Tag Archives: January 6

TMBP Extra: Time to leave the capsule

Today, Jan. 8, marks David Bowie’s birthday. We’ve noted Bowie’s birthday here before, purely as an afterthought in conjunction with the fact it’s also Elvis Presley’s birthday. But we focused on Elvis last time, and today’s it’s Bowie’s turn.

Life on Mars and Venus

Life on Mars and Venus

Bowie wrote and recorded with, covered and befriended John, performed with Paul, covered George and at least hung out with Ringo (were we all so blessed).

From last year’s Bowie: The Biography (which I only skimmed, but my wife thought was pretty trashy):

According to Tony Visconti, David’s friendship with John developed to such a degree that the three of them often spent a night on the town together. “We stayed up with John Lennon until 10:30 a.m. We did mountains of cocaine, it looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac,” Tony recalled. … John and David bonded over drugs, music, and a shared quirky British sense of humor.

In addition to having crossed paths to varying degrees with each of the members of the band, Bowie was deeply influenced and inspired by The Beatles, and when you try hard enough, you can hear it throughout his extensive catalog. Additionally, Ken Scott was a shared link in the studio, engineering Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album while engineering and/or producing Bowie from 1969-1973. (Visconti worked with John and Paul, too, after he first worked with Bowie).

Los Angeles, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

New York, 1975: Bowie, Ono, Lennon

But one thing Bowie did not do was have anything to do with The Beatles as a unit. His star only rose as The Beatles’ was burning out.  The Beatles closed the 1960s after defining its sound just as Bowie prepared to do the same for the ’70s. As Bowie eventually put it, when referring to his friendship with Lennon: “Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.”

After a lifetime of enjoying rock music, it somehow took until my 40th year to fully immerse myself into Bowie’s music. This is not to say I wasn’t a fan, or didn’t enjoy various releases over the years. But in 2014 I really became a superfan, getting completely absorbed into his music. Part of that immersion was to visit the truly incredible David Bowie Is exhibition that recently closed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Comprehensive and engrossing, I was blissfully overwhelmed.

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

The Times, Jan. 6, 1969 (click for larger image)

Among the artifacts near the beginning of the exhibit was a newspaper: the Times of London showing the Earthrise, the iconic image from Apollo 8 that shows, well, the earth rising as viewed from the moon. The photo was taken Dec. 24, 1968, but was published in a special insert in the Times on Jan. 6, 1969. According to the exhibit, after seeing the paper, Bowie had “Space Oddity” written within a week.

Especially when you place yourself into that era, it’s a moving image, the blue earth rising above the moon, but that’s not what jumped out at me. And if you happened to be at the MCA that morning in mid-November and heard someone muttering, “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play,” and wondered who it was, that would be me.

Because on Jan. 6, 1969, David Bowie was inspired to begin writing “Space Oddity” at the precise moment The Beatles were bickering over how to rehearse “Two of Us” just miles away at Twickenham.

The Nagra tapes didn’t roll 24/7 in the lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo from Jan. 2-31, so we certainly can’t say the Apollo mission — or any other particular news event — did or didn’t inspire or influence the band. The group touched on politics, immigration in particular, in outtakes like the “No Pakistanis” version of “Get Back” and “Commonwealth” at various points during the Get Back sessions (writeups to come!), and it’s not as if The Beatles didn’t have a history of being social commentators.

But I found it illustrative with regards to where these different acts were at this very specific moment in time — Jan. 6, 1969 — that David Bowie was able to find a muse that would launch him into stardom for the first time just as The Beatles found themselves trapped –Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing The Beatles could do. Between the time Bowie started writing “Space Oddity” on Jan. 6 and finished it on the 13th, George would suggest the band “have a divorce” after an open discussion recounting how bad things have been for a year (Jan. 7), and then he’d end up quitting (Jan. 10). The Twickenham sessions ended Jan. 14.

George on David Bowie, 1974

I certainly won’t argue The Beatles were out of ideas in January 1969; This entire blog is predicated on the idea the group remained vibrant and vital during the Get Back sessions. But it’s obvious any success they had was despite themselves. The songs they wrote or worked on this month were works of art, to varying degrees, but it was often tantamount to climbing up the hill backwards, as Bowie would put it, to get anything done. We’d have lost Abbey Road and Let It Be (although you’d assume many of the songs would later resurface on solo records) but an argument can be made John and George, at least, would have been happier people had The Beatles ceased to exist sometime in 1968. Is the difference tangible between a band being pulled apart and an artist ready to burst? Oh boy, is it ever.

Used in conjunction with the BBC’s Apollo 11 moon landing coverage in July 1969, “Space Oddity” made a name of Bowie just as The Beatles were in the thick of recording Abbey Road. (About 12 hours after man first walked on the moon, The Beatles began recording “Come Together”). By the time Bowie’s eponymous LP featuring “Space Oddity” was released that November, The Beatles were effectively finished. Five years (what a surprise) later, after meeting John at a party, the Starman ultimately entered the orbit of The Beatles.

4 Comments

Filed under Extra

Jan. 6: Et cetera

What a day!

Six hours of tapes that inspired 12 posts — and this one makes it a baker’s dozen. Some songs are introduced, others tortuously rehearsed and the proposed live show is discussed at length for the first time.

So before ripping off the desk calendar page and welcoming Jan. 7, 1969, I wanted to tie up some loose ends and look at a few songs and moments that were important enough to mention but not so much to warrant standalone posts.

One After 909” wasn’t the only unlikely John Lennon song resurrected in the first few days of the sessions. “Across the Universe” was recorded 11 months prior — a pre-White Album contemporary with “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” and “Hey Bulldog” — and sat finished but not yet released as of January 1969.

There’s more than enough to say about the song at this point to justify its own post — and it will. Once the song has a more prominent role, in the next day’s session, I’ll do more than offer this brief mention.

While George had introduced other songs,”All Things Must Pass” remained the primary Harrisong to this point the band was rehearsing. Jan. 6 saw just a smattering of takes running about 20 minutes on the tapes, barely memorable. Frankly, the song sounds like a dirge at times thanks in part to John’s unimaginative organ droning.

It’s such a great song, and I keep telling myself — “This is The Beatles doing ‘All Things Must Pass,’ for heaven’s sake” — but I don’t find myself caring, which pretty much puts me on par with the rest of the group. That sentiment was encapsulated in a brief exchange at the end of what would be the day’s final run-through of the song.

Paul: Wanna to do it again, George?

George: Not really.

Simple as that, they moved onto the final properly rehearsed song of the day: “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.”

This was the song’s introduction to the sessions, and with the day nearing an end, it was a brief one, lasting just 15 minutes on the tapes. The song’s pretty well crafted at this early stage, as far as structure and lyrics. It took only a few takes and just a couple of minutes for the band to pick up the chords and string together a few reasonably decent takes.

It’s nice to hear the voices of George and John deliver harmonies, since we’re used to Paul double-tracked on the recorded Abbey Road version.

Eventual Abbey Road medley mate “Carry That Weight” was a Paul suggestion as a vehicle for Ringo, and he wasn’t alone thinking about giving a song to the drummer. It’s just that Paul was the only one who wrote a song that endured.

John offered up about half a minute of the upbeat “Annie,” which sounds just barely sketched out enough not to be an improvisation. There’s not much meat to the bones, but it’s pleasant enough and very easy to hear Ringo singing it.

Not to be left out, George immediately followed with a new song he likewise said was for Ringo. More fleshed out than “Annie” — or “Carry That Weight,” for that matter — “Maureen” was credited to Bob Dylan, according to George.

Maureen and George in India, Februrary 1968

Maureen and George in India, Februrary 1968

It’s folky and laid back, and there’s no reason necessarily to think it’s not a product of the November ’68 Harrison-Dylan sessions in upstate New York, if you accept the premise Dylan was writing songs named for Ringo Starr’s wife in George’s style and less his own. As it would happen, George and Maureen did have a lengthy affair, but Pattie Boyd’s autobiography only pins it to the early 1970s. But who knows what was going on before that — I don’t, and I’m drifting badly off-topic in discussing band members’ infidelity.

What the song does do, like so many other random bits of music that passed through Twickenham, is add another curio to sessions replete with such oddities we’d never hear from again.

The group tackled a few covers, but of course they did. It’s a hallmark of these sessions, and a wildly overrated and overstated hallmark to boot.

One of the memorable covers of the day was an oldie they had mastered in the past and was so strongly associated with their live act. Surprisingly, it’s the only time they performed a take of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” at the sessions, and it apparently happened to be an instrumental (any singing was off-mic, at least). Clunkier and a little slower than the original, if it was ever to be remotely considered for this live show — and there’s no indication it was to be — they’d probably just rely on memory.

The song served as a jumping point for a few other oldies in succession: “Money,” “Fools Like Me,” “Sure to Fall” and “Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo.” (All included in the above clip.)

Perhaps the covers throughout the duration of the sessions could be described as red herrings along with the one-off originals like “Annie” and “Maureen” — interesting merely because they’re rare Beatles recordings, but not nearly as enlightening as seeing the songs we know develop or listening to the fascinating conversation about the live show and the future of the band.

With that, I’ll close the book on Jan. 6, 1969. See you “tomorrow”!

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: That weight and this boy

It’s as if one James Paul McCartney had a crystal ball on this Monday morning, fully aware of the serious depth of frustration these Jan. 6 sessions would ultimately become in the ensuing hours with their iconic struggles with “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Two of Us.”

So in serving as rough bookends to what was, well, a rough day of rehearsals, it’s easy to read even more into “Carry That Weight” than Paul ultimately disclosed.  While not a complete template to the eventual cut on Abbey Road — it’s in standalone form, not attached to “Golden Slumbers” yet —  its introduction informs just why the song is as much a Ringo song than anyone’s. And I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally expecting this to be a post that much about Ringo.

On Abbey Road, the track is listed at a mere 1:37, much of that a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” and the only real, tangible identification of the song as its own independent work of art is repeat of the dozen words in the chorus — “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time”

As Paul tells Barry Miles in “Many Years From Now”:

We were taking so much acid and doing so much drugs and all this [Allen] Klein shit was going on and getting crazier and crazier and crazier. Carry that weight a long time: like for ever! That’s what I meant.

‘Heavy’ was a very operative word at the time — ‘Heavy, man’ — but now it actually felt heavy. That’s what ‘Carry That Weight’ was about: not the light, rather easy-going heaviness, albeit witty and sometimes cruel, but with an edge you could exist within and which always had a place for you to be. It was serious, paranoid heaviness and it was just very uncomfortable.

Talk about heavy — that’s some pretty heavy analysis for a minute-or-so chant, no?

On this day, just under 40 minutes into the Jan. 6 tapes and before they do any heavy lifting, we learn it’s no mere chant. At least for this, the song’s debut, which comes mere moments after George’s futile introduction of “Hear Me Lord.”

“I have a bit there which might interest you,” Paul said. “I was thinking for a song for Ringo.”

And off he goes, solo organ accompaniment to the familiar chorus we would all know from Abbey Road, sung alone. He implores the rest of the gang to sing along, which they do less than enthusiastically.

After the full-group singalong, the “Carry That Weight” we ultimately would know and love for so long delivers something unexpected:  a verse.

When I’ve been told the first time that I’d seen that wasn’t done, but I can’t get over the way he treat me wrong.

I guess that could be about dealings at Apple. Or it could just be generic filler lyric Paul’s so good at creating.

Another verse, mainly actual gibberish, spilled into a brief description of chords. Things broke up with John and Yoko’s arrival moments later. As the couple discuss  “that diary” with George, Ringo hits the ivories and introduces a bit of “Octopus’ Garden,” before Paul steers it back into “Carry That Weight.” Ringo sings enthusiastically.

Unintelligible chatter makes way to another revelation.

That bit, I was trying to do, like, a country song.

So Paul writing something — even just a “bit” for Ringo —  makes perfect sense, with country songs obviously in his wheelhouse. That Paul’s looking to write something for Ringo also speaks of his confidence in the future of songs like “Taking a Trip to Carolina” and “Picasso” (“Octopus’ Garden,” too).

There’s another verse, but nothing that’s particularly understandable. Country-ish, in the way Paul writes country.

Paul suggests perhaps Ringo sings the chorus alone — or maybe it’s everyone.

With that, and an alternate take of the chorus — “Boy, you’re going to open that gate,” suggested by George, and in what sounds like something inspired by something that just happened in the studio — the group moved on to some instrumentals and improvisational songs before they later fell into “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Two of Us” and other works-in-progress.

And with Paul proposing “Carry That Weight” could have been a song to be sung by the drummer from the start, we have an answer to the question (that I always wondered) of why Ringo is just so wonderfully prominent on Abbey Road’s recorded version.

Having carried the weight of keeping a semblance of cohesion of the group, the sessions and a very long day, Paul sounds slap-happy in singing the chorus to “Carry That Weight” on his way out of the studio at the conclusion of the Jan. 6 rehearsals, completing the other half of the bookend.

7 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 3)

This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the Jan. 6, 1969, sessions for “Two of Us.” If you haven’t already, please enjoy Part I and Part II!

George: OK, I don’t mind. 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.

The line came a little more than 16 minutes into the Let it Be film. In a movie less about words and more about music — the trailer’s promise of “rapping” not withstanding — it would stand out regardless. As it is, George’s statement to Paul during the day’s rehearsal of “Two of Us” essentially became the catchphrase for the entire sessions. It’s George’s frustrations and Paul’s bossiness — and John’s disinterest, as he’s conspicuous by his absence —  all in one. And because it was in the film, and the highlight of an extensive set of dialogue in it, it’s the moment we point to. At least, it’s the moment I point to.

“Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it” caps a sequence that lasted much longer than two or so minutes depicted in the film.

And when all was said and done, it was Paul needling George over a six-month old suggested guitar part that prompted him to say it (and was the subject of much of the last post).

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

georgeI get what Paul wants to do here, prove his point that a more spartan approach is ideal — especially here while they’re in the rehearsal stage. And he’s made that clear. But instead he finds a way to pick at a scab.

George, remember how you were wrong about “Hey Jude”? You’re wrong, just like that, today.

And because of George’s state during the sessions — his originals were blandly tolerated at best or outright dismissed at worst — the scab tears right open.

George: OK, I don’t mind. 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. But I don’t think you really know what that one is.

Missing from the film is that last line, which really gives it an extra bite. Passive-aggressive right into aggressive.

In the film, the discussion pivots from George to John wanting to listen back to tapes before he begins into “Across the Universe.” Paul’s sweater goes from orange to yellow, so not much sleuthing is needed to know that’s cut in from a different day.

After George relays his willingness to please, Paul’s actually speechless for a few seconds, before saying, audibly perturbed and in a way only Paul can say it, “OK, now come on.” He pays no mind to John, who here is actually trying to defuse the situation with a resolution that would move the session forward in the immediate.

Do you want to take the galloping bit, and I’ll just vamp?” John cuts in to ask George. Paul continues.

Paul (to George): Look, you know, it’s not like that. … We’ve gone through this, we’ve really got to sort out this, because this is the one, you know? Now we’re rehearsing,  and we’re trying to get it together for a TV show. So we really, like you said, we’ve only been through four numbers.

(George replies with an “uh-huh”)

So we’ve probably got to get some system to get through like 20 or 30 and no more. … And it’s probably going to be like sculpture. So that we get all the chords, so we can all vamp them all. Then we can all play every solo we need.

Wow! That’s a lot of songs. What a TV show that could have been, right?  (This isn’t the post for it – but it will be sooner than not: What would those 30 songs be?)  Anyway!

Paul: But… you know what I mean. It’s got to sound as though it’s improving.

George: It actually, it sounded to me, that for me, it was a waste of me time playing when we started it today. I just started remembering then what it was getting into the other day after playing it for an hour and a half. And suddenly I start finding that what I’m doing is starting to have something, Have some sculpture to it.

Paul: I know what you mean, it’s just that that way of doing it puts me off the way I’m trying to do it.

George: But that’s all. I can only do me that one way, however I do it, you know?

Silence. And then Paul decides to wave the white flag before being spurned. Just picking his fights, I guess.

Paul:  Let’s do another song, then.

George: No, we can’t.  We still have to learn this.  Do you want to do … Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?

Burn! The sarcasm drips like water from a faucet. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit the band a few days earlier than he ultimately did.

John: Let’s do this, because, I mean, we’re going to come to this,or whatever it is. And the thing is just to try to and think whatever …  it’s going to be.

Paul: This afternoon, I think we’ve wasted a long time. I think we do waste, physically, waste a lot of time, the four of us together.

It’s Paul as boss again, this time lecturing on employee efficiency. And I don’t blame him, because he’s pretty much on target here.

The slate cuts in, and there’s some cross talk and Paul’s bass muffling some dialogue.

Paul: I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know? Not pretending about that. … And that’s what we decided, you know?

This line passed right by me the first time I heard it, and it wasn’t until I was sprucing up the post that it jumped out. What’s Paul saying here? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and guess he’s saying he’s scared of the whole “be the boss” thing for a couple years? Or is he coming out and saying that he has been the boss for a couple years?  I’m not sure he doesn’t think of George as a subordinate, but I don’t think he believes that of John. But I’ll give Paul a pass here, in part because the lack of reaction.

Paul: And this is why it’s chaos. That’s why we take so long.  Because, really … we could play it shitty. We play it shitty 10 times, and so it’s sort of in there.   And then I think we could play it quite good then. But it’s just like different approaches, you know? I think we’d be better just doing it all like the Red Norvo Five. Just really like…

John:  Vamping away.

Paul: Vamping … then get the imaginative thing. … I know it’s impossible … because we don’t do it that way. … There’s no point in me trying to get you to do it how I do it.

paul-pointsA little reminder here — they’re not even done with their third day of the sessions, and things are already being described as a “waste of time” and “chaos.” Reading between the lines and maybe I’m off-base, but I think Yoko’s omnipresence is implied as part and parcel of the chaos. And maybe Paul has a bit of an idea that they’re moving too fast here, even though he’s part of that problem — nobody has any idea what songs they’re going to play at a live show, where the show will be or even how it will be staged.

Meanwhile, who the heck is Red Norvo? He led his quintet (there was a trio, octet and other combinations, too), playing modern jazz on a vibraphone and, it seems, famously vamping.

Paul: It’s terrible, though, seeing yourself really go down a path you’ve been down too many times, you don’t want to go down. Like us going on about this. I really don’t want to go down that path. It’s just silly. I just don’t see any solution.

The problem is that we should all arrange our own tunes. And if you want improvisation, then should just say it.

George: That’s the best way.

Paul: It’s like a point of theory, this, isn’t it? It’s not just to do with playing music. Far further reaching, this thing.

Far further reaching, indeed. So the path is set for Beatles 2.0, although  we’ve already seen them act, essentially, as each others’ backup band in many instances on the White Album (and certainly before that, too). Now, they discuss codifying it, taking “I’ll play if you want me to play” to its logical conclusion.

It wasn’t an angry exchange, this one, rather very matter of fact (and difficult to hear with the band playing over the conversation). But we do see how it manifested on Abbey Road, where the band often recorded parts in separate studios simultaneously.

Isn’t this moment here, very specifically, The Beatles agreeing to ultimately break up? They’re happy to relegate the other members as their respective session players, making George no different to Paul than Hamish Stewart, or Paul no different to John than Tony Levin.

Perhaps coincidentally, the group launches into a slow, almost mournful abbreviated version with John leading on vocals. Shortly thereafter, Paul gets back to business.

Paul: What I really meant to say was, let’s do the same bit on that. That’s what I really meant to say.  (“We’re on our way home”)

The band returned to the back end of the chorus, focusing on timing and cues. Mal is asked to fetch John a tea and George a beer. This can only be a good thing as the occasional brew helps fuel the odd blog post as well.

George and Ringo fool around, playing “Frère Jacques”  into Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” for less than a minute. Maybe the beer helped mellow the mood, as George, with a much friendlier vibe, asks Paul how he envisions the style of “Two of Us.”

George: It was going heavier. Do you want it more countryish?

Paul: I don’t mind, I’ll just go where it goes.

The group runs through the song a few times, sometimes able to get all the way through. Tape cuts make it hard to tell just how many times they did work on it.

In addition to giving a passing, light-hearted nod to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Loop De Loop” — they spent a bit of time on the very end of “Two of Us.” I’d most certainly say Paul was trying to “confuse it” before “unconfusing it” here, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only written about 5,000 words on just 50 minutes of “Two of Us” rehearsals.

And with that, we wrap the day’s historic and fascinating rehearsals of the song.

Having fun, the Ringo way

Having fun, the Ringo way

So given the full context of the day’s sessions (and the prior days’, too), and emotions which were especially ramped up during the torturous “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsal that immediately preceded “Two of Us,” of course  George’s famed “please you” wasn’t anything remotely out of the blue. It wasn’t even the most potent or viscous thing he said that hour.

But the delivery of “please you” was perfect, and watching it on film more than 40 years later, it’s still a great, dramatic moment. Like I wrote in the first post about “Two of Us,” it’s a  passive-aggressive greatest hit.  I’ve said it to bosses (they had no idea what I was referencing).  I’ve said it to my wife (she did).

I think it’s remembered, even in a way that “I don’t even care” — spoken seconds earlier — isn’t. Of course, that could just be terrible VCR copies and rips over the years responsible for the muddy sound. The moment, the editing — it was just perfect for “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.”

The pity in all of this? I think the song sounds great. It’s fun, upbeat — I liken it to a driving song during a buddy movie vs. the eventual acoustic cut, which sounds like something to hold hands to in a romantic comedy. Oh well. I’ll enjoy the pacing of the song while it lasts for a few more days of the sessions.

The “Two of Us” rehearsals over, John searches for the words to “Across the Universe,” while George sneaks in a little bit of Hear Me Lord. They go back into “Universe” for one take before attention shifts to “All Things Must Pass” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” to end the day.

11 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 2)

Rehearsals on Jan. 6 — just the third day of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions — deteriorated to the point where The Beatles were arguing about the very nature of rehearsals and the extent to which a song need be complete in order to have a member bring it to the full band to actually bother with run-throughs.

paul-gb-bookWith takes of “Two of Us” under way, Paul’s already defensive, George is already passive-aggressive. And John? Seems like he just wants to run out the clock and get the hell out of there. But at least he’s not showing any desire to have confrontation at this very specific moment in time.

When we last left things, the song — while sounding great to these ears more than 40 years later — was hung up in the intro, outro and bridge (I guess that doesn’t leave a lot, does it?). Paul had just accused George of being annoyed by him and he bemoaned the presence of the cameras. After some silence and noodling by the group, and another remark by John about the opening riff that continues to torture him, Paul repeats his preferred rehearsal style.

Paul: Doesn’t everyone agree that it’s confused at the moment? So all I’m trying to say is, let’s get the confusion, unconfuse it, then confuse it.

It’s what we’ve been doing all afternoon — this is why we’re not getting anything done. We’ve just got [to get] rolling on with it. We’ve only got 12 more days, so we’ve really got to do this methodically, this one. Unconfused, then a bit more confused, then a bit more. “Now try this drumming here, try this drumming there. Now, OK, let’s stop and look into this bit.”

Well, there’s another nice, little revelation. As of Jan. 6, it seems it’s locked in that the sessions will end Jan. 18 — or, if we’re adding in weekends, make it the 21st or 22nd (depending on whether the 6th counts against that 12 days). Presumably this is how long they’ve booked Twickenham. Talk about ambitious. As history would eventually prove, The Beatles would be out of Twickenham much earlier than that, on Jan. 14 – but that would be a direct result of George leaving the band before rejoining on a condition they abandoned the soundstage for Savile Row.

After Paul’s repeated plea to simplify first, John jumps in, almost as comic relief, continuing his complete fixation on getting out of playing the opening galloping part on guitar.

“I’ve got an idea,” John graciously offers. “I should vamp, because I’ve got to sing, and it’s hard going. But it’s annoying” (and he plays the opening riff).

George fools around on guitar over a bit, making dialogue hard to pick up, until things get clearer in this next exchange.

Paul: I’m trying to stop us all playing until we know what we are playing.

George: But you got to play in order to find out which fits and what doesn’t.

Paul: I’m thinking … we’re improvising the solos, but we play strict chords and strict rhythms around the vocals… I don’t want to say, ‘cause I really just hear myself the only one saying it. All this time…I don’t, don’t get any support or anything…you know its right, and you know its right. (He’s presumably talking to George and John).

John: OK, so I just don’t know what to do about it.

George: I’ll wait until you get your bits and then work my part out if you like. It’s like a matter of working it out with you while you’re working your bit out. You know if you got your bass bit, you know… it will take even longer.

Paul: I’m not trying to say to you, you’re doing it again as though I’m trying to say, and what we said the other day, I’m not trying to get you. What I really am trying to just say is, “Look lads” — the band, you know — “should we try it like this,” you know?

George: It’s funny now how I don’t even care.

Oof.

Amazing honesty from George. He, for one, doesn’t seem to care at all about the cameras capturing the proceedings.  But alas, the tone he spoke in was somewhat mild (and who knows what the visual was) so I can see how this didn’t end up becoming the killer line chosen for the film, like “whatever it is that will please you” became.

Meanwhile, Paul’s showing no hesitation in calling out George and John, both, in saying he’s alone in keeping things afloat. Really, for all of Paul’s flaws, he’s kind of right here about the situation. There does seem to be a bit of cart-before-the-horse when it comes to running through the songs.

And as Paul continues, not skipping a beat after George’s dismissive comment, he goes back at George, reminding him of a recent exchange the two had over a song.

Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

(loveallthis.tumblr.com)

More than 40 years later as I write this, it almost seems like “Hey Jude” was from a different generation of Beatles than the ones arguing their way through the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. But on Jan. 6, 1969, where we are today in this blog’s current timeline, it was a song recorded less than six months prior, released a little over four months earlier and had just dropped out of the UK Top 40 three weeks prior.

It’s a funny thing how prevalent the ghost of “Hey Jude” was at the time of the Twickenham sessions. The song’s sessions were easy, with rehearsals beginning July 29, ending Aug, 1. The experience of the song’s video shoot – done at the same Twickenham — helped encourage the band that the time was right to perform in front of live audiences. And like these sessions, “Hey Jude” was ultimately recorded away from the safe and familiar confines of EMI Studios at Abbey Road (where they recorded what turned out to be more rehearsals than real takes), and instead at Trident.  And if outtakes are any indication, it was a pretty upbeat affair.

Thus, the experience recording the song — which happened smack in the middle of the White Album sessions — was fresh at the time of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. Paul and George had just been discussing how much they liked Wilson Pickett’s cover version just three days prior.

So what was Paul’s beef with George on “Hey Jude”? Here’s what he has to say sometime in the 1990s, as captured to print in the Anthology book:

On “Hey Jude”, when we first sat down and I sang ‘Hey Jude…’, George went ‘nanu nanu’ on his guitar. I continued, ‘Don’t make it bad…’ and he replied ‘nanu nanu’. He was answering every line – and I said, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute now. I don’t think we want that. Maybe you’d come in with answering lines later. For now I think I should start it simply first.” He was going, ‘Oh yeah, OK, fine, fine.’ But it was getting a bit like that. He wasn’t into what I was saying.

In a group it’s democratic and he didn’t have to listen to me, so I think he got pissed off with me coming on with ideas all the time. I think to his mind it was probably me trying to dominate. It wasn’t what I was trying to do – but that was how it seemed.

This, for me, was eventually what was going to break The Beatles up. I started to feel it wasn’t a good idea to have ideas, whereas in the past I’d always done that in total innocence, even though I was maybe riding roughshod.

I did want to insist that there shouldn’t be an answering guitar phrase in ‘Hey Jude’ – and that was important to me – but of course if you tell a guitarist that, and he’s not as keen on the idea as you are, it looks as if you’re knocking him out of the picture. I think that it was like, ‘Since when are you going to tell me what to play? I’m in The Beatles too.’ So I can see his point of view.

But it burned me, and I then couldn’t come up with ideas freely, so I started to have to think twice about anything I’d say – ‘Wait a minute, is this going to be seen to be pushy?’ – whereas in the past it had just been a case of, ‘Well, the hell, this would be a good idea. Let’s do this song called “Yesterday”. It’ll be all right.’

What we see here is pretty obvious: The Get Back/Let it Be sessions have been tarnished — demonized even — in part, because we actually can hear everything that happens thanks to voluminous bootlegs. Good luck finding a recording George and Paul arguing over the “Hey Jude” extra guitar part.

So in the Anthology excerpt (among other places, like in Barry Miles’ “Many Years From Now”), Paul does a pretty good job here giving what seems like an honest presentation of what was happening in 1968-69. And nearly 30 years after the fact , he was still able to run through the specifics.

And it was Paul’s reflection — This one, it’s like, ‘Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.'” — is what directly prompted George to spew “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play.”

More from the “Two of Us” rehearsals, including George finally uttering that line I keep on going on about, coming up in the next post!

12 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: Please, please you (Pt. 1)

It’s a passive-aggressive greatest hit.

And it’s the highlight of the series of posts — which gets under way here — I was most eager to write before I heard a minute of the complete tapes.

George to Paul: I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you… I’ll do it.

Having just heard the band make their way through a somewhat torturous rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” the context is finally here of just why George was ready to snap at Paul. But it’s a long and, well, somewhat direct road to get to “whatever it is that will please you,” and the tension isn’t one-sided as the group pivots to Paul’s “Two of Us,” an ode to his bride-to-be, Linda.

please youIn listening to the entirety of the “Two of Us” tapes, Paul’s ready to jump at anyone, feeling quite on the defensive. John, for one, doesn’t take the bait. And in fact, as the session for the song goes on, John actually attempts a bit of a peacemaker role once things begin to boil between Paul and George. But that comes later. George, on the other hand, is quite ready to share his feelings with Paul.

Musically, the song isn’t too much different than it had been before they broke for the weekend, on Jan. 3. It’s upbeat, and completely electric at this point. But like the final version, it’s a Paul-John duet. The first take of the day, straight from the top after they had moved on from “Don’t Let Me Down,” breaks down seconds in when John asks if he’s supposed to be singing.

Paul: Melody. You’re supposed to remember the words, too.

John: Yes, I’ve got them here.

Paul: But learn ’em.

John: I almost know ’em.

And we’re off and running! Just another 50 or so minutes of remaining rehearsals of “Two of Us” — and arguments — to go. Fasten your seat belts.

The tension never lets up — getting to “whatever it is that will please you” was inevitable.

Paul references past Beatles songs a number of times during the rehearsal, beginning with an early run-through, when he dictates to George that the guitar part during the verses should sound “like that bit in ‘Getting Better All the Time'” (meaning the staccato guitar part opening the song and that plays throughout).

After subsequent noodling around with the song, Paul tries to restore order and get down to actual business, in the orderly, McCartneyesque manner we’ve come to know and love/hate.

“OK, come on, come on,” Paul says to the group with a headmaster’s tone. “Let’s get it so we know it simply, and then we can add. We don’t know any one [song] yet straight. We keep trying to get to the bits.”

This is indeed true through the first few days of the sessions. “Don’t Let Me Down” is dragged down by the bridge. “I’ve Got a Feeling” isn’t quite right yet. “All Things Must Pass” is very much a work in progress. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” isn’t finished yet. You get the picture. Only “One After 909” – written more than a decade earlier, despite the slower arrangement, and born in these sessions out of an oldies jam – was in game shape.

Another pass at “Two of Us” and things break down as they enter the first bridge (“You and I have memories…”). So it’s time for a band meeting (Ringo, the passive drumming robot, says nothing throughout).

Paul: We’re going to have to sort of bring it together, because we’re all at odds. We’re doing that thing we did on The Beatles — we’re all playing, you know? Like in this verse, it’s two harmonies singing, trying to say some words, right? So it’s just… (he vocally apes a guitar vamp ). And in the bits when we need bits….

John: I’m just trying to sing it and do this thing (he plays the guitar part played during the “We’re on our way home” line).

Paul: We’ve got to get the riffs when the riffs bits come in.

George: The riffs… There’s no riffs. It’s nice just to get what you’re playing. (George then starts to sing “You and I are memories…”)

Paul: But it’s not together, so that it’s not sounding together.

George: So we keep playing until we…

Paul: Or, we can stop and say it’s not together.

George: Yes, then you’ve got to carry on until you get it together. It’s all right to keep playing until it sounds like it’s blending with the rest.

Paul: I never know what to say to that, you know? ‘Cause what I want to say is, “Now, come on,” and play, but I can’t, I know. You know, and we get into that one. OK.

They’re not talking about what sounds good, what words work or don’t or the like. This is a debate about the philosophy of how to rehearse. We’re in uncharted territory. These four men are writing a record on the spot, under strict time constraints to get these songs in working order for a show that’s going to happen at some unknown locale, and very soon.

You’d think this kind of thing would have been hashed out, but then again, why would it? When they last toured, in 1966, they played about a dozen songs — nothing brand new, and some songs they’d been playing for many years. They knew the songs inside and out, plus they weren’t writing anything special for the tour or struggled under the pressure of the clock. And when they last brought new songs to the table — a few months earlier for the White Album sessions — they didn’t have the pressure of the live show.

There’s a bit of nervous laughter from Paul before he continues to offer a logic he repeats numerous times over the “Two of Us” sessions this day.

Paul: … It’s complicated now. See, if we can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications, but it’s complicated in the bit.

George: It’s not complicated.

Paul: But, I mean, you know.

George: I’ll play just the chords if you like, and then…

While George is low-key throughout, speaking in completely passive-aggressive tones, Paul grows audibly exasperated.

Paul: No, no, come on. You always get annoyed when I say that. I’m trying to help, you know? But I always hear myself annoying you…

George: No, you’re not annoying. It’s not annoying anymore (or is it “anyone”? Hard to tell).

Paul: … And I get so where I can’t say it. But you know what I mean. Just do this then, and, I don’t know. I can’t do it on film either. I don’t know if we can do it on camera.

Funny, Paul had just said earlier in the day that he didn’t mind being filmed, that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier.

But as it would turn out, Paul would end up having to continue this discussion on camera after all, and it would become one of the iconic moments of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions and the film — behind only the rooftop concert — and truly in the group’s history overall.

The in-depth look at the “Two of Us” sessions on Jan. 6, 1969, will resume in the next post. Coming very soon!

9 Comments

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Jan. 6, 1969 recap

gh-bookBlogoversary week continues with a look back at my posts about today in Nagra tapes history: Jan. 6, 1969, a truly fascinating and historic one in band history.

  • Icing Cream: As the new work week begins, the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg are fixated on how bad the Cream farewell documentary is
  • Hear Me: In which the Quiet Beatle proves he’s possibly insane by introducing another future classic to be met with complete indifference
  • Here comes the bird king: Jam isn’t just for toast for the Beatles on this day at Twickenham as they work on some improvisations including a song that would later appear on, of all things, Paul’s unreleased Rupert the Bear soundtrack
  • Playing to the gods (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 1): It’s the first real talks about the live show to be the sessions’ eventual endgame, and as far as audiences are concerned, Yoko Ono asks who needs ’em?
  • Such a lovely audience? (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 2): Extensive discussion of the eventual live show continues, with exotic – and not quite so – options in the mix
  • Adore your ballroom dancing (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 3): Lengthy midday discussion about the eventual live show concludes with George Harrison asking what The Beatles image should be, and Paul proposing playing a dance as the answer. Or should they all just go home?
  • Cross that bridge (Pt. 1): The session’s legendary discord emerges as the boys battle the bridge in “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • Cross that bridge (Pt. 2): The day’s rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” conclude with tension, but ultimately a progress on the song’s troubling bridge. But mainly tension.
  • Please, please you (Pt. 1): Rehearsals for “Two of Us” begin as the band argues just over how to conduct a rehearsal. We’re on the road to “whatever it is that will please you” in the beginning of a multi-part series on this historic session.
  • Please, please you (Pt. 2): Tensions during “Two of Us” continue to reach a boil as George admits he plain doesn’t care, while Paul evokes the pair’s experience rehearing “Hey Jude.”
  • Please, please you (Pt. 3): George doesn’t mind, he’ll play, you know, whatever you want him to play.
  • That weight and this boy: Paul bookends a rough day of rehearsals with the debut of “Carry That Weight,” and now we know why Ringo is so prominent on the song’s eventual recording on Abbey Road.
  • Et cetera: The day’s coverage is a wrap as I tie up some loose ends — checking on a pair of curios written for Ringo, rehearsals of a couple other songs that managed to endure, a few covers and the briefest of mentions of George’s sex life.

There’s one more post that fits in here, even though it’s not precisely on the timeline.

  • TMBP Extra: Time to leave the capsule:  The members of The Beatles and Bowie have crossed paths several times over the last 40-plus years, but here I dig into what they were doing on January 6, 1969, before they met, just miles away at the same precise moment. Bowie, The Beatles and Apollo 8 all cross paths in one post.

1 Comment

Filed under Extra, General, Recap

Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 2)

When we left the Fab Four in the previous post, the band was continuing the wrestle with the bridge in “Don’t Let Me Down.” To Paul, the section “needs things to happen.”

So he proceeds to ask Ringo for a little bit of stop-and-start drumming, some cymbal play and otherwise suggest ways to demolish the pacing of the song.

John seems to like it, or at least not dislike it. There’s a sparseness to it, and maybe I’m nuts, but I almost feel a little Plastic Ono Band thing happening here (“Hold On” maybe?).

excerpt

Excerpt from the Let it Be book

One thing that’s enjoyable to listen to as they work on this is hearing the isolations — Paul’s bass, George’s guitar. Meanwhile, Ringo’s a robot throughout the rehearsals. He literally doesn’t say a word (that you can hear on the tapes, at least), soaks up Paul’s instructions and basically steps in to lay down the same steady beat each of the 2,549 (approx.) times they try to tackle the bridge this day.

Meanwhile, the tapes cut in and out for an undetermined amount of takes, but it couldn’t have been too long, since they’re still wrestling with the same stuff. Now they’re paying a bit more attention to the instrumentation on the bridge over the vocals. Paul’s looking for more from George in the way of a lead guitar line — overall, not just in the bridge. Soon, John tells George, “We’ve got to keep fiddling around with this bit, so you want a guitar bit. … There’s a point where we’ll to have to concentrate on the guitar for each song.”

But maybe it won’t be now. John gives the band a chance to opt out of the “Don’t Let Me Down” after nearly an hour of not exactly getting very far. “Should we do something else ,then?”

Feel like letting go? Not Paul. “Stick with it,” he replies.

So they continue and struggle with the song’s pace, first going too fast, then overcompensating by going too slow. Things just aren’t getting anywhere. George complains they don’t even know what they’re singing during the bridge —  and they don’t. Tape glitches lose some time, but it doesn’t matter. When we’re back, the rehearsals are in the same state. John doesn’t bother singing the lead vocals straight every time — and there’s no point, it’s the same vocals he uses on the final take.

For a moment, they ditch the response vocals and go with simple “aahs” over the bridge, and it didn’t sound too bad. But still a bit superfluous.

So Paul shares what’s on his mind, which is what we all probably figured he’d say anyway.

Let’s do what I said in the first place. Really, just repeat what you’re doing (the response vocals). I think that’s the best. … Not as high as we were doing it.

As we enter the final few minutes of the song’s rehearsals for the day, palpable tension finally arises. George’s general objection is to the weak response vocals and undefined instrumentation in the bridge. Paul replies that “I’m just trying to get a bit we’ll try and sort of go right through. We keep talking about it.”

The next take, they do a call-and-response in the bridge, this time repeating John’s lines: “I’m in love for the first time (I’m in love for the first time)/Don’t you know it’s going to last (Don’t you know it’s going to last)…etc.

George still objects, and makes no bones about it, saying,”I think it’s awful. …  it’s terrible.”

Paul and John both fire back, speaking over each other:

John: Well, have you got anything to supplant it?

Paul: OK, you’ve got to come up with something better, then.

George makes a suggestion to the guitar part/harmony (they’re being played together) that Paul calls “just too pretty,” which is interesting on so many levels — although among them that it’s true.

They can’t get through a take of the bridge before things break down. George keeps offering up little tweaks, but Paul doesn’t want to be slowed. Now, at least.

Paul: We make it better as it goes on.  … We’ve just gone around like for an hour with nothing.”

George: [We’ve been just trying different] permutations.

Paul: I know, but let’s sort of move on now.

John: I’d like to hear any of them right once.

More stumbling through takes and Paul and John reach agreement on how the bridge should now sound, at least the lyrical combination. It’s a mixed message to George, too, since literally moments after saying it wasn’t the time to tweak the bridge, he decides it, in fact, is.

Paul: When [John sings] “Don’t you know it’s going to last,” we sing, “It’s a love that has no past.” Then we repeat “It’s a love that lasts forever” exactly, and then when you sing “It’s a love that has no past,” we sing “It’s a love that’s going to last.”

George JohnGot that?  Not sure John did or really cared — he’s let this aspect of the song be managed by Paul all day as it is — but he replied simply “Yes, I agree.”

A pair of broken takes did result, blessedly, in an epiphany and a solution that stuck.

“Forget the last line,” George said right after doing just that and playing the song’s opening riff over where they had been shoehorning in a response vocal.

They repeat this part a few more times. We still have the other extra vocals in the bridge, but the riff sticks.

While Paul’s assuaged for the moment — “So that’s near enough for the time being” — John isn’t.

John: We found out that’s the weak bit [the bridge] so we tried putting voices on it. But it’s still down to the rhythm.

Paul: But it was always weak on your guitar. That’s the weak bit of the song.   (It’s unclear here if he’s talking to John or George, or both).

Shortly after that exchange, we’re back after some kind of gap on the tapes, with a fresh attempt at the song from the top. And we clearly lost some discussion, because the bridge suddenly lacks any response vocals — but does retain George’s riff to end the section. This sounds like the “Don’t Let Me Down” we know and love, for the most part, even down to John not quite getting his own vocals straight.

The next (and final) take, we inch even closer, with Paul and George singing harmonies with John, not as a response to him in the bridge.

And with that, the band ends their 80-plus minutes (on the tapes, it was even more in reality) of “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsals on a high note. May not have been the classic “eyeball-to-eyeball”  collaborations John and Paul would do — especially with George so deeply involved. But clearly, even though it wasn’t exactly cordial, it worked. “Don’t Let Me Down” was a better song 80 minutes after they started rehearsing.

Paul then announces the next song they’ll try to work on —  “Two of Us Going Nowhere On Our Way Home” — and we’ll find out soon enough just how much George wants to please him.

5 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: Cross that bridge (Pt. 1)

After basically ceding to Yoko his creative role in the band’s decision-making over the live show earlier in the day, John Lennon regains a tiny bit of authority by leading the group through a lengthy rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” one of the primary songs the band has taken on thus far.

jlWell, he regains authority at the outset, at least, during a stretch that provides the first real look at the discord between band members that helped define the Get Back/Let it Be sessions.

On the A/B tapes, Jan. 6 rehearsals for “Don’t Let Me Down” run in a straight shot for nearly 90 minutes, easily the longest stretch they spent on any one song this day. The structure of the song is set and doesn’t change from what will eventually be pressed to vinyl. It’s a delightfully simple song, both in lyrics and structure. But they’re not happy to leave well enough alone quite yet.

Things kick in with the song already under way in what’s labeled as Track 6.62. (I’ve also been able to track down some of this day’s rehearsals in a few YouTube clips below, as culled from the bootleg “Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 9 (1969 N° 5) – Hello Dolly.”)

Shortly into things, John asks to work on what he calls “the worst bit” — the song’s bridge. (“I’m in love for the first time…”).

Now, it’s absolutely granted that the band has a hard time working together, and that didn’t just begin on Jan. 2, when they convened at Twickenham. But at least from the relative beginning of the sessions, they’re trying. An example of that comes right here as John wants the help on the bridge, asking openly, “What can we do to that bit, then?”

George says he likes the vocal line and harmony, it’s just lacking in some color as far as the fills in between. He suggests a rhythm change, while John replies, “That’s where the piano would come in.”

Good stuff! Collaboration!

Paul scats some falsetto to alternate with John’s lines, and George fiddles with some guitar fills. It actually sounds kind of nice with John on an acoustic guitar, but overall nothing overly impressive. But hey, it’s a work in progress. There were probably lots of bum attempts at things over the prior decade of Beatles in-studio fiddling, right? We just have these extensive rehearsals on tape, whereas we don’t have a zillion hours and hours of them wrestling with, say, “Nowhere Man.”

Paul takes things a bit more into his own hands, instructing George to join him in the vocals, and telling him just what to do.

Paul offers up his falsetto part, then gives explicit suggestions for the responses.

John: I’m in love for the first time

Paul’s suggestion: Love for the first time in my life

John: Don’t you know it’s going to last

Paul: So don’t you let it get away (he soon changes it to “Not going to let it get away”)

John: It’s a love that lasts forever

Paul: It lasts forever and a day

Paul goes onto explain that “corny’s all right in this one. What he’s [John] doing is corny. That’s the thing that will make it not corny, we sing different different words.”

I’d question the logic (and lyrical interpretation) there, but hey, Paul’s track record in writing hit songs is a lot longer than mine. The last song he referred to as “corny” was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” a few days earlier, and I think it’s safe to say they’re quite different birds. I do think he says it affectionately, at least.

John belting out "Don't Let Me Down" in a clip from "Let it Be"

John belting out “Don’t Let Me Down” in a clip from this very day, captured on film in “Let it Be”

George says something that’s not quite on mic, to which Paul, clearly trying to blow him off, says “OK, well, we’ll do that, that comes later. Just sing it straight first.”

The next stab at the bridge has George doing the “part that moves” that Paul had just suggested, sounding a bit Band-ish, which isn’t too much of a surprise at this point. At the same time, there’s a slight “Revolution 1” vibe here, where the “shooby-doo-wops” punctuate the chorus. I guess it works, but it definitely changes the feel of what we know as “Don’t Let Me Down” — John in fact likens the work in progress to “something like the Drifters.” (We’re still a few weeks away from the Beatles actually covering the Drifters).

They continue to run through the bridge, Paul directing.

Paul : The thing is, sing the one I’m doing, and we’ll improve upon it. Start off with a corny one, because the words aren’t that good. (Here, he’s referring to his response vocals, not John’s main ones).

John: I think the words should be corny, because there are no clever words in it.

I guess he’s right — it’s a straight rock song with deeply honest lyrics (and his first song written for Yoko, I believe), no interpretation necessary. This isn’t “I am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” lyrically. So I don’t think he meant it as an insult to the song. But I guess I’m surprised John would want to muddy up a song like this.

More run-throughs, and John still isn’t satisfied, at one point saying, “Maybe I should play piano … just to change it.” George talks about using some pedals so it “doesn’t sound like the same old shit,” — but John says “I like the same old shit, if it’s clear.”

“Just think of some riffs,” Paul suggests to George, as we see today’s first real signs of a little bit of the big boys ganging up on the perceived help.

And so they continue, with one of the takes briefly immortalized at the beginning of the “Let it Be” film (it’s taken from 6.67 on the tapes).

Of course, in this edit, the band goes straight into the Jan. 3 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer performance. In reality, they churned on, with Paul thinking the answer to the seemingly busted bridge is to change the rhythm.

“This needs this,” Paul insists. “It needs things to happen.”

Just what does happen? Find out soon in Part 2!

9 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 6: Adore your ballroom dancing (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 3)

Back-garden Beatles (Tittenhurst, 1969)

After a proposed overseas concert in a Roman amphitheater in Libya is scuttled by Paul, citing Ringo’s insistence on staying in England, a suggestion is made to perhaps go small and shoot a Beatles concert in a back garden, presumably somewhere in London.

Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg quickly dismisses the idea, suggesting it would end up like a “little promo film … instead of a Beatles television show.”

Sitting in on the discussion, George Martin cuts to the chase and thinks even smaller, proposing “we just do it in the other studio.”

Paul shifts the focus off the venue and back to the composition of the crowd.

Paul: We’re all prepared to do it with an audience. But what Yoko said is right — we can’t just have the same old scene. If it was the same old audience and we were … all naked when they came in, then that’d be a different scene, you know?

MLH: I think she’s totally right about that, that’s one of my big points.

As the discussion goes in circles, someone in the group asks the simple — but very difficult — question: “What can you do that’s new with them?”

Paul: We shouldn’t really try to do anything with the audience because the audience is the audience, and it’s them, and they’ve come in. It’s us that’s doing the show.

Yoko: Because If I were in New York and I watched the “Hey Jude” [promo on TV] … my interpretation would be that those people around them who are sort of climbing up and starting to sing with were just hired people. If I think that, then it’s OK. But if I thought it was a true audience, then I think, ‘Oh, so now people don’t think of The Beatles as too much’ because all the image that everybody in the world has about The Beatles is that once there’s an audience, they’re going to be frantic and pulling their clothes and tearing it away and all that.

“Hey Jude” promo video

OK, then.  Not so sure I’m on board with Yoko’s assessment of the state of The Beatles’ popularity at this point, but hey, she’s soon to be married to a member of the band and was actually there in the ’60s, whereas this blogger was yet to be born.

But still. It seems a bit out of reach to me to suggest that just because a Beatles audience wouldn’t be in full-tilt 1964-era Beatlemania, pulling out their hair and screaming over the songs, means the band isn’t as “big” anymore.  It’s 1969, not 1964 anymore. The music scene has changed.

But to avoid what Yoko thinks would be an issue, George Harrison says the solution is something The Beatles had done before.

The good thing is that we could completely create another image, reserve the image of your choice. If we could just think of an image we’d like to be and then we make it that one, which could be anything. We could just be a nightclub act, or anything, just the smoochy, low lights and 10 people.

Wheels turning, Lindsay-Hogg says, “Then you’re a little cabaret act,” before he and George Martin agree again that there should be a large audience that’s not necessarily any kind of focal point, just to be used as a sounding board.

But then Paul picks up on George’s idea and gives it a twist.

I thought, like, a ballroom. If we did go right back … and did it purely like a dance. “Come to the Tower Ballroom, there’s a dance on. Oh, incidentally, we’ll be the band there.” And we’d go on, play all the numbers and we’d play it like we’d play a dance, without trying to sort of announce anything. There’s a fast one, there’s a slow one, and everyone, like, dances. And there might be a fight or there might be the kinds of things that happened at dances. Or it might be a very sedate, quiet dance.

The Beatles, performing at the Tower Ballroom, ca. 1961-62

Presumably, Paul’s referring to the Tower Ballroom of New Brighton — just a ferry ride ‘cross the Mersey from Liverpool — a venue they played numerous times in 1961 and 1962.

I actually sort of love this idea, with the full understanding that it may just take hired hands to get an audience to ignore the fact they’re at a Beatles concert and just go ahead and actually dance.

And to do that, as my wife said to me, they’re really just making a long music video. What’s the point?

Lindsay-Hogg is on board — in essence, he says —  because he likes its simplicity. But that’s where his agreement ends. “What you’re asking for is a really, really simple approach, which I think is right,” the director says. “But I’m not sure just to have an audience dance around you is good that way. I don’t think you are just a local band.”

Paul, and the rest of the group in the conversation, agree. But after digging deeper into the idea, Lindsay-Hogg ultimately thinks it’s a non-starter.

MLH: The only time on TV it didn’t work for you was when you went on … Top of the Pops, and they did dance, do you remember that? And they didn’t really do very much. And that would look so crazy. It looked crazy for four minutes, but it would look lunatic for longer. It would have been in the bad way, it was so sedate, and you all were so sedate back then.

The essence of this idea is the simplest approach possible. The essence is correct —  totally, totally what I believe — but you’re just not the local dance band. Would that you were, but you’re not. So that’s going to be very hard to achieve.

Paul sticks with his newest idea, saying that if they’re going to be artificial and build a set at Twickenham to mirror the Tower Ballroom anyway, why not just go to the Tower itself?

We learn a little bit more about the Let it Be film’s early timeline in Lindsay-Hogg’s response.

MLH: That was one of the reasons we started veering off on these ideas was when we were looking at locations that Friday afternoon after Christmas, and all the locations looked like four steps up from a boutique, you know what I mean? Four years ago everyone was shooting in a boutique, and now it’s a disused sawmill or whatever it is. It just looked like plastic locations.

Everyone agreed it was a phony look, certainly something the group was seeking to avoid.

“Candy” co-stars Ringo Starr with Richard Burton — and Liz Taylor in 1968.

Also notable here is that the director was scouting locations on Dec. 27, 1968 — a mere 10 days earlier. Good on Lindsay-Hogg, too, for working hard; he directed “Rock & Roll Circus” just 16 days prior.

Yoko won’t give up on the band staging a show before anything remotely like a conventional audience, comparing the scenario to actor Richard Burton, and saying that people don’t want to see him performing on stage before a “fixed” audience.

No matter what kind of audience, it s going to look crummy. What he is is a legend.  Seeing him on his own private boat or just seeing him shaving is just more dignified than seeing him perform before a fixed audience. Do you see that point? That’s why it’s better to show you in your private home, or George’s home or something. “Oh, this is much better than a fixed audience.”

George and Pattie at home at Kinfauns, their home from 1964-1970

Someone, perhaps Mal or Neil, out-Yokos Yoko by suggesting a performance at The Royal Academy or Tate Gallery — “with nobody there but the pictures.” Naturally, she agrees.

Lindsay-Hogg still wants none of that, saying, “Once you get up to perform as The Beatles, you have to perform to someone, even if it’s going to be this different kind of audience.”

The debate churns on.

MLH: Certainly yes, you play straight at home. But I have a feeling that’s not big enough.

Yoko: But that’s big. See the private home of Paul McCartney or George Harrison.

MLH: We could fit that into the documentary.

George Harrison reflects on a “Bridget” documentary (presumably Bardot),  describing her taking the audience to St. Tropez as she “sings a tune over her front gate and walking around the pool.”

Insisting that kind of minutia can be incorporated in the documentary, Lindsay-Hogg then offers what turns out to be his concluding argument for the day.

If you just get up to perform, you either have to be performing directly to the people at home or to an audience. It’s only two ways. Maybe it would work for the people at home, I just don’t think there’s quite enough scope. And I think the idea’s good, because we have to think about the audience — because you are so riddled with audience. The audience is so much part of the first half of you musically — [under his breath as an aside] says the critic from the Guardian — the audience is so much part of the mystique.

After a mention of mystique, we’re left with a mystery — the tape cuts off abruptly, and the next track is merely a nondescript improvised instrumental, and there’s no return to the discussion this day again.

And what of the Tower Ballroom? Had The Beatles performed there, it would have been the last hurrah for the venue. It was destroyed by fire just three months after this discussion.

6 Comments

Filed under Day by day