing to interrupt regular programming to offer up a quick one while he’s away. He, being George Harrison, who quit the band this very day in 1969, marking the second Beatle to leave the group in five months (Ringo having left briefly during the White Album sessions).
A comprehensive post on this moment will come in the future, but wanted to mark the occasion on the actual anniversary.
Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg describes the incident, which happened at lunch, in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance.”
George was usually with us, joining in the conversation, affable and friendly and interested in the give- and- take, but on the day of the Tunisian discussion, he wasn’t with us as the meal started. At the morning rehearsal, I could tell by his silence and withdrawal that something was simmering inside him, and so in my role as documentarian, I’d asked our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table.
We’d finished the first course when George arrived to stand at the end of the table.
We looked at him as he stood silent for a moment.
“See you ’round the clubs,” he said.
That was his good-bye. He left.
John, a person who reacted aggressively to provocation, immediately said, “Let’s get in Eric. He’s just as good and not such a headache.”
Paul and Ringo would not be drawn in, and after lunch we went back to the studio where Paul, John, and Ringo improvised a ferocious riff, half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums. Yoko sat on the edge of the rostrum on the blue cushion which had been George’s and howled into his mike.
Part of the jam was The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away” — just one sliver of the song. And he indeed would “soon be home” — he was back with the group 11 days later when they moved the sessions to Savile Row, which was a condition of his rejoining.
George, meanwhile, was pretty productive once he got to his actual home.
…[A]fter one of those first mornings — I couldn’t stand it; I decided this is it! — it’s not fun anymore — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving. Wah Wah was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal. It was written during the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming — I’d left the band, gone home — and wrote this tune.
“Wah Wah” would never see life as a Beatles song, joining “All Things Must Pass,” “Hear Me Lord,” “Let it Down” and “Isn’t it a Pity” — four Harrisongs brought to the Get Back sessions for the Beatles to work on — on his solo debut instead.