Tag Archives: Paul McCartney

Jan. 13: Picasso’s last words

At the conclusion of the 1956 French documentary “Le Mystère Picasso,” the grand old painter splashed his iconic signature on a print and announced (translated to English), “That’s the end.” He wasn’t bargaining with director Henri-Georges Clouzot, himself considered a master in his field. It was a declaration: This film was over.

Pablo Picasso’s paintings and his exhaustive creative process were the focus of the film, his hand usually invisible as it brushed across a transparent screen, at times in black and white, and at others in vibrant color. In the film, Picasso produced several completed paintings, and we catch occasional glimpses of him at work, creating art out of nothing in an spartan studio while holding an occasional dialogue with the film’s director. This should sound familiar.

Paul McCartney had a few occasions to come across the film. It was screened in Liverpool in June 1958, when Paul turned 16 and was nearly a year into his creative partnership with John Lennon. But odds are Paul saw it sometime between late January and March 1967, when the film was shown at the Academy Two in the West End, about 2 1/2 miles from where the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a very short walk from other frequent haunts like the Saville Theater and the Bag O’Nails. (The documentary was broadcast on BBC-2 in May 1968, as well, but Paul was in New York at the time).

One of several films considered a reference point in the early afternoon of January 13, 1969, “Le Mystère Picasso” was mentioned by Paul as an inspiration to Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was in the midst of directing what became known as the Beatles’ Get Back project.

“They don’t sort of fast-cut the paintings,” Paul said to Michael. “And these songs are going to be our paintings at the end of it.”

The endgame for the Beatles’ documentary of the creative process was unclear even as the documentary was underway. And unlike Picasso, here the creative powers continuously bargained with the director.

That Paul, with a comparatively quiet Ringo Starr, would even waste time debating with Michael speaks to the confidence the band had to to see out this project.

Yes, yes, and then there were two. So what, the show must go on. And that’s why the Beatles were at Twickenham Film Studios to start 1969, after all: to stage a show. The rhythm section was in tow relatively early that Monday. Of the missing half, one member had already decisively quit while another was frustratingly unreachable.

Having recapped the previous day’s difficult meeting that saw George Harrison ultimately walk out in large part due to the disruptive dynamic between John and girlfriend Yoko Ono, the present conversation only looked ahead.

This initial sequence first appeared on film in the 2021 Get Back docuseries.

“If we were going to take a ship’s pool on what our communal life is going to be in the next two weeks, what are we all betting?” Michael, in his imitable way, asked Paul and Ringo.

Paul shared his hopes the current state of limbo would only be temporary. “I think we see the end of this week out,” he said. “And something will have happened, definitely. … Then we’ll say that we don’t come in next week and we sort of chuck it. Or, we come in next week, and .. make it next week.”

“Then we send the guys off to Africa,” Michael chimed in, to laugher.

Paul continued, laying out the actual logistics.

“We’ve got to stop the clock while this is all going on. Like, this isn’t counted. We should cancel that [January] 18th date, ‘cause it should definitely be the 19th already, ‘cause we’re going to lose today.”

Timing mattered, and so did location.

“We should do it here,” said Ringo, again. His desire to stay in England was a true constant in January 1969, and he only briefly toyed with the idea of traveling a few days earlier. But that was then, and now, there seemed to be true consensus on staying put at Twickenham or nearby — and that included the better halves.

Paul: I don’t really see any point anymore [in going overseas].

Ringo: There were eight of us who didn’t see any point.

Paul: And luckily we’re the Beatles, who don’t see any point.

As had been the case for nearly two weeks, while they may not have known what they wanted out of the show, they knew what they didn’t want. At least Paul knew, speaking on behalf of Beatles present and otherwise unavailable.

At once a touchstone and a millstone, the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was filmed a month earlier in London under Michael’s direction and with John as one of the performers. Paul, who had seen an early cut of the film — it wasn’t released commercially until 1996 — made clear the fast-moving Circus wasn’t a format he wanted to follow, continuing to deflate Michael.

“It didn’t look right,” Paul said. “I know it was a bad print. But like, I didn’t ever get into any one of the Who. Ever. It was the event all the time. And no one digs that. That’s over, that sort of event, I think. It really is now, if you’re trying to show him, I just really say just stick [the camera] on him.”

A “study.”

That’s what Linda Eastman suggested, and Paul repeated.

Here’s where the conversation turned to “Le Mystère Picasso” — it showed up as “The Picasso Mystery” in British movie listings. Anecdotally, Paul called it “Picasso Paints.”

Michael contended the documentary the Beatles were filming — not the grand finale concert, wherever it may be, but this ongoing build-up — was the study, but Paul suggested the examination should extend into that live performance. He saw “Le Mystère Picasso” as analogous to this Beatles concert.

“They didn’t sort of fast-cut the paintings or anything,” Paul said to Michael, who was also familiar with the film. “He just sort of painted them. They showed how he built up, and they stayed on it.”

There’s a bit of a straw-man argument going on, since Michael never contended he should litter the film with quick cuts. To the contrary, he complained about that very technique in the recently broadcast Cream Farewell Concert.

Paul brought it back to the Circus, and justifiably, as it was Michael’s most recent production and featured fellow A-listers.  It wasn’t just contemporary, but it was competition. (And perhaps moreso personally so for Paul, with John having been a Circus performer). January 1969 had seen a lot of wandering discussions on where a Beatles concert should be. Here Paul — speaking over Michael — explained how he thought it should look, regardless of location.

“Very, very bright lights, so you see every detail about [Ringo], instead of moody things. Really totally bright-lit, it hardly needs scenery or anything. Really should be about him and his drum kit. … Says it all.

“And then John: his amp, his guitar. Actually sitting there, doing it at that minute. I think if you start going in that direction, then, I think you might think of a great idea. ‘Oh, incidentally, we think it all should be done in a black bag or something.’”

Michael pushed back, saying the Circus had a very deliberate design.

“You can’t compare the two,” Michael said. “The Circus was designed as an event. It was a different concept. The Rolling Stones needed a family show, and Mick [Jagger] wanted a family show. Mick said he wanted Ed Sullivan without Ed Sullivan.”

I’ll leave the analysis of Mick’s motivation to the Rolling Stones writers and researchers (free blog name suggestion: “Traps for Troubadours”). Those intentions, though, eventually impacted the Beatles’ decision-makers.

“You don’t go off Ringo,” Paul clarified. “Don’t go off into the scenic backgrounds. Or the audience. Or the moon. It’s not necessary.”

Swept up in the vision, Linda said, “God, you have it. Ooh.” Overwhelmed by the very thought of the Beatles, she quickly giggled before regaining her composure. Linda wore her love of the Beatles on her sleeve. It went beyond her personal affection for Paul.

Paul’s right: Michael did cut away from Pete Townshend as soon as he finished the windmill. (From Rock and Roll Circus)

“I missed a lot of that Who thing the other day,” Paul continued, with Linda occasionally interjecting and overlapping her agreement. “Pete Townshend, I never saw him. I’d really like to look at him for a long time cause he fascinates me. … I’d like to really just see what he looks like after he’s done that thing (presumably his windmill guitar move). …

“You know, [I’d like to see] Keith Moon just sort of jabbering away on the drums, just for a whole number almost. OK, so you’re going to have to cut between the four of them. But it’s just that thing, really sticking with it. And I think that’s the point of this show, for us.”

Paul evoked the news again.

“The really good coverage is the shot of the fellow with the gun to a head, and the fellow who got that [camera] shot, that was the man who covered the event,” Paul said a few moments earlier. “The fellow who got the guy on the ground afterwards with the blood coming out of his head missed it. And with all that fast-cutting, [you missed it].”

Less gruesome comparisons continued. It emerged as the best way for the director and the talent to triangulate an acceptable idea for their own production:

Top of the Pops: Michael said “they never help the act. … If you just take a wide shot of [the Who] doing their act, with no particular response from the audience, they do look like they’re lunatics, but the wrong kind of lunatics.”

Ringo brought up a recent appearance from Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose single “Fire” hit No. 1 in Summer 1968, to prove this point. “The camera needs to do something. And Arthur Brown, every time he came on … he’s so wild, and the camera’s going wild so you didn’t see anything.”

The “Hey Jude” promo film: “The comment about ‘Jude’ was that when I was doing those high bits, you didn’t see me doing them,” Paul complained to its director.

Michael, for his part, expressed regret at how the sequence turned out.

“I physically couldn’t get a camera onto you because they couldn’t hear the talk-back,” he said, referring to communication with his crew. “I should have been ready for that, but it was a mistake.”

An excerpt from “an old film” on TV the night before (probably something shown during Film Night on BBC-2): “They came down on the rooftops of Paris,” Paul said, with Glyn and Michael saying they saw the same sequence, too, at 11:15 p.m.

“And that’s really where this should all be at Twickenham. This should totally be built like those film sets. So that you can glide all over the place like on tracks and everything with your cameras, go to places that TV cameras don’t go. So you can come down out of that roof, on one long shot, right from the back there, and just come down on a thing. Slowly, like a chair lift, right down, right into Ringo’s face on the one shot, from right back from there. It’s like the old films, and have all sorts of cranes and lifts and stuff for your cameras to float around us. And just all that flowing movement. And then the songs, you know? And just really stay with us. And then that’ll create your sets then, you’ll have cameras hanging all over the place.

From Anthology

If that sequence sounds familiar, it should: It was included in the 1995 Beatles Anthology documentary. It was not included in Get Back more than a quarter-century later.

Linda continued to be unable to resist the Beatles on film, even as she sat with them in person. “Mmm, but just them,” she said.

Andy Warhol’s Empire: This was a cautionary tale. It’s one thing to linger on Ringo’s drum kit for a three minutes. It’s another to have a single, black-and-white shot of the stationary Empire State Building for eight hours.

“That idea of slowly getting into the thing and being careful not to miss anything … I really do think you’ll find the pace is there without you having to put it there,” Paul tried to explain. “It’s like with Warhol’s things is that he does go right in to the other extreme. He reckons his pace in that Empire State [sic]. But I wouldn’t agree with him, I’d think he’d be boring, but I see his point.”

Glyn does too, but he falls in with Michael, arguing that a slow study could work for a few songs, but not for a 52-minute show.

Andy and John, 1978. (Photo by Christopher Makos)

“If we’re doing that, then I really think we should do galloping horses and really go the whole hog and really have an epic,” Paul replied. “But if we are going a bit towards the Beatles, I really think get the close-up lenses and get right into one of John’s eyes. Can you do that? Look in that direction rather than trying to get a picture of John and the moon or a big amphitheater.”

It was at this moment — not Paul’s “and then there were two” line but around 15 minutes later — Paul exits the stage to speak to John on the phone.

Deep as the Nagra tapes go, and despite Michael’s prep to bug the phones, we don’t know what was said on the call. We do know the conversation continued without Paul. The top storyline coming out of the meeting at Ringo’s the day before was the frustration of Yoko speaking for John. Here, in Paul’s absence, Linda doesn’t just speak in line with Paul, but she advocates for herself, too. This sequence appears in part in Get Back.

“I have never seen a study of any musical event,” Linda said. “You want to be there, that’s the thing. (Speaking forcefully) And if I were there, I’d be staring at them. I’d never look around me once. I’d be staring at them if I were sitting in the audience. It’s like you see in the theater. Why can’t the camera be you sitting there?”

Linda’s tone is outspoken and sincere, and something that was needed to move the conversation forward, her viewpoint as an artist and a fan. It clearly put Michael at unease and somewhat on the defensive in what emerged as something of a tense, sarcastic exchange that didn’t go unnoticed 52 years later in Get Back.

MLH: I saw their last concert at Hammersmith … and I was totally aware of not only them, and they were 40 miles away [sic], but the audience, the screams, the lights.

Linda: We looked at Help! the other night again and Hard Day’s Night. And that was them playing.

MLH: Right, but it was them over an hour and a half and 30,000 [feet high]. If it is an Andy Warhol picture …

Linda (fed up and combative): Oh, don’t take the other extreme! Andy Warhol, that’s not you! .. I’m speaking like a fan! I really am.

MLH: I am too. I’m a bigger fan than you are (said laughing, and with complete sincerity)

Linda (gruffly): Oh, OK should we fight about it?

MLH: I can do it any way. But being the fan I am, I gotta keep saying I think you’re all wrong.

Linda: You want to be too sophisticated.

MLH: We ran the Circus the other night, and it’s so simple. I’m the least pretentious director you’re going to meet.

While Michael said that last line straight, it was met with laughter around the room.

Let’s just watch on a loop Linda’s body language while she talks to Michael. (From the Get Back docuseries)

This is a real argument between two artists, a photographer and a film director, with legitimate differing visions. And no one held a higher status. Linda was just 27 (older than Paul and Ringo). Michael was 28. Each had about the same amount of professional experience at their respective trades, only a couple of years.

Paul returned after a phone call that couldn’t have lasted more than two minutes. Seeing his return, as revealed in Get Back, is one of the great revealing moments in the documentary and something you never could have heard in a lifetime studying the Nagra tapes.

To this point, Paul spent the morning still in his overcoat. At any point, everyone could have called it a day and cut their losses. George wasn’t coming back. But when Paul dramatically — and joyously — removed his coat, revealing his magnificent black shirt, it was clear John wasn’t a issue.

“He’s coming in,” Paul said simply.

It’s a big deal, and the visual — of which we are now aware — really brings it to the forefront (if you’re looking for it). The Nagra tapes tell a lot, but audio alone can’t tell everything.

Through Paul’s return, Michael remained bold.

“You see, Paul, I was telling Linda when you were out, I could do it any way. Except I got to keep saying you’re wrong when I think you’re wrong.”

“Yeah, sure, great,” Paul replied, beaming and about to light a celebratory cigarette. “I’ll just keep saying I’m right when I think I’m right.

The daily circular discussion returned — again — to a pitch for Africa by Michael, one that was more quickly dismissed by Paul and Ringo than it had been, with the unspoken allegation of a trip being used as a crutch and gimmick.

Paul shared another idea he said he conceived the day before. That may have been a Sunday, but Paul’s brain had no days off.

“There’s another idea for a set: Instruments. You need a grand piano for one number, then for ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ … we should get a bit of a honky-tonk [piano]. So then you start to get the whole place just littered with instruments we could move around from. And it’s like a big game of musical chairs. Moving around on that amp, on that guitar, and it’s really planned. A whole computed setup … and then Ringo gets off and goes onto his congas for that one. That kind of sort of thing, then you get scenery, almost.

“You’re thinking of linking numbers,” Michael replied.

There were more shows used as points of reference — these guys absorbed so much TV:

The Potter’s Wheel: “They made a pot before your very eyes,” Paul explained. “Just one shot held, and it took about five minutes or something. And it was great, because you never felt bored. [I] always [watched it].”

Allow yourself the luxury of imagining a tween Paul McCartney soaking up these brief BBC interludes to the point of reminiscing about them at a moment he’s crafting on his own creative work at the height of his powers.

If the process should be the focal point, as Paul argued, it’s not enough for the instruments to create the scenery. Presaging the production of Get Back in 2021, he suggested the crew act as the supporting cast.

“Like [Glyn] switching everything over, you know, to taking all the top out of that on this track, ‘cause we want want a very biting guitar sound on this track.”

“I think that’s the documentary,” Michael argued, “because I think to go away to Glyn as opposed to a camel is distracting from you, because I think we’re getting into you. I think the documentary, we got all this in the documentary.”

Paul “totally” disagreed. “I think he’s a lot more to do with this show than a camel.”

After Neil jumped in to say Glyn was really a performer, too, Paul continued.

“That’s it! You’re going to miss him live. There he is. The camel won’t be doing anything live. Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone. It won’t be looking at your camera, it will just sort of shit in front of you. Be lucky if it does, would be a bit of action.”

Camels with Wings. “Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone.” (Photo from Paul’s Twitter).

Michael was truly exasperated, interrupting Paul who had continued his pitch, off the camel but back onto the fluidity of camera movements.

“See what I wanted to do in the desert,” Michael said, “was really make to the most dramatic thing of all time.”

Michael deserves credit for a lot of things having to do with his work in January 1969, including his real desire to create something exceptional and his willingness to exchange ideas. Here, he turned his attention back to the Beatles’ past, asking what was the band’s most successful and enjoyable TV appearance. Paul said “Around the Beatles,” an answer met with consensus from the others but unfortunately there was never any follow-up questioning to ask exactly why.

Still, it was yet another inspiration. Just like …

Some country music TV show Paul and Ringo “saw at the ranch”: Sparked off a comment from do-everything assistant Mal Evans, Paul and Ringo recalled a country music show. The “ranch” is certainly Reed Pigman’s in Alton, Mo., where the Beatles stayed Sept. 19, 1964. That would likely make Slim Wilson’s local country music show the memory. It was on at 6 p.m., right before “Flipper” — which the rancher’s son explicitly remembered watching with Ringo.

“There’s just one camera, and they all walked into it.” Paul recalled, describing Wilson’s show.

Ringo continued: “If it was the guitarist’s bit, he’d just step in and do it there. They’d all take the center, and if it was violin, he’d just walk in and do his bit, and he’d get back wherever he was. They acted all the movement.”

One memory sparked another, as often happens.

Unrealized Apple promotional film: “We were thinking of doing this once for an Apple thing, getting James Taylor, Mary Hopkin,” Paul remembered.

“We were going to get our home video things and set them up. And then have an area of the room which was lit, and that was it.. And then you came in, you did your thing and then if you wanted to say anything in close-up, you’ve walked up to the camera and you said it in close-up. Then you ducked out and someone else came in, in close-up and then walked into long shot and then did his dance.”

“So we can do a switch on this,” Paul said. “Get us to do the movement. Get us to go to the camera,”

Michael sought to punch holes in the idea, saying that if you were playing piano, movement was limited.

When Paul accused Michael of just being negative, Glyn said that was a “slight” contradiction.

“We’re all contradicting ourselves,” Michael said. “It’s the only way we ever get an idea.”

It was at this point Paul estimated John would arrive in about an hour, and with that news, the stage emptied out as everyone headed to lunch.

***

As an artist, Picasso announced when his film was complete — there was no haggling in a search for a conclusion. Sure, Picasso and Clouzot probably planned things out a little better before filming.  It’s arguable the fluid state of the Beatles’ finale concert was expected to be an unspoken initial plot point of the Let It Be film, but if so, it was never pursued in the original film, only exploited later in Get Back. Maybe there’s something important to the relative age and experience of Picasso and Clouzot compared to the Beatles and Michael, too, in how it all played out.

The revealing debate between Linda and Michael justifiably reached the small screen in Get Back, but so much of the rest of this lengthy sequence remains left to the beautiful losers who labor to listen to the Nagra tapes in full. None of the revealing TV and movie comparisons above were featured in Get Back the docuseries or the book published in 2021.

Before the Let It Be film even came out, though, that sequence owned prime real estate. The very first page of dialogue in the original Get Back bookthe one originally packaged with the Let It Be LP — spans this discussion. While the transcription is sloppy and incomplete, it’s there to set the tone for the text portion of the book, despite being from Day 8.

It’s absolutely no surprise the Beatles found inspiration in literally anything they encountered in film or television, whether it was something incredibly proximate, like the Rock and Roll Circus, or a pottery interlude they watched as kids or a rural country music show they caught just once. That’s how they synthesized their musical influences too. How George — absent for the discussion on the 13th — developed “I Me Mine” from watching a waltz on TV is a perfect example of all of this.

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” almost.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg filmed a lot a footage in 1969, and most of us didn’t really know what that meant from 1970 through late 2021. Let It Be, from 1970, was nothing like Get Back in 2021, the latter deliberately not following the former’s model. But did conversations like those on January 13, 1969, inform some of Michael’s decisions of how to build his documentary?

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” Paul suggested. And sure, we get a few seconds here and there of extreme close-ups in Michael’s Let It Be, but these are hardly studies. That’s where the luxury of an eight-hour palette benefitted films like Warhol’s 1965 Empire — and Get Back in 2021.

Michael was clear that a “wide shot … with no particular response from the audience” was the wrong route. The success of the “Hey Jude” promo — with the band surrounded by the audience — was rooted in this strategy. It may have been the unspoken reason behind the affinity for Around the Beatles, too. And perhaps it’s why the rooftop performance in Let It Be was punctuated and interrupted consistently by street-level interviews. Otherwise, the Beatles were just playing on a very tall stage (which would have worked for me, but I’m not a filmmaker).

Still, the rooftop on January 13, 1969, was simply the top level of 3 Savile Row, not The Rooftop. Inspirations, open minds and contradictions were how they got to an idea.

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Filed under Day by day

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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TMBP Extra: That road before

As a film, Let It Be has more backstory than story.

In Beatle-time, the 15-plus-month turnaround from the end of their January 1969 sessions until the film’s release in May 1970 was simply a glacial pace. Then from the moment it reached theaters, Let It Be has been treated as a snuff film.

You can virtually see them breaking up … it’s a wonder the picture was made at all.

That’s director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, quoted in a syndicated wire story the week of the film’s release, ostensibly to promote the film. We’ll never know if he’d have said the same thing if the film come out in sometime in 1969 as originally planned, when it was provisionally titled Get Back.

It only took 51 years, but Get Back is about to be on television after all — a movie-turned-television-show, the reverse of Let It Be’s trajectory from TV show to feature film.

To put 51 years into context, it’s 11 more years than John Lennon spent in the material world. It’s about as far away from today as the release of Let It Be was from the Treaty of Versailles. It’s a relative eternity.

Let’s pick up this story after January 1969. The Beatles completed busy and fruitful winter sessions split between Twickenham Film Studios and their own basement recording studios at 3 Savile Row with dozens of hours of audio and video that would emerge as a TV show and springtime LP, their follow-up to the White Album.

The February 1969 issue of the Beatles Book, their fan club magazine, said that while there was “still no fresh progress” on the Beatles’ next film, it was a “priority job” for the new year. They hadn’t yet realized the film was already in the can.

For the next several months, a clear pattern emerged: The release of the album was delayed because the movie was hung up.

April 29, 1969: Melody Maker reported 68 hours of footage was about to be edited down, “from which two films will be produced.”

May 3, 1969: “This film … somebody’s editing that at the moment. It’s sixty-eight hours, and they’re trying to get it down to five for several TV specials. Or then, it might be a movie. I don’t know” — John, to Melody Maker

Early July 1969: The Beatles Book reported the release of the album and a companion book would be delayed because “the fellows would like the film to go on television in August so that everything comes together at the same time.”

July 12, 1969: “[The LP] is tentatively set for September release … to coincide with the screening of the group’s TV special. … If the TV show is delayed until later in the autumn, it is possible that an alternative album … will be released first. From all the many reels of film shot during their recording sessions, the Beatles are hoping to produce a three-hour cinema film, from which the two-hour TV special would then be extracted.” — NME

The Beatles and family, at the July 20, 1969, rough cut screening.

July 20, 1969: The same day mankind made a giant leap on the moon, the stars of the film sat in place for a while to view Michael’s working cut of the film, which at the time clocked in at about 2 1/2 hours. This was about three months after editing was reported to be getting under way.

July 21, 1969: The day after the screening, Beatles assistant Peter Brown phoned Michael, asking on behalf of the group just one required edit: Whack a half-hour of John and Yoko footage. In his 2011 memoir Luck and Circumstance, Michael wrote he was told, “Let me put it this way. I’ve had three calls this morning to say it should come out.”

July 29, 1969: Variety reported plans to screen a TV special to coincide with the release of the Get Back LP. “The TV show and a three-hour cinema version are still at the editing stage,” the magazine said.

Early August 1969: The Beatles Book said the Get Back LP will be pushed back again to coincide with the film, “probably towards the end of November.”

August 30, 1969: “There is still no news of release of the … ‘Get Back’ album. … It is understood that this will still be issued as a soundtrack album for the film, however, and that Christmas is a possibility.” — NME

September 1969: After screening a new cut at some point this month, the group signed off on the film to business manager Allen Klein, according to Michael. In what could simply be a coincidence, the same month also saw John announce to the others that he was quitting the Beatles. They released Abbey Road in September, too.

September 20, 1969: Six days before that very release, NME reported the 85-minute “Get Back” film would premiere early in 1970. The paper said the documentary had been edited from “five hours of film taken at the time,” quite the error of scale. The paper does say, however, that the movie is expected to be picked up by United Artists in order to fulfill their three-film commitment. The Beatles’ priority for the year, as mentioned in February, was now complete. This is definitely a scoop, with Variety reporting the same UA deal the following April.

October 1969: Counter to the NME story, the Beatles Book maintained the LP and film would come out in December. Elsewhere in this issue, in Steve Turner’s article on the Beatles’ effect on modern culture, the rumor that the Beatles may film a version of Lord of the Rings was revived.

November 1969: The Beatles Book was back to reporting a 1970 release with UA distributing.

On the very eve of the Let It Be’s ultimate release in May, we can catch a glimpse of contemporary opinions of the film.

Based on interviews conducted prior to the release of the McCartney LP, the traditional marker for the breakup of the Beatles, BBC Radio 1 broadcast a promotional special on May 23, 1970, in conjunction with the film’s wide release in the UK.

Paul compared the film to watching a painter fill his canvas, calling it a “good film” and “interesting.”

George, however, said he “can’t stand” seeing the “pure documentary of us slogging.

“But for other people who don’t know what we’re really about, who like to go in and see our warts, it’s very good. … It’s the complete opposite to the clinical approach that we’ve normally had.”

Of the album, he says “you can actually get to know us. It’s more human.”

“Exploitation materials and posters” intended for theaters to use for promotion of Let It Be.

Speaking to Rolling Stone for a cover story on the eve of the release of his solo debut — the magazine is dated April 30, but the interview was clearly conducted prior to April 10 — Paul continued to point to the film, which he still referred to as Get Back, in positive terms.

“The Get Back film is a good film. And it is a real film. The troubles are in it as well as the happy moments.”

Paul went on to complain about the delays of the record’s release in interestingly prescient terms while blaming Klein for the holdup.

“The LP is looking to be a joke, for it is a bit of a cliff hanger. I would have liked to have seen it out there three months ago and now I don’t even remember making it.”

It’s tough to keep pace in Beatle-time. Paul’s point is clear, though, even with the tremendous exaggeration.

While the Beatles may have been in a difficult spot in early April 1970, it wasn’t the same spot — difficult or not — they were in January 1969.

When Let It Be was first shown to the public, on May 13, 1970, there was no glitz or red carpet. Instead the film was screened in ordinary theaters dotting the United States, not at a promoted premiere in New York as Apple had initially promoted.

A week later, May 20, the film received a more proper launch, premiering in London and Liverpool with the pomp missing stateside. In London, Beatle exes Jane Asher and Cynthia Lennon were among the guests, which also included Mary Hopkin, Lulu, Spike Milligan and other notables as thousands of fans showed up at the scene. Kevin Harrington, assistant roadie at the time, wrote in his memoir that he took an Apple Scruff to the premiere. No Beatles were present, however.

At this moment, two key figures were across the globe, in Los Angeles. John Lennon was in Bel Air undergoing Primal Scream therapy while Michael Lindsay-Hogg at work about a half-hour away in Hollywood (traffic pending).

The most accurate review yet: “Singing their songs, doing their thing!” (From the May 13, 1970, Californian)

John and Yoko joined Rolling Stone chief Jann Wenner and his wife, Jane, for a showing Let It Be at a sparsely attended theater in San Francisco in the early part of June 1970.

“After the show — moved at whatever level, either as participants or deep fans — we somehow cried,” recalled Wenner.

In an Los Angeles Times interview published just a few days after Lennon saw the movie, Michael again reflected on the difficulty of filming the sessions in terms dramatic enough the reporter remarked “the wonder of it is that he put together even a reel.”

In the June 10, 1970, article, Michael complained the group would disrupt “a lot of good, funny and antagonistic conversation” by playing music and moving microphones away. “I don’t think I got them when they were their most charming,” he said, essentially acknowledging they were never charming given the amount of footage he actually did get.

The article was memorable enough for Michael that he remembered his reaction to it decades later in his book.

… [I] was surprised, or concerned, that what had seemed clear to me when I’d said it had been reported without insight, with no recognition of irony or jokes. The Beatles were portrayed only as argumentative people, without extenuation, without subtlety.

The article prompted a further response, a phone call from fellow director — and father, as he later learned — Orson Wells, who asked Michael if he was happy with Let It Be.

“Some of it,” Michael replied. “It’s hard when your stars are your producers. And there were four of them. … A lot I liked got cut out. … But the footage was good.”

Let It Be arrived at theaters at various points in May 1970, but it was absolutely impossible to separate it and its impact from the April release of McCartney. Ringo’s late-March release of his solo debut, Sentimental Journey, wasn’t necessarily seen to have been as critical to the story as McCartney, but it simply piled on the narrative. Let It Be was the breakup film paired with a breakup soundtrack LP. Reviews of one usually paired with reviews of the other.

Variety’s review, published in their May 20 issue, called the movie “relatively innocuous, unimaginative piece of film. But the musicians are the Beatles, and coming hard on the group’s breakup, … [it’s] charged with it own timely mystique.

The fascination of “Let It Be” is that it is, in a sense, probably the last public appearance of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as a group, with all the gossip and speculation attending the split, reading between the spoken lines of the film becomes a game in itself.

Variety did wisely predict “McCartney … will probably emerge strongest as a major individual talent of the Seventies as a composer and singer.”

Chicago Tribune legend Gene Siskel gave Let It Be three stars, writing “Beatle fans will search the 80-miunte film for foreshadowing of the recently announced breakup.”

In the the Sydney Morning Herald’s review headlined “Let It Be For the Staunch Fans,” writer Evan Williams smartly noted:

It seems a pity that we are not shown at least one song in its early stages of composition. This might have given us a genuine insight into the way the Beatles work. … I never once had the feeling that we were witnessing the creative process at work, or sharing in the mysterious, painful rituals of music-making.

(This key point is something the 2021 Get Back film is set to get right).

Tony Palmer gave a brutal takedown of the film in the Observer’s May 23, 1970, issue.

The film is a bore. … Shot without any design, clumsily edited, defeatedly titled ‘A Feature Film,’ uninformative, awkward and naive. It would have destroyed a lesser group. How could 200,000 feet of film have produced nothing but an extended promotional exercise?

Writing for Punch magazine, Richard Mallett, who described himself “as no pop fan” called the film shapeless but wrote it “will entertain anyone not enraged by the mere idea of the Beatles.” He enjoyed the film’s mood, visuals and interplay of the four Beatles, concluding, “One feels oddly regretful that so bright a bunch has broken up.”

“The Beatles and Friend” – from Punch magazine

These are just a small sampling of reviews. I could have posted hundreds, but you get the idea.

The film performed OK at the box office, seeming to peak in Variety’s weekly rankings at No. 5 in its third week. Per those same rankings, it dropped from No. 8 to 41 on June 17 and then slowly vanished from theaters overall. The film ultimately won a Best Oscar for its score, but no there weren’t any Beatles around to pick up the trophy. 

From Billboard, June 11, 1970

It’s an understatement to say the Beatles, especially John and George, piled on subsequent years, advancing and ensuring the film’s terrible standing.

Even Capitol Records eventually called out the film’s dim reputation. Remember Reel Music? (Don’t answer that). The 1982 compilation of Beatles movie songs promoted Let It Be like this:

Let It Be poignantly documents the group’s disintegration while capturing their inimitable songwriting technique.

For his part, Paul continued a working relationship with Michael, tapping him for a few promotional videos in the 1970s.

In July 1981, a decade after it was in theaters, Let It Be saw its first home release on VHS (it was later issued on Laserdisc). Again using Variety’s rankings, the tape debuted at No. 31 and kind of bubbled around the 20s, peaking at No. 19 before eventually falling out of the Top 40.

VHS charts, August 1, 1981, Variety.

That makes it 40 years since the movie was last issued for a home audience. In January 2022, “A Hard Day’s Night” is slated for a 4K Criterion Collection reissue. You could have bought that fab film on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray and streamed it online in that same period of time. It’s a big game of telephone, but Michael says that Paul told him George blocked the DVD release in the 1990s, while a planned DVD to be released in tandem with Let It Be … Naked in 2003 never materialized.

Footage from Let It Be trickled out officially on occasion, like in Anthology in 1995, when a whole new audience was exposed to George playing if Paul wanted him to play during the “winter of discontent.” On the flip side, part of the rooftop show ran during the credits of the 2014 documentary “Eight Days a Week,” a lovely — if strictly anachronistic — conclusion to a movie about the Beatles’ touring years.

But for all intents and purposes, the original Let It Be film had its reputation established by its release, with the breakup taking on a disproportionate stake. Decades of unavailability for mainstream viewers cemented the movie as a straw man for late-era Beatles. The only two views of it were “watch the Beatles break up” or “watch for the symptoms of the Beatles breaking up.” There was little middle ground. Maybe Michael Lindsay-Hogg offered up too much subtlety.

Or maybe we also lost some context along the way.

“Once we were everyone’s darlings, George said in an interview published by AP. “But it isn’t like that anymore. They hate us.”

Ringo agreed in the same article. “It’s shocking the way some sections of the public have turned on us. It’s completely unmerited.”

Those quotes are from April 1969, a year before the band broke up.

It only took 51 years, but Let It Be is Get Back again. It’s out in conjunction with the release of the LP and a book (and within months of competing solo Beatles products). Yet with all this history behind it, it instead arrives with excitement from the band and fans alike, and it’ll draw upon its own blank slate.

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Jan. 12: Anyway, here’s Wonderwall

While the Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house is the obvious focal point to the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, there was more to the day’s agenda than the important aborted gathering.

“This peculiar arrangement allows the management to offer you a large choice of interesting films” (from a January 9, 1969, ad for Cinecenta)

That evening, Wonderwall — the film which bore George Harrison’s excellent solo debut as its soundtrack — enjoyed its British premiere at London’s Cinecenta. George, who had walked out of the Apple meeting that day, didn’t attend the premiere, which also served as a sneak preview for the Panton Street theater, Europe’s first four-in-one cinema.

Rather, George spent the evening at the home of Apple press officer and close friend Derek Taylor, a fact detailed in George’s diary. Mal Evans, who did it all for the Beatles, whether it was running errands or helping with lyrics or banging silver hammers, went to the movies instead, presumably as George’s representative.

“I went to the premiere of Wonderwall last night,” Mal told the others, unprompted, early on the January 13 Nagra tapes. He said he liked the film, even though it  “really got slayed in the papers.”

Ringo, who in May 1968 joined George at the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, added, “I like the film too. After a couple of times, is that what you were going to say? First time was a lot.”

After the film, which was screened in all four theaters, Mal — resplendent in bow tie — enjoyed the crowded reception, including ice cream afterward.

Celebration day
The Beatles’ communication breakdown put Glyn Johns’ Beatles gig in jeopardy at the same moment Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” padded his resume.

Zeppelin’s self-titled debut LP hit American shops on January 12, 1969 (it came out in the UK in March), and that certainly would have made it a big day for Glyn, its engineer.

A few weeks after this date, after George had returned to the band and rehearsals shifted to 3 Savile Row, Glyn tried solicit the Beatle’s opinion on the fledgling Zep. George seemed more interested in lunch, but it’s still a neat moment in rock history.

At a 2014 Q&A to promote his memoir, Glyn said when he did finally get to play some of the LP for George, the Beatle “didn’t get one bar of it” (Mick Jagger wasn’t impressed either).

The Led Zeppelin release may not have even the biggest news for Glyn on January 12, although admittedly that’s just speculation. On the Nagra tapes recorded the next day, Glyn tells the others for the first time that he and his wife were expecting. So maybe she reached a certain point in a healthy pregnancy that weekend that made them feel comfortable to share the news starting Monday.

“Did I tell you my wife’s definitely confirmed pregnant?” he told Ringo, Michael and the other early arrivals.

Their son, Ethan, picked up his dad’s business decades later, producing, among other things, two tracks on Paul McCartney’s 2013 LP New.

Big brother is watching?
After the meeting at Ringo’s, Paul spent time with Apple head Neil Aspinall, discussing an explosive idea for the Beatles’ proposed live concert. Did Paul have time for someone else’s concert that same night?

Some books place Paul at EMI Studios that night, but it’s hard to confirm just how many McCartneys were at the Abbey Road studios. There’s no question The Scaffold, featuring Paul’s brother, Mike McGear, recorded portions of their L. The P. album there that evening. There’s also no question Paul provided the guitar for two of that album’s tracks — and he recorded those in subsequent months. Side 2 of the LP, all humor and poetry, was recorded live before an audience of London University students that Sunday, and it’s feasible Paul was also in the crowd.

Paul lived a short walk from EMI, but it would be a surprise if he went the show yet didn’t mention it the next day on the tapes, considering how much detail of their lives they did share.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was stuck to the television Sunday night, when he was tuned to the Andy Williams special on BBC-2. An hour-long show featuring several performers and beginning at 7:25 p.m., the “H. Andrew Williams Kaleidoscope Company” originally aired in the U.S. in April 1968, but was first-run to British audiences in January 1969.

From the January 4, 1969, New Music Express

While Andy Williams featured a Beatles number in the dizzying opening sequence and was presently rumored to be in line to host the band on his TV show in the coming months (see the adjacent clipping from NME), the American crooner wasn’t discussed at all on the Nagra tapes the next morning.

Instead, Simon and Garfunkel, who had four LPs among the top 26 in the UK for the period beginning January 12, 1969 — including The Graduate, which sat at No. 4 — sparked the most conversation, again, primarily from Michael.

On Mrs. Robinson, they were camping it up, which I didn’t like, because Paul Simon is not that good at it,” Michael said, before continuing. “He’s got a great face, Art Garfunkel.”

“Is he the frizz?” asked Ringo.

Michael confirmed Garfunkel was the frizz, before unexpectedly offering that he had “a very long, involved story about how Paul Simon and I don’t get on, but it’s too long and involved. … It’s funny, I’ll tell you sometime.”

(We never hear the story, but their issues must have eventually been ironed out, because Michael directed the Simon & Garfunkel reunion in Central Park in 1981 and later got his big African concert, directing Simon’s historic 1987 Graceland concert before a huge audience in Zimbabwe.)

There was another act on the Andy Williams show that drew interest.

“Who saw Ray Charles?” Ringo asked.

It’s a good question, and one unfortunately left hanging, as they moved onto other topics before anyone answered.

If anyone had, in fact, seen Ray Charles’ segment, they could have caught a fleeting glimpse of his organist: Billy Preston.

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Jan. 12: The final bulletin

Here’s that disclaimer again. For this series of posts recounting the Beatles’ private January 12, 1969, board meeting, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly (and indirectly) address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story.  I swear!

****

The Beatles were facing a rupture; at best they were simply in another crisis. George Harrison first walked out on the group January 10, 1969, and then from an Apple Corps board meeting at Ringo Starr’s house two days later.

Through — and despite — the tumult, Paul McCartney continued to consider the big show that would serve as the finale of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary TV show, the grand closing statement. Paul conceived the grandest statement of all, and he shared it with Apple head Neil Aspinall the evening of the 12th. It’s not clear if he told him at Ringo’s or after at a different location, but it was Neil himself who “really finished the idea off, which made it sensational,” per Paul on the Nagra tapes recorded the morning of January 13.

While we were rehearsing the show ourselves, we should have alongside us someone sort of near, so that we’re getting the same kind of buzz but completely independent. We should get, say, the editor of the Daily Mirror. You’d have to get someone as good as him, a real hard news nut, rehearsing a team of really hard, incredible newsmen. With films, writing … so that on the night of the show, in between all our songs is news. But the fastest and hottest, from every corner of the earth.

Paul continued, attempting to sound like a serious news anchor in a breaking news environment, gravity in his voice and mimicking contemporary newsroom sounds, like a reporter tearing copy off a teletype machine.

‘We just heard there’s been an earthquake and so-and-so [makes exploding noise]’. You know, just like incredible news in between each thing, so it’s like a red-hot news program.

And at the end, the final bulletin is:

The Beatles have broken up.

So much for centering a show around 2,000 torch-lit Arabs or a boat ride. Michael is impressed by Paul’s pitch, presumably for its dramatic effect, calling it “nice” after a moment of reflection.

“Nice, but who wants to hear that?” asked Paul’s girlfriend Linda Eastman, who was present both at the meeting the day before and the recap at Twickenham.

This photo captures around the time Paul was discussing the breakup show concept, on January 13, 1969. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the new Get Back book)

“But, I mean, it would be an incredible show,” Paul said.

Cover all the earthquakes and explosions you want. It was the final implosion that would inflict the most harm to this audience. Immediately before Paul’s pitch, Michael called it “dispiriting” if the Beatles couldn’t find a way to save themselves from a breakup.

“God, it’s an event when a Beatles album comes out,” an exasperated Linda replied to Michael. “Or even a single. People listen more to that than when [President Lyndon] Johnson gives a speech.”

It was the better halves who cared more to see the the group whole.

“It’s like Maureen [Starkey] was saying [presumably at Saturday’s meeting]: We’re fans. The Beatles are it. Musically, I still think that way.”

It continued to be the problem, for at least half the group. During lunch, in a discussion secretly recorded shortly after this conversation on January 13, John decried the Beatles’ “myth” in an echo of George, who said something along those lines a few days earlier.

A mythological concept to John, the sincere fans did believe in Beatles.

Paul’s suggestion of the surprise farewell in the wake of the meeting at Ringo’s came off more for shock than true consumption — it wasn’t discussed on the tapes again, and may never have reached the ears of John or George. But Paul did show a sincere willingness for the group to stand solo in the sun, saying that he himself wasn’t completely satisfied as just a Beatle only.  He wasn’t busting any myths, only suggesting there were even more opportunities for them, and not by simply growing the number of Beatles, as John had previously suggested.

Ringo was already contemplating what would eventually become his Sentimental Journey LP a year later, and Paul pressed him to move forward with the idea of this “Stardust” album, despite the drummer’s fear of singing on a record by himself.

From the lunchroom tape on the 13th, in a remarkable exchange:

Paul: It isn’t as daft as you were sort of frightened it might sound.  … The great thing is that you singing how you really sing will be it.

Ringo: Yes, but the only way to do it is on your own.

Paul: Until then, yeah, sure. Until then, until you reach how you really sing, you’ll sing your half-soul.

And it’s probably when we’re all very old that we’ll all sing together.

And we’ll all really sing, and we’ll all show each other how good we are, and in fact we’ll die then, I don’t know. Probably something sappy or soft like that. I don’t know.

But really, I mean, it’s really down to all those sort of simple, silly things to me.

Yoko Ono: But those are the important things, you know?

This part of the lunchroom conversation covered much of the same ground as the “divorce” discussion on January 7, but with a softer, more optimistic and accepting posture. A few extra days and George’s actual absence — not merely a threat of one —  created a clear difference in the vibe.

Through this John sounded sincerely unsure of himself and the path he’d like to take. It can only be assumed that the lack of cameras or visible recorders allowed him to speak more fearlessly.

While Paul worked to reassure John — “You’ve noticed the two ways open to us. You know the way we all want to go, and you know the way you want to go. Which is positive!” — John’s insecurity overwhelmed his outsized abilities.

“Like Ringo said about his album … I won’t do it cause I’m gonna let us down or look like a fool.”

Days after pushing back on George’s concern that his songs “come out like a compromise,” Paul adjusted his stance. Maybe it’s re-positioning with George gone or maybe it’s a result of the departure and any responsibility he had in it, but Paul showed a retreat on the group micromanaging their respective songs, including his own role in doing so, at least now while they were still together.

What I’d like to do is for the four of us — and you know, we’ve all have done that things to different degrees — I think is if you [Ringo] go one way, you [John] go one way, George one way and me another. But I know it will apply to all of us, if one day you can all be singing like you’re singing, [Ringo] can be drumming like you’re drumming. George can be really playing, I mean like he plays, not like as if I’m trying to make him play. But I keep trying to make him play like that.

This dynamic reached beyond just George and Paul.

“You try and make George play competently because you’re afraid that how he’ll play won’t be like you want him to play,” John replied. “And that’s what we did, and that’s what you did to me. …

“I got to a bit where I thought it’s no good me telling you how to do it, you know? All I tried to do on [the White Album] was just sing it to you like I was drunk, you know? Just did me best to say , ‘Look, this stands up on its own.’ … It wasn’t the arrogance of  [saying,] ‘Listen, this is it, baby.’ It isn’t that I can’t tell you what to do because you won’t play here like think you should play. And I’m not going to tell you what to play.”

The differing approaches John and Paul took to arranging their songs are pretty evident on the Nagra tapes and to readers here. At this point in the lunchroom conversation, John admited he’s just too scared to stop Paul from micromanaging parts to the detail and degree he does.

John continued:

Apart from not knowing, I can’t tell you better than you have, what grooves you’d play on it. … But when you think of the other half of this, just think how much more have I done towards helping you write. I’ve never told you what to sing or what to play.

You know, I’ve always done the numbers like that. Now the only regret, just for the past numbers, is that when because I’ve been so frightened, I’ve allowed you to take it somewhere where I didn’t want. And then my only chance was to let George … take over, or interest George in it.

“‘She Said She Said‘?” Paul asked.

Of all their songs to name, it’s a notable discussion point and not accidental. The final song recorded for Revolver (and one they played in passing earlier in the week at Twickenham), Paul walked out during its sessions in June 1966, a link from that moment to this one, with a Beatle missing.

Paul, as quoted in Barry Miles’ Many Years from Now:

I’m not sure but I think it was one of the only Beatles records I never played on. I think we had a barney or something and I said, “Oh, fuck you!” and they said, “Well, we’ll do it.” I think George played bass.

Without Paul’s interference, John could let the others just play their parts as originally, and simply, arranged. “[George would] take it as is, you know?” John recalled before backhandedly crediting Paul’s management style. “It’s George, you know, if there’s anything wrong with it, because I don’t want your arrangement on it. … If you give me your suggestions, let me reject them or in the case there’s one I like, it’s when we’re writing songs.”

The situation wasn’t reciprocal, as John reminded Paul — who agreed — “there was a period where none of us could actually say anything about your criticisms, ’cause you’d reject it all.” (Still, John conceded Paul’s musical decisions would often be the correct ones.)

If this line of conversation sounds familiar, it’s because exactly a week before this lunchroom chat, Paul and George debated this very issue in the quintessential tension-filled moment of the Let It Be film. Ultimately, George wasn’t too excited to take things “as is” and Paul wasn’t necessarily insistent he do so. So the situation is characteristically blurry.

“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

Still, George will play, you know, whatever you want him to play, but at this point he’s not playing anything at all, to general displeasure.

Assuming nobody noticed the hidden microphone in the flower pot at the canteen — a phrase as ridiculous for me to type as it is for you to read — we can be certain none of the parties on the lunchroom tape were playing for the cameras and a larger degree of posterity. (Whether they were being sincere with each other in this private moment is a completely separate question.)

Without the this recording, however, we wouldn’t know just how far Paul was encouraging the others to experience outlets outside the band’s restraints, and just how warmly he spoke of what would be an eventual reunion “when we’re all very old.” It would be a return in which they all can show off how much they’ve grown as artists outside of the limitations and restrictions they posed upon each other, and this reunion would serve as their very final act. It’s sweet and in retrospect very sad, even if Paul backs off a little calling it “silly.” Two Beatles never advanced past middle age, must less having a chance to be “very old.” Thankfully Yoko appreciated Paul’s line of thinking.

Around the context of their conversations and at the precise moment these sessions — and collective future — were in question, Paul’s support for and active, repeated urging of the group to go their separate ways very much complemented his grand statement to end their proposed TV show.

Their ultimate reunion would have made a most spectacular sequel.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 2)

FYI at the outset: I’m applying the same disclaimer from last time, when I started recounting the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, meeting at Ringo Starr’s house.  For this series of posts, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story. I promise!

****

Twenty years after the breakup of the Beatles and in the midst of leading his own supergroup, George Harrison characterized the “Wilbury Attitude.”

From the March 1990 issue of Musician:

Somebody wrote in a paper things like, ‘Little Richard is a Wilbury. Madonna wouldn’t be a Wilbury but Cyndi Lauper would be.’ It was quite funny.

While there may have been “about 500” fifth Beatles, as George estimated in that same Musician profile, the four proper members of the Beatles were set in stone (Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe screw up this accounting, so let’s just stick with the figure of four), and the lineup had been stable for more than six and a half years by the time we reached January 1969.

John Lennon proposed expanding the group more than once over the course of that month. The Beatles’ board meeting on January 12 was one such occasion.

Most of what we know about that meeting we learned from recordings of John, Ringo and Paul McCartney — among several other key figures — captured a day later. And while some of those January 13 conversations were filmed openly at Twickenham Studios on the set, so to speak, of Let It Be, a clandestinely recorded lunchroom discussion fleshed out the story.  Remember Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s spy microphone? Documenting this lunch became the device’s greatest legacy.

It must be repeated to make it clear: This meeting was not merely between Paul and John, as suggested by the 2021 Get Back docuseries. There were at least half a dozen people present.

“The Beatles, to me, isn’t just limited to the four of us,” John said on the 13th, candidly recounting what became a contentious point discussed during the previous day’s meeting and in response to Ringo relaying that George wanted a meeting limited to the four Beatles. It’s worth noting there were multiple occasions during lunch that Ringo and Paul explicitly referred to the “four” Beatles.

“I think that I alone could be a Beatle. I think [Paul] could. I’m not sure whether [Ringo] could. … I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think the Beatles revolve around the four people.”

Maybe it’s hindsight speaking, but of course the Beatles revolved around four people, and it had since Stu stepped out in 1961, even if their nominal leader suggested otherwise by calling a critical upgrade at drums merely a reorientation.

“It’s like [Ringo] joining instead of Pete,” John continued. “To me, it is like that.”

We don’t hear Yoko Ono’s name explicitly mentioned in the context of being a part of an expanded Beatles, a proto-Plastic Ono Band, but it’s the clear suggestion amid her omnipresence and in the wake of her taste of the fab experience 48 hours earlier.

For her part, Yoko didn’t see George’s departure as anything but temporary. His return was, in her eyes, completely in the hands of the others.

“You could get back George so easily, you know that,” Yoko said during the lunch.

****

Reputation’s changeable, situation intolerable: George stuck on the third rung

“The third rung.”

That’s how Paul plainly described George’s place in the Beatles hierarchy on the lunchroom tape. (Paul conceded John was at the “front of the chute” and himself secondary. Ringo ranked himself as “the cabbage.”)

It was only a few days prior when George openly bemoaned his status within the group and the dead-end destiny of so many of his contributions: “I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound], there its gone.”

This complaint on January 7 came immediately before he called for “a divorce,” which he pursued when he walked out January 10. At the January 12 board meeting, it only got worse, according to John.

“It’s a festering wound … yesterday we allowed to go even deeper,” John said early in the recording of the lunchroom discussion. “But we didn’t give him any bandages.”

Not only a reluctant medic, John wasn’t sure he wanted George to even be a Beatle anymore. Maybe the Beatles could be a four-piece after all, just with Yoko and without George.

“Do I want him back, Paul?” John said. “I’m just asking, do I want it back, whatever it is — the myth?”

That remark echoed George himself from the divorce conversation, in his response to Paul, saying the band used to be “switched on,” George had replied, “If that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it.”

Like George, John was searching for motivation to maintain the group’s status quo, even when the Beatles’ status quo was really a constant state of invention and reinvention, at least to the point of view of us on the outside.

During lunch on January 13, Paul and John agreed the duo would “connive,” when it came to their marginalization of George within the band and their maintenance of creative control. This, while George “could afford to be more insensitive” himself, as “some other part,” an other acting separately from the other members of the band, perhaps musically, perhaps socially.

“I do think that as grim as it all is,” Paul said, “that [George] is right. And I do think that our sole approach is exactly what he’s been saying.”

John simply said that he knows he’s treated people this way since primary school and offered the customary breakup excuse, “It’s not him, it’s just me.”

Yet while the duo acknowledged the problem of their treatment of George as a tertiary Beatle — later Paul would admit they treated him “a bit like a mongrel” — they didn’t set forth a path to solve it directly. The board meeting on the 12th, which was supposed to be a general business meeting, went so far beyond just an attempt to reconcile George’s walkout. The band’s very existence was in question. Again.

“It’s like George said. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction anymore,” John said on the 13th. “Because of the compromise we’d have to make to be together. The end result of the records now aren’t enough. …  When something came out like Revolver or Pepper or whatever, there was still that element of surprise that we didn’t know where it came from. But now we know exactly where it comes from, and how we arrived at that particular noise and how it could have been much better.

“The only way to get it satisfactorily for yourself is to do it on your own. And then that’s fucking hard.”

Here John again mirrors another of George’s points from January 7, when the latter said he wanted no part of performing any of his own songs at the presumptive forthcoming concert “because they just turn out shitty. They come out like a compromise.”

A fab feast, July 1969

Linda Eastman, who like Yoko was at the lunch on the 13th, responded by throwing some of John’s words back in his face. “But you were saying yesterday … you write good songs and it can’t be any better way. You don’t want just studio musicians. I mean, that’s how I look at it. You make good music together, whether you like it or not.

John admitted that he liked it. Still, he was dissatisfied with the White Album. Not his own contributions, which he remained happy with, but the sum of the parts. While Ringo said he dug it “far more than Sgt. Pepper,” John struggled to reconcile how good the White Album was and what he felt it should have been.

As difficult as the situation was, Paul was the optimist. He didn’t even see George’s absence as a problem — yet.

“See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back, you know? I’ll tell you, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

“What if he isn’t?” John asked.

“If he isn’t, then it’s a new problem.”

****

A “new” problem implies previously existing problems, and on January 12, 1969, the Beatles definitely had other problems.

With the benefit of hindsight,  we know Yoko was right and Paul’s optimism was justified. It was easy to get George to return to the group. It took a couple painless concessions from the others, and he was back with the Beatles just a few days later — this wasn’t any protracted estrangement, just one with good retrospective drama and publicity. For context, Ringo’s resignation during the White Album sessions lasted almost twice as long.

While acknowledging the issue, why didn’t John and Paul go a step further and apply the bandages to salve George’s festering wounds? It’s unclear, as they had recognized, at least in the wake of the meeting — if not during it — their “conniving” problem.

“Our brains sort of … con him,” Paul said at lunch, calling those moments “so innocent” and “so simple.”

That kind of treatment came completely natural to John. “It might have been my game. It might have been masochistic,” he said describing his approach. “But the goal was still the same: self-preservation.”

Yet, John said he “had to fight it the last three years,” saying he overcompensated by feeling he was actually giving in to George for several years, going out of his way to work with and relinquish a territory on their records, while George was creatively on “a good ride.”

He didn’t use the word “connived,” but in later interviews George did consider the others’ actions selfish. None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the Beatles for the last half-century.

From George’s terrific 1977 interview with Crawdaddy:

There were too many limitations based upon our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating. The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I’d always have to wait through ten of their songs before they’d even listen to one of mine. … I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. …

Paul would always help along when you’d done his ten songs, then when he got ‘round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually.

Then there’s Yoko, who George didn’t want around the studio as a non-participant, much less as an artistic partner. He may have been insensitive to her when she entered John’s life (invoking her “bad vibes”), but he clearly felt that behavior was justified. This emerged as the red line for John. We know how the story ended, and Yoko didn’t leave John’s side while the Beatles were together. John won that part of the battle, even if she wasn’t elevated to a member of the group.  (Through tragedy she ultimately became a member of the Apple board.)

There was no punch-up on January 10, 1969, that pushed George to take a break from the Beatles, it was just, largely, the simple, sweeping con he endured for years. You could almost say George had been fobbed off and he’d been fooled, he’d been robbed and ridiculed. John and Paul recognized and acknowledged as much on the lunchroom tape.

Like it or not, in the words of Linda, the Beatles made good music together. After the meeting on January 12, 1969, it was an open question if the four of them had any mutual desire and consensus to resume doing so.

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TMBP Extra: Leave me waiting here

Had the phrase been in vogue in May 1970, a record review would have called Let It Be a “hot mess.”  I absolutely love the record, but I get how it’s a little off-kilter, off-putting and, frankly, a little bewildering. 

Apple Corps announced the 51st anniversary reissue of the Beatles’ final LP on Thursday, and befitting the record’s legacy, it’s complicated and conflicted. 

I say this as a sincere apologist of the original Let It Be. It’s a bizarre compilation album that’s nothing like anything they had done previously: Part-live, part-studio. Re-recorded and remixed older tracks, and songs written on the spot during the sessions. Novelty songs sequenced adjacent to their deepest statements. A rich overproduction of a loose session that wasn’t initially meant to be an album at all.  Packaged along with a rich book of photos and dialogue and in conjunction with the film, Let It Be was a true, albeit helter-skelter multimedia experience.

Before getting to 2021, let’s first take a quick spin at the long and winding road (ugh, sorry) that got us here, just for the sake of background. It’ll be fun!

After spending January 1969 split between Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studio at 3 Savile Row (see this fabulous blog for more on that history), the Beatles themselves were never unanimously satisfied with the record pulled together over the subsequent months. Glyn Johns, ostensibly the producer/arranger at the sessions, mixed and sequenced multiple versions of a Get Back LP throughout 1969, and told the story of his first compilation in his 2014 memoir Sound Man, outlining what became the “concept” of the album.

Having no real end in sight for the album, one evening after our session at Savile Row, I took it upon myself to take the multitrack recordings I had made during our rehearsals to Olympic Studios to mix and edit what I thought could be an idea for the album. This was to show in an audio documentary what I had witnessed in the previous days, as a “fly on the wall” insight to the four of them interacting, having fun, jamming, taking the mickey, stopping and starting and creating some wonderful music, warts and all. I had five acetates cut the following morning and gave one each to the band, keeping one for myself, saying it was just an idea and and asking them to take a listen. The next day I got a resounding NO from each of them, which I completely understood and had fully expected.

By May 1969, the Beatles reconsidered, delivering Johns a pile of multitrack tapes from the sessions, asking him to create a mix from their recordings at Savile Row on his own, without the group’s input. He wrote that he “soon realized that the real reason had to be that they had lost interest in the project.”  

“We let Glyn Johns mix it,” John Lennon said in 1970. “We didn’t want to know.”

From the June 1969 Beatle Book

After multiple postponements and revisions to the mix — delays in part because of film delays — the Get Back LP (d)evolved into the Let it Be album as John and George Harrison tasked Phil Spector to produce the final version of the record in late March 1970. 

We all have opinions on Phil Spector’s Let It Be, and I’m not here to judge.

John said Spector “worked like a pig” on the production, which used Glyn Johns’ mix as a starting point. “When I heard it, I didn’t puke,” John said.  Ringo Starr likewise kept in his lunch, going as far as saying in the Anthology book, “I like what Phil did, actually.”

Paul McCartney, meanwhile, literally sued the other Beatles over Spector’s production of “The Long and Winding Road” (among other things, of course) on the last day of 1970.  Macca has since made a cottage industry of rerecording and reissuing non-Spector versions of the song at every opportunity. 

Bootlegged since before Let It Be was even released, the first raw recordings from the sessions were officially released in 1996 on Anthology 3, with a somewhat randomly selected 12 tracks culled for the collection.

Glyn Johns (as pictured in the Peter Jackson’s Get Back trailer)

By the time Let It Be … Naked was released in 2003, half the band was dead (although George had previously given his approval to the project). Its existence is primarily owed to Paul’s wishes to avenge Spector’s production (although the addition of “Don’t Let Me Down” to the rest of Let It Be is welcome and it sounds great, even if the collection completely lacks the occasional humor of the original, stripping it of the between-song banter). It’s other saving grace is the addition of the “Fly On the Wall” disc, a little starter set for the Nagra-curious, compiling all manner of song and conversation snippets from the sessions.

And that pretty much brings us to this very glorious day, when we formally learned what would be on the “Special Edition” of Let It Be. 

This is a great time to be a fan of this era, with the Get Back book of photos and dialogue coming out October 12, the album coming out just three days later and the new six-hour Get Back documentary series by Peter Jackson streaming  November 25-27. That’s a lot of product for a period that the Beatles couldn’t stop bashing for several decades, and that we see from the start was something they weren’t really enthusiastic to release in the very first place.

The transformation of the Beatles’ Winter of Discontent in the upcoming Fall of Rehabilitation seems built around the documentary, the apparent centerpiece of the revival. 

We can guess what will be in the film (and I tried to guess — check out the above!) but now we know for sure what a Let It Be deluxe entails. Beyond the Giles Martin/Sam Okell remixed version of the original album — “guided” by Phil Spector’s version — the box will contain:

  • Glyn Johns’ mix of the Get Back LP (looks like his third compilation) 
  • An EP featuring two unreleased 1970 Johns mixes (“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine”) and two 2021 remixes (“Let It Be” and “Don’t Let Me Down” singles) 
  • 27 “previously unreleased outtakes, studio jams, rehearsals” 

It’s easy to welcome the release of the Glyn Johns mix, a historic document and true “lost album.” It’s a natural and expected addition to the set, even if all four Beatles nixed it more than half a century ago.  The two lost 1970 Johns mixes make sense as add-ons. As for the 2021 remixes … sure, why not. 

That leaves the outtakes.  Oh, the outtakes. While a microscopic fraction of what was captured at Twickenham and Savile Row, it could well be representative in a remarkably scaled down fashion. But until we hear more selections, read more reviews or get dates, even, of some of the tracks, they’ll be a bit of a mystery until we put the record on. What’s in mono (sourced from the Nagras) and what’s in stereo (recorded on multitrack) gives a hint where certain tracks were recorded, but that’s one of the very few clues for you all. 

The track list

For instance, what is “I Me Mine (rehearsal)”? The Nagra reels have more than an hour of the song being rehearsed, over more than 40 tracks.  

Every track that ultimately appeared on the original Let It Be is represented by at least one outtake/rehearsal version.  That’s not a bad thing. Some songs that dominated the sessions did not surface — like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a significant Twickenham work-in-progress. “All Things Must Pass” seems to be represented by one of these early takes, but only this one.  That’s not a good thing.

It’s nice to have the origin story of “Something” and “Octopus’s Garden” (as seen in the Let It Be film) as links to Abbey Road and an early working rehearsal of “Gimme Some Truth” as a tie to their future solo career. This is a great introduction to a wider audience to the concept that the January 1969 sessions were creatively sprawling and carried a legacy beyond Let It Be alone.

All of this needs to be in there. But every track draws attention to missed opportunities of every scale. The tapes record Paul debuting “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” on separate occasions and then later linking them together alone at the piano, but these are left to the bootlegs alone. George and Paul introduce numerous future solo tracks during these sessions, but we don’t get “Here Me Lord” or “Another Day,” to name just two examples.

The set features two Savile Row versions of “Get Back,” but the signature song of the sessions and its 2021 reboot was written while the cameras were rolling over the course of early January 1969. We hear the song spring from a jam and later become a foray into politics (“No Pakistanis”)  before Paul and John work together to finalize the lyrics we know today. To those who know the takes, those earlier, nascent versions are conspicuous by its absence.

To me the development of these songs represent the essence of the January 1969 sessions. It’s what makes this collection have the potential to stand out from the others (Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road), in which the songs arrived in the studio mostly formed. The songwriting build should be central to the bonus content, but it doesn’t appear to be. 

Over the course of the Peter Jackson documentary, I would guess we’ll get such moments. And maybe this is where Let It Be and Get Back separate after 50 years of sharing the same exact space.  You almost get a sense that’s what the group is doing, when you look at the Beatles’ homepage, and the image promoting the set: “LET IT BE” is “taped” over “GET BACK,” making clear this thing is different.


To its credit, this box feels too narrow to be seen as revisionist. There’s just not enough material to redefine any narrative (barring whatever’s in the accompanying book). That job will likely be left to the documentary.

I know I’m spoiled. I’ve heard 80-something Beatles hours from January 1969. I want it all, with better sound, in a fancy box I can put on my shelf and not let my kids touch until they wash their hands twice. That beats having of a partition on my hard drive filled with MP3s.

(I’m also spoiled as a Prince fan and have been using the incredible Sign O’ The Times deluxe reissue as a point of reference, too. That had 45 unreleased studio tracks in addition to singles, remixes and different concerts on two CDs and one DVD. It’s a sexy beast of a box set.)

The thing is, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions?

Obviously, it’s impossible to market and widely release dozens of takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or nine hours of “Get Back” (the song) sessions. I may like to hear George kvetch about having to be on a boat with Beatles fans or Paul tell John to sing louder or Ringo discuss his dog, but it’s hardly a selling point to a mainstream audience and it’s most certainly not re-listenable (unless you’re literally me or a few other dozen people doing this kind of thing).  I’m not convinced what we’re getting is sufficient either, though.

So what would have been the right way to do this? 

At one point I posited that a “Beatles ’69” super-duper deluxe would have been a possible out-of-the-box box-set approach, combining Let It Be with Abbey Road, something that makes quite a bit of sense when you see how many songs from the latter were essentially demoed at the former’s sessions.

But one gigantic box was never going to happen, the Abbey Road and Let It Be “brands” would never be — and probably shouldn’t be — diminished. I get that. But we’re left with something a little halfway right now. Disc 3 of this set has five eventual Abbey Road numbers. Yet there are another seven that could have been included, but weren’t, and I’m not sure what the rationale was to select which made the cut. 

• Further, if the original Let It Be film is to be dead and buried, this box should have been its final resting place. Mark it up another $20, that’s fine, lots of us will pay it. 

And that would be another way to delineate Let It Be from the forthcoming Get Back, identical twins who finally grew up to lead separate lives. At some point, on one of my appearances on Something About the Beatles, I suggested perhaps the Get Back series should get an actual soundtrack. That would be another — albeit confusing way, to less dedicated fans — to get us to buy another box set with more of what’s missing here.

• We really could have used the originals and curios that they never did anywhere else: “Suzy Parker,” “Oh Julie, Julia,” “Because You Know I Love You So,” “Penina,” “Taking a Trip to Carolina,” “Watching Rainbows,” “There You Go, Eddie,” “Maureen” — that’s half a disc there, and I’m stopping myself from listing more.

• Likewise, there’s more than enough material to have stuffed a CD or two of oldies (beyond the medley on the Glyn Johns mix). These sessions are known for those oldies performances, and that’s something Mal Evans even broached in 1969, writing as much in Beatles Book 72, published that June.

• Given the consistent on-site song building, they could have easily taken the same approach used on the Sgt. Pepper deluxe with several songs, tracing the progression of “Get Back,” “I Me Mine,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and beyond. It’s very easy to sequence tracks to show these songs’ evolutions. This was so unique for this period, where we can literally hear in the studio, a song’s origin as a piano vamp or a guitar jam, and follow it to the end.  

• If they insisted on having an EP, one of George playing Dylan songs throughout the sessions would have been lovely.

• It pains me there’s no recorded document of the “fast” version of “Two of Us.” But that is one of the drawbacks of many of the outtakes from throughout January 1969: Not everything recorded is a complete take of a song. In fact, quite the opposite.

• We need more Billy Preston, but we always need more Billy Preston. The Beatles certainly were better for it.

The addition of Billy Preston just improved this post.

• I don’t know if we need more Yoko Ono, but I was hoping — though not necessarily expecting — her jams with the group on January 10, 1969, after George walked out. It’s a piece of history, too, regardless of what you think of Yoko’s voice.

• A dozen songs already appeared on Anthology 3. Like the other recent box sets there are a few redundancies. I credit the new set for having something different the January 1970 Threetles session, but it would have been something to have more than just the single track.

• One of the great oddities of the Beatles catalogue, “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number” needed to have a home on this set. It’s timeline was split between Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, but as the B-side to “Let It Be,” this is where it belongs (especially as it’s not packaged with either of those deluxes).

• The definitive musical moment of the sessions — the rooftop performance — is featured raw on only one track in the new set. This would have been the obvious spot to offer the whole collection for the completist and as a companion to the Get Back documentary, which includes the whole thing.

***

So to ask again, how do you compile a widely satisfactory version of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions? I don’t think you can. There’s really no suitable middle ground. I — and many others like me — crave everything, a horrible idea for a mainstream audience. I feel the new box goes partway in the right direction with the addition of the Glyn Johns mix and some of the outtake tracks, but it doesn’t go as far as it should as a historic resource. 

That puts some pressure on the documentary, but six hours of unreleased Beatles is a long time. And like the original record, it’s only fair to treat the entire package — records, documentary, books — as a singular, albeit helter-skelter, multimedia unit.  

And in true Beatles tradition, we don’t have to agree on it anyway.

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Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 1)

For all the company’s subsidiaries, history could have used Apple Stenography.

The Nagra tapes so ubiquitous around the Beatles during January 1969 weren’t rolling at Ringo Starr’s Brookfield House estate in Elstead on Sunday the 12th. George Harrison ditched the band midway through the January 10 sessions, and after a brief encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the 11th, he was back in the company of the entire band as they met to discuss their immediate and long-term future.

Even without minutes of the meeting, we have an excellent idea how it transpired thanks to those very recordings and the candor of others recapping and analyzing the meeting’s fallout the next day back at Twickenham.

For this and the next several posts, I’m going to be jumping between various parts of those January 13 Nagra tapes for the sake of the overall narrative. Specific quotes and certain discussion topics absent here will soon be tied back into the story. There will be redundancies and I may not get to specific points until later. But please trust the process!

We know nothing about the meeting from George’s perspective except an acknowledgment of its very existence. And we only know that much thanks to 21st century Photoshop trickery, taking his diary entry for the day before (as published in the Living In the Material World book), flipping the image and manipulating the colors to reveal what was on the opposite page.

Clearly and without further detail, George wrote: “Ringo’s for Meeting.”

Do-it-all assistant Mal Evans provided another rare written reference to the meeting, merely saying January 12 was the day “the fellows finally gave up all idea of doing the TV show.”

This tidbit was for public consumption, published in the March 1969 Beatle Books fan club magazine, months after the event, with the storm of George’s departure long passed and the group seemingly — at least in public — a unit again, the earliest Abbey Road sessions under way and more to come.

While we have reason to question if this January 12 meeting is exactly when the premise of a Beatles TV documentary was called off, at the very least because cameras were back at Twickenham the next day, remember Mal did keep a diary, so it stands to reason he checked the date.

(From the March 1969 Beatles Book)

Early January 13, the day the Get Back sessions resumed, Ringo summarized the proceedings in a dry voice: “The meeting was fine, a lot of good things. But then, you know, they all sort of fell apart at the end.”

While the meeting was held in the wake of George’s departure, it quickly became clear the missing guitarist wasn’t the group’s greatest concern.

“I love you laconic Liverpudlians,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said on the 13th. “Because I said to [Apple chief] Neil [Aspinall], ‘And then the businessmen left and then there was just the five of you there, right?’ He said, ‘No, that’s the trouble. Six,’ he said with his flat voice.”

***

Sunday’s gathering featured two distinct components:

  • A business meeting, which included John Eastman, Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, and other accountants
  • A personnel meeting, so to speak, to discuss the Beatles’ near-term future as a viable unit and to hash out issues better left to a modern HR department

There was only passing mention of the business element, with Ringo referring to “John from America” and the “new accountants we just moved with.” (On January 10, George explicitly mentioned John Eastman in the context of an imminent business meeting, a meeting that had Neil very excited and promised to have news that was “so good.”)

It’s feasible the Sunday meeting is when this document — which is only dated “January 1969” — was signed, giving the Eastman & Eastman law firm rights to negotiate contracts on the Beatles’ behalf.  The timing works out — John Eastman was working on a deal for the successor company to NEMS less than a week later.

The Eastman & Eastman management contract, January 1969.

If only to justify what Ringo described as “a lot of good things” coming of the meeting, the business aspect must have pointed to a positive development.

Most of the subsequent recollections of the Sunday meeting were about the greatest strain on group.

“[John] looked great yesterday” Linda Eastman said in the open discussion early on the 13th between Paul, Ringo, Neil, Michael and Mal.

“Who was he wearing, the usual?” Michael asked, to laughter, including Paul, who repeated the joke.

To be clear, Yoko wasn’t the only non-Beatle or Beatle employee at Ringo’s on Sunday. Linda was there, and even if she regretted her own presence, Paul’s girlfriend (and the lawyer’s sister) was critical that she — and others — were even welcome to attend.

Linda: It’s harder being at a meeting and everybody putting their two cents in, and none of you all saying anything.
Paul: But that’s the other thing, having the meeting. You came with me, and [Linda’s daughter] Heather came.
Linda: Yeah, I was going to say I shouldn’t go.
Paul: It’s such a temptation going out to Ringo’s for the afternoon. It feels like a family outing. (said to laughter)

Paul: It should have been the four of us.
Ringo: Well you (Linda) were out of the way. It nearly was.
Paul: It’s still that thing.
Linda: When there’s something serious, a few other people talking about it, and you get off the tracks.

Paul would also describe the scene as being like “board meetings of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and all the governors and all the wives, and mates and kids and animals.”

Neil explicitly said that Yoko’s participation undermined any chance for a serious discussion. “Everybody else is like, ‘Fuck it. You know it’s not going to be a board meeting, so let’s make it a party.'”

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, etc. Beatles and family at Ringo’s in Summer 1969.

Yoko did “so much talking,” Linda bemoaned.

A “key moment,” according to Paul, came when John said he didn’t understand George’s desire for a meeting consisting exclusively of the four Beatles, explicitly excluding Yoko. Twice George told John, ” I don’t believe you,” in reaction to John’s stated confusion.

“I think John knew what he was talking about, too,” Neil said. “It’s like the bullshitting bit where that can go on. It’s silly.”

Paul agreed, but absolved John to a degree.

“John does bullshit. I bullshit. Ringo bullshits. George bullshits. You know, we bullshit.

“With John, you think you can influence it, you think he’s past it. So you start giving him more credit than he’s due for. With Yoko, they mean it.”

Paul consistently placed legitimacy on John’s dedication to Yoko (we’ll see more of this in the coming posts). John alone could be a slippery figure, but here Paul was insisting John really needed Yoko at his side, completely and sincerely.

Paul’s last remark was met with derision from Linda and Neil, especially. Paul’s tone implied maybe he didn’t really believe what he was saying out loud, either.

***

This meeting was scheduled to be about Apple. It would have helped to have been about George. But it became a meeting that revolved around Yoko.

John accused the others of pushing out anyone who threatened the sanctity of the four members of the group, a balance he and Yoko disrupted months earlier. Paul freely admitted as much the next day, describing the Beatles’ conscious decision to maintain a well-defined inner circle.

“The trouble with us, like John said [during Sunday’s meeting], is anything that comes in … with the egos, we try and push out,” Paul said Monday. “It’s always been that. Anybody who’s come in, Like with Michael Braun, with that book, [he] came in for a while, within the circle for a while, and then he gets pushed out cause we don’t want him in the inner circle. And he’s got to stay on the edges.”

Braun’s book — Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress —  was published in 1964, and chronicles the group over the course of several months that year and the year prior. John later told Rolling Stone it “was a true book. He wrote how we were, which was bastards. ” Really, the book reads like a draft manuscript of the “A Hard Day’s Night” film, the group enveloped by Beatlemania with supplementary anecdotes of those dismissing the movement. It’s candid, and in the context of its original publication, it had to be a revelation by comparison to other portrayals of the group.

But to Paul’s point in January 1969, the proximity given to Braun, an American journalist who had his own colorful biography, was too much for the group in time. Yoko came in for a while, had been within the circle for a while, but she wasn’t getting pushed out. She was inner circle, with no reason to think she would be forced to the edges.

This wasn’t the only issue. John’s silence, in tandem with Yoko’s new role as his spokesperson, made for the untenable situation. After all, Linda was there too, but she didn’t attempt to speak for Paul.

Still why wouldn’t John talk? One of the greatest wits of his generation, the outspoken and leader of the Beatles — self-proclaimed by this point — silenced himself. John had already forced Yoko into the inner circle. He didn’t need to hand her his voice too. Unless, he didn’t think he needed his voice in the first place.

John openly discussed the Beatles’ ability to communicate non-verbally in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorized biography.

I think communication all the time like mad, but putting it into words is a waste of time. We talk in code to each other as Beatles. … We understand each other. It doesn’t matter about the rest.

(Listen to the terrific One Sweet Dream podcast for the deepest of dives into this corner – and many others — of the Lennon-McCartney relationship).

If John was silent because he thought he didn’t have to speak at all, Paul cried foul the next day, ultimately mocking John’s telepathic approach.

“Who was he wearing?” (From the Get Back book)

“With our heightened awareness, the answer is not to say anything,” Paul said. “But it isn’t! Cause, I mean, we screw each other up totally when we don’t do that. Cause we’re not ready for heightened vows of silence.”

Paul started to laugh before conceding, “We don’t know what the fuck each other’s talking about.”

Paul then shattered the telepathy myth, explaining why he thought Yoko spoke for John.

“There was something the other day, I said, ‘What do you think?’ And he just didn’t say anything. And I know exactly why. … If one of us is talking about it, it’s a drag if the other three aren’t.”

John’s silence only made Yoko’s outspokenness more conspicuous by contrast.

“Yoko was saying yesterday, ‘This is my opinion. This is my opinion how the Beatles should be.’”

There was no indication of what John’s opinion was.

“John didn’t talk,” Paul later said. “Yoko talked for John.”

John, too, was a laconic Liverpudlian.

***

Despite having spent several years working with the band, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was, by simple logic of not being an insider, a Beatles outsider.

He also had a film to make — a film the Beatles hired him to make — and it wasn’t for quite some time into the January 13 session he finally asked about one of his missing stars, who had hardly been mentioned at all that morning.

“Did George stay?”

“Well, in the middle of all that, actually,” Paul answered, “George went. He said, ‘I’ll see you.’”

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Jan. 10: Et cetera

January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipicesomething we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so. 

Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.

***

While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism. 

“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.

“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”

“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”

Nevertheless, make the most of it.

George Martin clarified the deeper issue.

“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”

Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career. 

“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”  

***

In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.

Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.

“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”

“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”

“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”

Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”

“Hence the expression,” Michael replied, “Papa’s got a brand-new bag.”

***

When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.

“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”

It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”

When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”

George Martin, proofreader

The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.

On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.

“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.

“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”

***

While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.

“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.

“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”

***

Hugh Curry, January 1969

No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.

At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …

“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”

“Goddamn sinister”

Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure. 

“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”

After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m. 

Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple. 

“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!” 

John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.

Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.

Yoko: Oh, you like it?

Curry: No, I don’t.

The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.

“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.” 

Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”

Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.

A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada. 

And speaking of record labels … 

“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked. 

“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.” 

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Jan. 10: Go on, as if nothing’s happening

“It seems highly unlikely we’d be on,” the guitarist told the director.

With a member of the band unexpectedly AWOL, he was justifiably skeptical the Beatles could stage the big concert to end the film.

“I mean, the law of averages are against it,” he continued. “I think if you could get the juggler on with a couple more clubs, that’d fill in a bit of time.”

That guitarist speaking was George Harrison, and the production was A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first feature, filmed Spring 1964. On the afternoon of Friday, January 10, 1969, it wasn’t a self-deprecating Ringo Starr who was missing, it was a self-reliant George himself, having sprung Twickenham during his “Winter of Discontent.” This left the remaining Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg juggling ideas for how to close what would become “Let It Be,” their final film, and who else would be on stage playing lead guitar.  

Michael and Ringo, January 1969. From Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

More than a week into the Get Back sessions, Michael continued making similar iterations of the same pitch for the show.

“One of my ideas is if we go to, like, anywhere, that we mightn’t just announce any times for the concert at all,” he said to Paul McCartney later in the day on the 10th. “We’ll set them (the Beatles) up in whatever desert we do it in, and they start to play. And one by one, and ten by ten, people will come in.”

Inane, I’d call that,” Paul replied with a comedic aggression. “Straight off the top of my head. … Imbecilic. Salacious.”

(Like in his songwriting, at times, Paul sometimes spoke words that simply sounded good, even if they didn’t make sense in context.)

Michael deflected the response, saying “‘imbecilic’ sounded like a bad bug you get the flu from.”

Regaining focus, he invoked the show’s target date, 10 days hence: “I though that could make a very kind of groovy, trendy opening. Seriously, like: January 20, 1969.”

Moments later, the director and the others in the room — which extended beyond just the band — discussed the issue of visas and difficulties several of the Beatles’ peers (Donovan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) faced getting into the United States. They were open to several options, including Mexico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations.

“And Catalina, which George said wasn’t very nice,” Michael said.

Not that it mattered what George thought then, he’d quit the group almost an hour earlier.

“So what’s our next move?” Michael asked the others. 

“We split George’s instruments,” John Lennon said to laughter.

It was clear in the immediate they were not considering splitting the band, though. If the Beatles were going to be on the move, it would just be in a different iteration. Abandoning the project wasn’t a consideration at present.

The conversation would shortly return to locations, with the Roman amphitheater at Sabratha in Tunisia remaining at the forefront, all other contenders just conversation pieces to keep the group engaged. Michael’s long-preferred destination, he enlisted a “reconnaissance team” that included Beatles assistant Mal Evans and producer Denis O’Dell slated to scout the venue the upcoming Monday.

“There has to be someone to say, ‘The weather’s fine, come on in,’” Michael said.

Paul repeated familiar, feasible suggestions (The Cavern Club, Tower Ballroom) along with new nearby options (the Underground) and  more distant, outlandish and outrageous ones (“the mouth of a volcano near Ecuador”). 

“I think we should do it for more than 500 people,” Michael added.

It was a tough time to think big. This was an afternoon and evening of distractions and interruptions.

In the wake of George’s departure, there were several coincidental arrivals at Twickenham: A package arrived for Paul (marked “‘handle tenderly”); several “EMI heavies” wandered around the soundstage; a CBC interviewer prepped John and Yoko for an infamous interview that would come a few days later.

Rather than return to a full rehearsal, the group joined Michael in telling several imbecilic (and salacious) knock-knock jokes. Of more interest was Michael discussing his career and relationship with Orson Welles, whom decades later he would discover was his father. One lengthy anecdote (which was also detailed in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance”) described Michael acting in Welles’ 1960 stage production of “Chimes of Midnight” when Welles briefly stormed out of the production in anger. 

“See you ’round the clubs!” Glyn Johns reacted, laughing — and confirming George’s earlier valedictory statement, which wasn’t caught on tape. 

An afternoon replete with nostalgia would soon continue after Paul returned to the piano (you can hear “The Long and Winding Road” and “Adagio for Strings” clearly on the tapes in the background). After quizzing the band on whether they had endured any scuffles with their fans (Ringo recalled being kicked in the head), Michael asked if they looked back fondly on their frenzied touring period.

John replied with an affected accent, the voice of a ragged bluesman looking back on a lifetime, not merely a few years earlier:

Why, I think of it every day. I think what fun we had when we was [sic] the Beatles, playing and rocking with the group around the world. I said, ‘Richard, you remember that?’ He says, ‘No, I hadn’t joined you then.’

One of the not-so-fond memories: “Having eggs thrown at us in Australia was one of my big moments,” John said.

Reminded by Ringo he had missed part of the 1964 Australian tour (although he was there for the egging in Brisbane), John evoked the name of the rare Beatle stand-in. 

Jimmie Nicol: Now making a living as the 29th Beatle in New Mexico,” John said of the fill-in drummer, who was actually in old Mexico at the time.  

Now with the band facing a new vacancy, would they soon get to Beatle No. 30?

As if on cue, moments later, Michael barked an instruction for additional equipment: 

“Glyn, Yoko wants a mic.” 

She was back, but the music was hardly intense, with Paul having moved onto his White Album ode “Martha My Dear.”  Now, her vocals were largely calm and controlled, more comedic than anything.

While Yoko once again wailed, John — in conversation with Michael — laid out his plans to replace George. He didn’t suggest Yoko. 

A few hours earlier, George told the other Beatles, “You need Eric Clapton.” The time had come for John to heed the advice, sharing it with Michael. 

“I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play, ” John said. “Eric would be pleased. He left Cream because they’re all soloists. … The point is, if George leaves, do we want to carry on as Beatles?”

Harsh feedback shortly overwhelmed the room, obscuring some of the conversation on the tapes. But the discussion continued, as Yoko again passionately called out John’s name.

MLH: Maybe for the show, you would just say George is sick.

John:  (Sincerely): No, I mean, if he leaves, he leaves.

MLH: But what’s the consensus, do you want to go on with the show and the work?

John: Yeah. If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Clapton.

Yoko: John!

John: Whaaaaat? (laughter) 

John and Yoko continued to repeat each other’s names, but this was the couple playing for laughs.  Meanwhile, John and Michael’s discussion continued through the call-and-response, bringing together the issue of show location with locking down a replacement guitarist.

MLH: And what about the venues? … If George comes back we go away, and if Clapton comes in we stay here.

John: We should just go on, as if nothing’s happening.

MLH: I think we should go away.

So eager to get the show on the road, Michael had the potential logistics lined up in his head, proposing the group spend the following week at Twickenham and the week after abroad, all conforming to the group’s timetable, which was in part defined by Ringo’s filming schedule for The Magic Christian. 

“What I’ve always thought is we leave here next weekend (January 18-19) and do the show the following weekend (January 25-26) there, if we decide to go there,” Michael said. “And then come back on Monday (January 27), which is just inside Ringo’s seven days.”  (The January 20, 1969, date floated previously must have only applied to a domestic show or an alternative, abbreviated schedule.)

Michael’s plans to this point were more extensive than expected, implying there really was no option, at least that he was eager to prepare, other than Sabratha. 

“We’ve arranged everything food-wise to come in from Germany,” Michael said, adding for the skeptics, “I do not joke. It’s the same food from the American [military] base.”

Eric Clapton and John Lennon, from the Rock & Roll Circus, December 1968.

And if it wasn’t enough John was trying to enlist Eric Clapton to join the Beatles, Michael casually suggested a near reunion of Cream, if it meant just getting Paul and John to Libya for rehearsals, and Ringo — who was least receptive to travelling — to be minimally overseas.

“We can get out a session man for a couple days,” Michael said. “Or Ginger Baker can come for a few days. Just to kind of routine it.”

The discussion between John and Michael petered out as John joined Paul and Yoko on another jam. Unlike earlier, when the Beatles played hard blues rock out of rage, this improvisation was more subdued, a more gentle and at times an arguably pleasant performance, containing elements of “Castle of the King of Birds.” Paul was on piano, John on guitar and Ringo on tambourine with Yoko providing another disruptive vocal — although not quite as consistently intense than earlier in the day.

Soon, Paul shifted to the drums — and it’s a noticeable drop in quality from Ringo to Paul, as strong as the latter is as a multi-instrumentalist. More importantly, it freed up Ringo, who returned to conversing with Michael. But first, he played up for the cameras (and tapes).

Yeah, rock it to me baby, that’s what I like. You may think this is a full orchestra, but if you look closely you can see there’s only two people playing and one person singing. I know it sounds like Benny Goodman, but don’t worry. It’s the big sound of 1969! You bet your life. Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me. (Laughter)

Interested in the filmmaking, Ringo asked Michael precisely what he was doing — “I thought what we should do is the first sessions when you came back, make it very hand-held looking,” Michael said, pulling the curtain behind the sausage-making. More importantly, Michael shared his first-hand view on what he saw after George walked out. 

“And the interesting thing is, Paul went to his amp. … I don’t know if you knew what you did, psychologically, after lunch. You (addressing Paul, who joined them) went at your amp like you shut the door into a closet. … And you (Ringo) were playing very hard. … And John was doing whatever he was doing.”

Ringo, Paul and Michael continued their conversation, as John provided background music — “Sun King” and “Dear Prudence.”

MLH: Have you ever had coverage when you were doing a whole album?

Ringo: No. 

MLH: Have you ever wanted it?

Ringo: No.

Like it or not, the Beatles — what presently remained of them — were getting blanket coverage, and the real drama was happening in the studio, not on location.

“Are we meeting again Monday?” Michael asked hopefully in the waning moments of the day’s session.

“Yeah, I’ll have Eric, Jimi (Hendrix, although it could feasibly be Jimmy Page) and Tommy (Evans of the Iveys, perhaps?) lined up,” John replied, with varying and low degrees of sincerity.

Paul’s set his bar much lower. 

“A7, D7, G7,” he instructed Maureen Starkey, who was visiting Twickenham that afternoon. “Get ’em off over the weekend and you’re in.”

(Ironically, armed with those chords, Maureen would have been able to fill in for George on his For You Blue.)

Paul with guitar protégée Maureen Starkey. From the Get Back trailer.

Before splitting for the day, Michael made sure to capture the scene. “We have this well-documented. And a lot of shots of the empty cushion.” We’ll see what Peter Jackson shows us in Get Back ’21, but this footage was left on the cutting-room floor of the final cut of Let It Be.

“And I guess that’s it,” wrapped up Michael, who wished the others luck in their planned weekend business meeting, which would include George. “And I hope everything really goes swell. I’d like to say, I’ve enjoyed our week together, hope one day we have another one like it.”

“Surely,” Paul replied. “Why not?”

And thus ended the first full work week of the Get Back sessions.  While George was kicking Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend out of his own house, John pushed the concept of welcoming Eric into the Beatles’ office. 

As you certainly know, Clapton never joined the Beatles, and John didn’t bring him in the following Tuesday, even though George wasn’t back. There clearly wasn’t an actual offer anyway.

Here’s Paul, from the Anthology book:

After George went we had a meeting out at John’s house, and I think John’s first comment was, ‘Let’s get Eric in.’ I said, “No!” I think John was half-joking. We thought, “No, wait a minute. George has left and we can’t have this — it isn’t good enough.’

For his part, Clapton repeatedly downplayed the idea he was an actual fallback option for the Beatles. In modern parlance, Clapton thought John used him as clickbait, and the friendship he had with George would have been a blocker anyway. 

Eric, from the April 1998 issue of Mojo

There may have been [a suggestion the Beatles would ask him to join]. The problem with that was, I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George — which was exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy, that I could be like a gun-slinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing, because I was too much a mate of George’s.

Several years later, after George’s death, Clapton literally laughed at the idea of joining the Beatles when he was interviewed for Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary “Living in the Material World”.

As he said in the clip, the Beatles could be the most close-knit quartet, but at the same time, “the cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled.” 

The latter led the Beatles to this moment. After their first full day at Twickenham, on January 3, George described with envy The Band‘s ability to blur their domestic and working lives, something he witnessed first-hand when he visited the group and Bob Dylan six weeks prior.  “They’ve got all that gear there, but … they’re just living, and they happen to be a band as well.”

His relationships with his wife and his band in distress, George had neither element 10 days into January 1969 — he wasn’t living properly, and he didn’t feel like a useful member of the Beatles.  

While he’d join John Lennon as a member of the Dirty Mac before and the Plastic Ono Band later, Eric Clapton was neither asked, nor was he seemingly willing to accept an assignment with the Beatles.

The Beatles didn’t need Eric Clapton, a gunslinger for hire. They needed George Harrison. 

 

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