Tag Archives: January 13

Jan. 13: And then there were two

The Beatles’ work ethic stood peerless, regardless of situations and obstacles placed in their way, even if they were responsible for those very obstacles.

Morning roundtable at January 13, 1969 at Twickenham. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the 2021 Get Back book)

“It’s good you sort of said to come to work,” said Ringo Starr on January 13, 1969, in response to a conversation he had with Paul McCartney the night before. That exchange happened after Paul showed up, nearly an hour after Ringo arrived to rehearsals, despite the assurances of the remaining Beatles to show up around the same time that Monday morning.

As it stood, Neil Aspinall didn’t expect anyone to show, according to director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

George Harrison remained AWOL. He walked out on the Beatles twice in three days — January 10, 1969, from a rehearsal, and 48 hours later from a meeting — no small feat.

John Lennon was missing to start the day, too, but he never announced he was leaving the band. John was always last to the sessions, anyway.

Twickenham Film Studios served as the Beatles’ office for seven working days. January 13 was different than the others in so many ways. Paul didn’t start the morning alone at the piano. George didn’t present a last-night song. There was no music at all for hours after the first members arrived.

More than 50 years after film and audio captured its events, January 13, 1969, served a significant role in opening Part 2 of the 2021 Get Back docuseries, occupying 18 drama-fueled minutes, perhaps the entire program’s emotional core.

We know more than we did before, the visuals adding unimaginable depth to moments previously available only by audio, but the show’s presentation opens more questions.

The initial sequence in the Day 8 segment in Get Back — that is, the first 9 of those 18 minutes, prior to John’s arrival for lunch — in reality accounted for more than two hours of audio on the Nagra tapes.

Thanks to the series, we can see the extent to which Ringo looks completely cooked. It’s enough that he has an 18-month-old at home and a significant movie role weighing on him, but this is a different man from the week before.  Michael appears defeated. Paul seems anxious and affected. This is a dispirited crew and the body language in this sequence is critical viewing — fidgeting, hair- (and beard-)pulling, face-rubbing.

January 13, 1969, should have been a day of at least mild celebration. The Yellow Submarine LP — a compilation of songs from the film (released in November 1968), previously unreleased tracks and George Martin’s orchestral score — was released in the United States that day, with the record arriving at stores in the U.K. later in the week.

The Beatles were “All Together Now” on record only; today’s cut was “All together, when?”

Glyn, Mal, Michael, Ringo and Kevin, early on January 13.

For the near-hour Ringo was the lone Beatle on site, idle talk dominated. Conversations with Michael,  Tony Richmond, Glyn Johns, Mal Evans and Kevin Harrington spanned the arts, including film (Wonderwall and the new Cinecenta theater), television (What’s the Matter With Baby Jane?), books (Pinktoes, Candy) and music (Simon & Garfunkel, Little Richard, Tiny Tim and James Brown, among the dozens of other names mentioned that morning).

Of highest importance when it came to television and music, they discussed their own production still in progress, too. When questioned, Michael told Ringo that he had enough material to this point for a good documentary, with one caveat.

MLH: It depends on what we’re allowed to use, if you know what I mean. It depends on how liquid the situation is. .. In other words, if we tell it like it is … then we’ve got a very good documentary. But if …

Ringo: We’re hiding …

MLH: If we’re hiding — the word I was fishing for but not be brave enough to say — but if we’re hiding, then we don’t have much of a documentary. A couple of days and things didn’t work out, that’s it. I’ll have an apple rind … as opposed to an apple core.

Ringo: An apple pip.

The Beatles’ gradual reassembly continued with Paul’s arrival, along with girlfriend Linda Eastman. While John’s attendance was in question, but Paul was saying he still expected him, Michael quickly changed the subject to a Lennon-McCartney composition and started playing Arthur Conley’s cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on a record player.

“[Molly is a singer] on a band? .. What’s wrong with him?” Paul asked, unimpressed with the recording. “I think I like the Bedrocks‘ [cover], if anything.”

The conversation soon turned to other contemporary pop/soul acts: Love Affair, The Equals — Paul sings a bit of their 1968 hit “Baby Come Back,” in particular — and the Foundations.

The multi-ethnic British combo presently owned the No. 2 hit on the UK charts. “Build Me Up, Buttercup” finished the previous week wedged between the chart-topping “Lily The Pink” by Mike McGear’s Scaffold and Marmalade’s own version of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” (Writing that song was like printing money for Northern Songs.)

Assuredly, Paul was predisposed to the No. 1 song, co-written by his brother, and No. 3, which he himself shared the writing credit.

As for No. 2? “I love it, yeah,” Paul said of “Build Me Up, Buttercup.”

It took nearly an hour and a half on the tapes — and about 30 minutes after Paul arrived at Twickenham — for the Beatles’ rhythm section to even address how they would approach the new day, which would at best still be missing one member. It’s a relatively level-headed discussion on tape.

Paul: I just thought I’d [write] a few words for the songs we haven’t got words for and stuff, just rehearse them a bit more.

Ringo: For what?

Paul: I dunno. It doesn’t matter, though. If we do an extra week and then we decide to chuck it, it’s just with the decision that near, and then we really just split and then just see you in a year’s time.

Ringo: It’s good you sort of said to come to work [last night]. Gives you another week here together. Cause it would have been, I’d have been there, you’d have been down there.

Paul: That’s what I thought. I just thought, what am I going to do tomorrow?

Ringo: I was going to lay in, actually and do the garden. [laughter]

Linda: Paint the ceiling.

Even here it’s acknowledged any split would be temporary, even if it lasts a year. That’s a long time, but not a lifetime.

A few seconds later, all we hear is Paul singing the chorus to “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” (He actually sang it a few minutes earlier as well, in a less memorable, more upbeat moment. We hear it on the Nagra tapes again, on the last day of the Get Back sessions, too.)

Thanks to the Get Back docuseries, we now know just how emotional Paul felt, even if that moment in the series isn’t presented in its actual sequence. It was shoehorned into a later discussion (which we’ll get to below).

“Why don’t you build me up?” (From Get Back)

Instead in real-time, Linda jump-started the conversation by suggesting the Beatles solve their issues by meeting, just the four of them alone (read about this part of the conversation at length here).

The morning of January 13, two Beatles remained absent, but in the wake of Sunday’s meeting at Ringo’s, only one of them — and the relationship with his girlfriend — was the key issue. Sparking off the above discussion, Paul shared several feelings on the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership within a physical space shared by Lennon/McCartney/Ono.

“I’d rather write without Yoko, thank you. That’s the way I write,” Paul said. “I’d go off to the bathroom to write a song and come back when it was done to show it to you, and sort of say, ‘What do you think, and let’s do a couple more words now.’

“But it’s difficult starting right from scratch with Yoko there … cause I start off on a Yoko beam. I start off writing songs about white walls [said to laughter] just cause I think John and Yoko would like that. And they wouldn’t. I mean, I give them too much credit for what I think they’d like. … They’re very straight, you know.”

A short time later, Paul elaborated on the songwriting process and the overall issue of Yoko’s proximity — which Paul seems to almost guiltily take the blame for acknowledging.

“It’s a bit embarrassing cause I do think of it,” Paul said. “I start examining my emotions with Yoko there. And it’s probably silly because Yoko’s not what we’re also thinking she is.”

“The only one time we’ve done it, she was great. She really is all right. It’s the thought of her being there, and then you don’t talk to John. So then he doesn’t talk to you. And it’s like, you can screw it up just as much because she’s there as John relying on her because she’s there. … We were trying to get the last verse to ‘I Will,’ and eventually I just ended up doing it (myself), because we couldn’t actually do it. But Yoko really tried to stay out of it.”

(For his part, Paul made no mention of this incident in either the 1997 authorized biography Many Years From Now or his 2021 memoir The Lyrics, when discussing writing the words to “I Will.” We can get into any deeper meanings of the lyric “And when at last I find you, your song will fill the air” some other time.)

Back to the songwriting discussion:

Paul: They’re going overboard about it, but John always does. Yoko probably always does. So that’s their scene. You can’t go saying don’t go overboard about this thing, be sensible about it and don’t bring it to meetings. It’s his decision. None of our business interfering in that, Even when it comes into our business. Still can’t really say much unless, except, look I don’t like it, John. Then he can say “screw you” or “I like it” or “well, I won’t do it” or blah, blah.

MLH: Have you done that already?

Paul: I told him I didn’t like writing songs with him and Yoko.

Time to fire Michael as interviewer. He never asked the most obvious, slam-dunk follow-up question there could be: “How did John respond to that?”

The Beatles at the George V Hotel in Paris, 1964. (Photo by Harry Benson)

Instead, he asked Paul if the songwriting partnership had slowed down before Yoko entered John’s life. (A fair question, but not the one he should have followed up with).

“We cooled it [already] because not playing together, ever since we didn’t play together [on stage],” Paul said. “We lived together when we played together. We were in the same hotel, up at the same time every morning. Doing this, all day. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re this close all day, something grows. And then when you’re not this close, physically, something goes.”

Attempts to reach John by phone continued, unsuccessfully. Throughout, Paul, along with Linda and Ringo, recapped the Sunday meeting for the others. Linda shared her regret at attending at all, and openly bemoaned Yoko’s domineering presence. (This was covered in a previous post.)

Paul again worked to make it crystal clear that the John-Yoko relationship was sacrosanct and completely their own concern. The Beatles plus Yoko, while not an ideal conclusion, is superior to the alternative of no Beatles at all.

Over the course of 20 seconds Paul repeats the phrase “it’s not that bad.” He also applied his custom of suggesting a binary choice, something that continued throughout the day.

“There’s only two answers. One is to fight it, and fight her and try to get the Beatles back to four people without Yoko, and sort of ask Yoko sit down at board meetings. Or else the other thing is to just realize she’s there and he’s not going to split with her just for our sakes.

“Then it’s not even so much of an obstacle then, as long as we’re not trying to surmount it. While we’re still trying to get over it, it’s an obstacle. But it isn’t really. It’s not that bad. They want to stay together those two.”

Striking a sincere tone, Paul resumed: “So it’s all right, let the young lovers stay together. It shouldn’t be [changes voice to tone of serious business] ‘Can’t operate under these conditions, boy. We’re coming out.’ It’s like we’re striking! That’s what it is, it’s like a strike cause work conditions aren’t right. [laughter]. It’s not that bad.”

“We’ve done a lot of Beatles now, we’ve had a lot of Beatles, and we’ve got a lot out of Beatles. So I think John’s saying now if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko (who’d stay…)”

It’s here the tear-jerking “Build Me Up, Buttercup” moment is interjected in the film.

As the Nagra tapes rolled, we hear that neither Paul nor Linda suspected John would ever come to making that choice. Likewise Michael, who said John told him “he really did not want not to be a Beatle.”

Body language, January 13, 1969.

To be clear, Linda wasn’t being viewed as the same sort of interloper Yoko was accused of being.

“I’m know I’m talking to Paul [now], I’m not talking to Linda,” said Neil. “But when you’re talking to John, these days, I know you tend to think you’re talking to Yoko more than you’re talking to John.”

This is a struggle — it’s not what we see in Get Back, and it’s not entirely what we hear on the tapes. When the Beatles make music, Yoko doesn’t appear to intervene. She may be painting or reading the newspaper and distracting the others by her mere presence — a problem in itself — but it’s not as if she’s tugging on John’s shirt while he plays.  The greatest issue appears to be behind the scenes when the cameras and tapes aren’t rolling.

“Actually, musically, we can play better than we’ve ever been able to play,” Paul said. “I really think that. We’re all right on that. It’s just that being together thing. And like I said yesterday, underestimating each other. And talking down to each other a bit. And playing safe.”

Paul’s solution was actually what the band was in the process of doing. To him, the broken sessions at Twickenham had in fact been conducted appropriately.

“We should just work a lot, really get back into the slog. A job. Where almost 9 to 5, and then weekends off, so that there really are weekends. Then back on the slog. Cursing it, the drags and the ups and the downs. But [also] the achievements.”

Work was a good thing, at least that was what everyone said, And given the group’s workaholic nature, it’s no surprise.

“John was saying the fact that you do work inspires you,” said Michael.

“I remember when they were doing the (White) Album, George was saying that it’s so great working again,” Linda recalled.

Earlier Ringo, speaking of taking the time out to film Candy, told Michael he found the time for that role “because I have to do something.”

There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the Beatles’ work ethic.

“I understand Yoko coming, and doing all that,” Neil said. “But I don’t see why she has to sit on your amp.”

Paul and Neil, January 13, 1969.

While Paul agreed, he also said the group’s attitude needed to mature as its members did.

“I don’t see why she has to sit on the amp. And if we were in a Northern band, [affecting a Scouse accent] I’d put my foot down to that. But we’ve grown out of all that. And we really can’t go to John, ‘Look John, the union thinks that you can’t have this woman.’

“We can go on talking like this forever but I think for them to be able to compromise, I have to be able to compromise first. Then they’ll be able to, or else they have to be able to compromise first. But its silly, neither of us compromising.”

While it’s possible Paul is speaking for the others in the group, he made clear “I have to compromise,” not “we” (ie., Ringo and George as well). With Ringo sitting a few feet away from him, it probably is just himself he’s speaking for, either relinquishing the others of the need to compromise as well, or simply acknowledging it’s not important if they do.

Isn’t compromise a mutual exercise, though? Is Paul compromising or is he conceding?

“We thought that the only alternative would be for John just to say, ‘OK, well, see you then.’ And we’d not wanted that to happen. We hustle each other like mad, you know. We probably do need really sort of a central daddy figure to say, “Nine o’clock, none of the girls. Leave the girls at home, lads.’”

That is, they really needed Brian Epstein more than they even did a week earlier, when they said much of the same thing.

Neil dismissed that idea, saying it wouldn’t work. With truly incredible prescience and awareness of the group’s legacy, Paul simply replied:

It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years time. They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.

‘What?’

You see, John kept bringing this girl along. It’s not as though there’s any sort of earth-splitting row. There’s nothing wrong.

Everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

Having pitched a breakup show — covered at length here — and almost as an afterthought coming more than 90 minutes after the day’s recordings began, Michael asked about George, and Paul revealed he walked out of Sunday’s meeting.

If it wasn’t already clear enough, George’s exit was an issue, but the lesser one. Paul continued his defense of John and Yoko without any further discussion of George’s own problems, perhaps taking advantage of the stage while the couple remained absent.

George’s abrupt departure feeds the dramatic arc of the Get Back story as the conflict of the first act. It’s the dynamic of Paul-John-Yoko that’s the actual conflict of this period.

“They’re trying to be as near together as they can,” Paul said of John and Yoko. “So If she sits over here, it’s just slightly less good than if she sits very near to him. If she’s touching him then that’s even better. …”

“And it’s right, in a way. If that’s how you see it, and you can see that it can be a drag for people to sort of say, ‘Look, come to the meeting without her.’ Cause then it starts separating again from her.

“It’s very ideological.”

It’s worth noting — and perhaps Paul himself did too, even if it went unspoken — that the need for John to be near Yoko didn’t mean he can’t be near Paul, too. Just like having Yoko in the room when writing a song doesn’t mean Paul shouldn’t be there either.

Michael repeated his view that the onus was on John and Yoko to be conscious of the effect their behavior is having on the rest of the group and for them to adjust. Paul — again — acted as a contrarian, seeing it through John’s eyes, as perhaps few others had the ability to. He was no mere devil’s advocate. Paul trusted John, and even if he didn’t deep down, it’s what he wanted the others to believe.

“See, they’d say that the other way was true. If we do what we’d want to do it might screw it up for them. [Now speaking softly] And they don’t want to be screwed up.”

Another attempt to reach John failed. “Telephone’s engaged.” Ringo joked they should send a telegram.

After an extended silence, and several audible sighs on the Nagra tapes, Paul uttered five of the most memorable words in all of the Get Back docuseries.

And then there were two.

The moment is gut-wrenching. An uncomfortably long 31 seconds in Get Back. That’s five seconds longer than the entirety of “Her Majesty.” We should celebrate Peter Jackson for the scene’s dramatic effect, and likewise be grateful to Michael Lindsay-Hogg and his crew for capturing this moment in real time.

While it’s arguably the most poignant moment of the Beatles on film, it’s not exactly the same on tape.

Roll the Nagras and you hear:

Paul: And then there were two. [said to laughter and no pause]

Ringo: Tom & Jerry.

Michael: Simon & Garfunkel

Ringo: I know, I said it because you told me. … Simon & Garfunkel used to be Tom & Jerry.

Linda: Oh I know, “Hey Schoolgirl.” (she begins to sing)

Paul: That’s what they used to call themselves?

I’m not suggesting the tears in Get Back were CGI. Compressing more than two hours of dialogue into nine minutes for a TV series seems like a near-impossible task, and to make it compelling while still retaining the integrity of the moment even more so.

“And then there were two” is the emotional heart of Get Back, just as “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” serves that role for Let It Be.  While both lines have become something of catchphrases for their respective films, it’s important to remember the original context surrounding each one as they are amplified, lest these moments get oversimplified.

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Jan. 12: The final bulletin

Here’s that disclaimer again. For this series of posts recounting the Beatles’ private January 12, 1969, board meeting, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly (and indirectly) address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story.  I swear!

****

The Beatles were facing a rupture; at best they were simply in another crisis. George Harrison first walked out on the group January 10, 1969, and then from an Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house two days later.

Through — and despite — the tumult, Paul McCartney continued to consider the big show that would serve as the finale of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary TV show, the grand closing statement. Paul conceived the grandest statement of all, and he shared it with Apple head Neil Aspinall the evening of the 12th. It’s not clear if he told him at Ringo’s or after at a different location, but it was Neil himself who “really finished the idea off, which made it sensational,” per Paul on the Nagra tapes recorded the morning of January 13.

While we were rehearsing the show ourselves, we should have alongside us someone sort of near, so that we’re getting the same kind of buzz but completely independent. We should get, say, the editor of the Daily Mirror. You’d have to get someone as good as him, a real hard news nut, rehearsing a team of really hard, incredible newsmen. With films, writing … so that on the night of the show, in between all our songs is news. But the fastest and hottest, from every corner of the earth.

Paul continued, attempting to sound like a serious news anchor in a breaking news environment, gravity in his voice and mimicking contemporary newsroom sounds, like a reporter tearing copy off a teletype machine.

‘We just heard there’s been an earthquake and so-and-so [makes exploding noise]’. You know, just like incredible news in between each thing, so it’s like a red-hot news program.

And at the end, the final bulletin is:

The Beatles have broken up.

So much for centering a show around 2,000 torch-lit Arabs or a boat ride. Michael is impressed by Paul’s pitch, presumably for its dramatic effect, calling it “nice” after a moment of reflection.

“Nice, but who wants to hear that?” asked Paul’s girlfriend Linda Eastman, who was present both at the meeting the day before and the recap at Twickenham.

This photo captures around the time Paul was discussing the breakup show concept, on January 13, 1969. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the new Get Back book)

“But, I mean, it would be an incredible show,” Paul said.

Cover all the earthquakes and explosions you want. It was the final implosion that would inflict the most harm to this audience. Immediately before Paul’s pitch, Michael called it “dispiriting” if the Beatles couldn’t find a way to save themselves from a breakup.

“God, it’s an event when a Beatles album comes out,” an exasperated Linda replied to Michael. “Or even a single. People listen more to that than when [President Lyndon] Johnson gives a speech.”

It was the better halves who cared more to see the the group whole.

“It’s like Maureen [Starkey] was saying [presumably at Saturday’s meeting]: We’re fans. The Beatles are it. Musically, I still think that way.”

It continued to be the problem, for at least half the group. During lunch, in a discussion secretly recorded shortly after this conversation on January 13, John decried the Beatles’ “myth” in an echo of George, who said something along those lines a few days earlier.

A mythological concept to John, the sincere fans did believe in Beatles.

Paul’s suggestion of the surprise farewell in the wake of the meeting at Ringo’s came off more for shock than true consumption — it wasn’t discussed on the tapes again, and may never have reached the ears of John or George. But Paul did show a sincere willingness for the group to stand solo in the sun, saying that he himself wasn’t completely satisfied as just a Beatle only.  He wasn’t busting any myths, only suggesting there were even more opportunities for them, and not by simply growing the number of Beatles, as John had previously suggested.

Ringo was already contemplating what would eventually become his Sentimental Journey LP a year later, and Paul pressed him to move forward with the idea of this “Stardust” album, despite the drummer’s fear of singing on a record by himself.

From the lunchroom tape on the 13th, in a remarkable exchange:

Paul: It isn’t as daft as you were sort of frightened it might sound.  … The great thing is that you singing how you really sing will be it.

Ringo: Yes, but the only way to do it is on your own.

Paul: Until then, yeah, sure. Until then, until you reach how you really sing, you’ll sing your half-soul.

And it’s probably when we’re all very old that we’ll all sing together.

And we’ll all really sing, and we’ll all show each other how good we are, and in fact we’ll die then, I don’t know. Probably something sappy or soft like that. I don’t know.

But really, I mean, it’s really down to all those sort of simple, silly things to me.

Yoko Ono: But those are the important things, you know?

This part of the lunchroom conversation covered much of the same ground as the “divorce” discussion on January 7, but with a softer, more optimistic and accepting posture. A few extra days and George’s actual absence — not merely a threat of one —  created a clear difference in the vibe.

Through this John sounded sincerely unsure of himself and the path he’d like to take. It can only be assumed that the lack of cameras or visible recorders allowed him to speak more fearlessly.

While Paul worked to reassure John — “You’ve noticed the two ways open to us. You know the way we all want to go, and you know the way you want to go. Which is positive!” — John’s insecurity overwhelmed his outsized abilities.

“Like Ringo said about his album … I won’t do it cause I’m gonna let us down or look like a fool.”

Days after pushing back on George’s concern that his songs “come out like a compromise,” Paul adjusted his stance. Maybe it’s re-positioning with George gone or maybe it’s a result of the departure and any responsibility he had in it, but Paul showed a retreat on the group micromanaging their respective songs, including his own role in doing so, at least now while they were still together.

What I’d like to do is for the four of us — and you know, we’ve all have done that things to different degrees — I think is if you [Ringo] go one way, you [John] go one way, George one way and me another. But I know it will apply to all of us, if one day you can all be singing like you’re singing, [Ringo] can be drumming like you’re drumming. George can be really playing, I mean like he plays, not like as if I’m trying to make him play. But I keep trying to make him play like that.

This dynamic reached beyond just George and Paul.

“You try and make George play competently because you’re afraid that how he’ll play won’t be like you want him to play,” John replied. “And that’s what we did, and that’s what you did to me. …

“I got to a bit where I thought it’s no good me telling you how to do it, you know? All I tried to do on [the White Album] was just sing it to you like I was drunk, you know? Just did me best to say , ‘Look, this stands up on its own.’ … It wasn’t the arrogance of  [saying,] ‘Listen, this is it, baby.’ It isn’t that I can’t tell you what to do because you won’t play here like think you should play. And I’m not going to tell you what to play.”

The differing approaches John and Paul took to arranging their songs are pretty evident on the Nagra tapes and to readers here. At this point in the lunchroom conversation, John admited he’s just too scared to stop Paul from micromanaging parts to the detail and degree he does.

John continued:

Apart from not knowing, I can’t tell you better than you have, what grooves you’d play on it. … But when you think of the other half of this, just think how much more have I done towards helping you write. I’ve never told you what to sing or what to play.

You know, I’ve always done the numbers like that. Now the only regret, just for the past numbers, is that when because I’ve been so frightened, I’ve allowed you to take it somewhere where I didn’t want. And then my only chance was to let George … take over, or interest George in it.

“‘She Said She Said‘?” Paul asked.

Of all their songs to name, it’s a notable discussion point and not accidental. The final song recorded for Revolver (and one they played in passing earlier in the week at Twickenham), Paul walked out during its sessions in June 1966, a link from that moment to this one, with a Beatle missing.

Paul, as quoted in Barry Miles’ Many Years from Now:

I’m not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatles records I never played on. I think we had a barney or something and I said, “Oh, fuck you!” and they said, “Well, we’ll do it.” I think George played bass.

Without Paul’s interference, John could let the others just play their parts as originally, and simply, arranged. “[George would] take it as is, you know?” John recalled before backhandedly crediting Paul’s management style. “It’s George, you know, if there’s anything wrong with it, because I don’t want your arrangement on it. … If you give me your suggestions, let me reject them or in the case there’s one I like, it’s when we’re writing songs.”

The situation wasn’t reciprocal, as John reminded Paul — who agreed — “there was a period where none of us could actually say anything about your criticisms, ’cause you’d reject it all.” (Still, John conceded Paul’s musical decisions would often be the correct ones.)

If this line of conversation sounds familiar, it’s because exactly a week before this lunchroom chat, Paul and George debated this very issue in the quintessential tension-filled moment of the Let It Be film. Ultimately, George wasn’t too excited to take things “as is” and Paul wasn’t necessarily insistent he do so. So the situation is characteristically blurry.

“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.”

Still, George will play, you know, whatever you want him to play, but at this point he’s not playing anything at all, to general displeasure.

Assuming nobody noticed the hidden microphone in the flower pot at the canteen — a phrase as ridiculous for me to type as it is for you to read — we can be certain none of the parties on the lunchroom tape were playing for the cameras and a larger degree of posterity. (Whether they were being sincere with each other in this private moment is a completely separate question.)

Without the this recording, however, we wouldn’t know just how far Paul was encouraging the others to experience outlets outside the band’s restraints, and just how warmly he spoke of what would be an eventual reunion “when we’re all very old.” It would be a return in which they all can show off how much they’ve grown as artists outside of the limitations and restrictions they posed upon each other, and this reunion would serve as their very final act. It’s sweet and in retrospect very sad, even if Paul backs off a little calling it “silly.” Two Beatles never advanced past middle age, must less having a chance to be “very old.” Thankfully Yoko appreciated Paul’s line of thinking.

Around the context of their conversations and at the precise moment these sessions — and collective future — were in question, Paul’s support for and active, repeated urging of the group to go their separate ways very much complemented his grand statement to end their proposed TV show.

Their ultimate reunion would have made a most spectacular sequel.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 2)

FYI at the outset: I’m applying the same disclaimer from last time, when I started recounting the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, meeting at Ringo Starr’s house.  For this series of posts, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story. I promise!

****

Twenty years after the breakup of the Beatles and in the midst of leading his own supergroup, George Harrison characterized the “Wilbury Attitude.”

From the March 1990 issue of Musician:

Somebody wrote in a paper things like, ‘Little Richard is a Wilbury. Madonna wouldn’t be a Wilbury but Cyndi Lauper would be.’ It was quite funny.

While there may have been “about 500” fifth Beatles, as George estimated in that same Musician profile, the four proper members of the Beatles were set in stone (Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe screw up this accounting, so let’s just stick with the figure of four), and the lineup had been stable for more than six and a half years by the time we reached January 1969.

John Lennon proposed expanding the group more than once over the course of that month. The Beatles’ board meeting on January 12 was one such occasion.

Most of what we know about that meeting we learned from recordings of John, Ringo and Paul McCartney — among several other key figures — captured a day later. And while some of those January 13 conversations were filmed openly at Twickenham Studios on the set, so to speak, of Let It Be, a clandestinely recorded lunchroom discussion fleshed out the story.  Remember Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s spy microphone? Documenting this lunch became the device’s greatest legacy.

It must be repeated to make it clear: This meeting was not merely between Paul and John, as suggested by the 2021 Get Back docuseries. There were at least half a dozen people present.

“The Beatles, to me, isn’t just limited to the four of us,” John said on the 13th, candidly recounting what became a contentious point discussed during the previous day’s meeting and in response to Ringo relaying that George wanted a meeting limited to the four Beatles. It’s worth noting there were multiple occasions during lunch that Ringo and Paul explicitly referred to the “four” Beatles.

“I think that I alone could be a Beatle. I think [Paul] could. I’m not sure whether [Ringo] could. … I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think the Beatles revolve around the four people.”

Maybe it’s hindsight speaking, but of course the Beatles revolved around four people, and it had since Stu stepped out in 1961, even if their nominal leader suggested otherwise by calling a critical upgrade at drums merely a reorientation.

“It’s like [Ringo] joining instead of Pete,” John continued. “To me, it is like that.”

We don’t hear Yoko Ono’s name explicitly mentioned in the context of being a part of an expanded Beatles, a proto-Plastic Ono Band, but it’s the clear suggestion amid her omnipresence and in the wake of her taste of the fab experience 48 hours earlier.

For her part, Yoko didn’t see George’s departure as anything but temporary. His return was, in her eyes, completely in the hands of the others.

“You could get back George so easily, you know that,” Yoko said during the lunch.

****

Reputation’s changeable, situation intolerable: George stuck on the third rung

“The third rung.”

That’s how Paul plainly described George’s place in the Beatles hierarchy on the lunchroom tape. (Paul conceded John was at the “front of the chute” and himself secondary. Ringo ranked himself as “the cabbage.”)

It was only a few days prior when George openly bemoaned his status within the group and the dead-end destiny of so many of his contributions: “I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound], there its gone.”

This complaint on January 7 came immediately before he called for “a divorce,” which he pursued when he walked out January 10. At the January 12 board meeting, it only got worse, according to John.

“It’s a festering wound … yesterday we allowed to go even deeper,” John said early in the recording of the lunchroom discussion. “But we didn’t give him any bandages.”

Not only a reluctant medic, John wasn’t sure he wanted George to even be a Beatle anymore. Maybe the Beatles could be a four-piece after all, just with Yoko and without George.

“Do I want him back, Paul?” John said. “I’m just asking, do I want it back, whatever it is — the myth?”

That remark echoed George himself from the divorce conversation, in his response to Paul, saying the band used to be “switched on,” George had replied, “If that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it.”

Like George, John was searching for motivation to maintain the group’s status quo, even when the Beatles’ status quo was really a constant state of invention and reinvention, at least to the point of view of us on the outside.

During lunch on January 13, Paul and John agreed the duo would “connive,” when it came to their marginalization of George within the band and their maintenance of creative control. This, while George “could afford to be more insensitive” himself, as “some other part,” an other acting separately from the other members of the band, perhaps musically, perhaps socially.

“I do think that as grim as it all is,” Paul said, “that [George] is right. And I do think that our sole approach is exactly what he’s been saying.”

John simply said that he knows he’s treated people this way since primary school and offered the customary breakup excuse, “It’s not him, it’s just me.”

Yet while the duo acknowledged the problem of their treatment of George as a tertiary Beatle — later Paul would admit they treated him “a bit like a mongrel” — they didn’t set forth a path to solve it directly. The board meeting on the 12th, which was supposed to be a general business meeting, went so far beyond just an attempt to reconcile George’s walkout. The band’s very existence was in question. Again.

“It’s like George said. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction anymore,” John said on the 13th. “Because of the compromise we’d have to make to be together. The end result of the records now aren’t enough. …  When something came out like Revolver or Pepper or whatever, there was still that element of surprise that we didn’t know where it came from. But now we know exactly where it comes from, and how we arrived at that particular noise and how it could have been much better.

“The only way to get it satisfactorily for yourself is to do it on your own. And then that’s fucking hard.”

Here John again mirrors another of George’s points from January 7, when the latter said he wanted no part of performing any of his own songs at the presumptive forthcoming concert “because they just turn out shitty. They come out like a compromise.”

A fab feast, July 1969

Linda Eastman, who like Yoko was at the lunch on the 13th, responded by throwing some of John’s words back in his face. “But you were saying yesterday … you write good songs and it can’t be any better way. You don’t want just studio musicians. I mean, that’s how I look at it. You make good music together, whether you like it or not.

John admitted that he liked it. Still, he was dissatisfied with the White Album. Not his own contributions, which he remained happy with, but the sum of the parts. While Ringo said he dug it “far more than Sgt. Pepper,” John struggled to reconcile how good the White Album was and what he felt it should have been.

As difficult as the situation was, Paul was the optimist. He didn’t even see George’s absence as a problem — yet.

“See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back, you know? I’ll tell you, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

“What if he isn’t?” John asked.

“If he isn’t, then it’s a new problem.”

****

A “new” problem implies previously existing problems, and on January 12, 1969, the Beatles definitely had other problems.

With the benefit of hindsight,  we know Yoko was right and Paul’s optimism was justified. It was easy to get George to return to the group. It took a couple painless concessions from the others, and he was back with the Beatles just a few days later — this wasn’t any protracted estrangement, just one with good retrospective drama and publicity. For context, Ringo’s resignation during the White Album sessions lasted almost twice as long.

While acknowledging the issue, why didn’t John and Paul go a step further and apply the bandages to salve George’s festering wounds? It’s unclear, as they had recognized, at least in the wake of the meeting — if not during it — their “conniving” problem.

“Our brains sort of … con him,” Paul said at lunch, calling those moments “so innocent” and “so simple.”

That kind of treatment came completely natural to John. “It might have been my game. It might have been masochistic,” he said describing his approach. “But the goal was still the same: self-preservation.”

Yet, John said he “had to fight it the last three years,” saying he overcompensated by feeling he was actually giving in to George for several years, going out of his way to work with and relinquish a territory on their records, while George was creatively on “a good ride.”

He didn’t use the word “connived,” but in later interviews George did consider the others’ actions selfish. None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the Beatles for the last half-century.

From George’s terrific 1977 interview with Crawdaddy:

There were too many limitations based upon our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating. The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I’d always have to wait through ten of their songs before they’d even listen to one of mine. … I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. …

Paul would always help along when you’d done his ten songs, then when he got ‘round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually.

Then there’s Yoko, who George didn’t want around the studio as a non-participant, much less as an artistic partner. He may have been insensitive to her when she entered John’s life (invoking her “bad vibes”), but he clearly felt that behavior was justified. This emerged as the red line for John. We know how the story ended, and Yoko didn’t leave John’s side while the Beatles were together. John won that part of the battle, even if she wasn’t elevated to a member of the group.  (Through tragedy she ultimately became a member of the Apple board.)

There was no punch-up on January 10, 1969, that pushed George to take a break from the Beatles, it was just, largely, the simple, sweeping con he endured for years. You could almost say George had been fobbed off and he’d been fooled, he’d been robbed and ridiculed. John and Paul recognized and acknowledged as much on the lunchroom tape.

Like it or not, in the words of Linda, the Beatles made good music together. After the meeting on January 12, 1969, it was an open question if the four of them had any mutual desire and consensus to resume doing so.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 1)

For all the company’s subsidiaries, history could have used Apple Stenography.

The Nagra tapes so ubiquitous around the Beatles during January 1969 weren’t rolling at Ringo Starr’s Brookfield House estate in Elstead on Sunday the 12th. George Harrison ditched the band midway through the January 10 sessions, and after a brief encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the 11th, he was back in the company of the entire band as they met to discuss their immediate and long-term future.

Even without minutes of the meeting, we have an excellent idea how it transpired thanks to those very recordings and the candor of others recapping and analyzing the meeting’s fallout the next day back at Twickenham.

For this and the next several posts, I’m going to be jumping between various parts of those January 13 Nagra tapes for the sake of the overall narrative. Specific quotes and certain discussion topics absent here will soon be tied back into the story. There will be redundancies and I may not get to specific points until later. But please trust the process!

We know nothing about the meeting from George’s perspective except an acknowledgment of its very existence. And we only know that much thanks to 21st century Photoshop trickery, taking his diary entry for the day before (as published in the Living In the Material World book), flipping the image and manipulating the colors to reveal what was on the opposite page.

Clearly and without further detail, George wrote: “Ringo’s for Meeting.”

Do-it-all assistant Mal Evans provided another rare written reference to the meeting, merely saying January 12 was the day “the fellows finally gave up all idea of doing the TV show.”

This tidbit was for public consumption, published in the March 1969 Beatle Books fan club magazine, months after the event, with the storm of George’s departure long passed and the group seemingly — at least in public — a unit again, the earliest Abbey Road sessions under way and more to come.

While we have reason to question if this January 12 meeting is exactly when the premise of a Beatles TV documentary was called off, at the very least because cameras were back at Twickenham the next day, remember Mal did keep a diary, so it stands to reason he checked the date.

(From the March 1969 Beatles Book)

Early January 13, the day the Get Back sessions resumed, Ringo summarized the proceedings in a dry voice: “The meeting was fine, a lot of good things. But then, you know, they all sort of fell apart at the end.”

While the meeting was held in the wake of George’s departure, it quickly became clear the missing guitarist wasn’t the group’s greatest concern.

“I love you laconic Liverpudlians,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said on the 13th. “Because I said to [Apple chief] Neil [Aspinall], ‘And then the businessmen left and then there was just the five of you there, right?’ He said, ‘No, that’s the trouble. Six,’ he said with his flat voice.”

***

Sunday’s gathering featured two distinct components:

  • A business meeting, which included John Eastman, Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, and other accountants
  • A personnel meeting, so to speak, to discuss the Beatles’ near-term future as a viable unit and to hash out issues better left to a modern HR department

There was only passing mention of the business element, with Ringo referring to “John from America” and the “new accountants we just moved with.” (On January 10, George explicitly mentioned John Eastman in the context of an imminent business meeting, a meeting that had Neil very excited and promised to have news that was “so good.”)

It’s feasible the Sunday meeting is when this document — which is only dated “January 1969” — was signed, giving the Eastman & Eastman law firm rights to negotiate contracts on the Beatles’ behalf.  The timing works out — John Eastman was working on a deal for the successor company to NEMS less than a week later.

The Eastman & Eastman management contract, January 1969.

If only to justify what Ringo described as “a lot of good things” coming of the meeting, the business aspect must have pointed to a positive development.

Most of the subsequent recollections of the Sunday meeting were about the greatest strain on group.

“[John] looked great yesterday” Linda Eastman said in the open discussion early on the 13th between Paul, Ringo, Neil, Michael and Mal.

“Who was he wearing, the usual?” Michael asked, to laughter, including Paul, who repeated the joke.

To be clear, Yoko wasn’t the only non-Beatle or Beatle employee at Ringo’s on Sunday. Linda was there, and even if she regretted her own presence, Paul’s girlfriend (and the lawyer’s sister) was critical that she — and others — were even welcome to attend.

Linda: It’s harder being at a meeting and everybody putting their two cents in, and none of you all saying anything.
Paul: But that’s the other thing, having the meeting. You came with me, and [Linda’s daughter] Heather came.
Linda: Yeah, I was going to say I shouldn’t go.
Paul: It’s such a temptation going out to Ringo’s for the afternoon. It feels like a family outing. (said to laughter)

Paul: It should have been the four of us.
Ringo: Well you (Linda) were out of the way. It nearly was.
Paul: It’s still that thing.
Linda: When there’s something serious, a few other people talking about it, and you get off the tracks.

Paul would also describe the scene as being like “board meetings of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and all the governors and all the wives, and mates and kids and animals.”

Neil explicitly said that Yoko’s participation undermined any chance for a serious discussion. “Everybody else is like, ‘Fuck it. You know it’s not going to be a board meeting, so let’s make it a party.'”

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, etc. Beatles and family at Ringo’s in Summer 1969.

Yoko did “so much talking,” Linda bemoaned.

A “key moment,” according to Paul, came when John said he didn’t understand George’s desire for a meeting consisting exclusively of the four Beatles, explicitly excluding Yoko. Twice George told John, ” I don’t believe you,” in reaction to John’s stated confusion.

“I think John knew what he was talking about, too,” Neil said. “It’s like the bullshitting bit where that can go on. It’s silly.”

Paul agreed, but absolved John to a degree.

“John does bullshit. I bullshit. Ringo bullshits. George bullshits. You know, we bullshit.

“With John, you think you can influence it, you think he’s past it. So you start giving him more credit than he’s due for. With Yoko, they mean it.”

Paul consistently placed legitimacy on John’s dedication to Yoko (we’ll see more of this in the coming posts). John alone could be a slippery figure, but here Paul was insisting John really needed Yoko at his side, completely and sincerely.

Paul’s last remark was met with derision from Linda and Neil, especially. Paul’s tone implied maybe he didn’t really believe what he was saying out loud, either.

***

This meeting was scheduled to be about Apple. It would have helped to have been about George. But it became a meeting that revolved around Yoko.

John accused the others of pushing out anyone who threatened the sanctity of the four members of the group, a balance he and Yoko disrupted months earlier. Paul freely admitted as much the next day, describing the Beatles’ conscious decision to maintain a well-defined inner circle.

“The trouble with us, like John said [during Sunday’s meeting], is anything that comes in … with the egos, we try and push out,” Paul said Monday. “It’s always been that. Anybody who’s come in, Like with Michael Braun, with that book, [he] came in for a while, within the circle for a while, and then he gets pushed out cause we don’t want him in the inner circle. And he’s got to stay on the edges.”

Braun’s book — Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress —  was published in 1964, and chronicles the group over the course of several months that year and the year prior. John later told Rolling Stone it “was a true book. He wrote how we were, which was bastards. ” Really, the book reads like a draft manuscript of the “A Hard Day’s Night” film, the group enveloped by Beatlemania with supplementary anecdotes of those dismissing the movement. It’s candid, and in the context of its original publication, it had to be a revelation by comparison to other portrayals of the group.

But to Paul’s point in January 1969, the proximity given to Braun, an American journalist who had his own colorful biography, was too much for the group in time. Yoko came in for a while, had been within the circle for a while, but she wasn’t getting pushed out. She was inner circle, with no reason to think she would be forced to the edges.

This wasn’t the only issue. John’s silence, in tandem with Yoko’s new role as his spokesperson, made for the untenable situation. After all, Linda was there too, but she didn’t attempt to speak for Paul.

Still why wouldn’t John talk? One of the greatest wits of his generation, the outspoken and leader of the Beatles — self-proclaimed by this point — silenced himself. John had already forced Yoko into the inner circle. He didn’t need to hand her his voice too. Unless, he didn’t think he needed his voice in the first place.

John openly discussed the Beatles’ ability to communicate non-verbally in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorized biography.

I think communication all the time like mad, but putting it into words is a waste of time. We talk in code to each other as Beatles. … We understand each other. It doesn’t matter about the rest.

(Listen to the terrific One Sweet Dream podcast for the deepest of dives into this corner – and many others — of the Lennon-McCartney relationship).

If John was silent because he thought he didn’t have to speak at all, Paul cried foul the next day, ultimately mocking John’s telepathic approach.

“Who was he wearing?” (From the Get Back book)

“With our heightened awareness, the answer is not to say anything,” Paul said. “But it isn’t! Cause, I mean, we screw each other up totally when we don’t do that. Cause we’re not ready for heightened vows of silence.”

Paul started to laugh before conceding, “We don’t know what the fuck each other’s talking about.”

Paul then shattered the telepathy myth, explaining why he thought Yoko spoke for John.

“There was something the other day, I said, ‘What do you think?’ And he just didn’t say anything. And I know exactly why. … If one of us is talking about it, it’s a drag if the other three aren’t.”

John’s silence only made Yoko’s outspokenness more conspicuous by contrast.

“Yoko was saying yesterday, ‘This is my opinion. This is my opinion how the Beatles should be.’”

There was no indication of what John’s opinion was.

“John didn’t talk,” Paul later said. “Yoko talked for John.”

John, too, was a laconic Liverpudlian.

***

Despite having spent several years working with the band, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was, by simple logic of not being an insider, a Beatles outsider.

He also had a film to make — a film the Beatles hired him to make — and it wasn’t for quite some time into the January 13 session he finally asked about one of his missing stars, who had hardly been mentioned at all that morning.

“Did George stay?”

“Well, in the middle of all that, actually,” Paul answered, “George went. He said, ‘I’ll see you.’”

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