Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.
This is our format.
Paul McCartney was right. There was a format. At least there was a framework developing as the Beatles rehearsed in their second week at Twickenham.
As covered in the last post, George Harrison would have to wait a few hours for attention to return to his new “For You Blue.” Instead, with the full band ready to go nearly 90 minutes into the January 9, 1969, Nagra tapes, the Beatles tackled “Two of Us” for the fifth time in six days, initiating a sequence in which the group returned to some of the finished, core songs they’d have for their live show. Why, it was their format!
This stretch also clearly exposed the side of the Beatles that everyone (else) usually cites when describing the Get Back sessions. While I’m quick to argue January 1969 at Twickenham was not of itself the downfall of the band as it was filled with harmonious, joyous and highly fruitful moments to match the uglier, fractious component of the sessions, these guys could get pretty petulant and didn’t hide it with the tapes rolling.
A quick, carefree one-off into the song the day before, this day’s “Two of Us” rehearsal stretched about a half-hour, and quite unlike the Rocky and the Rubbers’ version, Paul insisted on serious refinement.
As loose as their run-through was early on the 8th was exactly how tense things emerged on the 9th, with consistent, stuttered efforts to get through a full song.
From the top, the group can’t find the proper pacing of “Two of Us,” with Paul pushing the others to pick it up. “Keep them all quiet, keep your instruments down so we can sort of hear what’s going on.”
They had another go at the song, and “it’s still pathetic,” in Paul’s words. He suggested the issues went beyond just the song’s speed.
As Paul nitpicked what arrangement the song needed entering the bridge, John argued, “We never got into this [part] yet,” defending himself and the others as Paul criticized the group for not knowing what’s in his head.
A fiery example of the strain came during a “Two of Us” take in which Paul barked at John, who wasn’t in perfect rehearsal position, to “get on the mic.” John, certainly responding to the tone more than the instruction itself snapped back.
“You don’t have to bitch about it, we’ll never get through it.”
The band immediately went into another take, and you can hear John loud and clear — but he came in early. You can hear Paul’s displeasure when he comes in himself at the right time. Still, they championed on.
(This sequence was in the Let It Be film, and led immediately to the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” sequence from three days earlier.
A dark moment, for sure, but as usual for these guys, they were able to compartmentalize and still harmonize figuratively and literally. Picking apart “Two of Us” to improve the various “bits” and now focusing on the middle eight, Paul started thinking out loud.
“The two things I think of are both corny, but something better are oohs … or [a staccato “dit-dit-dit”]”
Never mind that the “oohs” are actually “aahs” when Paul, John and George instantly launch into a demonstration of the vocals, which are proposed to appear supporting the “you and I have memories” lead. This is the Beatles magic, immediate and spontaneous and completely normal, even when it comes a few minutes after one member complains about the other one’s bitchiness. The subsequent stab at the staccato vocalization came off a bit sloppier but still likable.
This below clip starts out with both of these attempts in sequence. After the first 30 seconds, though, is unrelated audio
Concerned the backup line would sound “too thin,” George proposed, “Maybe we get a few Raelettes,” marking yet another time the group evoked Ray Charles’ backup singers. “Get three girls” with some phasing on the mics.
John’s cheeky reply was to bring in three boys instead, and George named the Dallas Boys, Britian’s first boy band (by ’69 they were into their 30s).
While they never landed the Raelettes, the Beatles would soon enlist the man seated before them, Billy Preston. (Photo from late 1968).
Ultimately, Paul asked the others to “just think of something, then” for the middle eight, and off they went into another take, this one featuring the lovely “aahs.” The song may not have dramatically improved, but the mood had over the last 25 or so minutes on the tapes.
But Paul still had something to complain about, turning his attention to a frequent (and legitimate) punching bag for the band, the equipment setup at Twickenham. If we think the tapes sound diluted, just imagine how substandard the quality must have been for the musicians on the sound stage. With the proposed show nearing — and despite some pretty ambitious ideas, uh, floated less than 24 hours earlier — improved sound needed to be addressed along with other facets of a finalized live performance.
“Just so that we can all hear, so it sounds really great here,” Paul said. “So that our voices are just as loud as they need to be. ‘Cause then we’ll be able to hear what’s wrong.”
What’s more …
“Everything we’re going to actually do like that, we could get into now. Just where the amps are going to be, and where we stand. It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way.”
And here’s where we return to a disagreement among the principals, but with a far different result than earlier.
John: I thought we’d get into that when we do a few more.
George: We still have dance steps to learn.
Paul: And the jokes in between.
The esprit de corps resumed as the group advanced to a singular take of “Don’t Let Me Down.” There was no nibbling, no exhausting search for a missing “bit,” and even when there was a screw-up on the lyric, they powered on and completed the song in a tidy 3:10.
Far less concise, and clocking in at nearly 25 minutes of torturous micromanagement, was a brutal run of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” After a perfectly adequate (for this point in the sessions) initial run-through, Paul immediately identified just one specific spot for improvement — the same part of the song that had bedeviled the group on multiple occasions, and the same point that the struggled with in several songs — “The only bit is the break. Still not sort of dramatic enough.”
This tense sequence was up there among the least listenable parts of the entire month’s worth of tapes. Paul offered several variants on how he wants the guitar part to sound, right after his line, “All that I’ve been looking for is somebody who looks like you!”
- “All the notes are clipped.”
- “There shouldn’t be any recognizable jumps.”
- “The notes shouldn’t ring on.”
- “At the moment, it’s like a riff.”
- “[The notes should be] just like falling, falling.”
- “Try to sort of sing it.”
- “It’s got to be like pain.”
- “Certainly do anything like it’s crying.”
It’s got to be like pain. What an instruction!
Paul desperately and relentlessly attempted to communicate how he wanted the part to sound — gesticulating, vocalizing, playing it on the bass — but John simply couldn’t or wouldn’t accurately nail the brief solo.
In another editing trick that showed up in the Let it Be film, John did, in fact, nail it. That’s because the film shows the January 8 “Rocky and the Rubbers” take of the song (where Paul shouts a celebratory “good evening!” after the part is played), and spliced it on both ends of a brief portion of this sequence from January 9.
Ultimately, John hit the part satisfactorily enough for the Paul to continue the group through their core set. The mood rose again for another jubilant effort of “One After 909,” although we don’t get a complete grasp of the rehearsal due to the tape cutting in and out. We can pretty safely assume, though, that like “Don’t Let Me Down,” the band tore through a single take.
As John moved over to the piano, the Beatles practiced their stage patter, in hilariously fake sincere voices.
Paul: “Certainly, it’s a great occasion for us.”
John: “First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time.”
The playful attitude continued as Paul dabbled in a bit of “Norwegian Wood” on bass, soon to be joined briefly by Ringo on drums and George on guitar and vocals before they immediately launched into, as George called it, “the one about the window.”
It was a straightforward, strong take of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” although we don’t hear the whole thing on the tapes. Far less straightforward, but wholly enjoyable was a string of takes broken up by tape cuts, including one with John taking the lead vocal with a heavy Cockney accent.
By this point, the mood was entirely loose. The song was given a slow ballad treatment, featuring a lyric referencing the famed celebrity female impersonator Danny La Rue. Paul completed one take by answering the phone: “Hello, this is Tuesday speaking. Is that Paul? I’d like to have a word with you.”
Now, five minutes past 1 p.m., the group broke for lunch. Paul offered a brief impression of Elvis — who someone mentioned turned 34 the day earlier.
Only a few hours into a temperamental roller-coaster of a day, John replied to the rest of the 20-somethings in the group, “We all seem to be catching up to him.”