Tag Archives: Ob-la-di Ob-la-da

Jan. 13: And then there were two

The Beatles’ work ethic stood peerless, regardless of situations and obstacles placed in their way, even if they were responsible for those very obstacles.

Morning roundtable at January 13, 1969 at Twickenham. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the 2021 Get Back book)

“It’s good you sort of said to come to work,” said Ringo Starr on January 13, 1969, in response to a conversation he had with Paul McCartney the night before. That exchange happened after Paul showed up, nearly an hour after Ringo arrived to rehearsals, despite the assurances of the remaining Beatles to show up around the same time that Monday morning.

As it stood, Neil Aspinall didn’t expect anyone to show, according to director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

George Harrison remained AWOL. He walked out on the Beatles twice in three days — January 10, 1969, from a rehearsal, and 48 hours later from a meeting — no small feat.

John Lennon was missing to start the day, too, but he never announced he was leaving the band. John was always last to the sessions, anyway.

Twickenham Film Studios served as the Beatles’ office for seven working days. January 13 was different than the others in so many ways. Paul didn’t start the morning alone at the piano. George didn’t present a last-night song. There was no music at all for hours after the first members arrived.

More than 50 years after film and audio captured its events, January 13, 1969, served a significant role in opening Part 2 of the 2021 Get Back docuseries, occupying 18 drama-fueled minutes, perhaps the entire program’s emotional core.

We know more than we did before, the visuals adding unimaginable depth to moments previously available only by audio, but the show’s presentation opens more questions.

The initial sequence in the Day 8 segment in Get Back — that is, the first 9 of those 18 minutes, prior to John’s arrival for lunch — in reality accounted for more than two hours of audio on the Nagra tapes.

Thanks to the series, we can see the extent to which Ringo looks completely cooked. It’s enough that he has an 18-month-old at home and a significant movie role weighing on him, but this is a different man from the week before.  Michael appears defeated. Paul seems anxious and affected. This is a dispirited crew and the body language in this sequence is critical viewing — fidgeting, hair- (and beard-)pulling, face-rubbing.

January 13, 1969, should have been a day of at least mild celebration. The Yellow Submarine LP — a compilation of songs from the film (released in November 1968), previously unreleased tracks and George Martin’s orchestral score — was released in the United States that day, with the record arriving at stores in the U.K. later in the week.

The Beatles were “All Together Now” on record only; today’s cut was “All together, when?”

Glyn, Mal, Michael, Ringo and Kevin, early on January 13.

For the near-hour Ringo was the lone Beatle on site, idle talk dominated. Conversations with Michael,  Tony Richmond, Glyn Johns, Mal Evans and Kevin Harrington spanned the arts, including film (Wonderwall and the new Cinecenta theater), television (What’s the Matter With Baby Jane?), books (Pinktoes, Candy) and music (Simon & Garfunkel, Little Richard, Tiny Tim and James Brown, among the dozens of other names mentioned that morning).

Of highest importance when it came to television and music, they discussed their own production still in progress, too. When questioned, Michael told Ringo that he had enough material to this point for a good documentary, with one caveat.

MLH: It depends on what we’re allowed to use, if you know what I mean. It depends on how liquid the situation is. .. In other words, if we tell it like it is … then we’ve got a very good documentary. But if …

Ringo: We’re hiding …

MLH: If we’re hiding — the word I was fishing for but not be brave enough to say — but if we’re hiding, then we don’t have much of a documentary. A couple of days and things didn’t work out, that’s it. I’ll have an apple rind … as opposed to an apple core.

Ringo: An apple pip.

The Beatles’ gradual reassembly continued with Paul’s arrival, along with girlfriend Linda Eastman. While John’s attendance was in question, but Paul was saying he still expected him, Michael quickly changed the subject to a Lennon-McCartney composition and started playing Arthur Conley’s cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on a record player.

“[Molly is a singer] on a band? .. What’s wrong with him?” Paul asked, unimpressed with the recording. “I think I like the Bedrocks‘ [cover], if anything.”

The conversation soon turned to other contemporary pop/soul acts: Love Affair, The Equals — Paul sings a bit of their 1968 hit “Baby Come Back,” in particular — and the Foundations.

The multi-ethnic British combo presently owned the No. 2 hit on the UK charts. “Build Me Up, Buttercup” finished the previous week wedged between the chart-topping “Lily The Pink” by Mike McGear’s Scaffold and Marmalade’s own version of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” (Writing that song was like printing money for Northern Songs.)

Assuredly, Paul was predisposed to the No. 1 song, co-written by his brother, and No. 3, which he himself shared the writing credit.

As for No. 2? “I love it, yeah,” Paul said of “Build Me Up, Buttercup.”

It took nearly an hour and a half on the tapes — and about 30 minutes after Paul arrived at Twickenham — for the Beatles’ rhythm section to even address how they would approach the new day, which would at best still be missing one member. It’s a relatively level-headed discussion on tape.

Paul: I just thought I’d [write] a few words for the songs we haven’t got words for and stuff, just rehearse them a bit more.

Ringo: For what?

Paul: I dunno. It doesn’t matter, though. If we do an extra week and then we decide to chuck it, it’s just with the decision that near, and then we really just split and then just see you in a year’s time.

Ringo: It’s good you sort of said to come to work [last night]. Gives you another week here together. Cause it would have been, I’d have been there, you’d have been down there.

Paul: That’s what I thought. I just thought, what am I going to do tomorrow?

Ringo: I was going to lay in, actually and do the garden. [laughter]

Linda: Paint the ceiling.

Even here it’s acknowledged any split would be temporary, even if it lasts a year. That’s a long time, but not a lifetime.

A few seconds later, all we hear is Paul singing the chorus to “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” (He actually sang it a few minutes earlier as well, in a less memorable, more upbeat moment. We hear it on the Nagra tapes again, on the last day of the Get Back sessions, too.)

Thanks to the Get Back docuseries, we now know just how emotional Paul felt, even if that moment in the series isn’t presented in its actual sequence. It was shoehorned into a later discussion (which we’ll get to below).

“Why don’t you build me up?” (From Get Back)

Instead in real-time, Linda jump-started the conversation by suggesting the Beatles solve their issues by meeting, just the four of them alone (read about this part of the conversation at length here).

The morning of January 13, two Beatles remained absent, but in the wake of Sunday’s meeting at Ringo’s, only one of them — and the relationship with his girlfriend — was the key issue. Sparking off the above discussion, Paul shared several feelings on the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership within a physical space shared by Lennon/McCartney/Ono.

“I’d rather write without Yoko, thank you. That’s the way I write,” Paul said. “I’d go off to the bathroom to write a song and come back when it was done to show it to you, and sort of say, ‘What do you think, and let’s do a couple more words now.’

“But it’s difficult starting right from scratch with Yoko there … cause I start off on a Yoko beam. I start off writing songs about white walls [said to laughter] just cause I think John and Yoko would like that. And they wouldn’t. I mean, I give them too much credit for what I think they’d like. … They’re very straight, you know.”

A short time later, Paul elaborated on the songwriting process and the overall issue of Yoko’s proximity — which Paul seems to almost guiltily take the blame for acknowledging.

“It’s a bit embarrassing cause I do think of it,” Paul said. “I start examining my emotions with Yoko there. And it’s probably silly because Yoko’s not what we’re also thinking she is.”

“The only one time we’ve done it, she was great. She really is all right. It’s the thought of her being there, and then you don’t talk to John. So then he doesn’t talk to you. And it’s like, you can screw it up just as much because she’s there as John relying on her because she’s there. … We were trying to get the last verse to ‘I Will,’ and eventually I just ended up doing it (myself), because we couldn’t actually do it. But Yoko really tried to stay out of it.”

(For his part, Paul made no mention of this incident in either the 1997 authorized biography Many Years From Now or his 2021 memoir The Lyrics, when discussing writing the words to “I Will.” We can get into any deeper meanings of the lyric “And when at last I find you, your song will fill the air” some other time.)

Back to the songwriting discussion:

Paul: They’re going overboard about it, but John always does. Yoko probably always does. So that’s their scene. You can’t go saying don’t go overboard about this thing, be sensible about it and don’t bring it to meetings. It’s his decision. None of our business interfering in that, Even when it comes into our business. Still can’t really say much unless, except, look I don’t like it, John. Then he can say “screw you” or “I like it” or “well, I won’t do it” or blah, blah.

MLH: Have you done that already?

Paul: I told him I didn’t like writing songs with him and Yoko.

Time to fire Michael as interviewer. He never asked the most obvious, slam-dunk follow-up question there could be: “How did John respond to that?”

The Beatles at the George V Hotel in Paris, 1964. (Photo by Harry Benson)

Instead, he asked Paul if the songwriting partnership had slowed down before Yoko entered John’s life. (A fair question, but not the one he should have followed up with).

“We cooled it [already] because not playing together, ever since we didn’t play together [on stage],” Paul said. “We lived together when we played together. We were in the same hotel, up at the same time every morning. Doing this, all day. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re this close all day, something grows. And then when you’re not this close, physically, something goes.”

Attempts to reach John by phone continued, unsuccessfully. Throughout, Paul, along with Linda and Ringo, recapped the Sunday meeting for the others. Linda shared her regret at attending at all, and openly bemoaned Yoko’s domineering presence. (This was covered in a previous post.)

Paul again worked to make it crystal clear that the John-Yoko relationship was sacrosanct and completely their own concern. The Beatles plus Yoko, while not an ideal conclusion, is superior to the alternative of no Beatles at all.

Over the course of 20 seconds Paul repeats the phrase “it’s not that bad.” He also applied his custom of suggesting a binary choice, something that continued throughout the day.

“There’s only two answers. One is to fight it, and fight her and try to get the Beatles back to four people without Yoko, and sort of ask Yoko sit down at board meetings. Or else the other thing is to just realize she’s there and he’s not going to split with her just for our sakes.

“Then it’s not even so much of an obstacle then, as long as we’re not trying to surmount it. While we’re still trying to get over it, it’s an obstacle. But it isn’t really. It’s not that bad. They want to stay together those two.”

Striking a sincere tone, Paul resumed: “So it’s all right, let the young lovers stay together. It shouldn’t be [changes voice to tone of serious business] ‘Can’t operate under these conditions, boy. We’re coming out.’ It’s like we’re striking! That’s what it is, it’s like a strike cause work conditions aren’t right. [laughter]. It’s not that bad.”

“We’ve done a lot of Beatles now, we’ve had a lot of Beatles, and we’ve got a lot out of Beatles. So I think John’s saying now if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko (who’d stay…)”

It’s here the tear-jerking “Build Me Up, Buttercup” moment is interjected in the film.

As the Nagra tapes rolled, we hear that neither Paul nor Linda suspected John would ever come to making that choice. Likewise Michael, who said John told him “he really did not want not to be a Beatle.”

Body language, January 13, 1969.

To be clear, Linda wasn’t being viewed as the same sort of interloper Yoko was accused of being.

“I’m know I’m talking to Paul [now], I’m not talking to Linda,” said Neil. “But when you’re talking to John, these days, I know you tend to think you’re talking to Yoko more than you’re talking to John.”

This is a struggle — it’s not what we see in Get Back, and it’s not entirely what we hear on the tapes. When the Beatles make music, Yoko doesn’t appear to intervene. She may be painting or reading the newspaper and distracting the others by her mere presence — a problem in itself — but it’s not as if she’s tugging on John’s shirt while he plays.  The greatest issue appears to be behind the scenes when the cameras and tapes aren’t rolling.

“Actually, musically, we can play better than we’ve ever been able to play,” Paul said. “I really think that. We’re all right on that. It’s just that being together thing. And like I said yesterday, underestimating each other. And talking down to each other a bit. And playing safe.”

Paul’s solution was actually what the band was in the process of doing. To him, the broken sessions at Twickenham had in fact been conducted appropriately.

“We should just work a lot, really get back into the slog. A job. Where almost 9 to 5, and then weekends off, so that there really are weekends. Then back on the slog. Cursing it, the drags and the ups and the downs. But [also] the achievements.”

Work was a good thing, at least that was what everyone said, And given the group’s workaholic nature, it’s no surprise.

“John was saying the fact that you do work inspires you,” said Michael.

“I remember when they were doing the (White) Album, George was saying that it’s so great working again,” Linda recalled.

Earlier Ringo, speaking of taking the time out to film Candy, told Michael he found the time for that role “because I have to do something.”

There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the Beatles’ work ethic.

“I understand Yoko coming, and doing all that,” Neil said. “But I don’t see why she has to sit on your amp.”

Paul and Neil, January 13, 1969.

While Paul agreed, he also said the group’s attitude needed to mature as its members did.

“I don’t see why she has to sit on the amp. And if we were in a Northern band, [affecting a Scouse accent] I’d put my foot down to that. But we’ve grown out of all that. And we really can’t go to John, ‘Look John, the union thinks that you can’t have this woman.’

“We can go on talking like this forever but I think for them to be able to compromise, I have to be able to compromise first. Then they’ll be able to, or else they have to be able to compromise first. But its silly, neither of us compromising.”

While it’s possible Paul is speaking for the others in the group, he made clear “I have to compromise,” not “we” (ie., Ringo and George as well). With Ringo sitting a few feet away from him, it probably is just himself he’s speaking for, either relinquishing the others of the need to compromise as well, or simply acknowledging it’s not important if they do.

Isn’t compromise a mutual exercise, though? Is Paul compromising or is he conceding?

“We thought that the only alternative would be for John just to say, ‘OK, well, see you then.’ And we’d not wanted that to happen. We hustle each other like mad, you know. We probably do need really sort of a central daddy figure to say, “Nine o’clock, none of the girls. Leave the girls at home, lads.’”

That is, they really needed Brian Epstein more than they even did a week earlier, when they said much of the same thing.

Neil dismissed that idea, saying it wouldn’t work. With truly incredible prescience and awareness of the group’s legacy, Paul simply replied:

It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years time. They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.

‘What?’

You see, John kept bringing this girl along. It’s not as though there’s any sort of earth-splitting row. There’s nothing wrong.

Everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

Having pitched a breakup show — covered at length here — and almost as an afterthought coming more than 90 minutes after the day’s recordings began, Michael asked about George, and Paul revealed he walked out of Sunday’s meeting.

If it wasn’t already clear enough, George’s exit was an issue, but the lesser one. Paul continued his defense of John and Yoko without any further discussion of George’s own problems, perhaps taking advantage of the stage while the couple remained absent.

George’s abrupt departure feeds the dramatic arc of the Get Back story as the conflict of the first act. It’s the dynamic of Paul-John-Yoko that’s the actual conflict of this period.

“They’re trying to be as near together as they can,” Paul said of John and Yoko. “So If she sits over here, it’s just slightly less good than if she sits very near to him. If she’s touching him then that’s even better. …”

“And it’s right, in a way. If that’s how you see it, and you can see that it can be a drag for people to sort of say, ‘Look, come to the meeting without her.’ Cause then it starts separating again from her.

“It’s very ideological.”

It’s worth noting — and perhaps Paul himself did too, even if it went unspoken — that the need for John to be near Yoko didn’t mean he can’t be near Paul, too. Just like having Yoko in the room when writing a song doesn’t mean Paul shouldn’t be there either.

Michael repeated his view that the onus was on John and Yoko to be conscious of the effect their behavior is having on the rest of the group and for them to adjust. Paul — again — acted as a contrarian, seeing it through John’s eyes, as perhaps few others had the ability to. He was no mere devil’s advocate. Paul trusted John, and even if he didn’t deep down, it’s what he wanted the others to believe.

“See, they’d say that the other way was true. If we do what we’d want to do it might screw it up for them. [Now speaking softly] And they don’t want to be screwed up.”

Another attempt to reach John failed. “Telephone’s engaged.” Ringo joked they should send a telegram.

After an extended silence, and several audible sighs on the Nagra tapes, Paul uttered five of the most memorable words in all of the Get Back docuseries.

And then there were two.

The moment is gut-wrenching. An uncomfortably long 31 seconds in Get Back. That’s five seconds longer than the entirety of “Her Majesty.” We should celebrate Peter Jackson for the scene’s dramatic effect, and likewise be grateful to Michael Lindsay-Hogg and his crew for capturing this moment in real time.

While it’s arguably the most poignant moment of the Beatles on film, it’s not exactly the same on tape.

Roll the Nagras and you hear:

Paul: And then there were two. [said to laughter and no pause]

Ringo: Tom & Jerry.

Michael: Simon & Garfunkel

Ringo: I know, I said it because you told me. … Simon & Garfunkel used to be Tom & Jerry.

Linda: Oh I know, “Hey Schoolgirl.” (she begins to sing)

Paul: That’s what they used to call themselves?

I’m not suggesting the tears in Get Back were CGI. Compressing more than two hours of dialogue into nine minutes for a TV series seems like a near-impossible task, and to make it compelling while still retaining the integrity of the moment even more so.

“And then there were two” is the emotional heart of Get Back, just as “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” serves that role for Let It Be.  While both lines have become something of catchphrases for their respective films, it’s important to remember the original context surrounding each one as they are amplified, lest these moments get oversimplified.

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Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1

In 1999, George Harrison called “Only a Northern Song” — recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions in early 1967 but not released until January 13, 1969, on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP — a “piss-take” against his former song publisher, whom he characterized as a con man and thief.

From an interview with Billboard, 30 years after the song’s release:

It was at the point that I realized Dick James had conned me out of the copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 18- or 19-year-old kid, I thought, ‘Great, somebody’s gonna publish my songs!’ But he never said, ‘And incidentally, when you sign this document here, you’re assigning me the ownership of the songs [Harrison had written as a Beatle],’ which is what it is. It was just a blatant theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote ‘Only A Northern Song’ as what we call a ‘piss-take,’ just to have a joke about it.

“Only a Northern Song” has absolutely nothing to do with the Get Back sessions, but the timing of its release does. Just 72 hours before the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP hit stores, the Beatles convened at Twickenham for a truly climacteric day — not just in these sessions but in the group’s history.

George Harrison and Dick James, 1964.

Three hours (on the Nagra tapes) before George Harrison quit the Beatles on January 10, 1969, the target of his lyrical furor — Dick James — was one of the very first voices heard on the day’s recordings. Starting in 1963, Dick James Music administered Northern Songs, earning the publishing company a fortune and the band’s songwriters a disproportionately scant share of those riches. George’s share was but a fraction of what Paul McCartney and John Lennon managed to earn. Dick sold his majority share of Northern Songs out from under the songwriters about two months after the conclusion of the Get Back sessions, but that’s another story altogether.

Dick James was already on the tip of the Beatles’ tongues during the sessions in the previous days — Paul’s tongue, really, when he joked the publisher would “have the children” if the Beatles would “have a divorce” and break up. And perhaps anticipating the January 10th appearance, John name-checked Dick in the improvised “Shakin’ in the Sixties” just the day before.

But if there was any significant ire toward Dick, from George or mostly anyone else on the day of his visit, it didn’t materialize in the audio, which revealed a lengthy, seemingly cordial encounter (John said some things counter to this, but more on that next post).

Like so many mornings at Twickenham, the previous night’s must-see TV was the first big subject up for discussion, with Paul, Dick, Ringo Starr, engineer/producer Glyn Johns and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg retelling an astounding confrontation between Peter Cook and Zsa Zsa Gabor in which the comedian referred to the actress as “vain, untalented and a complete non-event.” (John and George hadn’t arrived yet).

An event: The Beatles with Zsa Zsa Gabor, at rehearsals for the Night of 1,000 Stars in 1964.

Paul did his best/worst Zsa Zsa impression for her reply: “I zink you are the rudest man you’ve ever seen.”

This exchange on Eamonn Andrews’ show was literally international news — here’s a syndicated story by Reuters that appeared in that morning’s Chicago Tribune — but of course all news is local when it comes to the Beatles, who seemed to have crossed paths with everyone and everything.

“She’s very honest,” Paul said of Zsa Zsa. “Quite entertaining. One thing I don’t like her for is — she was with her daughter. Her daughter was always around EMI when we were making our last album. We saw Zsa Zsa with her daughter there … and she makes a sort of ass out of her daughter. She’s so honest, she’s a bit too honest. She sort of said, ‘Don’t wear that sweater, darling, it makes you look fat.’”

(Roger McGuinn of the Byrds later claimed that he introduced George to Ravi Shankar’s music at an “LSD party” at Zsa Zsa’s Los Angeles mansion, which the Beatles rented during their 1965 tour. This proves again, there are no Beatles footnotes, only incredible parenthetical, contextual anecdotes worthy of stories themselves.)

The conversation soon shifted to more proximate family matters, when Dick asked Paul if his father and brother, Mike, received his telegram on the birth of Mike’s daughter, Benna, a few weeks earlier — “More gear to the McGear.”

“Mike had become a Benna-ficiary,” Paul replied with what clearly was already a well-worn joke.

Not much later Dick likewise discussed family with Ringo, almost like he was an elder of the clan himself, needling the drummer about more having more kids.

Dick: How’s Maureen? You haven’t even told me.
Ringo: She’s wonderful. She’ll be here later.
Dick: Zak?
Ringo: He’s wonderful, too, thank you.
Dick: No brother or sister on the way?
Ringo: Not yet.

Dick forgot 16-month-old Jason, but Ringo didn’t seem to mind.

A great deal of the conversation between Dick, Ringo, Paul, Glyn and Michael revolved around the extensive Lawrence Wright Music catalog, which was purchased by Northern Songs a few weeks earlier in late December 1968, but clearly the extent of the collection wasn’t known to the band until this morning.

“Mind boggles with a catalog like this,” Dick said at one point. “’Cause as fast as you remember some, you forget the other titles.”

The massive song inventory was very much in the wheelhouse of Paul and Ringo, who each would occasionally interject a superlative or sing along a line from various titles.

“That’s the greatest one you’ve got,” Ringo said of “Stardust,” which he’d record that November, with Paul arranging.

As Dick aptly noted, “there are some golden oldies in there that are ridiculous.”

Ridiculously classic? Absolutely. Like the aforementioned “Stardust,” the songs included “Home on the Range,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Stormy Weather” and “Just a Gigolo.”

And it’s quite ridiculous that the Beatles held an actual financial stake in World War I propaganda songs and other novelties like “Eat Less Bread,” “He’s in the Infirmary Now,” “Don’t Go Down in the Mine, Dad,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s 40.

Ringo, Paul (representing Gryffindor) and Dick James discuss the Northern Songs catalog on January 10, 1969.

A song like “Carolina Moon” stood out to Paul — “My Uncle Ron’s favorite. Sings at all the parties.” And while George presumably came to “Hard Hearted Hannah” via another source, the Tin Pan Alley-era Northern Song was a jump-off point for the late-1970s Harrisong “Soft-Hearted Hana.”

Of course the most important inventory in the Northern Songs catalog would always be the ones with the “Lennon/McCartney” credit, and those assets were discussed, too.

“They’ll release ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ by us on the continent,” Paul said. “Hopefully with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on the b-side” (and it was a few weeks later).

“How about the ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ covers and things? All right?” Dick asked.

“Yes, doing well,” Paul answered, without mentioning Marmalade’s version had just finished a run at the top of the charts.

“I brought some records over to the flat, just in case you’d like to hear it,” Dick told Paul. “Vera Lynn’s ‘Goodnight’ as a waltz. Stephen [James, Dick’s son] produced it. Done as a 3/4. Sounds beautiful.”

The Beatles had spent the previous six days writing and rehearsing the newest batch of Northern Songs, and nearly 40 minutes into the day’s tapes, the publisher was treated to a sneak peak of five songs. It’s a curious set, featuring Paul solo at the piano, and one that should have been among the clear highlights of every session bootleg. Except, very frustratingly, for much of the half hour he was merely background music.

The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” had become morning standards, so Paul’s performance for Dick wasn’t extraordinary. And to hear Paul tickle the ivories on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was likewise unremarkable. But to hear a piano-based “Don’t Let Me Down” — with Paul alone on vocals with an obvious mastery of and affection for the material — and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are true oddities.

Around the same time Paul headed over to the piano, George arrived at Twickenham for the final time.

Paul and Dick at the piano, January 10, 1969.

The greeting between George and Dick was warm, with the George offering thanks for a Christmas gift — a set of drinking glasses.

Dick, who most assuredly had no idea George’s wife had walked out on him days earlier, could be excused for his response to the guitarist.

“Useful. Something to drink out of. Or the wife can throw.”

More on Dick James’ visit to Twickenham in the moments before George Harrison left the band coming in the next post, coming soon!

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Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: Love from Paul

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

“Penina” is usually lumped into the pile of Lennon/McCartney songs given away to other artists. Why, you may have seen it on the 1979 EMI compilation “The Songs Lennon And McCartney Gave Away,” alongside far more notable tracks like Peter & Gordon’s “World Without Love” and Billy J. Kramer’s “Bad to Me.” Those were No. 1 hits. “Penina” wasn’t even released in the U.K. or U.S.

So how does “Penina” fit in and how did it come that Paul is the sole author?

Paul, who vacationed in Portugal in mid-December 1968 with Linda Eastman, her daughter Heather, and Beatles biographer Hunter Davies — a trip highlighted by Paul proposing to Linda and her discovery she was pregnant with Mary —  recounted a story of showing up drunk at La Penina, a hotel resort, one night around midnight.


“See the bit in the paper where it said about me giving a song to some group, in William Hickey this morning?” Paul asked the rest of the group a little bit after lunch.

As printed in that day’s Daily Express, under the headline “Beatle Paul writes a £20,000 holiday tip”:

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 …

OK, maybe that could be a footnote. (Albufeira, by the way, was where Paul wrote the lyrics to “Yesterday” in 1965. How’s that for a footnote?)

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.

(Chorus)
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.

In an interview with a Portuguese magazine published in July 1969 and beautifully titled “Jotta Herre — the godchildren of Paul McCartney,” Cunha disclosed further communication with the bearded Beatle.

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 contestant Carlos 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.

A quarter century later, in a 1994 interview in his Club Sandwich fan club magazine, Paul sounded like there was more to the story than perhaps there was:

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.

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TMBP Extra: Songs for everyone

It was only 100 hours before the Beatles would return to the studio together, and the charts on both sides of the Atlantic on December 29, 1968, were a perfect illustration of why there really wasn’t any rush for them to do so.

billboard_122868

Billboard, December 28, 1968

That day, the White Album retained the top spot in the British charts for the fifth straight week in the midst of a run that would see the double LP at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks and eight of nine. After a few weeks’ climb, it hit No. 1 in the United States a day earlier, on December 28, taking a much slower slog to the top. That climb vaulted the Beatles past Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman LP, the previous week’s No. 1 that was sunk to the runner-up position, and one of four records the country music star had in the top 30.

The Beatles owned multiple shares in the Billboard album charts, too, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 63) and Magical Mystery Tour (85). The latter would provide the title track for Sergio Mendez’s Fool on the Hill LP that sat at No. 11 this week 48 years ago.

Even with the White Album entrenched atop the British charts, there was plenty of Beatle-related materials moving off the shelves, with the Best of Cilla Black (No. 21) featuring four Lennon/McCartney credits and Jose Feliciano’s Feliciano! containing three Beatles covers and sitting one notch behind the Liverpudlian chanteuse (and higher at No. 7 in the U.S.).

The first post-Christmas LP chart in the U.K. was predictably littered with greatest hits and other compilations, with about a dozen such records in the top 50. Four Simon & Garfunkel records were simultaneously on that chart, with a few soundtracks and two separate live LPs recorded at London’s Talk of the Town (Tom Jones and The Seekers).

On the U.S. singles chart, Motown dominated with the label holding the top three spots: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & The Supremes’ “Love Child.” While Beatles smash “Hey Jude” may have been fading, dropping to No. 15, “Hey Jude” the soulful Wilson Pickett cover was rising, hitting No. 43 on its way to eventually peaking at 23. That’s Duane Allman with the epic lead guitar part.

Even though the Beatles didn’t release singles from their albums (a tradition scrapped in time for their final LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be), their presence was made on the U.K. top 50 without charting a single song of their own (”Hey Jude” dropped out a week earlier). Marmalade’s sugary cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” stood at No. 7 en route to the top spot the following week, while the Bedrock’s more authentically Caribbean-sounding version of the same song was at No. 30. That cover, produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith, would peak 10 notches higher a week later. On its way down the charts was Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” dropping to No. 39 on its last week on the charts it had topped about six weeks earlier.

Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin fell to No. 24 in the U.K. with former No. 1 hit “Those Were the Days,” as produced by Paul McCartney (it was at No. 25 in the U.S., down from it’s peak at No. 2).

What held the top spot in the British charts? It was a song written by McCartney, but not that one.  Mike McCartney, Paul’s brother under his stage name Mike McGear, wrote “Lily the Pink” with fellow Scaffold members Roger McGough and John Gorman. The song remained at No. 1 for a second consecutive week, part of a run that saw the comedy folk song reign atop the charts for four of five weeks. “Lily the Pink” had no shortage of future and contemporary star power: Elton John, Graham Nash and Tim Rice provided backup vocals, while Cream’s Jack Bruce laid down the bass line.

The Beatles wouldn’t be absent from the British charts for too long. Exactly five months after December 29, 1968, “Get Back” — which Paul developed out of a jam on January 7, 1969, and was written in the studio throughout the month during the sessions that would bear its name — would debut at No. 1 in the U.K.

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Jan. 3: Let you down, leave you flat

Central to the legend of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions is the looseness of the group as they sloppily play covers and fool around with their own old songs. So many weird things, tucked in between a million takes of “Get Back” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” right?

It’s what appealed to me in listening to the Get Back sessions in the first place, so long ago,  when it was available on only curated compilations on vinyl.  And really bad sounding ones, too.  But go to record shows or Beatlefests and scan the back cover, and things seemed like they’d be cool! All these crazy cover songs, all these oldies of theirs, all these outtakes of songs we know and songs we don’t.

But the reality usually didn’t match the fantasy. [This overall theme will absolutely be covered again in this blog, likely ad nauseum].

And on Jan. 3, they did indeed have some fun with some oldies and originals. It’s not great. And really, I think things like this add to the generic resentment toward these sessions by Beatles fans. The band doesn’t care, so why should we?

Really, not a bad point. But it is interesting so long as you accept it for what it is. It’s no different than those of us who have office jobs spending a few minutes doodling on a notepad between taking care of real work, right? Their office happens to be the studio, and their doodles, songs. And if we’re eager enough to listen to their doodles as big enough fans, well… this is what we get.

So while the band didn’t spend all that much time the first few days genuinely going over their old songs,  in addition to a poke at Every Little Thing and the reintroduction of “One After 909,” the band on Jan. 3 went into the back catalog for “You Can’t Do That” — after a take of  Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” a song that seems to have inspired the song off A Hard Day’s Night.

It was pretty much 3 a.m. bar-band quality. The song breaks down about a minute in, during the “everybody’s green” part. John keeps singing, Paul keeps in there, too, and eventually the song sort of comes back to life.  They make it through the instrumental portion of the song before things completely break down for good.

More fun and somewhat historic, I suppose, was when Paul took the mic for a more significant take of “I’m So Tired.” Obviously, this was not meant to be anything beyond a bit of fun. Again, more 3 a.m. bar band. But perhaps even moreso. At least, here we got through the song. And even with an attempt at the end-of-song babble!

There’s no context, by the way, for why they went into this take. The tapes I’m listening to (A/B Road) just go from an unidentifiable jam cut straight into “I’m So Tired.”

The 2021 Get Back docuseries uses this sequence to great effect as something of a gag reel, showing various moments of the group yawning, rubbing their eyes, etc., for the final moment of the day’s coverage. I posit it’s also a sneakily effective response to the famous scene of Paul yawning during “Across the Universe” in the Let It Be film, show how everyone was yawning, it wasn’t a reflection of boredom to a particular song.

They stick with the White Album (flip from side 2 to 1 if you’re so inclined) for the next song they roll right into.  As on the record, Paul takes the lead on “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da” — kicking things off with the bass line — but it doesn’t take very long for John to take over.

And with Marmalade’s version of the song presently sitting atop the British singles charts (while the White Album was the best-selling LP), why wouldn’t the McCartney/Lennon songwriting team enjoy themselves all the way through the song?

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