Tag Archives: January 7

Jan. 7: Taking the easy way out, now

We pick up the scene where we left off from the last post, Jan. 7: On our own at the holiday camp, as The Beatles and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg wrestle with the question of the band’s motivation in the post-Brian Epstein era and struggle to find a live-show venue amenable to all parties.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg continues the discussion by posing a question to John, Paul, George and Ringo that seems like it has an obvious answer. After all, since Candlestick Park in Aug. 1966, The Beatles quite famously haven’t staged a concert, instead embracing all the luxuries being a full-time studio band offers.

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this point in their history.  Paul responds, speaking over the director, saying that an audience indeed should be involved with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish with this project.

“I think we’ve got a bit shy,” Paul says before the cameras. “I think I’ve got a bit shy of certain things, and it is like that.”

Lindsay-Hogg, who so badly wants to stage a grand return before an audience for the group, again suggests departing from their past experiences. Get back to where you once belonged? Not now.

MLH:  Maybe the difficulty is also getting up in front of an audience with all you’ve done in front of audiences, and trying to get something as good, but maybe not the same thing. And that’s a very hard thing to get back. In other words, you mustn’t think of getting back what you had.

The audience has indeed grown up along with the Beatles — who are all in their late 20s by now. Paul says they’re all searching for a  “desire” to perform and achieve.

And just then, Paul comes out and reminds everyone how little they enjoy working together.  After all, just three months earlier they were together at EMI Studios to finish up the White Album sessions, so the memory’s fresh.

“With all these songs, there’s some really great songs, and I just hope we don’t blow any of them,” Paul says. “Because, you know often, like on albums, we sometimes blow one of your songs cause we come in in the wrong mood, and you say, ‘This is how it goes, I’ll be back,’ and we’re all just ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ [sounds of guitars].”

So there’s just a little more proof that the Get Back sessions weren’t the specific spark that led to The Beatles’ breakup. They had already been known to mail it in on occasion for a few years now, and Paul wasn’t shy to admit it.

But Paul’s remarks didn’t drop like a bomb — they were simply acknowledged silently as the conversation resumed, with Lindsay-Hogg’s continued insistence to use a specific live-show idea as a rallying point.

1968, White Album sessions: " ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ " (Photo by Linda McCartney)

1968, White Album sessions: “You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.” (Photo by Linda McCartney)

George Harrison wouldn’t bite. His response is damning, striking at the essence of the debate of what The Beatles are, post-White Album. Are they a cooperative? Each others’ backing band? Something in between?  And what should they be, in their eyes?

What they definitely aren’t, according to Harrison, is an effective live group.

“Really, I don’t want to any of my songs on the show, because they just turn out shitty, ” he says. “They come out like a compromise. Whereas in a studio, then you can work on them till you get them how you want them.”

So for a live show, George just wants to be the band’s lead guitarist, nothing more.

Paul, audibly disgusted at that remark, is having none of it, still believing in The Beatles.

Last year, you were telling me that ‘You can do anything that you want, Paul, anything you desire.’ … But you’re saying before the show is finished, and before we’ve done it … letting forth this word of, ‘They’re going to come out a compromise.’ …

I really think we’re very good, and … if we think that we want to do these songs great, we can just do it great. Thinking it’s not going to come out great, you know, that is like meditation. Where you just get into a bummer, and you come out of it, you don’t go through it.

Paul hits George where it hurts, referencing his beloved meditation.

Paul continues, hitting home the point that even he’s fed up, too, but it shouldn’t mean avoiding whatever challenge they’re setting up for themselves.

Paul: [Presumably to Ringo]: So you’re sick of playing the drums, we all got to say, ‘We’re sick too, pat pat.’ It’s all the same and go through it. There’s no use just saying, ‘Well, fuck it.’

MLH: … What’s wrong about doing the show here [Twickenham] is it’s too easy. Like, when we were in the car looking at locations at the glorified boutiques … then Dennis [O’Dell, film producer] said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham,’ and Neil [Aspinall, Apple manager]  said, ‘Why not do it at Twickenham, because it’s so easy.’ … I think that’s wrong.

I don’t mean we should put obstacles in our way,  but also in a funny way, like you were talking about Brian [Epstein]. … We should have some force to resist.   But just doing it  in the backyard …  it’s too easy.  And we’re not fighting it. There’s no balls to the show at all, I’m included. There’s no balls to any of us at the moment. And that’s why I think we’re all being soft about it.

Credit the director for recognizing the dire straits at hand. He’s right: Without a show at this point, the sessions would effectively have no real purpose and would cease. Obviously, no one wants to be there merely to start recording a new album, with the possible exception of Paul.

“If you all decided to do a show, it should be the best show,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “You are The Beatles, you aren’t four jerks.  And that’s really my job. Because when you’re playing your guitar, they’re not going to be thinking about those millions of unwashed.

“I think we’re all being soft. It’s all too easy.”

Laughing, Paul asks what kind of obstacles would the director suggest the group face.

Well, I don’t know,” Lindsay-Hogg replies, “But that was the pep talk for the morning.”

With hindsight, we can call out Lindsay-Hogg’s instincts. The Beatles had the knack to make the “easy” way work and deliver something iconic. After all, a little more than three weeks after this conversation, the band merely climbed from the basement studio at 3 Savile Row to the roof of the five-story building for the much-debated live show. George, as he suggested on this day, was just the guitarist, and none of his songs were played.

Later the same year, The Beatles took the easy way out again, naming their subsequent album after the street they recorded on — Abbey Road — and shooting their cover  just outside the studio’s door.

For The Beatles, sometimes easy worked.

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Jan. 7: On their own at the holiday camp

Some time passed on the morning of Jan. 7 between when “Get Back” made its debut and when Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — plus director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and John Lennon, who had just arrived for the day’s sessions — returned to the much-needed discussion of what exactly they were doing at Twickenham Film Studios.

The arguments of the day before that culminated in George’s “just want to please you” line may be the moment etched in cultural history of these sessions, but the next 45 or so minutes did far more to define the vibe at Twickenham.

The tapes pick up the discussion already in progress, but the message and motive is clear: There’s a serious movement to abandon the documentary and live show, and, by extension, these sessions, which are only just beginning its fourth day.

From the Get Back book.

From the Get Back Book.

“If we cancel the show now, we’d still be throwing it away,” Paul said. “That’s the way we tend to do (it)… that’s where all the money goes.”

Lindsay-Hogg tries to rally the troops, suggesting the worst-case scenario is the group is left with a documentary, which is something the group could still sell, since money is being made something of an issue here by George.  John agrees, saying a documentary of the group making an LP isn’t the worst if they can’t find a gimmick for a show.

With big dreams of an African adventure still flickering, Lindsay-Hogg continues to insist there should be a show anyway. He’s not crazy about the term “gimmick,” either.

Very quietly, George shares something every Beatles fan knows in retrospect when we look back and put the pieces together.

George: Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same.

Paul: We’ve been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away. That’s why all of us,  in turn, have been sick of the group, you know? There’s nothing positive in it.  It is a bit of a drag. But the only way for it to not be really a drag, is for the four of us to say, “Should we make it positive? Or should we fuck it?”  There’s only two alternatives, innit?

It’s a fascinating exchange for several reasons, starting with how they refer to their former manager. Both Paul and George still call him Mr. Epstein, not Brian, nearly a year and a half after his death. The formality of the business relationship never broke.

More of note is not only the ease at which they’re willing to discuss their current state and lack of motivation, but how severely Paul views the band’s state. There’s “nothing” positive in it. And so we’re at the group’s climacteric moment.  These four men seem ready to walk away from at least their present phase as a four-piece. Now’s the time to find a new way of continuing as a band, return to the old way they would record and perform together or just walk away. It’s a distillation of the same conversation they had the day before, but spoken with more urgency.

It bears repeating — this strife and breakup talk isn’t at the end of a grueling, unhappy month, or after a several weeks of early mornings on the cold Twickenham soundstage, as the fable of the Get Back sessions relates. This is after the group has been back together in January for a period that can be measured in hours.

John — lacking sleep, sobriety or both — simply suggests the group just needs a little incentive.

“All the things that we do, the whole point of it is communication. And to be on TV is communication. We have a chance … to smile at people, like (in the broadcast for) “All You Need is Love.”  So that’s my incentive for doing it.”

With John referencing another Beatles television production, the director’s wheels begin to turn.

MLH: Both “All You Need is Love” and  (his own production) “Hey Jude” did communicate.

Paul: Of course, they did, course they did.

John: We need to think of an incentive, the inventive is to communicate.

Paul: You know, there really is no one there now to say: Do it.

And thus we return to Mr. Epstein’s ghost. No one is there to make them get up at 8 a.m. now, Paul says. They have to get themselves up at 8.  And this is part of growing up.

These men range in age from 25 to 28 at the time of these sessions and have been professional musicians since their teens.

“Your daddy goes away at  certain point of your life, and you stand on your own feet,” Paul continues. “And that’s all we’ve been faced with. Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own at the holiday camp. And I think we’d rather go home.

“Or,  we do it.”

So it’s crystal clear to Paul here, he’s fighting uphill. The fresh lyrics of “The Long and Winding Road” are playing out moments after he introduces the song. This here is one of the many times he’s been alone.  And he’s still waiting by his bandmates’ door.

Paul continues.

It’s discipline we like. We all agree — for everything you do, if you want to do it well, you got to have discipline, we all think that. But for this, we’ve never had discipline. A slight, symbolic discipline by Mr. Epstein. And he sort of said, ‘Get suits on,’ and we did … And so we were sort of always fighting that discipline a bit.

But now it’s silly to fight the discipline because its our own self-imposed, these days. So we put in as little as possible. But I think we need  bit more if we are going to get on with it.

Lindsay-Hogg acknowledges the decision to work at all is the group’s, not his own, but that they have indeed started work and should maximize it.  Paul, meanwhile, equates what Lindsay-Hogg is dealing with to his own work on the Jackie Lomax LP.

“Any other director in the world would say, ‘Fuck off. Get off my set, you cunt.’ I mean, wouldn’t you?” Paul asks. “I couldn’t operate. … if Jackie in the middle of the album said he won’t do it, (we) wouldn’t have the album.”

Paul suggests to George that the group used to “do it,” be “fully switched on.”  And he hearkens back to their feature film career.

“Those films, look at it, that was us doing it.”

“Well, if that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it,” George retorts. “I never liked that.”

Like the day before, George’s matter-of-fact, deflating response draws a pause followed by nervous laughter and a stammered response.

Paul (talking over George):  See nowadays, you’ve grown up and you don’t have to do that anymore. You don’t have to put the pancake on and go out in front and sweat and shake our heads because we’re not that anymore. We’ve grown up a bit.

George: And we’ve done that anyway.

Paul:What I mean is, we did it, the but it doesn’t mean to do it again means to do all that. For him (John) to do it, he has to do a thing in a black bag with Yoko. And you’re doing it.

Several voices correct Paul.

“White bag,” he says.

“You know you’re doing it then, on this level.”

Paul’s argument, that doing something is tantamount to doing “it” isn’t flying. Lindsay-Hogg changes course and questions just what the Beatles are, circa January 1969 and what is it, since we’re talking about “doing it,” that  they really want to do?

“But do you still want to perform to an audience?” he asks. “Or  do you just see yourselves as a recording group.”

That’s a simple enough question that really does cut into their motivation, not only for these sessions but for their own reason for existing at this late stage in their career.

And its a question we hope to answer next time here at They May Be Parted!

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 7 Power Hour

Sirvana, July 20, 2013

Before I move on with the Twickenham happenings on January 7, 1969, I wanted to offer up this bit of context as Paul McCartney circles the globe on his latest world tour.

It’s more than 44 years since Jan. 7, 1969, and Paul McCartney is still playing the four songs he began that day with live: “The Long and Winding Road,” “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” and “Get Back.”

As in, 60-something hours before I posted this, the same James Paul McCartney that sat before a piano at Twickenham introducing these songs to a room of just a few people, played the very same numbers to 47,000 at Safeco Field in Seattle (playing “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “Get Back” with the surviving members of Nirvana). That’s after performing them hundreds and hundreds of times over the decades.

Four songs he introduced over the course of about an hour one morning in 1969 at age 26. He turned 71 in June.

According to setlist.fm, Paul played 39 songs in Seattle — seven that were introduced in January 1969 and a whopping 14 (!) originating from 1968-1969. That’s 36 percent of his show in 2013 spanning less than 24 months, the remainder covering another 50 or so years of his career.

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Jan. 7: Signature song

It was quite a morning for Paul McCartney — and thus, by extension the Beatles — on Jan. 7, 1969.

After giving the first real performance of “The Long and Winding Road” before unveiling “Golden Slumbers” and linking it with “Carry That Weight,”about 20 minutes later Macca brings us the song the sessions would arguably be most identified with and,  three months later, its first single and tangible fruit of The Beatles’ labor.

By now, Paul has shifted to acoustic guitar with George having arrived at Twickenham.  Straight out of a light-hearted zip through “What’d I Say” and “Shout” for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s benefit with a little bit of “Carry That Weight” mixed in, Paul fiddles with “Get Back” for the very first time — the tapes run for a more than 15 minutes, but cuts and fades prove they went on longer.

Following the song’s initial introduction, and seemingly apropos of nothing (a tape cut shrouds the probable spark of the conversation), Paul and George are engaging in a discussion about Randy Newman. George had borrowed a copy of his debut album from Paul, and said he “wasn’t impressed.”  He gave it a re-listen the night before because he met him “and because he’s a nice fellow, and all, but I still don’t like it.”  Why’s that, George?

It’s nice on the first one, just the idea of his voice, he sounds pissed [drunk], just going [George slurs a few words]. But when he goes on and on every track, he sounds pissed. [Laughs] Musically, it’s good. But not my cup of mead.

More to George’s liking is “Get Back,” even in this nascent state, as he jams along with Paul, working on a lead guitar part.  There’s not a whole lot to the song just yet, but we do have a strong framework, with the verse, chorus and melody line basically in place as George adds guitar lines  while Ringo provides hand-claps and possibly some shakers.

By the time they finished a few run-throughs, Ringo eventually shifted to the drum kit to lift the song’s intensity, and both lyrically and musically the song took a defined form.   Paul’s already playing with “Arizona” and “California grass” in the verse,  plus lyrics like “she thought she was a woman, but she was another man,” “say she got it coming, but she gets it while she  can” and “knew it couldn’t last” are there.  “Get back to where you once belonged”  is already the chorus. Neither Jo-Jo nor Loretta have arrived yet, but we have the makings of another enduring song.

And from this early moment, we hear how catchy it is. Just a few minutes after hearing it for, presumably, the first time, Ringo sings along to the verse and chorus.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would turn out to be one of the more interesting songs to emerge from the session, if only for its lyrical elasticity. Born from this jam, the lyrics would evolve into a political statement about immigrants, then back again to your everyday rocker about American transvestites. And we get to hear it all over the course of a month’s tapes.

Ian MacDonald in Revolution in the Head, is not alone in suggesting Canned Heat is the inspiration for the song (while admitting there’s nothing there musically).

Sure, The Beatles played a few lines of “Going up the Country” and “On the Road Again” in the days prior, and  the former was high on the charts in the U.K. at the time. But pointing to Canned Heat as the inspiration obscures the soul-singing elephant in the room, and that’s Apple Records labelmate Jackie Lomax.

Paul McCartney and Jackie Lomax (Image from jackielomax.com)

In June ’68, during the White Album sessions, Paul, Ringo and George played on the latter’s “Sour Milk Sea,” given to Lomax for his forthcoming debut album produced by George. The memory is obviously still fresh.

“Sounds like Jackie,” Paul says a few moments before deliberately warbling “get back” and “get back to where you once belonged” a number of times in Lomax’s trademark voice.  It didn’t sound like Paul was asking if he sounded like Lomax, or had any concern that he did. It was a simple acknowledgment that his vocal line resembled this one particular influence, one of so many influences the group paid tribute to during the sessions — Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Band, Motown (and the list goes on).

And with that context, it’s obvious why Paul’s voice has an odd timbre (for him).  It’s a rocker, but his delivery is nothing like it on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Helter Skelter” or any of his other recent high-energy vocals.

The voice isn’t the only inspiration from Lomax or the experience on “Sour Milk Sea.” Give the song a listen in full, and it’s easy to hear how Lomax’s “Get out of Sour Milk Sea/You don’t belong there/Get back to where you should be” — as written by George — would give Paul a good jump-off point for his new song (especially evident in the repeated “get back” as the song jams to a finish).

The rehearsal ends somewhat abruptly with a tape change. It’s the same thing responsible for keeping us from learning  just how long these sessions for “Get Back” really ran — the tape cuts out several times during the “Get Back” introduction.

We would, of course, get back to the song again and again over the subsequent three-plus weeks. And this month’s rehearsals would eventually be known for this song: The Get Back Sessions.

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Jan. 7: Sing a lullaby

With Paul McCartney seated at the piano at Twickenham on the morning of Jan. 7, 1969, the seeds of the Abbey Road medley are planted. Or, at least, unveiled on tape.

Famously pinched, in part, from a poem that was more than 350 years old, “Golden Slumbers” debuted minutes into the Jan. 7 tapes, another of Paul’s performances solo at the piano.

Lyrically and musically, the song is just about what would end up on Abbey Road.

Once there was a way to travel homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

While the song has its origin in a Thomas Dekker poem from 1603, the recollection of a “way back home” is Paul. Here’s the inspiration, the original verse by Dekker:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy therefore sleep you.

You are care and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

After repeats of the song, Paul transitions right into “Carry that Weight.” Of course, it sounds like the songs are made for each other, but that could be more than 40 years of built-in bias.

It’s unclear if the link was simply improvised that morning, conjured over breakfast or what. But “Carry That Weight” sure did seem to be a standalone piece when brought to the band the day before.

As the piano part winds down, implying “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which is yet to be written), instead he goes right back into “The Long and Winding Road,” the same song Paul began to play prior to “Golden Slumbers.”

Any other day, it wouldn’t strike a chord, no pun intended (really!). But on this morning, “Golden Slumbers” and “The Long and Winding Road,” separated by five months in the studio and eight on vinyl, are pieces of a puzzle that  I didn’t realize existed.

Of course, book-ending “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight”with “The Long and Winding Road” could just as well be coincidence, too. But this context, deliberate or not, sheds light on what sounds like shared DNA.

Paul’s incomplete lyric to “The Long and Winding Road” — truly debuted as the tapes began to roll on Jan. 7, 1969, just moments earlier — spoke of  this sad, Sisyphean journey.

The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.

Having completed that performance, Paul unveils the song’s echo in “Golden Slumbers.”

HL_DDS_9079800pW60Dl5XJ“Golden Slumbers” shares the yearning as “The Long and Winding Road” but, side-by-side, it sounds further removed with a stronger sense of contemplative acceptance to the singer’s situation.

The time has passed: There “once” was a way to get back homeward. So while  “The Long and Winding Road” (as written to this point, at least)  has  a sense of distant, desperate hope, “Golden Slumbers” delivers acceptance but a promise of a better tomorrow via Dekker’s original lyric (“Smiles awake you when you rise”).

It’s Paul’s “All Things Must Pass.”

Bundle “The Long and Winding Road” and “Golden Slumbers” with “Carry That Weight” — not to mention “Let it Be,” which is absent from this sequence but was first played four days prior —  and in Paul you have a man who seems to readily acknowledge and be at peace with the fate of his band more than a year before they would actually split.

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Jan. 7: Still they lead him back

paul-at-pianoA difficult January 6, 1969, did not result in a collapse of the sessions at Twickenham — which were entering just its fourth day — nor a break in the band. Not yet, at least.

So with the promise of optimism any new day delivers — daylight is good at arriving at the right time, after all — Paul was again the first back at the studio Tuesday, Jan. 7. And as was the norm that developed, he kicked off the day’s tapes solo at the piano.

“The Long and Winding Road” had the most brief of debuts at the first full session, Jan. 3, lasting about 10 seconds prior to Paul launching into “Oh! Darling” during his first morning piano jam.

It’s a poignant beginning to this session, on the heels of the rough day prior. Paul has very much alluded that “The Long and Winding Road” is about the splintering of the group — although the song itself wasn’t really new. Instead it was a few months old, a product to the White Album sessions, and one he said he wrote channeling Ray Charles.

He says as much on the brand-new official Let it Be … Naked site (Note from 2018 — it’s since vanished from the web) — in an interview that was probably from the record’s original release in 2003, not from 2013, I’d guess, repeating the point about “writing as” Ray Charles, but stopping short of saying “The Long and Winding Road” is about his relationship with the group.

On the heels of saying that people read a lot into “Two of Us” being about him and John when it was actually written for Linda, Paul does leave the door open about what exactly “The Long and Winding Road” was about:

It’s to do with your personal situation at the time. You don’t always realize it.

While the song had been demoed months earlier, the song this day is in nascent form.

He plays for about five minutes, with the skeleton of the piano part in place, but just few lyrics.

The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.

Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried. …

And that’s all we hear, beyond a few scatted lyrics to what was the eventually vocal melody.

We hear the song one more time later in the day — it’s a 30-second instrumental, straight out of a short rehearsal of “Oh! Darling” right after Paul moves to the piano in advance of a lengthier session on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s just a time-filler as everyone else tunes up.

Even without the later, tacit acknowledgement, it’s very easy to read his struggles with the rest of the group in what few lyrics he did have written for “The Long and Winding Road.”  And it’s illuminating to know he felt this same sense of desperation already during the White Album sessions. It’s just another reinforcement to the thought that the Get Back/Let it Be sessions were part of the road to the breakup, not necessarily the vehicle for it.

George is confrontational and about 72 hours away from quitting the group. John is drugged, distant and tethered to Yoko. Ringo keeps a great beat but is otherwise not much of an active participant. But still, what they mean to Paul brings him back to Twickenham’s door.

The song ultimately would become a lightning rod, the most flagrant example of Phil Spector’s fingerprints on the final release and in a bit of a legal sense, the song that technically broke up The Beatles.

Listen to “The Long and Winding Road” on its own, and it’s a somber, beautiful song about not much in particular. Apply your own dysfunctional relationship here to what could be another typically McCartneyesque vague lyric.

Listen to it on this the morning after the fractious Jan. 6 sessions,  and at this moment, the fact it’s about the band — and Paul’s feeling of helplessness, which runs counter to the bossy image he’s developed — is inescapable.

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