Paul McCartney began January 9, 1969, at the piano sketching out “Another Day,” but it was anything but for the sixth day of the Beatles’ sessions at Twickenham, where things started to get a little testy, while musically it remained deeply compelling.
Just another day: The Beatles begin their second week at Twickenham with Paul at the piano and his muse by his side as he debuts an important future solo classic.
Road work: Twickenham is Paul’s songwriting lab as the morning’s tapes reveal his effort to put lyrics to several works-in-progress, like “Carry That Weight” and “The Long and Winding Road,” among others.
Last-night song: George Harrison lifts the veil on a proper version of “For You Blue,” but are the other Beatles eager to bite on another George original?
Jokes in between: Harmony and discord, joy and petulance. It’s a roller-coaster of moods for the members of the Beatles as they continued work on their core set at Twickenham.
Another kind of gig: Get yourself well done with the backstory of the Beatles’ lively and perpetually mysterious “Suzy Parker.”
Love from Paul: Take an exceedingly deep dive into Paul McCartney’s “Penina,” one of the most obscure originals from the Beatles era and a “£20,000 holiday tip.”
No Pakistanis: Inspired by current events, Paul McCartney works on a set of satirical, racially charged — and later misunderstood — lyrics to “Get Back.” Putting this Beatles’ session into appropriate context 50 years later.
Power politics: “This racial business over in England” inspires a suite of upbeat, satirical improvisations. This is the story of The Beatles’ “Commonwealth” and “Get Off.”
Subconscious sabotage: To his death, John Lennon hated the recording of “Across the Universe.” But with a chance to make it anew during The Beatles’ Get Back sessions, instead of changing his world, the song would slip away.
It’s dead easy: An inspired Paul McCartney & Co. raid the toolbox to effortlessly shape “Let It Be” into a more coherent, familiar song. Here’s the origin story of the riffs, harmonies and arrangement with far more detail than you likely asked for.
Homeward bounder: After flirting the night before with the idea of a sea cruise to Libya, The Beatles’ enthusiasm for show-boating waned as Ringo Starr preached mundanity over spectacle for a planned live performance.
Crossroads he’s standing at: How a pair of covers of yet-to-be-released Bob Dylan songs sheds light on George Harrison’s disposition the afternoon before he’d walk out on The Beatles.
Et cetera: Putting a bow on The Beatles’ busy January 9, 1969. Featuring “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” from Paul, some proto-punk from John, bugs that aren’t Beatles and more.
January 9, 1969, marked the last full day all four Beatles worked together at Twickenham during the Get Back sessions. Here are a few loose ends worth tying up before the pivot point of January 10.
“Junk” (Paul’s hand-written lyrics, from the White Album deluxe companion book)
Conceived in India in 1968 and born at Paul McCartney’s home in 1970, “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” were under a period of gestation in the studio in January 1969. These brothers in song, destined to be releasedtogether on Paul’s eponymous solo record, were likewise introduced to the Get Back sessions in tandem on January 9, 1969.
“Remember that one?” Paul asked the room after a spinning off a quick, shuffling verse of “Teddy Boy.” That song’s story will continue later, after the action shifts to Savile Row.
“And ‘Junk’?” Paul continued.
That song, while lyrically incomplete, was formed enough to be among the May 1968 Esher demos, but except for this momentary appearance, it wouldn’t surface again during the Get Back sessions and it never seemed to be a contender for Abbey Road, either.
It’s a stretch to even call this a performance.
After mentioning the song’s title, Paul rattled off a few words (“epsilon,” “elephant,” “parachute” were the most recognizable) in an exaggerated French accent — John Lennon chipped in, too — to the tune of the song before they quickly return to “Across the Universe.”
A key takeaway from this sequence is the nostalgia with which Paul asks “remember that one” to John, as if these were songs from their childhood, not merely less than a year old. Paul, especially, will refer to the trip to India as if it was another era. More on that as we get to those portions of the tapes.
We’re living in the wrong timeline.
John: “I’d like to do a number just on electric”
In another universe, John’s “Quit Your Messing Around” is hailed as essential proto-punk, a harsh, noisy sound brought into the mainstream. In ours, however, the song is a sub-30 second blast of chords followed by John’s four-word request, obscured by so many other electric (and acoustic) numbers throughout the day’s songs on the tapes.
Surrounded by a film crew for a week already, the Beatles were still learning the extent of personal coverage a week into the sessions.
“This is the bugging device,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg said. “So we can surreptitiously bug your showbiz conversations.”
In this sequence, both Ringo Starr and George Harrison on separate occasions asked if “that” was the tape.
Ringo was consistent, at least. He resisted traveling abroad for a concert, and he lobbied against needless travel for his role in The Magic Christian, too.
Film producer Denis O’Dell was working on selling Ringo on filming a scene in New York, mostly to get a single distinctive shot.
“We thought of doing one day in Wall Street,” Denis said, though conceding he was “two-minded about it.”
“If we’re just going to America for one scene … I mean, I’ll do it. I don’t think it’s worth it.. .. And who knows Wall Street? I don’t know Wall Street. Unless you put up a sign that says “Wall Street,” I’d have no idea what it looks like.”
The scene was never filmed. But four months later, Ringo joined the rest of the cast and crew on the QE2 as it sailed for New York to celebrate the end of filming.
As the day’s session came to a close, John and Yoko Ono apologized to Paul — and notably not the film’s director or producer — for consistently rolling into the studio well after the others. Paul’s reply was a study in passive-aggressive behavior.
Yoko: Are we getting later and later? Paul: … It’s getting to be a habit. John: OK, we’ll come in … Yoko: … around 10, Paul: I’m getting used to it! Don’t throw me now.
During a brief transition immediately preceding the extensive “Let It Be” session late on January 9, 1969, George Harrison opened himself up to significant, retrospective armchair psychoanalysis in just five minutes of music.
He also became a human bootleg.
Everybody’s got somebody to lean on: Lucky and Nelson, November 1968.
Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes with the Band (a huge influence on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions) had been privately circulating since 1968, and the first true rock bootleg — Great White Wonder, which featured two LPs of his music that stretched back to as early as 1961 — surfaced in record shops starting in July 1969.
But this January 9, George — just a few weeks removed from his first collaboration with Dylan — seized a few moments of spotlight and shared a few of his friend’s songs, and ones that the others in the room hadn’t likely heard.
Dylan first shared the song with George and wife Pattie Boyd around Thanksgiving 1968 at his home in upstate New York. George retained quite a bit of the song in performing at Twickenham, injecting intensity in his solo acoustic take.
George didn’t perfectly nail the lyrics, but he captured guts of the chorus and parts of the verses — “No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried … And I threw it all away.”
The performance seamlessly went into “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” written in 1964, but to that point another unreleased Dylan track.
Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you been on my mind
When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you
There could be no reason at all George plucked these songs out of thin air this Thursday afternoon, as meaningless as the group’s brief forays into “Tennessee” or “Slippin’ and Slidin‘” within the same hour. He’d been playing Dylan throughout the sessions, after all.
Maybe the songs reflected George’s mood as he was less than 24 hours from quitting the group. Paul transparently sang the blues about the Beatles in “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Golden Slumbers,” so why wouldn’t George do likewise? It’s not a significant stretch to consider George was speculating about what he was throwing all away, at these crossroads he was standing at.
Without question, those two Dylan songs did hit home with George.
Maybe it wasn’t necessarily only for the reasons we’ve always supposed.
George’s wife, Pattie, was very much not hanging around Twickenham. And when she looked inside her mirror, George wasn’t next to her, because she had walked out on him. But that didn’t mean he was alone at his Kinfauns home.
From Pattie’s autobiography Wonderful Tonight:
I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. She was always flirtatious with George, but so were a lot of girls and he, of course, loved it. Then she and Eric broke up — Eric told her to leave — and she came to stay with us at Kinfauns.
It was January 1, 1969, and George and I had seen in the new year at Cilla Black’s house. … We arrived home in good spirits but then everything went swiftly downhill. The French girl didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them, and I questioned George. He told me my imagination was running away with me, I was paranoid.
Soon I couldn’t stand it so I went to London to stay with Belinda and Jean-Claude. Six days later George phoned me to say that the girl had gone and I went home.
The French girl was 20-year-old Charlotte Martin, and she had been dating Eric for more two years. Eric has since said he left Charlotte because of his growing feelings for Pattie. Why, you can almost say George tried to give her consolation when her old man let her down.
George’s fling was in its final day on January 9 — and after leaving the Beatles the next day, he asked Charlotte to leave Kinfauns, ending the affair. He would reconcile with Pattie, and separately, with the rest of the Beatles shortly thereafter.
The two Dylan songs George touched on wouldn’t drift far from his consciousness. Sixteen months after this date, George joined Bob in New York City, where they recorded both “I Threw It All Away” and “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” and the sessions have since surfaced on bootlegs.
George continued to show love for “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” laying down a solo studio version in the 1980s; this was still before Dylan’s first authorized release of the song in 1991. George’s recording would get a proper release in 2012 on Early Takes, Vol. 1.
He recorded it at home in Friar Park at some point during the ‘80s, and it originally had programmed drums and loads of keyboards on it, and George had overdubbed himself for a three-part vocal harmony.
I asked [George’s widow] Olivia if it would be OK to break it down a bit, I thought it sounded a lot better stripped to its bones. You can still hear a bit of the drum sound in the background, because there was bleed on the tape — probably coming through from George’s headphones.
George did his own three-part harmonies in the ’80s, but his first vocal partners, John and Paul, were silent on the tapes during George’s brief Dylan set on January 9, 1969. Walking out on the group, George silenced himself the next day, not only because of his increasingly tense relationship with John and Paul, but with trouble surrounding his marriage, as well.
Charlotte Martin remained in rock-and-roll’s inner circle. In a coincidence of the calendar, exactly one year after her last day involved with George, on January 9, 1970, she met Jimmy Page after a Led Zeppelin concert. The couple would maintain a relationship into the 1980s. Their daughter, Scarlet Page, is a rock photographer of note; she’s shot Paul McCartney and contributed to the Visions of Dylan photo exhibition in 2007.
It was becoming clear by the end of January 9, 1969, that the Beatles would end up opting for ad-hoc over adventure.
A lengthy discussion the night before found all four Beatles showing varying levels of willingness to travel by boat to Africa for a one-off show, and some sort of decision seemed imminent. With the planning needed and a schedule to keep before the band lost Ringo Starr to an imminent acting assignment, it had to be.
But after the group slept on it, pinning down a consensus was just a dream. Any momentum to raise anchor dissipated among the members of the band, despite the continued best efforts of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to ship the group to a Roman-era amphitheater in Libya.
“If we do it here, then we’ll do it in here,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg told Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Linda Eastman on her January 9 morning visit to the soundstage. “But if we don’t, it’s on a boat to Tripoli,” said Paul.
“Ordinary people like themselves.” On the Mad Day Out on July 28, 1968, the Beatles mingled with the British crowd at St Pancras Old Church and Gardens. Less than six weeks later, they filmed the “Hey Jude” promo film. (From Meet The Beatles For Real)
“So if you do it, it would be in here?” Linda asked.
“There’s many a story,” Paul replied.
“What will you do with all the equipment?” Linda asked. “Get it on the boat,” replied director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “That’s what Apple’s for, really, isn’t it?”
Discussions over the show circulated around these unresolved issues: Where would it be staged, what would be its format and who would be the audience. Thus the seventh day of the session was not much different than the first, and it wasn’t even a matter of agreeing to some aspects and then pursuing another. Every aspect of the show was in flux, and every suggestion was repeated.
Airports, apartment houses, cathedrals, the Houses of Parliament — these venues were considered before and mentioned yet again on the 9th, along with a transformed Twickenham. Transformed how? That wasn’t elaborated.
The boat, which was brainstormed at length the night before, was in play. But Ringo, while never issuing his veto, was clear in his distaste for a trip to Northern Africa, much as that was Michael’s preferred and planned choice. A continued sticking point was the his loyalty to a British — or American — audience. Ringo cited long-running talent show Opportunity Knocks as an example to follow in ultimately challenging that mundanity transcends spectacle, obscurity over celebrity — at least when it came to the spectators.
“Just because he had granny on the show, someone’s mother, and they only win because audiences like to watch ordinary people like themselves. That’s one of the things to do it here. Because English people — and Americans — and the two main people, at least they can associate with them and say, ‘I could have gone there.'”
MLH: The only thing is, I really do think it’s going to be for the world. Ringo: The biggest part of our world is America and [here]. MLH: But funnily enough, I think the way they think of you is not only for themselves but they do think of you as for everybody in the world. That was one of the things things that was good about Jude, the guy in the turban. ….
Unfortunately, the tape cuts off during this dialogue, but we can assume it’s much of the same conversation that we’ve heard before with similarly little resolution.
(For the record, Opportunity Knocks provided Apple Records with one of its greatest success stories: Mary Hopkin’s winning performance in May 1968 directly led to her signing with the Beatles’ label).
Still, Michael was planning as if he could sway Ringo eventually.
“I think we spend till the middle of next week here or til the end of the week, go out on the and the following weekend. That’s eight days,” Michael said.
Ringo: Too long. MLH: Go out on Sunday and finish it on Sunday. Ringo: How about Sunday and finish it on Wednesday? Who wants to stay in Tripoli? MLH: Denis (O’Dell, film producer), isn’t Tripoli a great country? Denis: It’s the asshole of the world there. (Laughter) MLH: You didn’t take my feed! Denis: Look, I have to work with him the next six months and therein after! (More laughter)
Denis next related a story of how Ringo “saved his life” in India, thanks to the drummer’s cache of Western food he left behind when he returned to England. “[I] went back to Ringo’s room and I was rummaging around … found some powdered milk and baked beans, and it was a feast. … The stuff that you and Maureen left, and that’s what I lived on secretly.”
Uncommitted as they were to a destination for a live show, the Beatles comfortably and casually addressed the composition of the gig itself.
Many times I’ve bean alone: Ringo’s diet in India. (From Beatle Photo Blog)
The band discussed staging issues (“It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way”) and between-song banter (“First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time”) — see Jan. 9: Jokes in between for more on that.
“Is Michael around?” George asked at one point. “If we are in a groovy location place, and if there’s just people there and we’re just playing anyway, [can] we make the show about different bits and pieces of what we’ve done or [do] we have to do it in one consecutive piece?”
John: We do both, you see. We set one way when we say, ‘This is the show,” But we do, like, a dress rehearsal and another rehearsal. George: (Laughing incredulously) Dress rehearsal? John: Well, you know, we do it as is, we try and do it one through. We should do it about three times, and probably the middle one will have the most. And see if there’s anybody around that played piano or anything we just get him up, and let’s have a gig.
John told the future well, unaware at the time Billy Preston would be that piano player. John also didn’t realize that the man he was speaking to would walk away from the group the next day.
It took only a few minutes on January 9, 1969, for Paul McCartney to invoke jazz guitar, classical compositions and swing percussion for a hymnal ballad being written for an R&B singer that would become a classic rock and easy listening staple.
Transcript Poem No. 1, from the Get Back Book
“Let It Be,” lovingly and deliberately crafted during much of this day, spoke clearly to Paul’s boundless musical vocabulary, and on the day’s Nagra tapes we clearly hear the well-defined, rich genetic code buried within the song. No wonder it’s so special.
Dubbed “Mother Mary” by Paul at this point, “Let it Be” received solo piano treatment early in the day’s session per Paul’s daily ritual and a brief engagement, mainly with George Harrison, midday. The full ensemble’s rehearsal treatment later in the working day crafted the song into something both concrete and familiar. But importantly and quite visibly, Paul didn’t arrange it all by himself.
To recap the chronology of “Let It Be” to this point:
• September 6, 1968: The earliest-known recording of the song — released in 2018 on the White Album Deluxe — consisted of a snippet of the first verse and chorus. Paul is on piano (the group was in the midst of recording “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). If there was anything to “Let It Be” beyond this, it’s either buried inside the vaults at Abbey Road, secured in Paul’s private archives or lost amid the echoes of Cavendish Avenue. But there’s no reason to believe there was really much more, because …
• January 3, 1969: While the song gained an introduction as the Beatles rehearsed in their first full day at Twickenham, Paul hadn’t advanced “Let It Be” beyond the first verse and chorus, exactly what he had in 1968.
• January 8, 1969: After the weekend and a couple extra days, the song appeared on the tapes again, as Paul disclosed he wrote the song for Aretha Franklin — but he wanted the Beatles to record it, too. Paul instructed a faster pace on the drum pattern and shared the chord structure with George. The musical tag was borrowed from the introduction and applied to the song’s conclusion, as the day’s session wrapped.
On January 9, the song was a significant focal point, with rehearsals of “Let It Be” alone taking up a good 20 percent of the day’s recorded sessions on the tapes. An initial midday discussion of the tag — “just at the end of ‘Mother Mary,’ there’s, like, a riff,” as described by Paul — was nestled between rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Across The Universe,” just prior to the “Penina” origin story.
At once, Paul had an unfinished song — musically, it was sharp, but the lyrics were quite incomplete — and he solicited advice and allowed the song to evolve, while at the same time explicitly mapping out musical parts for the others.
(Ignore the subtitles in the below clip, for everyone’s sake. But enjoy the audio from this part of the session)
The first phase of the hour-plus sequence that concludes the day’s tapes has Paul walking the others through the song in a deliberate fashion.
To Ringo Starr: Play the drums “like swing.”
To John Lennon, who was on bass: “C … G … A … F,” Paul instructed, vocalizing the bass part with piano accompaniment and working his way through the verse and chorus. “You’ll get it, it’s dead easy.”
Paul continued to work the group through the song, repeating the verse-chorus sequence, methodically taking stock of every element. After the primer, the song’s iconic harmonies were casually introduced to the chorus. “It’s like ‘aahs,'” instructed Paul, who suggested harmonies that were to be delivered “very simply.”
There’s a lot of things with these chords. See that harmony there – it’s like church harmony. There’s all that bit of sustained. … it’s like Bach, just holding the notes. Can you hear it?
With the harmony in strong development, Paul shifted to broader aspects of the song, like “how should we start it?” (Days earlier, John asked the same thing of “Don’t Let Me Down,” unsure how to arrange the various elements of the song).
There was a go at opening “Let It Be” with the chorus, but that idea was scrapped quickly, with the song’s soon-to-be established format taking hold early on.
“OK, the first two choruses, just the piano,” Paul said. “Then the second thing to come in is your two voices on the ‘let it be.’ And then [it] builds. So maybe bass isn’t in till, like, halfway.”
While the harmonies were framed around a centuries-old inspiration, Paul invoked a contemporary to George for his guitar part.
“If you could just somehow hold the one note on guitar without making it sort of corny,” Paul said. “Like Wes Montgomery, the octaves.”
Too bad we don’t get to hear a complete picture of what happens next, because … cats.
Michael-Lindsay Hogg: “I don’t like dogs, I like cats.”
Ringo: “We’ve got a poodle, as well.”
With the tapes’ camera and microphone shifting to a conversation between the film’s director and drummer, we’re deprived of a clear listen to the continued development of the song for a few moments. But the instructional continued in the background, as John added a grating, deep baritone harmony that was thankfully abandoned ultimately, but was retained throughout most of the day.
As Ringo continued his conversations away from the rest of the band, including a chat with Denis O’Dell about the Magic Christian, Paul and John alone casually delivered a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” — which was the first song recorded by the Quarrymen (to an acetate) more than 10 years earlier.
Following John’s cheeky order — “Come on you gits, get on your fucking instruments!” — the rest of the group indeed followed their leader, enthusiastically launching into an full-band Little Richard medley, “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (as later covered by John) into “Jenny Jenny,” before Paul applied the breaks in a return to “Let It Be.”
As a nod to his muse, Paul swapped in “Oh, Aretha Franklin” where he would normally sing “speaking words of wisdom” at one point.
Resuming the song-crafting process, Paul sought to integrate the musical tag he mentioned earlier to George.
Paul: I was thinking John: You’ve been thinking again. Paul: After we’ve done the “let it be, let it be,” done the whole thing through, we might make something of [played the riff]. … Like, without rhythm, but with you [John] and me doing it.
Upon Ringo questioning when the various instruments come in throughout the song, Paul begins make suggestions before stopping himself.
Enter Glyn Johns. Well, not really “enter” — he’d been with the group the entirety of the sessions in a somewhat nebulous production role.
“He seems to be arranging this, come on,” Paul said to laughter. “That’s good, come on.”
After they had finally run through the first song a couple of times, Paul turned to me and asked what I thought they should do for an intro. I nearly fell over in shock. I thought I had been employed to just engineer and here I am in the first hour of rehearsals being asked for my input into the arrangement. I responded as quickly and confidently as I could and suggested a way of playing the intro, which they liked, and we were off. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was accepted, each guy individually making an attempt to put me at ease and make me feel part of the team. …
On the second day, things came to a head among the band. …
I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham at on that cold gray afternoon with Denis, the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.
It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple days later.
Glyn’s timeline isn’t precise; he wrote that the arrangement request was on the session’s first day (which was January 2) and George would quit the band the next day, but Paul was a late arrival on the first day at Twickenham and George’s departure happened on January 10, the day after the events of this post. Still, the recollection is valuable to get an idea of Glyn’s mindset early in the sessions regarding his role.
Glyn with the Beatles, from Glyn’s autobiography, Sound Man.
With Paul handing him the reins, Glyn was confident and direct in dictating his plan — based on Paul’s original idea — to a very receptive band.
“Absolutely nothing except the piano and voice the first time around,” said Glyn. “And then the voices, right? … Then you [George] come in where you come in. And you [John] come in the next time round.
“So it goes: Piano and voice. Backing added [to the chorus], then it goes back to the top [the sound of high-hat is played]. George is in then. John comes in when John comes in. Then the the next chorus, you’re [Ringo] back in on your thing, and back on your [swinging drum pattern]”
Paul gave very simple approval — “that’s it” — before leading the group into a demonstration and subsequent instructions, like building up the percussion without any snares — “It’s like jazz,” George remarked — and adding “big drums” on Ringo’s fill before the second round of the chorus.
The writer and arranger disagreed on when John and George should come in — Paul proposed they should join together, while Glyn thinks otherwise. “It’s all happening a little bit too quickly with the bass coming in at the same time, that’s all,” Glyn said. Paul deferred, and instructed George to come in for a solo after the “big” chorus, and to base it after the verse’s chords.
“Do it to your own discretions and sort of come in so it builds up, just so you’re not all in at the one time,” Paul said. “Let those two [Ringo and John] get in before you [George] come in.”
The group returned to a run-through as it was drawn up with George entering into the riff, after the second chorus. But it didn’t click and the placement of the riff becomes the next segment receiving attention.
Glyn suggested back-to-back plays of the riff after the second chorus, an idea Paul jumped on.
Paul: See, then that can lead into the solo, ’cause I think it’ll be time by then.
John: Just use that riff into the solo and the end [of it] for the end.
Paul: It’s going to be a short one, anyway.
Paul ordered up “two lengths of solo,” while he and John added harmonies over the second one. The conclusion of “Let It Be” was then sketched: the guitar solo, another chorus and two plays of the riff, with the second one coming in slow.
A first full run of the complete song structure clocked in at barely more than two minutes, with no additional verses after the solo. That is, what we know now as the “And when the night is cloudy…” verse — that section didn’t exist yet.
“Want to do it again? George asked. “It’s quite short, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is a little bit,” Paul conceded. “It does need something else. It may be sort of ‘oohs’ though the second verse or something else when the cymbals come in. It sounds a bit sort of bare with just piano there.”
“Organ. I could play organ for that and drop it for the bass,” John suggested, forecasting Billy Preston’s eventual arrival without calling for additional personnel, for now, anyway.
Now in the final phases of the day’s rehearsals, the group put further attention on getting into and out of the riff. And in its final moments, George purposely hacked his way through the solo, building the framework of what would later appear on record. Paul gave further bass instruction to John, while George went over the drum pattern with Ringo.
Having logged more than an hour on the song at the end of the day’s session, exhaustion finally set in after a few more competent attempts of the song. A suggested short break became a request from George to quit for the day entirely, which they all did following a final take.
As they gathered to leave, a debriefing showed the band still found room for improvement in “Let It Be”:
Paul: It should have more bits, should be more complicated.
George: I just feel [the ending] needs something really sustaining.
John: Or even some words … a big all-together.
Any further collaborative work on the “Let It Be” was going to have to wait. Paul touched on the song in a brief solo version the next morning, but later that day, George left the group.
Still, the Beatles — led by Paul but with significant help from others in the room — got through much of the musical dirty work in “Let It Be” in relatively effortless fashion on January 9.
To his death, that remained John Lennon’s reflection on the recording of “Across the Universe,” what he regarded as one of his finest sets of lyrics.
Here’s John quoted in All We Are Saying, David Sheff’s full transcription of his September 1980 Playboy interview:
But the Beatles didn’t make a good record of Across the Universe. I think subconsciously sometimes we — I say “we,” though I think Paul did it more than the rest of us; Paul would … sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song.
He subconsciously tried to destroy songs, meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces, like “Strawberry Fields” — which I always felt was badly recorded. That song got away with it and it worked. But usually we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s songs; when it came to mine, especially if it was a great song like “Strawberry Fields” or “Across the Universe,” somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage. He’ll deny it, ‘cause he’s got a bland face and he’ll say the sabotage doesn’t exist. But this is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where I was always seeing what was going on … I begin to think, Well, maybe I’m paranoid. But it’s not paranoid; it’s absolute truth.
The same thing happened to “Across the Universe” It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as the Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ‘cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.
By January 1969, “Across the Universe” was completely in the can — even down to the sound effects, which the group heard for the first time on the January 7 (George Harrison wasn’t crazy about the birds). With a dearth of fresh material, John could have made “Across the Universe” a focal point during the Get Back sessions. This was John’s chance to properly record the year-old song to his ears.
But like previous occasions at Twickenham, he wouldn’t show much passion to rehearse and rejuvenate the song. Still, “Across the Universe” remained and returned to the table January 9 as the group continued to develop new and manage more established songs for an eventual live show as the sessions began its second week.
“Across the Unicorn,” as John introduced it that day, was performed at such a glacial pace in an initial take that it broke down seconds in with laughter from John. “It shouldn’t be that slow, should it?” As a reaction, the group — as they’d often do — zipped through the song double-time after another standard attempt.
While the song was fully formed, “Across the Universe” wasn’t stage-ready. George didn’t like the birds on wax, and he didn’t like the harmony with Paul as performed at Twickenham. The interplay between George and the others on this fact should sound familiar. Really, nothing was going to change his world.
John: What didn’t you like about his har-MO-ney? George: Just in some places. John: Ah, some places. Well that’s details, George. Paul: Please specify then, please specify. George: (after singing singing the first verse), It sounds a bit forced .. It wasn’t natural. Paul: Especially in the “Nothing’s going to change my world.” John: Just sing that in unison. Paul: I was planning on working on those bits anyway.
Ah yes, the bland-faced saboteur was prepared to do his worst.
Continuing to work on the song, George and Paul attempted painfully high top harmonies on “jai guru deva,” prompting John to respond, “Is that a bit much?”
With additional takes, the harmonies developed into a characteristically lovely John-Paul-George blend — it’s hard for those three voices together to sound anything but — even if the rest of the song’s redevelopment remained stagnant, at best.
“The ‘nothing’s gonna change my world’ — we got to do something to it,” John said, giving Ringo some rare (for these sessions) drumming instruction — asking for “something heavier. Just play an on-beat there. Try doing the on-beat on the snare, to push it along.”
Not significantly improved and with just a single complete take over nearly 15 minutes of work on “Across the Universe,” John was clearly uninspired by his own song, asking, “Should we do something else then?”
Paul rejected the thought, suggesting they again speed things up. A subsequent attempt indeed had a little more pep — the rhythm section didn’t drag quite as much as it had, additional lead guitar licks peppered the chorus and Paul added more extensive harmonies throughout the song. Again, the song wasn’t completed to its finish, but George wasn’t displeased overall, admitting it was a “little better that time.”
John didn’t bother to offer his own review, instead breathlessly launching into a brief improvisation that has since gone by the name “Shakin’ in the Sixties.” The group followed with an upbeat cover of Cliff Richards’ 1958 hit “Move It” that in turn spilled into a sloppy but jubilant abbreviated version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
An animated discussion of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — the group were all clearly fans, trading lines from the show (”Very interesting …” “Say goodnight, Dick”) — led to something of a comic take of Carl Perkins’ “Tennessee,” with everyone enjoying playing.
(It’s nice to know: They may have been the greatest band on the face of the earth, but they still talked about TV at work, just like we do).
Ready to shift gears back to business, John asked, “Have we learned any new ones lately?” After a deliberately flippant butchering of the first verse of “Across the Universe,” John said, “I don’t want to do that one anymore.”
“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine,” ultimately back-to-back tracks on Side 1 of Let It Be, share another piece of history: By this moment on the afternoon of January 9, 1969, both songs were completely abandoned, weeks before the end of the January 1969 sessions.
“I Me Mine” was recorded from scratch in 1970 by the Threetles, while “Across the Universe” saw its original 1968 recording … embellished and warped by Phil Spector, John’s choice to produce the final soundtrack album. That’s two songs on the Let It Be LP taken not from its associated sessions, but appearing on the record purely because of the songs’ appearance in the Let It Be film.
But while George eventually took his opportunity to properly record “I Me Mine” in the final recording session before the Beatles broke up, what of John’s “Across the Universe”? While unplayed after January 9, 1969 , the song was listed among the the possible numbers for a live show on January 21, the group’s first day of sessions at Savile Row after George left on January 10 and the rest of the Beatles took a hiatus after January 14. But when George asked if they should consider and rehearse “Across the Universe” on January 23, John passed.
“No, no, ’cause it’s going out on an EP,” John said.
Ode to a panda bear: “Across the Universe” debuted on the “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” charity LP in December 1969.
This opens up some questions. Circa some point in 1968, “Across the Universe” was tabbed for the World Wildlife Fund’s charity LP — that’s why the birds were recently overdubbed, for use on that record. But we also know — or think we know — there was a potential Yellow Submarine EP at one point considered, and that would have included the original version of “Across the Universe.” But if that was the case, it would have been profoundly strange that the other Beatles wouldn’t have been aware of it. An odd unicorn, indeed.
But the song’s eventual release wasn’t necessarily of consequence. If John wanted a new version of his song for posterity, this was the time to craft it on his terms. The Beatles resurrected “One After 909,” after all, and breathed life into a song that had a truly bland recording gathering dust in the vault.
While it wasn’t confirmed in any way, there were certainly some occasional discussions by this early point that these sessions could easily yield a new album, in addition to serving as rehearsals for a live show. Stuck for a month, John could have rehearsed and re-calibrated the absolute daylights out of “Across the Universe.” Lord knows Paul played the hell out of “Get Back” and his songs during the sessions. But here we are on January 9, 1969, and “Across the Universe” was completely discarded, both as an option for the live show but also as a song to be revisited and rerecorded. Who sabotaged whom? Or even what?
You know, we all say a lot of things when we don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m probably doing it now, I don’t know what I say. You see, everybody takes you up on the words you said, and I’m just a guy that people ask all about things, and I blab off and some of it makes sense and some of it is bullshit and some of it’s lies and some of it is – God knows what I’m saying.
Needless to say, this issue hangs over pretty much every corner of Beatles scholarship. At least John had the self-awareness to admit this, as problematic a fact it is.
So was the original recording of “Across the Universe” a victim of “subconscious sabotage”? Regardless of the answer, John — who we can certainly believe was never satisfied with any of the recordings of the song, even the one he helped record with David Bowie in 1975 — had the blank palate of the January 1969 sessions to craft it in any direction he pleased. But he was bored with the song, whether he would admit it or not, and took it no further after just a week into the sessions, despite a paucity of new material.
The song as recorded would be released, as planned, in December 1969 on the World Wildlife Fund’s “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” LP with John’s voice sped up, and again in May 1970 on Let It Be, further adorned and with his voice slowed down.
Pablo Fanque, Mao Zedong and Edgar Allen Poe are among the historical figures with a cameo in a Beatles lyric. During the Get Back sessions, former Prime Ministers — and famed taxmen — Harold Wilson and Edward Heath joined a more exclusive club, making an encore appearance in song.
A reasonable argument can be made that the improvisations littering these sessions aren’t really songs at all, but instead casually jammed interludes capturing the moment, intended to be forgotten if not for the tapes that recorded it all. But ultimately we do have the tapes, and those for January 9, 1969, contain a suite of performances inspired by a subject even more ponderous than taxation: the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference, which was in its third day as the Beatles continued their sixth at Twickenham, about 10 miles away.
Paul McCartney had already drawn upon the contemporary issue of the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya to Britain, conceiving the “No Pakistanis” iteration of “Get Back” that would be a part of the song for a few more days. After a thirty-minute detour that included a revisiting of “Across the Universe” and the bassist’s recounting of the “Penina” origin story, the news of the day recaptured Paul’s imagination.
Paul’s performance began seemingly unprompted, launched from a flippant attempt of the “House of The Rising Sun” that itself began as a bit of a mockery of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” — a song that was proposed to be rehearsed. Instead John launched into the song popularized by The Animals in 1964.
That brings the story to “Commonwealth.”
Paul channels Elvis vocally — and picks up on John’s ability to script a “newspaper song.” George doesn’t even participate at the outset; instead he discusses equipment issues with Glyn Johns.
Britain has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa.
Home Secretary James Callaghan is making this clear in private talks with Commonwealth leaders now meeting in London.
He is telling them that many Britons share the views of Tory M P Mr. Enoch Powell, who wants to stop further immigration and encourage migrants to go home.
While Mr. Callaghan was taking this action, Premier Harold Wilson was rejecting accusations of discrimination at the Premiers’ conference inside London’s Marlborough House.
Accusations of discrimination by Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Arshad Husain brought an immediate riposte from Premier Wilson.
He reminded Mr Husain that Britain had brought in penal laws to ban discrimination.
Mr. Wilson told him: “Do not hold me responsible for the phenomenon known as Enoch Powell.”
While Wilson and Heath reappear in Beatles song, it’s fellow Member of Parliament Enoch Powell at the center of Paul’s muddled tale.
Here’s a taste of the first set of lyrics, transcribed as lovingly as possible for something at times so unintelligible:
Tonight Enoch Powell said get our immigrants, immigrants, you better go home, ha ha ha ha ha
Tonight Premier Wilson said to the immigrants, you better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said you better get back, home
Now Enoch Powell said to the folks, he said … the color of your skin
… So Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out or heads are gonna fall (?)
He said, Enoch Powell, Enoch you better go home
A deeply inflammatory political figure, Powell’s biography is defined by his April 20, 1968, “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he dramatically stoked racial fears, viciously attacking mass immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell would lose his position in the Shadow Cabinet (“Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out”) while deeply accelerating a serious divide in British public opinion. (In the 1970s, Eric Clapton would publicly embrace Powell, a terrible idea the Beatles pal would ultimately say he regretted.)
The “Rivers of Blood” speech had indescribable impact, and as an American writing more than 50 years later, I’m certainly dealing in deep understatement.
On the Beatles’ timeline, Powell’s 1968 speech coincided with the immediate aftermath of their trip to India (George alone remained overseas at the time). A month after the speech, Paul was put on the record regarding Powell as John and Paul were interviewed on their promotional tour to launch Apple.
Asked about “this racial business over in England,” Paul offered a simple answer: “That thing’s just the same question everywhere, you know? It’s no different in England. It’s a bit less harmful in England, but it’s the same thing. Some people don’t like other people ‘cause they’re not the same as them.”
Plain-speaking regarding Powell in 1968, Paul was in standard form singing about him eight months later, on January 9, 1969, prioritizing the sound of the song over lyrics and meaning, even moreso in subsequent verses. Presaging the Kinks’ brilliant “Victoria” by several months, Paul offers a tour of mostly Commonwealth locales (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, West Indies, “Old Calcutta”) as well as Europe and South Africa.
(“Old Calcutta” could also be heard as “Oh! Calcutta!” a wink to John’s involvement in the forthcoming stage show, while the reference to Tucson was both an acknowledgement of the location’s growing importance the to “Get Back” lyric as well as an indicator of Paul’s monumental disinterest in improvising any sort of serious lyric to this song.)
But the clear focal point of the track is the chorus, featuring an animated John interjecting a responsive “Yes?” to each of Paul’s calls of “Commonwealth,” in a shrill, deliberately cartoonish accent, described in the book that accompanied the Let It Be LP as that of a “Boston matron.”
The first time John chimed with his “Yes?” response, Paul sounded sincerely taken by surprise, unable to suppress a laugh. This interplay, enjoyed throughout half of the song, is what makes “Commonwealth” memorable and somewhat remarkable (Paul would use a similar vocal inflection himself elsewhere in the song). Partial film of the performance of the song — focused on John alone — makes clear he is enjoying this one-off.
The collaboration of sorts was sustained throughout, as John quickly improved Paul’s original verse-closing words:
Paul: Commonwealth, but it’s much too wealthy for me John: Much too common for me.
Paul was strong on the fly, but John was even more clever, unsurprisingly.
As “Commonwealth” petered out, Paul delivered a brief coda consisting merely of the words, “Oh, Enoch Powell … powerless” (sounding very close to “Powell-less”)
This brief interlude spilled into another lengthy improvisation and an additional moment John and Paul used to minimize the junior songwriter in the band. Originally intended by George to be an electrified take of “For You Blue,” Paul hijacked the song and veered into another direction, interjecting several mentions of “white power” — again, as inspired by headlines satirically and obviously not a celebration of such a thing — and was met with an off-timed “Get Off!” response from John. The song quickly evolved into Paul and John — both continued in high spirits — trading real and fictional names in a roll call over an enjoyable, loose blues rocker. Paul occasionally throws in a “Can you dig it?” or “Let me hear it” after a name.
More than 40 names are called out — usually by Paul — including multiple Quarrymen (Eric Griffiths, Ivan Vaughn and John Lennon himself), other Beatles insiders (Mal Evans, Peter Brown), many others in entertainment (James Brown, Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, David Frost) or in politics (Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon), with the likes of Superman alter ego Clark Kent and stain-killer Super Ajax also receiving call-outs. Paul and John are clearly enjoying every moment of it.
At one early point, the song breaks down, with John asking what the group should properly rehearse next.
George: I’ll do one, but it has acoustic guitar and no backing. John: Get off!
And with that, “Get Off” picked right back up. It was a funny moment, with delicious comic timing on John’s part, but another occasion in which they’d offend and unnerve George.
Soon after, George begins to sing and play “For You Blue” only to have John and Paul continue to play “Get Off” over him.
Paul (following some feedback): Noise is a little too loud for me. John: Leave the group then, if you don’t like it (giggles).
Sure, the Beatles played “God Save the Queen” on the rooftop, but they wouldn’t be quite as overtly political in such a burst for the balance of the sessions. And while “Get Off” (and “Commonwealth,” like the similarly jubilant “Suzy Parker” ) vanished from the group’s memory, never to appear on an official release, a little bit of “Get Off” lived on, both as a stream-of-consciousness performance and through the very use of one of the song’s key phrases in “Dig It.”
With “For You Blue” begging to be rehearsed, Paul and John spent 15 minutes comically spanning and panning global issues. But all politics are ultimately local, and there were clearly internal band politics at play.
“I canceled the papers last week,” George Harrison told the rest of the Beatles early on January 9, 1969. “And they won’t stop them coming.”
Whether George reluctantly toted the Daily Express and Daily Mirror from his Kinfauns home or if they were delivered otherwise to Twickenham Film Studio, the newspapers were put to good use by the Beatles that Thursday.
“It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything.” – Paul McCartney
When looking for inspiration, we all know of John Lennon’s willingness to read the news (oh, boy), but it was Paul who ripped from the headlines to fill out some lyrics in his signature song on the sixth day of the Get Back sessions.
“Get Back” emerged from a jam two days earlier with a small set of lyrics — most of which would ultimately survive — including “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.” The chorus would never change: “Get back to where you once belonged.”
The newspapers informed additional verses to give meaning to the chorus.
But first, let’s get back to George’s opening quote. After complaining about the papers’ non-cancellation, he continued: “George Gale is such an ignorant bastard.”
Gale, who at the time wrote for the Mirror, probably caught George’s venom because of that day’s column ridiculing marijuana users in the context of the release of the Wootton Report on the potential decriminalization of the drug.
But pot, for people in this country, is a new way of fooling themselves. A man is not made more free by taking pot. Quite the reverse. He is simply made more stupid.
But Gale’s politics would have been antithetical to George and the rest of the band since their teenage years. It was in 1956 — the year the Quarrymen were formed — that Gale famously wrote under the headline: “Would YOU let your daughter marry a black man?”
Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was given in April 1968, less than year earlier, and its impact continued to resonate (Powell will soon enter this day’s story, too). Race issues remained a terrible plight and severely divisive issue across Britain into 1969 — and, obviously, before, beyond and basically everywhere throughout human history. In the specific context of immigration to Britain, it was in front-page news on January 9 as the Daily Mirror shouted on Page 1: “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”
BRITAIN has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa. … Mr. Callaghan insists that if Britain is forced to take more Asians from Kenya and Uganda, there will be a cutdown on other Commonwealth immigrants. The Home Secretary is giving the Premiers the strongest warning yet of serious trouble in Britain if extra migrants have to be accepted.
And that takes us back to “Get Back,” the first song the Beatles worked on after lunch. Musically it surges, spunky and alive with the four Beatles perhaps recognizing this is the upbeat rock song they were searching for a week into the sessions. It was likely the first time John played on the song, having arrived after the others when it was first played two days earlier.
From a purely musical standpoint, the song was hot and was rivaled by “One After 909” at this point in pure energy — as far as their originals were concerned. By this early moment in the song’s life, it already had the guitar riff and Ringo’s identifiable cymbal crash during the chorus.
“Think of some words, if we can. I don’t know what it’s about,” Paul admitted. “It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything” (said to laughter).
That was fine with George. “We’ll just have those words, just words like [the Band’s] ‘Caledonia Mission.’ They’re just nothing about anything, it’s just rubbish.”
So don’t count George as finding any deeper meaning into that Big Pink cut, in its hexagrams or Arkansas towns. The movement Paul needed was on his shoulder: Just write words that track to the tune, regardless of any actual meaning, and it’ll all eventually shake out.
Despite Paul’s admission to the contrary, to this point, the song did start to find a vague lyrical angle. Joe and Theresa entered the picture this afternoon — JoJo and Loretta would join eventually in their place. There remained the pursuit of California grass. Tucson — the Arizona city in which Linda Eastman went to college and close to where the McCartneys would later own a ranch (and Linda would pass away) — was specifically named for the first time.
Additional lyrics — often turns of phrases rather than coherent statements — emerged during the more than 20 minutes of high quality and high energy vamping and jamming. One pass through the verse is in the first-person, with the singer the protagonist who was a loner leaving his home for California and who was getting back to where he once belonged.
There were several points where Paul simply garbled over a name, phrase or section of lyric just for filler. Elsewhere, we get the beginning of a narrative, with an intolerant public imploring the different nationalities “get back to where they once belonged.”
A sampling of lyrics:
A man came from Puerto Rico, oh, he joined the middle class/Where I came from, I don’t need no Puerto Ricans
Take the English job, only Pakistanis riding on the buses, man
All the people said we don’t need Pakistanis, so you better travel home
Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs
Don’t need no Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.A.
Don’t want no black man
When tapes from these sessions first leaked into the bootleg market in the mid-1970s, we would simply get single songs stitched together with no context, little dialogue and guessed song titles — like ones called “No Pakistanis.” It’s obvious the Beatles were simply making a social commentary, satirizing the segment of the public who harbored the feelings they were singing. But by the mid-80s, a wide exposure of these takes by The Sun — lacking the needed conversational context or tracing of the evolution of the song — posited the Beatles must have been xenophobes themselves. Gotta sell papers, after all. There probably aren’t too many times Paul ever commented on bootlegged tapes, but Rolling Stone got him on record in 1986, responding to the racism claims:
Sensational journalism – The Sun is not a highly reputable newspaper. What this thing is, I think, is that when we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to “Get Back” which were actually not racist at all – they were antiracist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living sixteen to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of “Get Back,” which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis. The Sun wishes to see it as a racist remark. But I’ll tell you, if there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown. Whenever we came to the States they’d say, “Who’s your favorite artists?” And we’d say, “Well, they’re mainly black, and American – Motown, man. It’s all there, you’ve got it all.” I don’t think the Beatles ever had much of a hang-up with that.
The reference he makes to the line about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” actually came on January 10, when the Beatles continued to work on the song. But the point remains. The song has been misunderstood by some unwilling or unable to see the nuance (search around the Internet for “Beatles” and “racist” at your own risk, even moreso if you read any comments).
We have on tape evidence the “get back” element of the chorus came before anything else on January 7, and was likely a riff on Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea,” and we can reasonably dispense of the myth the song’s true origin was political. It’s also pretty clear Paul simply liked the flow of “Pakistani” and “Puerto Rican” — words with four syllables that were easy to rhyme — and was searching for something that sounded appealing, while not shying away from something political. At one point he clumsily rhymes “Puerto Rican” and “Mohican” (a Native American tribe), a perfect example of how little thought out the lyrics were at this point. He was just searching.
John Lennon later said “Get Back” was directed at Yoko Ono, anyhow. But more on that another post.
The 20-plus-minute post-lunch writing and rehearsal session marked the end of the group’s work on “Get Back” for January 9, although they’d return to it nearly every day they were in the studio until the end of the month. It wasn’t the last time the group included the racial element in the song, and it wasn’t the last time they’d address the issue in song on January 9, either.
Almost fifty years have passed, and we’re still unsure of how the Beatles’ ditty “Suzy Parker” came about. But the origin story for “Penina” — discussed and introduced by Paul McCartney a few hours after the somewhat mysterious performance of “Suzy Parker” — quite literally appeared in print on the very day we’re discussing, January 9, 1969, in the Daily Express.
A newsworthy trip: Paul in Portugal, December 1968
McCartney had spent an evening listening to the resident band at the resort’s luxury Penina Golf Hotel. He decided to give a tip in appreciation. And composed a few bars — called Penina — for the lucky bandleader, Anibal Cunha. To help them along McCartney beat out the rhythm on the drums.
Paul elaborated: “And I sat in on drums, and they said, ‘Give us a song.’ So I said, OK.”
Good lord, is that all it takes? Someone get me in the same room as Paul McCartney, I have absolutely no good material.
“’I’ve been to Albufera, had a great time there,’” Paul sang before continuing to describe the scene. “It was called La Penina, the hotel. And they were all digging it and singing along, and it was good. And William Hickey [in the paper] said he’s giving away this 20,000-pound song.”
Per the paper’s report:
As the shareholders of Northern’ Songs (currently standing at 33s. a share) know, McCartney compositions never fail to net £20,000 at the very least.
Northern Songs shareholders in fact are presently benefiting from a rif, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney borrowed-from another performer, Jimmy Scott. The Marmalade version of this song topped the hit parade this week for the first time.
Paul didn’t mask his disgust with the report:
“Cunts. That’s what you write something, for a riff. You don’t say ‘hello,’ and you haven’t got a riff when you say ‘hello.’ That’s the riff I got off of Jimmy Scott, those two words (“Ob-la-di, Ob-La-Da”). You’d think I’d taken his life. It’s not as though he wrote the song.”
This wasn’t the only time on these tapes Paul would show his frustration with Jimmy Scott regarding ownership of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Over the years, however, Paul’s softened his view on Scott. This is from just weeks ago, during his promotional tour for Egypt Station:
Meanwhile, back in 1969, the newspaper report continued, quoting Apple press officer Derek Taylor:
“John and Paul saw him right,” says Mr. Taylor. “They, are themselves often asked for help on their travels. And it just isn’t possible for them to refuse.”
Having only heard of “Penina” from the newspaper and Paul’s own recollection, the rest of the group finally had their chance to hear — and participate — in what would be the lone known Beatles performance of the song.” Paul has a vague memory of the lyrics, and the rest of the group clearly has no idea how the song goes (this is in deep contrast to “Suzy Parker,” by the way, lending more support to the argument that song wasn’t a pure improvisation). Here’s how they sounded:
It’s not quite “Eleanor Rigby” — it’s hardly “Wild Honey Pie” (or “Fuh You” for that matter, to evoke Egypt Station again). But it’s a Paul McCartney original and from the same moment in time he was writing songs like “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” so it deserves to be at least more than a footnote.
Been to Albufeira, I had a few drinks there
And now I’m on my way home
I really don’t care
La Penina, La Penina, La Penina hotel
Well it’s been a long road …
When the song was finally released a few months later — by Anibal Cunha’s band, Jotta Herre — the sleeve proudly trumpeted the Beatle’s songwriting credit. And it’s a lone McCartney credit, not Lennon/McCartney. The eventual lyrics have just three verses, with the final one ending with a first-person reference. It’s a languid offering, plaintive at best sporting simplistic lyrics that recap the evening sung over a bland melody.
Penina, Penina, Penina one night
Penina, Penina, Penina one night
I’ve been to Albufiera
And I had a good time there
And then I came to Penina
And found good friends
Drinking liquid, making music
Love has come to my heart
Beat the drums take me home
Helping friends free my soul
Time has come, time has gone
Time to bet for keeping friends
Take my arm girl, lets go home
Thank you all, love from Paul
In challenging the report that it was a £20,000 song, Paul was clearly giving the song little merit in January 1969. After all, it was just a riff!
In short time, however, Paul was interested in taking a little bit of ownership in “Penina,” starting soon thereafter with his blessing the band to use his name as a promotional tool.
Translated, roughly, from Portuguese to English via Google Translate:
I have only one thing to regret, and we must involve the name of Paul McCartney and the friendship he gave us. But, in truth, he also forced us to do so. And in a letter he sent us he tells us categorically. “Use my name without hesitation, let it be used for your publication.” And, finally, the commercial entities linked to the release of the album knew this and took advantage of the idea. Well Paul’s name has a made market and it is assumed that it will be commercially valid.
The song was not really that commercially valid, to use that term. Neither the original version nor a subsequent cover that year by two-time Portuguese Eurovision contestantCarlos Mendes — whose cut appeared on the aforementioned EMI compilation — appears to have made much of a dent in sales, despite the McCartney name behind the song. Perhaps it was the quality of the song that played a role.
I went to Portugal on holiday and returned to the hotel one night slightly the worse for a few drinks. There was a band playing and I ended up on the drums. The hotel was called Penina, I made up a song with that name, someone made enquiries about it and I gave it to them. And, no, I shouldn’t think I’d ever record it myself!
The Summer 1995 issue of the same magazine likewise listed “Penina” among the songs Paul gave away, chronologically listed between bona-fide hits “Goodbye” (Mary Hopkin) and “Come and Get It” (Badfinger), showing a breathtaking contrast of song quality with his Portuguese throwaway.
To this day, Paul still hasn’t recorded “Penina,” but the song lives on. Mendes re-recorded it for his latest LP, which came out in April 2018.
And while “Suzy Parker” lives on only through bootlegs and YouTube clips, having become the actual footnote in Beatles lore, you can see the 71-year-old Mendes perform “Penina” live in concert in Portugal this December, nearly 50 years to the day Paul wrote the song a few hours away at the Penina Hotel and Golf Resort.
“Suzy Parker” — as performed by the Beatles — requires multiple assumptions to set a complete chronology of the song’s history. What is established, however, is that the only performance made available over the last half-century is one from January 9, 1969.
The song sprung directly out of the day’s lone, solid performance of “Don’t Let Me Down” (discussed a post ago), with John introducing the song in a deliberate, low-key mumble.
“I’d like to change the tempo now a little and move over to another kind of gig, and it’s called ‘Suzy’s Parlour.’”
And with that, John plucked out the opening chords ripped straight from the Chuck Berry playbook. Paul repeated the title as John began to sing in his most shrill voice. This is my best stab at transcribing the lyrics — I listened on headphones multiple times, slowed the song down, the works — but let’s just say they’re pretty fluid and inconsistent, as is John’s wont:
C’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
I said come over, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
Get to fixing Suzy Parker, everybody gets well done
I said, c’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
I said, c’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
When you come to Suzy’s parlour, everybody gets well done
After every line, Paul and George supplied “c’mon, Suzy Parker” backup vocals — or something along those lines — and this is the place to note Paul clearly sang “Parker” not “parlour” most of the time. Their delivery is vaguely reminiscent to the “shoo-bee-doo-wop” backup vocals they provide in “Revolution 1.” After the first two verses, we get a machine-gun-style “rat-tat-tat” backup vocal, intensely delivered by Paul and George.
The verses continued, as John did John things, tweaking the lyrics on the fly.
C’mon, Suzy Parker, everybody’s welcome to come
Yeah, c’mon, Suzy parlour, everybody’s welcome to come
When you get to Suzy’s parlour, everybody gets well done
Another repeat of the rat-tat-tats refrain, and that was it, just shy of two minutes. John recapped the lyrics spoken-word, while George and Paul repeated the rat-tat-tats and a little of the instrumentation. Everything is over and done in about two minutes, a delicious respite unleashed before the group heads right into “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
You can — and should — see about half of the performance in the Let It Be film, starting about 19 minutes in. There it’s introduced by John asking, desperately, “Does anybody have a fast one?” on the heels of a lackluster take of “Dig a Pony” from January 7. Movie magic merges these two moments.
So back to the opening question: What on earth is “Suzy Parker”?
It’s a great song! Funny, upbeat, tight. And a little raunchy, even, representing a section of Suzy Parker’s home as a den of iniquity where everybody’s not only welcome to come but they get well done, too. It’s not remotely as provocative as Prince’s ode to a supermodel of his era decades later, but this was enjoyably suggestive nonetheless.
“Suzy Parker,” too, is the flip side of the sessions’ grim reputation, four guys truly enjoying playing music together. Take this and “One After 909,” and the Beatles could have propelled the Get Back experience into a different, retro (and excellent) space.
Yet as spontaneous as was the group’s mood, it feels very difficult to consider this song a one-off, impromptu jam. It’s simply too tight, too good, even if it is boilerplate John Lennon 12-bar blues.
So when and where does the song really come from, and why her? Your Beatles fan fiction is as good as mine. Parker’s successful modeling career had peaked a decade earlier, and she was nearing her final acting role, so while the members of the band certainly had long memories, she wouldn’t have necessarily been on the tips of their tongues. With plenty of other songs featuring variants of the heroine’s first name across more than a decade, there’s no smoking gun that would place “Suzy Parker” in any particular period in Beatles history if there’s a consideration it was directly inspired by another lyrical Suzy, Suzie or Susie. It could have been influenced by one, none or all of these:
But “Suzy Parker” is not necessarily from January 1969 either. The Beatles are in sync to a degree that seems to belie a completely ad-libbed performance, when we have much sloppier performances of other ad-libbed and established songs from these sessions for comparison. Even the well-rehearsed songs are sloppier. While the Nagra tapes constantly rolled during these sessions, and this specific performance of “Suzy Parker” the only one recorded, there remains non-zero odds the song existed in some form prior.
We can, at least, be assured that it’s not a cover, and it’s not formally titled “Suzy’s Parlour,” either, despite that being the name introduced by John, repeated by Paul and the primary lyric of the the song.
Nobody involved seemingly has ever spoken about “Suzy Parker” in an interview, so most of what people know about it is based solely on years of speculation. But at least one piece of paperwork helps clear up some of the discrepancy.
It’s only a Northern Song: “Suzy Parker” listed among John & Paul’s solo efforts at the U.S. Copyright Office.
Even though the song has never appeared on a sanctioned Beatles album or single — I found its absence on Anthology 3 conspicuous — it was an official Beatles release having turned up in the Let It Be film. Therefore, the song had to have its papers. First copyrighted in 1971, the song in question is indeed titled “Suzy Parker,” a rare (butnotunprecedented) Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey original. Nowadays Northern Songs’ catalog falls under the ownership of Sony/ATV, where the song is registered as “Suzy Parker” — with the defined alternate title of “Suzy’s Parlour” (search the title here, or check this spreadsheet download for the listing).
Should the song be called “Suzy Parker” or “Suzy’s Parlour”? Probably the latter, but it actually doesn’t matter. It is what it is, and formally the song is “Suzy Parker.” And despite an endless library of film, tape and interviews of the band existing for the entirety of their careers, the Beatles’ career still holds lovely pockets of mystery like this song.