Tag Archives: January 6

Jan. 6: Such a lovely audience? (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 2)

Having established earlier in the conversation that there will be two live shows to cap the documentary of which filming is already in progress, the band — primarily Paul — plus Yoko Ono, George Martin, Michael Lindsay Hogg and a few other insiders (probably the likes of Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor? I don’t know them as well by voice) — continue their lengthy discussion about the show, potential venues and the composition of an audience.

For a show plan first hatched more than a month earlier, things remain in total flux.

Paul latches onto Yoko’s idea of playing to an empty house, at least for one of the two proposed shows, with the second night’s performance before a conventional audience.

Hey, maybe there will be some traction here! Paul’s on board with Yoko’s ideas up front and early on (and John doesn’t seem to care, not chiming in at all during this chat), so a huge part of the battle here is over, George’s independent streak — which is about to erupt — notwithstanding. And it’s not much of a surprise, really, given Paul’s avant garde leanings.

Alas, Lindsay-Hogg punctures that idea, saying there’s no need to eschew a crowd “partly [because] the documentary is playing in silence. I know it’s not for an audience, but it’s the same thing.”

Paul replies to say that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier, repeating the  “performance might be — should be — two cameras or two audiences …  two something.”

But Yoko pressed on — with Paul again agreeing —  saying the audience isn’t the draw for people watching the film at home, unless it’s something different, like “kings or queens coming to see it.”

The director keeps pressing back.

MLH: What I think is if you got in front of an empty house and played, it makes you look too … rich, in the bad sense. In other words, whats the point? This is the negative aspect of that. What’s the point in you getting up and playing for an empty house when you could be giving people happiness with whatever kind of full house we decided?

Yoko: Nobody’s going to think that. They’re going to think it’s a very poetic situation. And they know the Beatles are rich …

Voice of reason George Martin, as he did earlier in the conversation, again sides with Lindsay-Hogg on just what a waste a live performance to an empty room would be, putting it succinctly:

There’s no point in doing a live performance, it’s like going into a recording studio and doing one take.

He then repeats the point that an audience would give an extra something to the band they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Someone chimes to suggest one of the more exotic venues that had been in the mix, presumably since December,as the band hatched the live-show idea.

You’re going right back to Sabratha, [then].

Sabrathra was alluded to on the first day of filming by the director, promising a scene replete with “snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around.”

And a beautiful, unique venue the former Roman amphitheater outside Tripoli, Libya, would have been and with such an unusual audience. It’s certainly something that would one-up recent rock films like Cream at the Albert Hall and the recently completed Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.

Paul agrees with a remark that a bit of a focus on the audience (wherever it may be)  isn’t a bad thing — seeing the reaction of people who have seen the band before in the Beatlemania era and how they’d react to the band now, post-1966 and the end of their live era.

Yoko: Then it should be a real scene. You have to announce in the newspaper say that it’s going to be a real alive show. It’ll be a crazy scene, like everybody queuing for it and everything.

Neil? Mal? Derek? Then it should be an Albert Hall scene.

Lindsay-Hogg,  who joked earlier in the day about a Beatles show at “the Albert Hall with those quick cuts,” said a few hours later that he’s not opposed to a show at the nearly 100-year-old stage. But…

MLH: I just think it slightly smells of a few years ago. The Shea Stadiums, wherever it has been.

Yoko: Say anything, and it will slightly smell of a few years ago or slightly less than a few years ago because they topped it.

MLH: I’m not particularly supporting this idea, but it is an idea we can then say no to and go away from if we can top it. But [Sabratha] is a location which is marvelous in itself, by the sea.

The Beatles faced winter elements before

Perhaps this is just calling Ringo’s bluff.  As Paul said on Jan. 2, “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”

And calling the drummer’s bluff is something the Get Back book and Let it Be Naked’s “Fly on a Wall” disc proves was done repeatedly. But for the second time this day, Paul shoots down an overseas trip, saying, “Look, it has to be in England. An outdoor scene has to be in England, because we’ve decided we’re not going  abroad.”

To someone responding that a performance under the skies couldn’t be done in wintertime England, which is “too bloody cold,” Paul doubles down, after agreeing to the sentiment.

We have decided, it’s a definite decision, that we’re not going abroad, so we should sort of rule that out. It’s not even to the two-way, should we go abroad, we like, we definitely said no to that.

So as usual these days, they’re back to Square One, crossing the seas and back in just a few minutes, only to end up again home in England — and potential venues therein as the discussion continues.

An odd postscript to the Sabratha flirtation: More than 40 after the Beatles toyed with the idea of playing at Sabratha just eight months before Khadafi led a coup to take over Libya, former Apple exec and Beatles assistant Peter Brown had his PR firm hired to improve the dictator’s image.

Tune in next post, where we resume this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.

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Jan. 6: Playing to the gods (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 1)

Even the most casual rock music fan knows how the Let it Be film ends, even if they’ve never seen it or even if they’re not really Beatles fans. The sight of John, Paul, George and Ringo trying to pass their audition on the roof at 3 Savile Row isn’t merely an iconic Beatles moment, it’s an iconic moment in popular music history and pop culture itself.

Watch the movie, and there’s never an inkling that wasn’t the plan all along. Less than three years removed from their last tour, the group rehearses some new songs, then when they’re ready simply climb the stairs and rock from the roof. It’s just like they planned it all along, right?

Source: Beatles.com

Of course not. And right here’s another reason why I’m loving listening to these tapes and find them so valuable — it’s not just to hear the songs in progress and rehearsed in context or to hear songs they threw away or just shelved until they could revisit as solo acts. It’s to hear a conversation like one we hear a few hours into Jan. 6, the kind of thing that never made compilations of the sessions.

I keep getting back to my need to operate within context throughout this blog. So we know the end of he story: the rooftop show. But how did they get there? We get an incredible glimpse here.

After exploring George’s “Hear Me Lord” and knocking out a few covers, conversation shifts to the planned live show, a topic promised earlier by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and just touched upon in the prior days on the tapes.

And there’s an awful lot going on here in what’s marked “Dialogue,” 14-plus music-free minutes, the 53rd track on the Jan. 6 collection of Purple Chick’s A/B Road.

Two figures that loomed so large in Beatles history — George Martin and Yoko Ono – make their first significant appearances on these tapes. Ono would remain key to the story of Get Back/Let it Be. Martin would not. Well, he would be, ultimately, quite conspicuous by his absence.

But it’s not necessarily the people involved but what they’d discuss that makes it a memorable sequence.

The endgame here, after all, is a live show, even if they have no set plans for one in place.  Yoko begins the conversation – on the tapes, at least, where after a quick cover of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” (a song they used to play in Hamburg), we join the chat in medias res.

Yoko’s first suggestion is for the Beatles, who four years prior played before more than 55,000 in their iconic Shea Stadium show on Aug. 15, 1965, to have something of a more modest audience.

Yoko: “…[have a] stage, you know, and it’s like an open-air something, and you’re playing to the gods! You know, and to the stars.

Yoko’s plan: Paul’s soundcheck at Yankee Stadium, ’01

While Paul’s agreeable to the suggestion — or at least something avant garde — Michael Lindsay-Hogg tries to push another angle for the live show involving all those seats being filled by actual people, even if they’re not necessarily fans of the Beatles.

MLH: “Or, even playing to people that have never seen you before. See, I think you’re right. Any stage performance of an ordinary sort, visually, will never be topped, because we all remember – and you better than I — the past.”

But Paul — quite the veteran of the stage even at this young age — sides with Yoko.

Paul: “What’s the use of an audience? The use of an audience is like… for you, it’s out of sheer charity to play to them because you love them. Or for you to collect ticket money, or to get a reaction between you, for the sake of your shows. But look the thing is then, that’s presuming that we’re not enough for a show. That presupposes there’s really not enough in the four of us, that you really have to pan off on to a postman.”

Enter George Martin, who joins Team MLH after some indistinguishable crosstalk.

Martin: “The whole point about the audience is to give you something when you’re performing.”

MLH: “Like an actor on stage”

George Harrison is there too, and at this point, I think he says that “It’ll be just our luck to get a lot of cunts in there [at the show].” Perfectly reasonable thought.

Lindsay-Hogg gets things back on point, reminding the band that once they’re on a stage, they’re performers.

MLH: “And you got to have something to do it to. Of some sort, either a camera or real people, I think.”

Yoko: “Empty chairs would be much more dramatic. I mean 20,000 empty chairs!”

MLH: “Looks like they haven’t bought any tickets!”

Paul: “Look, nobody’s going to think that way.  Nobody’s going to think that haven’t bought any tickets.”

After agreeing with Paul, Yoko says people are wondering what makes up the audience in this post-Beatlemania world before continuing to pitch the actual lack of an audience.

Yoko: “It should be like the invisible, nameless everybody in the world, instead of some teenager or something, and they say, ‘Oh, so they still have that teenage audience.’ Or if you have costumed people they say, ‘Oh, that’s the audience now.’ It’s very dangerous.

“[With empty chairs], now you have audience in every heart in the world, you see? It’s very bad to limit it.”

The diplomatic Lindsay-Hogg says he does like the idea. But…

MLH: “That sounds to me more, though, like five minutes rather than 15 minutes. Because you’re right — what we do want to attack is all over the world. It oughtn’t be anymore the kids that queue up outside the gate, it ought to be the whole world. And that was one of the things we tried to get on Jude [the Hey Jude promo clip, directed by Lindsay-Hogg nearly to the day four months prior at these very same Twickenham Studios].”

Oh, that’s OK, says Paul, since “we’re doing two shows, aren’t we? We’re taping the shows on the Sunday and the Monday, aren’t we?”

Sunday and Monday shows. Of course.

And here we have the sessions in a nutshell:  The band is doing a show with songs they can’t agree on and haven’t finished writing and at a location — possibly international — that hasn’t been determined. BUT. They do know they’re taping two shows, to the point where they know it’s a Sunday and a Monday.  The devil’s in the details, not only in her heart, it appears.

Tune in next post, where we continue this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.

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Jan. 6: Here comes the bird king

Maybe all the Cream talk got the band in the mood to jam.

With the third day of rehearsing during Get Back/Let it Be sessions (for the record, we had heard “Let it Be” thus far, but not “Get Back”) under way, once everyone was settled in — and not to long after after George introduced “Hear Me Lord” on the tapes — the Beatles basically started fooling around, tuning and warming up with everyone position. Presumably: Paul on organ, John on bass, George on guitar and Ringo on drums.

And then they jammed.

Jams — and lengthy ones — weren’t unprecedented for the band, certainly — witness “Helter Skelter” and the legendary 27-minute version and various takes of “Revolution 1,” recorded just a few months earlier, or the much shorter  Take 37 of “Something” from a few months later. And pretty soon, we’ll hear the original lengthy version of “Dig It.”

I like my Beatles in 2- to 3-minute increments, for the most part (“Hey Jude” notwithstanding). But hey, it’s the Beatles. I’ll take a 10-minute improv jam by them over one by mostly anyone else.

While most serious fans know these sessions birthed songs that would later appear on Abbey Road and multiple solo Beatles albums, one song debuted in these sessions that I didn’t previously know would end up as an outtake on, of all things, Paul’s unreleased (but bootlegged) Rupert the Bear film soundtrack.

So let’s give a very special They May Be Parted welcome to “The Palace of the King of Birds.”

Slowly the group joins in, plodding along for more than 10 minutes. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s probably the kind of thing you’d never deliberately put on a playlist to listen to again. Paul and George spend the first few minutes of the song chatting with each other about equipment. Ringo does his thing. John throws in a riff or two. Paul’s active a little at the start and then a bit at the absolute end.

 

 

 

 

It’s actually not the last we hear of the song these sessions. But I think it’s the most extensive version. And the Beatles didn’t return to it after January 1969.

Nine years later, Paul would record the song with Wings for a planned Rupert the Bear movie that never came to fruition. By then, it was called “Castle of the King of Birds.” What caused the bird king to be forced to change the location his headquarters from the palace to the castle, I don’t know.

 

The song is a footnote in Beatles history, for sure, but a neat one from the standpoint of where the song would eventually surface.

Straight out of “…King of Birds,” comes another loose rocking jam, initiated by what sounds like John playing “Louie Louie” on the organ (it’s much more deliberate on the tapes before this below clip starts).

 

 

The band then dances around a few set pieces before a few more improvisations. “Across the Universe” is briefly attacked — it was still nearly a year from being released on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, and John is clear he isn’t happy with how the song was last recorded a few months earlier — and the band also teases a version of Bob Dylan’s “I Want You” as their own song of the same name thus far remains unrehearsed (and probably unwritten).

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road” presaged much of what would come next. (In style, that is. The song itself sprang from Paul’s one-man jam).

In the first of a few improvisations that would be at home on McCartney or as a RAM outtake, Paul belts out “You Wear Your Women Out.” This I like. Groovy bassline seems to hold things together nicely. It’s a kindred spirit to an “I’m Down” or “Lady Madonna,” even.

The group makes a pitstop with a full run-through of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which is coming together pretty decently. Paul’s in full yell on this particular take, which ends with him jokingly claiming, “The downtown rhythm and blues influence in ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ can be noted by the Aeolian cadences and the Cadaconic clusters,” in a nice old-school Beatles reference.

He then lets his bass kick off the journey into the next improvised jam, “My Imagination,” with a riff borrowed from Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” (the same inspiration for “I Feel Fine” among other things) and vocal stylings that occasionally veered into something that could be called Ono-esque.

 

 

 

Hey, that’s not so bad! Not sure about the vocals, but it’s still relatively catchy.

The fun ends with one more apparently Paul-led jam, “I’m Gonna Pay for His Ride,” thus named for its lyric barked out by McCartney at the end.

The band sounds pretty good, and pretty loose, much like they do while running through covers during the sessions.

While there would be more jamming in these sessions, and “…King of Birds” would eventually nearly make it to release, for the final three songs mentioned here — “My Imagination,” “You Wear Your Women Out” and “I’m Gonna Pay for His Ride” — it would be the last we’d hear of them.

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Jan. 6: Hear me

It’s the definition of insane: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. God bless George Harrison, but at times during his tenure with the Beatles I think he was insane. (It’s likely I’m an insane blogger, who feels like he’s writing the same post about George over and over again).

To wit:  Every album session, George throws a  number of songs at the wall (the wall also goes by the names of “John” and “Paul”), sees a couple stick for whatever the current record is and reintroduces a couple of the losers along with some new songs again some other time. Repeat until going solo.

Jan. 6 saw a pair of fresh George tunes,  “For You Blue” (which stuck) and “Hear Me Lord” (which did not). Neither was given any significant time. And “Hear Me Lord” wasn’t to be heard again in these sessions or even in  a Beatles context, far as I can tell. Perhaps he finally figured out he was going insane.

Or maybe there was divine intervention.

“Well, I wrote a gospel song over the weekend, lads,” George says in a lull.

“According to St. Who?,” Ringo blithely asks.

“According to the Lord,” George replies. “Hear me Lord, how I corner you,” to laughter.  (At least that last bit sounded like that, it’s almost indecipherable).

A second of silence was followed with Michael Lindsay-Hogg going right into business, suggesting the band discuss the live show soon. George first touches on “High School Confidential,” then  he plays and sings along to “I’ve Got a Feeling” before pivoting right into his new song.

You could hear it in the clip — George is playing background music.  As he played, Paul, Ringo and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discussed “the new Bonzo’s record,” — presumably The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, which had come out in November, a few weeks earlier.

Soon, the strumming ended and conversation returned to the Cream discussion.

While Paul and Michael continue to chat about some equipment issues, George resumes on his guitar, now debuting “For You Blue,” an eventual survivor on the Let it Be LP. Again, it’s background music.

George cuts himself off to raise a question about Magic Alex‘s latest studio work and attempts at soundproofing the studio after Ringo asks, “Has Alex created his waves yet?” And after a bit of crosstalk about Alex and his “waves,” Paul sings along to George’s early take of “For Your Blue.”

“Those soundproof walls of silence, are ringing in my ears…”

Soon enough, the band — fully ready to play, finally, as John takes to the organ — cuts away, weaving into oldies, improvisations and rehearsing newer songs (topics ripe for subsequent posts).

Nearly an hour and a half  after he first strummed it (on the tapes), George returns to “Hear Me Lord.” Again, it’s primarily a quiet soundtrack to other discussions, among them one in which we finally hear  another George  — Martin —  a figure so absent from the Let it Be tale, here showing up for the first significant time on tape.

Ringo plays a bit of a beat, and John makes a terrible attempt at following along on guitar.

It’s more of the same after extensive rehearsals of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” among others. Again, it’s just a quick taste before they moved on.

Indifference isn’t strong enough a term for how the song is met. I suppose George could have pressed it a little further as an option.

And that was it for the song. No more rehearsals during the Get Back sessions. If it was brought up during the “Abbey Road” recordings, there’s no record of  it I’ve seen. And we wouldn’t hear it again until we get to the last song on Side 4 of the All Things Must Pass LP, released nearly a year after George first brought it to the Beatles.

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Jan. 6: Icing Cream

When the Beatles reconvened at Twickenham Film Studios the morning of Jan. 6, 1969, it was the prior evening’s television that dominated early conversation between the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

And, hey, why not? Twickenham is their office, and the piano is the water cooler, so what else would the grunts talk about as another work day begins?

Just seconds into the day’s tapes  the discussion goes right into the Cream farewell concert that aired on BBC the evening before. And with it, it’s the Beatles’ first reasonable reference point* for their eventual film. Or, at least, a great example of what they didn’t want to do.

The documentary is, in fact, really lousy — I watched the whole damn thing in prepping this post. Cream, as a band, is great. But what a terrible program, from the seizure-inducing cuts to the wildly melodramatic narration and ridiculous band interviews. The camera’s always on the wrong thing, the songs aren’t complete, there’s continuity errors and it’s just an effort to get through.  (Try it yourself here!)

“Ginger Baker’s was the only interesting interview,” Lindsay-Hogg said to Paul, explaining that he himself is “really uncoordinated” and learned a bit of drum technique from Baker.

“I just thought they were interviewed badly,” Paul said.

Paul likened the interviewer to “a 3-year old kid” in suggesting Eric Clapton play his parts again on guitar.

The talk shifts to a tangent when Lindsay-Hogg compares the Cream production to the grandiose “Eloise” by Barry Ryan (the song itself, not the promo clip below), a chart-topper from a few weeks earlier.

“All form and no substance,” the director said of the song after using the same term to describe the Cream doc.

“It’s great I thought,” Paul replied. “I loved it.”

“All form, no substance, I hated it,” Lindsay-Hogg said before again repeating “All form and no substance.”

“That’s too big a put-down,” Paul said. “All form, and not much substance.”

“It was my least favorite record from the last five years,” Lindsay-Hogg insisted before adding under his breath,”I really hate it.”

Paul then sings a bit of “Eloise,” and Lindsay-Hogg is incredulous, although he would admit he liked the musical break.

The conversation wandered a bit, and included a quick take of “Oh Darling!” by Paul solo on the piano. But after Ringo, and then John and Yoko arrived, discussion of the Cream documentary resumed.

“We ought to think this week sometime about the show,” Lindsay-Hogg said to the group. “We could do it at the Albert Hall with those quick cuts.” Paul again expresses his disappointment, especially focusing on those edits.

Paul asked Ringo if he saw the show.

“Bits,” said the drummer.

“That’s all there were! Just bits, terrible quick-cutting,” replied Lindsay-Hogg.

Hard to tell what John or Yoko said as they were well off-mic.

George is the last to arrive. He was already good friends with Clapton — who contributed his part on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” four months earlier and had played in Lennon’s Plastic Dirty Mac just weeks earlier on the Rock & Roll Circus. Despite the friendship, George doesn’t shy from criticizing his friend’s production.

“There were some nice bits, but … what was … with the photography? You don’t see anything,” George said.

George calls Baker “great,” and Paul asks Ringo if he’s met him “as star drummers.”

George & Eric

Conversation shifted again, George talks about a new song he wrote (“Hear Me Lord”) and then his equipment arrives at the studio (“like an ambulance for ailing documentaries” according to Lindsay-Hogg).

But they can’t shake talking about Cream’s own doc, again mocking the interviewer.

Then, finally after 40 minutes of the tapes, the band’s finally ready to start the business of making music, and a documentary of their own.

I found it interesting, in retrospect, is they’re discussing a farewell concert, which is what Let it Be ended up being — not planned that way, of course (of course?) —  and that’s what they would spend so much of the sessions attempting to organize. Not that Lindsay-Hogg would end up producing anything that looked like the Cream special — nothing he’d done I’ve seen had given that indication — but Let it Be was certainly not anything like the Cream farewell.

But having that reference point so early in the sessions could only have helped light even the smallest of sparks in encouraging the band to do what they always have done, and that’s do something better than every other band.

*(Of course, Lindsay-Hogg had directed the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus weeks earlier, but it wouldn’t see the light of day for another 25 years . And, while Lindsay-Hogg was behind the camera and John Lennon in front of it, I can’t imagine the film was edited to any significant degree at this point to be considered a comparison piece for the eventual Let it Be/Get Back film barely in-progress. It wasn’t the same concept anyway — the Stones weren’t trying to document the making-of the show; it was just the show itself that was being produced.)

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