Tag Archives: Paul McCartney

Jan. 9: Subconscious sabotage

“Subconscious sabotage.”

To his death, that remained John Lennon’s reflection on the recording of “Across the Universe,” what he regarded as one of his finest sets of lyrics.

Here’s John quoted in All We Are Saying, David Sheff’s full transcription of his September 1980 Playboy interview:

But the Beatles didn’t make a good record of Across the Universe. I think subconsciously sometimes we — I say “we,” though I think Paul did it more than the rest of us; Paul would … sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song.

He subconsciously tried to destroy songs, meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces, like “Strawberry Fields” — which I always felt was badly recorded. That song got away with it and it worked. But usually we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s songs; when it came to mine, especially if it was a great song like “Strawberry Fields” or “Across the Universe,” somehow this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and experimentation would creep in. Subconscious sabotage. He’ll deny it, ‘cause he’s got a bland face and he’ll say the sabotage doesn’t exist. But this is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where I was always seeing what was going on … I begin to think, Well, maybe I’m paranoid. But it’s not paranoid; it’s absolute truth.

The same thing happened to “Across the Universe” It was a lousy track of a great song and I was so disappointed by it. It never went out as the Beatles; I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and then when Phil Spector was brought in to produce Let It Be, he dug it out of the Beatles files and overdubbed it. The guitars are out of tune and I’m singing out of tune ‘cause I’m psychologically destroyed and nobody’s supporting me or helping me with it and the song was never done properly.

By January 1969, “Across the Universe” was completely in the can — even down to the sound effects, which the group heard for the first time on the January 7 (George Harrison wasn’t crazy about the birds). With a dearth of fresh material, John could have made “Across the Universe” a focal point during the Get Back sessions. This was John’s chance to properly record the year-old song to his ears.

But like previous occasions at Twickenham, he wouldn’t show much passion to rehearse and rejuvenate the song. Still, “Across the Universe” remained and returned to the table January 9 as the group continued to develop new and manage more established songs for an eventual live show as the sessions began its second week.

“Across the Unicorn,” as John introduced it that day, was performed at such a glacial pace in an initial take that it broke down seconds in with laughter from John. “It shouldn’t be that slow, should it?” As a reaction, the group — as they’d often do — zipped through the song double-time after another standard attempt.

While the song was fully formed, “Across the Universe” wasn’t stage-ready. George didn’t like the birds on wax, and he didn’t like the harmony with Paul as performed at Twickenham. The interplay between George and the others on this fact should sound familiar. Really, nothing was going to change his world.

John: What didn’t you like about his har-MO-ney?
George: Just in some places.
John: Ah, some places. Well that’s details, George.
Paul: Please specify then, please specify.
George: (after singing singing the first verse), It sounds a bit forced .. It wasn’t natural.
Paul: Especially in the “Nothing’s going to change my world.”
John: Just sing that in unison.
Paul: I was planning on working on those bits anyway.

Ah yes, the bland-faced saboteur was prepared to do his worst.

Continuing to work on the song, George and Paul attempted painfully high top harmonies on “jai guru deva,” prompting John to respond, “Is that a bit much?”

With additional takes, the harmonies developed into a characteristically lovely John-Paul-George blend — it’s hard for those three voices together to sound anything but — even if the rest of the song’s redevelopment remained stagnant, at best.

“The ‘nothing’s gonna change my world’ — we got to do something to it,” John said, giving Ringo some rare (for these sessions) drumming instruction — asking for “something heavier. Just play an on-beat there. Try doing the on-beat on the snare, to push it along.”

Not significantly improved and with just a single complete take over nearly 15 minutes of work on “Across the Universe,” John was clearly uninspired by his own song, asking, “Should we do something else then?”

Paul rejected the thought, suggesting they again speed things up. A subsequent attempt indeed had a little more pep — the rhythm section didn’t drag quite as much as it had, additional lead guitar licks peppered the chorus and Paul added more extensive harmonies throughout the song. Again, the song wasn’t completed to its finish, but George wasn’t displeased overall, admitting it was a “little better that time.”

John didn’t bother to offer his own review, instead breathlessly launching into a brief improvisation that has since gone by the name “Shakin’ in the Sixties.” The group followed with an upbeat cover of Cliff Richards’ 1958 hit “Move It” that in turn spilled into a sloppy but jubilant abbreviated version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

An animated discussion of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — the group were all clearly fans, trading lines from the show (”Very interesting …” “Say goodnight, Dick”) — led to something of a comic take of Carl Perkins’ “Tennessee,” with everyone enjoying playing.

(It’s nice to know: They may have been the greatest band on the face of the earth, but they still talked about TV at work, just like we do).

Ready to shift gears back to business, John asked, “Have we learned any new ones lately?” After a deliberately flippant butchering of the first verse of “Across the Universe,” John said, “I don’t want to do that one anymore.”

As George began to play “I Me Mine” — a new one from just the day before — John instead sang the words to “House of the Rising Sun.” They never do play “I Me Mine,” instead launching into a series of racially charged songs addressed at length in the last post.

“Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine,” ultimately back-to-back tracks on Side 1 of Let It Be, share another piece of history: By this moment on the afternoon of January 9, 1969, both songs were completely abandoned, weeks before the end of the January 1969 sessions.

“I Me Mine” was recorded from scratch in 1970 by the Threetles, while “Across the Universe” saw its original 1968 recording … embellished and warped by Phil Spector, John’s choice to produce the final soundtrack album. That’s two songs on the Let It Be LP taken not from its associated sessions, but appearing on the record purely because of the songs’ appearance in the Let It Be film.

But while George eventually took his opportunity to properly record “I Me Mine” in the final recording session before the Beatles broke up, what of John’s “Across the Universe”? While unplayed after January 9, 1969 , the song was listed among the the possible numbers for a live show on January 21, the group’s first day of sessions at Savile Row after George left on January 10 and the rest of the Beatles took a hiatus after January 14. But when George asked if they should consider and rehearse “Across the Universe” on January 23, John passed.

“No, no, ’cause it’s going out on an EP,”  John said.

Ode to a panda bear: “Across the Universe” debuted on the “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” charity LP in December 1969.

This opens up some questions. Circa some point in 1968, “Across the Universe” was tabbed for the World Wildlife Fund’s charity LP — that’s why the birds were recently overdubbed, for use on that record. But we also know — or think we know — there was a potential Yellow Submarine EP at one point considered, and that would have included the original version of “Across the Universe.” But if that was the case, it would have been profoundly strange that the other Beatles wouldn’t have been aware of it. An odd unicorn, indeed.

But the song’s eventual release wasn’t necessarily of consequence. If John wanted a new version of his song for posterity, this was the time to craft it on his terms. The Beatles resurrected “One After 909,” after all, and breathed life into a song that had a truly bland recording gathering dust in the vault.

While it wasn’t confirmed in any way, there were certainly some occasional discussions by this early point that these sessions could easily yield a new album, in addition to serving as rehearsals for a live show. Stuck for a month, John could have rehearsed and re-calibrated the absolute daylights out of “Across the Universe.” Lord knows Paul played the hell out of “Get Back” and his songs during the sessions. But here we are on January 9, 1969, and “Across the Universe” was completely discarded, both as an option for the live show but also as a song to be revisited and rerecorded. Who sabotaged whom? Or even what?

Maybe our sources aren’t really reliable after all. Here’s John in January 1971, from his iconic “Lennon Remembers” interview in Rolling Stone:

You know, we all say a lot of things when we don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m probably doing it now, I don’t know what I say. You see, everybody takes you up on the words you said, and I’m just a guy that people ask all about things, and I blab off and some of it makes sense and some of it is bullshit and some of it’s lies and some of it is – God knows what I’m saying.

Needless to say, this issue hangs over pretty much every corner of Beatles scholarship. At least John had the self-awareness to admit this, as problematic a fact  it is.

So was the original recording of “Across the Universe” a victim of “subconscious sabotage”? Regardless of the answer, John — who we can certainly believe was never satisfied with any of the recordings of the song, even the one he helped record with David Bowie in 1975 — had the blank palate of  the January 1969 sessions to craft it in any direction he pleased. But he was bored with the song, whether he would admit it or not, and took it no further after just a week into the sessions, despite a paucity of new material.

The song as recorded would be released, as planned, in December 1969 on the World Wildlife Fund’s “No One’s Gonna Change Our World” LP with John’s voice sped up, and again in May 1970 on Let It Be, further adorned and with his voice slowed down.

Subsequent official releases of “Across the Universe” came in 1996 (Anthology 2), 2003 (Let It Be … Naked) and 2018 (White Album deluxe release). Each of those stripped down versions came after John’s death and with Paul’s presumptive partial oversight.

And every recorded version of the Beatles’ “Across The Universe”  was sourced from the original recordings from early February 1968.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: Power politics

Pablo Fanque, Mao Zedong and Edgar Allen Poe are among the historical figures with a cameo in a Beatles lyric. During the Get Back sessions, former Prime Ministers — and famed taxmen — Harold Wilson and Edward Heath joined a more exclusive club, making an encore appearance in song.

A reasonable argument can be made that the improvisations littering these sessions aren’t really songs at all, but instead casually jammed interludes capturing the moment, intended to be forgotten if not for the tapes that recorded it all. But ultimately we do have the tapes, and those for January 9, 1969, contain a suite of performances inspired by a subject even more ponderous than taxation: the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference, which was in its third day as the Beatles continued their sixth at Twickenham, about 10 miles away.

Paul McCartney had already drawn upon the contemporary issue of the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya to Britain, conceiving the “No Pakistanis” iteration of “Get Back” that would be a part of the song for a few more days. After a thirty-minute detour that included a revisiting of “Across the Universe” and the bassist’s recounting of the “Penina” origin story, the news of the day recaptured Paul’s imagination.

Paul’s performance began seemingly unprompted, launched from a flippant attempt of the “House of The Rising Sun” that itself began as a bit of a mockery of George Harrison’s “I Me Mine” — a song that was proposed to be rehearsed. Instead John launched into the song popularized by The Animals in 1964.

That brings the story to “Commonwealth” (or “The Commonwealth Song” as it’s often referred to. Also, if an improvisation isn’t really a song, does it really have a title?).

Paul channels Elvis vocally — and picks up on John’s ability to script a “newspaper song.” George doesn’t even participate at the outset; instead he discusses equipment issues with Glyn Johns.

The tabloids served as a literal jump-off point. From the front page of the January 9, 1969, Daily Mirror, under the three-deck headline “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”:

Britain has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa.

Home Secretary James Callaghan is making this clear in private talks with Commonwealth leaders now meeting in London.

He is telling them that many Britons share the views of Tory M P Mr. Enoch Powell, who wants to stop further immigration and encourage migrants to go home.

While Mr. Callaghan was taking this action, Premier Harold Wilson was rejecting accusations of discrimination at the Premiers’ conference inside London’s Marlborough House.

Accusations of discrimination by Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr. Arshad Husain brought an immediate riposte from Premier Wilson.

He reminded Mr Husain that Britain had brought in penal laws to ban discrimination.

Mr. Wilson told him: “Do not hold me responsible for the phenomenon known as Enoch Powell.”

While Wilson and Heath reappear in Beatles song, it’s fellow Member of Parliament Enoch Powell at the center of Paul’s muddled tale.

Here’s a taste of the first set of lyrics, transcribed as lovingly as possible for something at times so unintelligible:

Tonight Enoch Powell said get our immigrants, immigrants, you better go home, ha ha ha ha ha
Tonight Premier Wilson said to the immigrants, you better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said you better get back, home
Now Enoch Powell said to the folks, he said … the color of your skin
… So Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out or heads are gonna fall (?)
He said, Enoch Powell, Enoch you better go home

A deeply inflammatory political figure, Powell’s biography is defined by his April 20, 1968, “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which he dramatically stoked racial fears, viciously attacking mass immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell would lose his position in the Shadow Cabinet (“Ted Heath said to Enoch Powell, he said you better get out”) while deeply accelerating a serious divide in British public opinion. (In the 1970s, Eric Clapton would publicly embrace Powell, a terrible idea the Beatles pal would ultimately say he regretted.)

The “Rivers of Blood” speech had indescribable impact, and as an American writing more than 50 years later, I’m certainly dealing in deep understatement.

On the Beatles’ timeline, Powell’s 1968 speech coincided with the immediate aftermath of their trip to India (George alone remained overseas at the time). A month after the speech, Paul was put on the record regarding Powell as John and Paul were interviewed on their promotional tour to launch Apple.

Asked about “this racial business over in England,” Paul offered a simple answer: “That thing’s just the same question everywhere, you know? It’s no different in England. It’s a bit less harmful in England, but it’s the same thing. Some people don’t like other people ‘cause they’re not the same as them.”

“Yes?” – John Lennon, January 9, 1969

Plain-speaking regarding Powell in 1968, Paul was in standard form singing about him eight months later, on January 9, 1969, prioritizing the sound of the song over lyrics and meaning, even moreso in subsequent verses. Presaging the Kinks’ brilliant “Victoria” by several months, Paul offers a tour of mostly Commonwealth locales (Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, West Indies, “Old Calcutta”) as well as Europe and “Tucson, Africa.”

(“Old Calcutta” could also be heard as “Oh! Calcutta!” a wink to John’s involvement in the forthcoming stage show, while the reference to Tucson was both an acknowledgement of the location’s growing importance the to “Get Back” lyric as well as an indicator of Paul’s monumental disinterest in improvising any sort of serious lyric to this song.)

But the clear focal point of the track is the chorus, featuring an animated John interjecting a responsive “Yes?” to each of Paul’s calls of “Commonwealth,” in a shrill, deliberately cartoonish accent, described in the book that accompanied the Let It Be LP as that of a “Boston matron.”

(Yet another aside: In a remarkable coincidence in this song’s story, Boston, Lincolnshire — site of a huge influx of immigrants in the 21st century — tallied the highest percentage of “leave” supporters in the Brexit vote.)

The first time John chimed with his “Yes?” response, Paul sounded sincerely taken by surprise, unable to suppress a laugh. This interplay, enjoyed throughout half of the song, is what makes “Commonwealth” memorable and somewhat remarkable (Paul would use a similar vocal inflection himself elsewhere in the song). Partial film of the performance of the song — focused on John alone — makes clear he is enjoying this one-off.

The collaboration of sorts was sustained throughout, as John quickly improved Paul’s original verse-closing words:

Paul: Commonwealth, but it’s much too wealthy for me
John: Much too common for me.

Paul was strong on the fly, but John was even more clever, unsurprisingly.

As “Commonwealth” petered out, Paul delivered a brief coda consisting merely of the words, “Oh, Enoch Powell … powerless” (sounding very close to “Powell-less”)

This brief interlude spilled into another lengthy improvisation and an additional moment John and Paul used to minimize the junior songwriter in the band. Originally intended by George to be an electrified take of “For You Blue,” Paul hijacked the song and veered into another direction, interjecting several mentions of “white power” — again, as inspired by headlines satirically and obviously not a celebration of such a thing — and was met with an off-timed “Get Off!” response from John. The song quickly evolved into Paul and John — both continued in high spirits — trading real and fictional names in a roll call over an enjoyable, loose blues rocker. Paul occasionally throws in a “Can you dig it?” or “Let me hear it” after a name.

More than 40 names are called out — usually by Paul — including multiple Quarrymen (Eric Griffiths, Ivan Vaughn and John Lennon himself), other Beatles insiders (Mal Evans, Peter Brown), many others in entertainment (James Brown, Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, David Frost) or in politics (Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon), with the likes of Superman alter ego Clark Kent and stain-killer Super Ajax also receiving call-outs. Paul and John are clearly enjoying every moment of it.

At one early point, the song breaks down, with John asking what the group should properly rehearse next.

George: I’ll do one, but it has acoustic guitar and no backing.
John: Get off!

And with that, “Get Off” picked right back up. It was a funny moment, with delicious comic timing on John’s part, but another occasion in which they’d offend and unnerve George.

Soon after, George begins to sing and play “For You Blue” only to have John and Paul continue to play “Get Off” over him.

During the final moments before the group did ultimately work on “For You Blue” (covered at length here), John seemingly pokes at George, who two days earlier suggested a divorce from the group and one day later would in fact temporarily leave the Beatles.

Paul (following some feedback): Noise is a little too loud for me.
John: Leave the group then, if you don’t like it (giggles).

Sure, the Beatles played “God Save the Queen” on the rooftop, but they wouldn’t be quite as overtly political in such a burst for the balance of the sessions. And while “Get Off” (and “Commonwealth,” like the similarly jubilant “Suzy Parker” ) vanished from the group’s memory, never to appear on an official release, a little bit of “Get Off” lived on, both as a stream-of-consciousness performance and through the very use of one of the song’s key phrases in “Dig It.”

With “For You Blue” begging to be rehearsed, Paul and John spent 15 minutes comically spanning and panning global issues. But all politics are ultimately local, and there were clearly internal band politics at play.

1 Comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: No Pakistanis

“I canceled the papers last week,” George Harrison told the rest of the Beatles early on January 9, 1969. “And they won’t stop them coming.”

Whether George reluctantly toted the Daily Express and Daily Mirror from his Kinfauns home or if they were delivered otherwise to Twickenham Film Studio, the newspapers were put to good use by the Beatles that Thursday.

“It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything.” – Paul McCartney

When looking for inspiration, we all know of John Lennon’s willingness to read the news (oh, boy), but it was Paul who ripped from the headlines to fill out some lyrics in his signature song on the sixth day of the Get Back sessions.

“Get Back” emerged from a jam two days earlier with a small set of lyrics — most of which would ultimately survive — including “she thought she was a woman, but she was another man,” “say she got it coming, but she gets it while she can” and “knew it couldn’t last.” The chorus would never change: “Get back to where you once belonged.”

The newspapers informed additional verses to give meaning to the chorus.

But first, let’s get back to George’s opening quote. After complaining about the papers’ non-cancellation, he continued: “George Gale is such an ignorant bastard.”

Gale, who at the time wrote for the Mirror, probably caught George’s venom because of that day’s column ridiculing marijuana users in the context of the release of the Wootton Report on the potential decriminalization of the drug.

But pot, for people in this country, is a new way of fooling themselves. A man is not made more free by taking pot. Quite the reverse. He is simply made more stupid.

The whole column is the opposite of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” so the reason for disdain is obvious.

But Gale’s politics would have been antithetical to George and the rest of the band since their teenage years. It was in 1956 — the year the Quarrymen were formed — that Gale famously wrote under the headline: “Would YOU let your daughter marry a black man?”

Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was given in April 1968, less than year earlier, and its impact continued to resonate (Powell will soon enter this day’s story, too). Race issues remained a terrible plight and severely divisive issue across Britain into 1969 — and, obviously, before, beyond and basically everywhere throughout human history. In the specific context of immigration to Britain, it was in front-page news on January 9 as the Daily Mirror shouted on Page 1: “WARNING TO THE PREMIERS: NO EXTRA IMMIGRANTS”

BRITAIN has no intention of easing her immigration restrictions to take in extra Asians forced out of East Africa. … Mr. Callaghan insists that if Britain is forced to take more Asians from Kenya and Uganda, there will be a cutdown on other Commonwealth immigrants. The Home Secretary is giving the Premiers the strongest warning yet of serious trouble in Britain if extra migrants have to be accepted.

And that takes us back to “Get Back,” the first song the Beatles worked on after lunch. Musically it surges, spunky and alive with the four Beatles perhaps recognizing this is the upbeat rock song they were searching for a week into the sessions. It was likely the first time John played on the song, having arrived after the others when it was first played two days earlier.

From a purely musical standpoint, the song was hot and was rivaled by “One After 909” at this point in pure energy — as far as their originals were concerned. By this early moment in the song’s life, it already had the guitar riff and Ringo’s identifiable cymbal crash during the chorus.

“Think of some words, if we can. I don’t know what it’s about,” Paul admitted. “It’s about going away, and then the chorus is ‘Get Back.’ Actually, it’s not about anything” (said to laughter).

That was fine with George. “We’ll just have those words, just words like [the Band’s] ‘Caledonia Mission.’ They’re just nothing about anything, it’s just rubbish.”

So don’t count George as finding any deeper meaning into that Big Pink cut, in its hexagrams or Arkansas towns. The movement Paul needed was on his shoulder: Just write words that track to the tune, regardless of any actual meaning, and it’ll all eventually shake out.

Despite Paul’s admission to the contrary, to this point, the song did start to find a vague lyrical angle. Joe and Theresa entered the picture this afternoon — JoJo and Loretta would join eventually in their place. There remained the pursuit of California grass. Tucson — the Arizona city in which Linda Eastman went to college and close to where the McCartneys would later own a ranch (and Linda would pass away) — was specifically named for the first time.

Additional lyrics — often turns of phrases rather than coherent statements — emerged during the more than 20 minutes of high quality and high energy vamping and jamming. One pass through the verse is in the first-person, with the singer the protagonist who was a loner leaving his home for California and who was getting back to where he once belonged.

But for the majority of the rest of the time, Paul draws from the immigration news in his search for a relevant lyric, alternating verses about a Puerto Rican and a Pakistani, with the East Asian community’s flight from Kenya still such a big part of the news in Britain. (As a footnote, Paul visited Kenya in 1966, going on a safari with Mal Evans)

As you can hear below, there were several points where Paul simply garbled over a name, phrase or section of lyric just for filler. Elsewhere, we get the beginning of a narrative, with an intolerant public imploring the different nationalities “get back to where they once belonged.” The below clip compiles each of the January 9 takes of “Get Back” — the further you get in the clip, the more Paul plays with different lyric ideas.

A sampling:

  • A man came from Puerto Rico, oh, he joined the middle class/Where I came from, I don’t need no Puerto Ricans
  • Take the English job, only Pakistanis riding on the buses, man
  • All the people said we don’t need Pakistanis, so you better travel home
  • Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs
  • Don’t need no Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.A.
  • Don’t want no black man

When tapes from these sessions first leaked into the bootleg market in the mid-1970s, we would simply get single songs stitched together with no context, little dialogue and guessed song titles — like ones called “No Pakistanis.” It’s obvious the Beatles were simply making a social commentary, satirizing the segment of the public who harbored the feelings they were singing. But by the mid-80s, a wide exposure of these takes by The Sun — lacking the needed conversational context or tracing of the evolution of the song — posited the Beatles must have been xenophobes themselves. Gotta sell papers, after all. There probably aren’t too many times Paul ever commented on bootlegged tapes, but Rolling Stone got him on record in 1986, responding to the racism claims:

Sensational journalism – The Sun is not a highly reputable newspaper. What this thing is, I think, is that when we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to “Get Back” which were actually not racist at all – they were antiracist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living sixteen to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of “Get Back,” which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis. The Sun wishes to see it as a racist remark. But I’ll tell you, if there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown. Whenever we came to the States they’d say, “Who’s your favorite artists?” And we’d say, “Well, they’re mainly black, and American – Motown, man. It’s all there, you’ve got it all.” I don’t think the Beatles ever had much of a hang-up with that.

The reference he makes to the line about “too many Pakistanis living in a council flat” actually came on January 10, when the Beatles continued to work on the song. But the point remains. The song has been misunderstood by some unwilling or unable to see the nuance (search around the Internet for “Beatles” and “racist” at your own risk, even moreso if you read any comments).

We have on tape evidence the “get back” element of the chorus came before anything else on January 7, and was likely a riff on Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea,” and we can reasonably dispense of the myth the song’s true origin was political. It’s also pretty clear Paul simply liked the flow of “Pakistani” and “Puerto Rican” — words with four syllables that were easy to rhyme — and was searching for something that sounded appealing, while not shying away from something political. At one point he clumsily rhymes “Puerto Rican” and “Mohican” (a Native American tribe), a perfect example of how little thought out the lyrics were at this point. He was just searching.

John Lennon later said “Get Back” was directed at Yoko Ono, anyhow. But more on that another post.

The 20-plus-minute post-lunch writing and rehearsal session marked the end of the group’s work on “Get Back” for January 9, although they’d return to it nearly every day they were in the studio until the end of the month. It wasn’t the last time the group included the racial element in the song, and it wasn’t the last time they’d address the issue in song on January 9, either.

3 Comments

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Let it be first

Like so many of the outtakes on the “sessions” discs unearthed and unleashed on the most deluxe version of the Beatles eponymous double-album, this newest version of “Let It Be” — the oldest recording of the song — is acutely alive and profoundly captivating.

As performed on September 5, 1968 — the day after recording their iconic performance of “Hey Jude” for Frost on Sunday — here’s the world’s greatest tea-room orchestra:

Fifty years in the books, and Beatles history still has room for an edit.

In some ways, this one-minute, 18-second cosmic jam capturing the band in medias resbetween takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — is just what should be expected, even if its very existence is still something of a minor surprise. A White Album-era version of “Let It Be” felt apocryphal, despite established knowledge rooting it in fact. And so it is that the disjointed, driving performance sounds like it’s out of time — it was.

Let’s dig in on some finer points:

Brother Malcolm, Paul and George Martin during the White Album sessions in 1968

Brother Malcolm, Mother Mary and the lyrics of “Let It Be”
Notably, the lyrics of the song hardly advanced in the three months between September 5, 1968 and January 3, 1969, the first recorded performance of “Let It Be” at the sessions that would ultimately bear its name.

Here’s Paul grooving alone at the piano for the song’s debut on the Nagra tapes:

The lone addition, lyrically: “In my darkest hour, she is standing right in front of me.”

“She,” of course, is Mother Mary, who presumably was in the very original lyric sourced from Paul’s dream about his mother but was absent in the 1968 early attempt. That featured “Brother Malcolm,” a nod to do-it-all assistant Mal Evans. The reference to Mal was inconsistent over January 1969 but endured to the very end of the sessions. Here are the Beatles on the final day of the sessions, January 31, 1969:

It wasn’t until a few days into the sessions at Savile Row, on January 25, 1969, that most of the verses had been added. But Paul started teaching “Let It Be” to others in the band on January 8, when we hear Paul naming chords to the others to learn. That’s also when Paul disclosed that, even at this early stage, he planned to have Aretha Franklin cover the song.

Interludes
Students of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions have heard this sort of thing several times before, someone in the group veering into an original, a cover, an improvisation between songs, during a transition during a rehearsal or purely as an aside.

Some of these drop-in songs were even the same for the White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions:

And just as future songs were sampled and explored during jams in 1968, they were in ‘69 too. And probably long before that as well. A few examples:


Divine intervention
This initial iteration of “Let It Be” may not have had “Mother Mary” but it did feature the hand of “God.”

The September 5 session of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the one that featured Eric Clapton as the Beatles’ guest on lead guitar. That places Eric at the origin of “Let It Be,” and he can be heard adding a few guitar licks to the improvisation. (Listen to the very end and you can hear George close the track imploring his friend to don his headphones: “Cans on, Eric.”)

A full 31 years later Eric would get to play the song again, joining Paul on stage at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Paul was inducted for his solo career, but the show closed with, naturally, “Let It Be.”

Clapton didn’t take the solo — that’s Robbie Robertson of the Band, the group whose sound the Beatles sought to emulate during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

This same induction ceremony honored producer George Martin, who happened to miss the September 5, 1968, session whilst on vacation.

Times of trouble?
Even Paul called the White Album “the tension album.” John said worse in the early ’70s. Ringo literally left the band for a few weeks in the summer of ’68.  Four Beatles, each recording in a separate studio — we all know the stories.

But while history is static, perceptions are variable.

The 2018 reissue’s promotional campaign works to dispense with some of the darker sides of the session, from Giles Martin’s interviews to the numerous dismissals of dysfunction in the lovely hardbound book packaged with the deluxe edition. Indeed, there’s plenty of laughter and carefree spirit throughout the White Album outtakes. The outtake set even begins with laughter among John, Paul and Yoko, as if to hammer the point home.

The Get Back/Let It Be sessions inherit the same sour reputation, yet it would be very easy to compile 50 tracks from January 1969 filled with laughter, chatter and the indication that nothing could ever tear these guys apart. And I bet if and when we do see a formal reissue campaign of Let It Be (which I suspect will be attached to a larger Abbey Road/”Beatles in ‘69” re-release), we’ll see that very recalibration of Beatles history. More “Suzy Parker,” and not quite so many calls for a divorce.

And that’s OK. I’ve long posited that things weren’t necessarily so bad — or at least that much worse — for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions than in the period immediately before and after. Naturally, the reality lies somewhere in between. Neither the White Album nor Let It Be are outliers — that’s just how the group was post-1967.

On January 7, 1969, the day before the rest of the Beatles learned the chords to “Let It Be,” George Harrison made it clear: “Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same…  [the Beatles had] “been in doldrums for at least a year.” That takes the group to before their trip to India in February 1968.

Together at the beginning of that trip, the individual Beatles returned to England separately. For the final stage of their career, they produced enduring music, though they may be parted.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Extra

Jan. 9: Love from Paul

Almost fifty years have passed, and we’re still unsure of how the Beatles’ ditty “Suzy Parker” came about. But the origin story for “Penina” — discussed and introduced by Paul McCartney a few hours after the somewhat mysterious performance of “Suzy Parker” — quite literally appeared in print on the very day we’re discussing, January 9, 1969, in the Daily Express.

A newsworthy trip: Paul in Portugal, December 1968

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

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

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


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

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

McCartney had spent an evening listening to the resident band at the resort’s luxury Penina Golf Hotel. He decided to give a tip in appreciation. And composed a few bars — called Penina — for the lucky bandleader, Anibal Cunha. To help them along McCartney beat out the rhythm on the drums.

Paul elaborated: “And I sat in on drums, and they said, ‘Give us a song.’ So I said, OK.”

Good lord, is that all it takes? Someone get me in the same room as Paul McCartney, I have absolutely no good material.

“’I’ve been to Albufera, had a great time there,’” Paul sang before continuing to describe the scene. “It was called La Penina, the hotel. And they were all digging it and singing along, and it was good. And William Hickey [in the paper] said he’s giving away this 20,000-pound song.”

Per the paper’s report:

As the shareholders of Northern’ Songs (currently standing at 33s. a share) know, McCartney compositions never fail to net £20,000 at the very least.

Northern Songs shareholders in fact are presently benefiting from a rif, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney borrowed-from another performer, Jimmy Scott. The Marmalade version of this song topped the hit parade this week for the first time.

Paul didn’t mask his disgust with the report:

“Cunts. That’s what you write something, for a riff. You don’t say ‘hello,’ and you haven’t got a riff when you say ‘hello.’ That’s the riff I got off of Jimmy Scott, those two words (“Ob-la-di, Ob-La-Da”). You’d think I’d taken his life. It’s not as though he wrote the song.”

This wasn’t the only time on these tapes Paul would show his frustration with Jimmy Scott regarding ownership of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Over the years, however, Paul’s softened his view on Scott. This is from just weeks ago, during his promotional tour for Egypt Station:

Meanwhile, back in 1969, the newspaper report continued, quoting Apple press officer Derek Taylor:

“John and Paul saw him right,” says Mr. Taylor. “They, are themselves often asked for help on their travels. And it just isn’t possible for them to refuse.”

Having only heard of “Penina” from the newspaper and Paul’s own recollection, the rest of the group finally had their chance to hear — and participate — in what would be the lone known Beatles performance of the song.” Paul has a vague memory of the lyrics, and the rest of the group clearly has no idea how the song goes (this is in deep contrast to “Suzy Parker,” by the way, lending more support to the argument that song wasn’t a pure improvisation). Here’s how they sounded:

It’s not quite “Elanor Rigby” — it’s hardly “Wild Honey Pie” (or “Fuh You” for that matter, to evoke Egypt Station again). But it’s a Paul McCartney original and from the same moment in time he was writing songs like “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” so it deserves to be at least more than a footnote.

Been to Albufeira, I had a few drinks there
And now I’m on my way home
I really don’t care
La Penina, La Penina, La Penina hotel
Well it’s been a long road …

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

When the song was finally released a few months later — by Anibal Cunha’s band, Jotta Herre — the sleeve proudly trumpeted the Beatle’s songwriting credit. And it’s a lone McCartney credit, not Lennon/McCartney. The eventual lyrics have just three verses, with the final one ending with a first-person reference. It’s a languid offering, plaintive at best sporting simplistic lyrics that recap the evening sung over a bland melody.

(Chorus)
Penina, Penina, Penina one night
Penina, Penina, Penina one night

I’ve been to Albufiera
And I had a good time there
And then I came to Penina
And found good friends

Drinking liquid, making music
Love has come to my heart
Beat the drums take me home
Helping friends free my soul

Time has come, time has gone
Time to bet for keeping friends
Take my arm girl, lets go home
Thank you all, love from Paul

In challenging the report that it was a £20,000 song, Paul was clearly giving the song little merit in January 1969. After all, it was just a riff!

In short time, however, Paul was interested in taking a little bit of ownership in “Penina,” starting soon thereafter with his blessing the band to use his name as a promotional tool.

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

Translated, roughly, from Portuguese to English via Google Translate:

I have only one thing to regret, and we must involve the name of Paul McCartney and the friendship he gave us. But, in truth, he also forced us to do so. And in a letter he sent us he tells us categorically. “Use my name without hesitation, let it be used for your publication.” And, finally, the commercial entities linked to the release of the album knew this and took advantage of the idea. Well Paul’s name has a made market and it is assumed that it will be commercially valid.

The song was not really that commercially valid, to use that term. Neither the original version nor a subsequent cover that year by two-time Portuguese Eurovision contestant Carlos Mendes — whose cut appeared on the aforementioned EMI compilation — appears to have made much of a dent in sales, despite the McCartney name behind the song. Perhaps it was the quality of the song that played a role.

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

I went to Portugal on holiday and returned to the hotel one night slightly the worse for a few drinks. There was a band playing and I ended up on the drums. The hotel was called Penina, I made up a song with that name, someone made enquiries about it and I gave it to them. And, no, I shouldn’t think I’d ever record it myself!

The Summer 1995 issue of the same magazine likewise listed “Penina” among the songs Paul gave away, chronologically listed between bona-fide hits “Goodbye” (Mary Hopkin) and “Come and Get It” (Badfinger), showing a breathtaking contrast of song quality with his Portuguese throwaway.

To this day, Paul still hasn’t recorded “Penina,” but the song lives on. Mendes re-recorded it for his latest LP, which came out in April 2018.

And while “Suzy Parker” lives on only through bootlegs and YouTube clips, having become the actual footnote in Beatles lore, you can see the 71-year-old Mendes perform “Penina” live in concert in Portugal this December, nearly 50 years to the day Paul wrote the song a few hours away at the Penina Hotel and Golf Resort.

4 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: Jokes in between

Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.

This is our format.

Paul McCartney was right. There was a format. At least there was a framework developing as the Beatles rehearsed in their second week at Twickenham.

As covered in the last post, George Harrison would have to wait a few hours for attention to return to his new “For You Blue.” Instead, with the full band ready to go nearly 90 minutes into the January 9, 1969, Nagra tapes, the Beatles tackled “Two of Us” for the fifth time in six days, initiating a sequence in which the group returned to some of the finished, core songs they’d have for their live show. Why, it was their format!

This stretch also clearly exposed the side of the Beatles that everyone (else) usually cites when describing the Get Back sessions. While I’m quick to argue January 1969 at Twickenham was not of itself the downfall of the band as it was filled with harmonious, joyous and highly fruitful moments to match the uglier, fractious component of the sessions, these guys could get pretty petulant and didn’t hide it with the tapes rolling.

A quick, carefree one-off into the song the day before, this day’s “Two of Us” rehearsal stretched about a half-hour, and quite unlike the Rocky and the Rubbers’ version, Paul insisted on serious refinement.

As loose as their run-through was early on the 8th was exactly how tense things emerged on the 9th, with consistent, stuttered efforts to get through a full song.

From the top, the group can’t find the proper pacing of “Two of Us,” with Paul pushing the others to pick it up. “Keep them all quiet, keep your instruments down so we can sort of hear what’s going on.”

They had another go at the song, and “it’s still pathetic,” in Paul’s words. He suggested the issues went beyond just the song’s speed.

As Paul nitpicked what arrangement the song needed entering the bridge, John argued, “We never got into this [part] yet,” defending himself and the others as Paul criticized the group for not knowing what’s in his head.

A fiery example of the strain came during a “Two of Us” take in which Paul barked at John, who wasn’t in perfect rehearsal position, to “get on the mic.”  John, certainly responding to the tone more than the instruction itself snapped back.

“You don’t have to bitch about it, we’ll never get through it.”

The band immediately went into another take, and you can hear John loud and clear — but he came in early. You can hear Paul’s displeasure when he comes in himself at the right time. Still, they championed on.

(This sequence was in the Let It Be film, and led immediately to the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” sequence from three days earlier.

A dark moment, for sure, but as usual for these guys, they were able to compartmentalize and still harmonize figuratively and literally. Picking apart “Two of Us” to improve the various “bits” and now focusing on the middle eight, Paul started thinking out loud.

“The two things I think of are both corny, but something better are oohs  … or [a staccato “dit-dit-dit”]”

Never mind that the “oohs” are actually “aahs” when Paul, John and George instantly launch into a demonstration of the vocals, which are proposed to appear supporting the “you and I have memories” lead. This is the Beatles magic, immediate and spontaneous and completely normal, even when it comes a few minutes after one member complains about the other one’s bitchiness. The subsequent stab at the staccato vocalization came off a bit sloppier but still likable.

This below clip starts out with both of these attempts in sequence. After the first 30 seconds, though, is unrelated audio

Concerned the backup line would sound “too thin,” George proposed, “Maybe we get a few Raelettes,” marking yet another time the group evoked Ray Charles’ backup singers. “Get three girls” with some phasing on the mics.

John’s cheeky reply was to bring in three boys instead, and George named the Dallas Boys, Britian’s first boy band (by ’69 they were into their 30s).

While they never landed the Raelettes, the Beatles would soon enlist the man seated before them, Billy Preston. (Photo from late 1968).

Ultimately, Paul asked the others to “just think of something, then” for the middle eight, and off they went into another take, this one featuring the lovely “aahs.”  The song may not have dramatically improved, but the mood had over the last 25 or so minutes on the tapes.

But Paul still had something to complain about, turning his attention to a frequent (and legitimate) punching bag for the band, the equipment setup at Twickenham. If we think the tapes sound diluted, just imagine how substandard the quality must have been for the musicians on the sound stage. With the proposed show nearing — and despite some pretty ambitious ideas, uh, floated less than 24 hours earlier — improved sound needed to be addressed along with other facets of a finalized live performance.

“Just so that we can all hear, so it sounds really great here,” Paul said. “So that our voices are just as loud as they need to be. ‘Cause then we’ll be able to hear what’s wrong.”

What’s more …

“Everything we’re going to actually do like that, we could get into now. Just where the amps are going to be, and where we stand. It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way.”

And here’s where we return to a disagreement among the principals, but with a far different result than earlier.

John: I thought we’d get into that when we do a few more.

George: We still have dance steps to learn.

Paul: And the jokes in between.

The esprit de corps resumed as the group advanced to a singular take of “Don’t Let Me Down.” There was no nibbling, no exhausting search for a missing “bit,” and even when there was a screw-up on the lyric, they powered on and completed the song in a tidy 3:10.

Far less concise, and clocking in at nearly 25 minutes of torturous micromanagement, was a brutal run of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” After a perfectly adequate (for this point in the sessions) initial run-through, Paul immediately identified just one specific spot for improvement — the same part of the song that had bedeviled the group on multiple occasions, and the same point that the struggled with in several songs —  “The only bit is the break. Still not sort of dramatic enough.”

This tense sequence was up there among the least listenable parts of the entire month’s worth of tapes. Paul offered several variants on how he wants the guitar part to sound, right after his line, “All that I’ve been looking for is somebody who looks like you!”

Issues:

  • “All the notes are clipped.”
  • “There shouldn’t be any recognizable jumps.”
  • “The notes shouldn’t ring on.”
  • “At the moment, it’s like a riff.”

Solutions:

  • “[The notes should be] just like falling, falling.”
  • “Try to sort of sing it.”
  • “It’s got to be like pain.”
  • “Certainly do anything like it’s crying.”

It’s got to be like pain. What an instruction!

Paul desperately and relentlessly attempted to communicate how he wanted the part to sound — gesticulating, vocalizing, playing it on the bass — but John simply couldn’t or wouldn’t accurately nail the brief solo.

In another editing trick that showed up in the Let it Be film, John did, in fact, nail it. That’s because the film shows the January 8 “Rocky and the Rubbers” take of the song (where Paul shouts a celebratory “good evening!” after the part is played), and spliced it on both ends of a brief portion of this sequence from January 9.

Ultimately, John hit the part satisfactorily enough for the Paul to continue the group through their core set. The mood rose again for another jubilant effort of “One After 909,” although we don’t get a complete grasp of the rehearsal due to the tape cutting in and out. We can pretty safely assume, though, that like “Don’t Let Me Down,” the band tore through a single take.

As John moved over to the piano, the Beatles practiced their stage patter, in hilariously fake sincere voices.

Paul: “Certainly, it’s a great occasion for us.”

John: “First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time.”

The playful attitude continued as Paul dabbled in a bit of “Norwegian Wood” on bass, soon to be joined briefly by Ringo on drums and George on guitar and vocals before they immediately launched into, as George called it, “the one about the window.”

It was a straightforward, strong take of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” although we don’t hear the whole thing on the tapes.  Far less straightforward, but wholly enjoyable was a string of takes broken up by tape cuts, including one with John taking the lead vocal with a heavy Cockney accent.

By this point, the mood was entirely loose. The song was given a slow ballad treatment, featuring a lyric referencing the famed celebrity female impersonator Danny La Rue.  Paul completed one take by answering the phone: “Hello, this is Tuesday speaking. Is that Paul? I’d like to have a word with you.”

Now, five minutes past 1 p.m., the group broke for lunch. Paul offered a brief impression of Elvis — who someone mentioned turned 34 the day earlier.

Only a few hours into a temperamental roller-coaster of a day, John replied to the rest of the 20-somethings in the group, “We all seem to be catching up to him.”

5 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: Road work

He launched the January 9 Get Back sessions with “Another Day,” an ode to the working woman. Paul McCartney followed it by making the most of his own makeshift satellite office in Twickenham.

Paul’s morning piano sessions weren’t simply exhibitions, nor was it just for conditioning as he alluded to director Michael Lindsay-Hogg at the outset of the day’s Beatles business. The Get Back sessions’ most prolific writer, Paul treated the recording studio as a design studio, too, frequently shaping his songs and writing his lyrics while on the clock. This day offered a terrifically vivid window into that process.

After “Another Day,” a revisiting of “The Palace of the King of Birds” and a quick spin of “Let It Be,” Paul dug into “The Long and Winding Road” for a third consecutive day. The first verse is locked in and would be unchanged through its eventual release. “The second verse, leave a space, for the same thing,” Paul sang as filler. As he continued, Paul play-tested the rhyme of “the many times I’ve cried” and “the many ways I’ve tried” — tested to ultimate success, obviously.

Less successful was Paul’s plan to work in the word “pleasure” into the lyric.

I’ve had lots of pleasure, but said better. …
I’ve had many pleasure. …
I’ve had much pleasure. …
I’ve had lots of pleasure from the many ways I’ve tried.

After less than four minutes on “The Long and Winding Road,” Paul moved on. “There’s no more to that yet,” he dictated to Mal Evans, the do-it-all roadie (the group no longer touring, his roads were now long and winding ones). “But if you leave it around, I’ll still know where I’m going to fill in.”

Following a momentary return to “Mother Mary,” i.e. “Let It Be,” Paul unwrapped another new number, this one a song that would eventually find a home at Abbey Road’s terminus.

Paul didn’t know it at the time, but “Her Majesty” was complete. His presentation of music and lyrics was the same as would appear as Abbey Road’s coda, although here Paul would scat a second verse that would never be written. This version’s introduction, especially, evoked the current, bouncy state of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and would be the lone instance “Her Majesty” could be heard on piano. Paul played the song one more time these sessions, weeks later, on guitar.

“Paul continued his trip across what would become Abbey Road. Evoking Frank Sinatra’s 1956 LP that reinvented pop standards in a more contemporary style, Paul pointed out to laughter that “Golden Slumbers” — unveiled two days earlier — “should be ready for a Songs for Swinging Singles album.”

Paul offered a gentle delivery of “Golden Slumbers,” and pointed out the direction he’d like to take the song. “It really should be like a fairy tale. ‘Once upon a time, there lived a king. Sleep pretty darling, do not cry.’”

Leading into the next line, Paul introduces the original melody that he intended to change: “The bit you might remember: And I will sing a lullaby.”

Paul repeated his experiment merging “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight.” And as he did three days earlier, likewise in Ringo Starr’s presence, Paul signaled his intention to expand the song beyond its single line we all know. Paul doesn’t have the verses yet, but he knows what he wants them to say.

“Like a story,” he said. “A bit like ‘Act Naturally,’ where the tagline keeps coming up.”

In referencing one of Ringo’s showcase songs, it’s another piece of evidence pointing to the reason Paul opted to give the drummer a prominent voice on “Carry That Weight,” thinking of him for this song months before it was recorded for Abbey Road.

At this point, Paul wanted “Carry That Weight” to evolve into a comedy song featuring verses describing “just the sort of normal kind of troubles that everyone has” before leading into the “carry that weight” chorus. “There might be a verse about, like, ‘I got in trouble with the wife, I got drunk, something, something, something, something. … Woke up the next morning with a weight upon my head, and I found out it was my head. … Boy! You’re gonna carry that weight …’

“It could be one of those things, you know, in those songs where you’ve got everything, and everything is so great. And this morning, one of my eggs broke, (giggling). Just something trivial. The right shoe’s a bit tight. … ‘Boy, you’re gonna to carry that weight!’” Ringo sang along with every chorus.

Paul indeed delivered a wait, and we can close the circle on our story of “Carry that Weight.” The Nagra tapes don’t capture the song again. If he ever pursued the novelty song idea, there’s no record of it. By the time we get to the song’s actual recording for Abbey Road in July, it was exactly as the song was to this point: simply the line: “Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time!”

Still at the piano, and unaccompanied by any other Beatles, Paul took a detour off (the future) Abbey Road and returned to the long and winding one for the second time in less than 15 minutes on the tapes. And again, Paul was very clinical, deliberate and open with his songwriting.

“I was thinking of having a weather obstacle,” he said before taking a stab at a new verse: “The storm clouds and the rain/The clouds disappear.”

The song’s imagery evoked a famed film thoroughfare.

There’s a Beatles-related photo for everything! Here’s Paul with the cast of Return to Oz, for some reason, in 1985.

“It’s sort of like the Wizard of Oz,” Mal said. “Did you ever see the Wizard of Oz?”

“Yeah,” Paul quickly answered, clearly not paying attention at first, before continuing,“No, no, no, I didn’t.”

“The yellow brick road,” Mal said before Michael broke in, “A heartbreaker. Yeah, it’s great.”

Paul returned to the road he was constructing, singing a placeholder verse.

“The thing that’s up ahead/at the end of the road.”

For a lyric, Mal suggested recounting the obstacles on the road, but Paul dismissed that idea, reflecting the pervasive and prevailing uncertainty surrounding the live show. “We have enough obstacles without putting them in the song.”

Much like George asked Paul a week earlier, regarding Maxwell’s, Michael questioned the song’s endgame: “Is it going to end happily or not sure yet?”

Interestingly Paul didn’t address the emotion behind the song’s ending, just that he had an ending. And it was very close to the one that would appear on the record more than a year later:

“And still they lead me back to the long an winding road
You left me waiting here a long, long time ago
Don’t leave me standing here, lead me to your door”

1 Comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 9: Just another day

It had been a week.

Linda & Paul, 1969

With the benefit of nearly a half century of hindsight and purely from the vantage point of surviving audio tapes, it was an absolutely remarkable one for the Beatles, starting January 2 and entering the sessions on January 9. Amid sniping that peaked with a threatened walkout in unpleasant, wholly uninspiring surroundings, the Beatles put together — between mostly recently written shells and completely new originals — a compact set of fresh songs they could reasonably stage for a TV show. Just the night before, after days of deliberation, it sounded like they had come to consensus on what and where the show would be.

January 9 began, as many of the days at Twickenham Film Studios had, with Paul McCartney the first Beatle in the room. Today, he took a guest with him to the office.

“Do you know Michael Lindsay-Hogg?” Paul asked his bride-to-be, Linda Eastman.

From the conversation, it’s clear that Paul didn’t take his work home with him. She knew very little about the group’s plans regarding the live show.

Linda: So if you do it, it would be in here?

Paul: Dunno. There’s many a story …

MLH: If we do it here, we’ll do it in here.

Paul: But if we don’t, it’s on a boat to Tripoli.

Linda, like George Harrison the day before, instantly questioned the practicality of a boat trip. “What do you do with the equipment?”

Well, that’s Apple’s problem, Michael and Paul agreed.

The conversation abruptly shifted to a book Michael was reading — the title is never mentioned, but he clearly described My Father and Myself by J. R. Ackerley — before an evidently disinterested Paul bailed out minutes later: “I better go and put in some piano practice.”

Paul’s demonstration piece was an unfinished original, perhaps inspired by Linda’s time as a receptionist in New York before they met and after her first marriage. Or it may have just been another McCartney original observing life through a woman’s eyes, one Wings drummer Denny Seiwell would later call “Eleanor Rigby in New York.”

In two years’ time, “Another Day” was Paul McCartney’s first single as a solo artist (the 1970 McCartney LP yielded no singles), reaching No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 5 in the U.S. It also received a Linda McCartney co-writing credit, a fact that eventually spawned yet another Beatles-related lawsuit.

The song was name-checked that same 1971 in John Lennon’s furiously anti-Paul diatribe “How Do You Sleep”: “The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you’re gone you’re just another day.” The “Another Day” reference was actually written by Allen Klein, not Lennon.

But on January 9, 1969, Klein was a few weeks away from smashing into the Beatles orbit, and John was Paul’s partner, still a few moments from joining the day’s sessions. “Another Day,” however, was recognizable in this early state, the song’s first two verses largely identical to what Paul would record in New York in October 1970.

The sleeve of the Portuguese release of the “Another Day” single featuring Twickenham Paul.

Paul sang delicately and tentatively on the tapes, in contrast to his bolder performance on piano in his practice session. He’s searching, unsuccessfully, for a bridge to the song, and there’s no chorus. After about three minutes and two-plus repetitions of the two verses, Paul simply moved on to improvisations and several other previously debuted numbers (to be explored in subsequent posts).

The song could be heard just once more on the Nagra tapes, for less than a minute, in a fleeting rendition by Paul on acoustic guitar during an equipment change on January 25. “Another Day” was never a serious consideration for a Beatles record.

The next several songs Paul would play were.

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 8: Syndicate any boat

The TV show’s title and tagline could have written itself:

“The Beatles are … ADRIFT.”

Picture yourself in a boat: The Beatles aboard the Fritz Otto Maria Anna, in the River Thames, on April 9, 1969.

It’s a simplistically obvious metaphor, and a literal description of what the group was seriously considering in the waning moments of their January, 8, 1969, session at Twickenham. If the TV show in production was to be episodic, this sequence would have provided a true cliffhanger.

Ringo Starr, codename “Russia,” wasn’t unwilling to drop his automatic veto, and it was John Lennon spearheading the effort withing the group, resurfacing as the group’s leader after so many years, who worked the sell on the drummer, along with Paul McCartney.

“Just give me one reason to stay here,” John asked.

“For the people,” Ringo answered with complete sincerity.

“All right, we’ll take ‘em with us,” John replied.

Paul McCartney clarified the pitch for a Winter 1969 rock cruise.

Look, we were going to give tickets away at this door here and say the first thousand people who come from Britian — British, white people (said to laughter as Paul was clearly joking; don’t write his reps). No, it’s going to be the first thousand that got here. We give them out, those tickets, but they include a boat ride, as well.

“We take them with us, and that’s the show,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg said.

France — aka George Harrison — took a more skeptical view of the potential naval movements than Russia and voiced several specific concerns with the plan:

  • Traveling with fans: “We’re stuck with a bloody big boatload of people for two weeks. At least you can go home from here, you can get away from it all. … It’d have be a bloody big boat, it’ll have to be bigger than the Royal Iris.”
  • Technical logistics: ” It’s just impracticable to lug all those people there and get all that equipment. … Of course it’s our problem.”
  • Cost:  “I think the idea of a boat is completely insane. It’s very expensive and insane.”

While at apparent odds, all the Beatles were deeply engaged in the discussion, and Michael took a straw poll for this proposal. “If we can get the audience and the boat, who votes to go?”

One hand — undoubtedly John’s — shot up immediately. George, despite his vocal objections, would still grudgingly go along with a trip if everyone else was joining. “I just want to get it over with, you know?”

John piloting the ship (in 1975)

It was all coming together for Michael. The boat trip compromise to include a British audience was a bonus for him, an easy way to compile captivating footage for his documentary, another unusual setting — the Beatles not just mingling with fans, but doing it as they sail along the coasts of Western Europe and Northern Africa.  It all would culminate with his deep wish to bring the group to the Sabratha amphitheater: the world’s greatest band making its stage comeback at a spectacular, unique venue.

“See, it’s like having the most fantastic set on earth, but we haven’t made a set, you know? It’s still simplicity itself,” John said.

Ringo still wasn’t sure.

Ringo: But how many’s going to be looking at the set besides us and [Michael]? … [Viewers] want to see what’s on, not what’s around.

John: We’re bound to get something from it.

Ringo: A nice time, get a bit of sun.

Michael: After you’ve had your nine or ten closeups each, we’ve got to have something else to shoot about.

John: It’ll be like being on the roof in India, only we’ll be fully equipped.

The roofs in India were where, not coincidentally, John was at his most prolific in this latter phase of Beatles history.

Even though, as Michael said, “the vibes are very good at the moment,” there was enough obvious dissent in the room to lead John to say that the group will mull it over that night. “We all could say yes now, and somebody could decide no tomorrow.”

Paul and Heather at sea, 1969. (Photo by Linda McCartney)

As they wrapped up, a final, spirited discussion — as animated as the room has been with no fewer than six people all talking at once (the four Beatles, plus Michael and Apple Films head Denis O’Dell) — emerged over the cost of the boat trip, Ringo and George most concerned.

“We should be able to get the boat for nothing,” John said. “We should be able to get the boat for the publicity they get from it.”  Denis replied to Ringo’s skepticism that he could get a ship “in three hours on the phone.”

John confirmed Denis’ skills, relaying how the producer was able to secure a vessel for How I Won the War. “It was the American Navy making an antiwar film.”

Really, it was all falling into place.

January 8, 1969, was the band’s sixth day back to work at Twickenham, and while most of their new songs were still a work-in-progress, the was actual progress.  One day earlier, George was on the brink of leaving the group. Now, while he was bothered to do so, he was still seemingly willing to get on a boat with the group — and 1,000 fans he wanted little to do with — to go to Africa for a concert he didn’t really want to play.  Ringo was dead-set against going, and now he was willing to bend. Paul was always ready “for an adventure” and as the group’s de facto musical director, he was shaping the material to have ready for the production. As for John, he wasn’t just finally involved — during the final conversation, you heard him speak on the tapes, not Yoko Ono — but he was the group’s leader again.

Days of discussion of where and how to stage the concert had been a distraction from the music-making process, which needed to continue. They were almost ready for a decision.

“Sleep on it then,” said Paul. “I am.”

One question remained as the working day ended: Would the great democracy that was the Beatles agree to this plan for a live show and have a goal they could rehearse toward, or would January 9, 1969, be just another day?

6 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 8: The Four Powers

In a time of global crisis — isn’t it always, though? — it was the world’s greatest legislative body. OK, maybe the Beatles were the world’s greatest band that also tried to behave like a legislative body, and late in the day on January 8, 1969, it was nearing time for a decisive vote on a lingering issue: Where would the Beatles play their next — and presumably last — concert?

You know his name (look up the nation)

From the band’s outset to its imminent end, the Beatles prided themselves on what they called democracy, but it was really complete consensus. “We had a democratic thing going between us, particularly by 1962,” George Harrison told the high court in 1997 amid a lawsuit to stop the release of a Beatles recording from one of their residencies in Hamburg. “Everybody in the band had to agree with everything that was done.”

Unanimity isn’t necessary to the democratic model, but this model United Nations was extraordinary by nature of its four voting members: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The two serious veto threats earned code names from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg — Russia (Ringo) and France (George, so named “because he smoked some garlic once,” per Paul).

Continuing his earlier conversation with Ringo, and desperate to sell a show overseas, Michael laid out the situation as he saw it in hopes of chipping through the Iron Curtain.

The way it stacks up is, John is happy to go. … Paul is, I gather, in the middle, tending toward either side … and George is swinging more your way. So there’s quite a tough battle. The problem was we couldn’t talk about it because of Russia. And it’s the four powers. And if Russia says no, then the conversation is obviously in the bag and we can’t do anything with it. And I think if we now can talk about it, we may still discard it … or we may come up with something better.

In retrospect, the drama of the group’s incapability of finding agreement on a concert location, despite the suggestion of several intriguing venues, would have made for a captivating documentary for Michael. It would have given a narrative the Let It Be film lacked. But after less than a week of sessions, the director saw things differently.

“My documentary is running out of gas,” Michael admitted to John. “If we were to vote tomorrow, it’s not running out of gas.”

Fine-tuning the group’s intentions would do more than make for better television. “It might make it better again, whatever the wound is,” Michael told John moments earlier.

What octane do documentaries use? (Photo of the Beatles at Weston-super-Mare by Dezo Hoffman, 1963)

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” John replied.

And here you thought John didn’t care about the band anymore. The Beatles were a wounded group before the Get Back sessions started, and salt would soon be added when George quit in two days’ time. But the Beatles were still worth saving in January 1969, even if John himself would call it quits well before the calendar year was out.

The day’s musical session was complete, Paul having walked the group through “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be.” For these final 15 or so minutes on the tapes, all four Beatles are engaged, animated and opinionated concurrently to a degree yet unheard to this point on the Nagra reels.

All the principals immersed, Denis O’Dell makes the sell on Michael’s repeated preferred overseas adventure.

“I really think we could go and shoot a day sequence, a night sequence, a torch-light sequence, out there the sea, desert, in four days. Make it comfortable for everybody.”

Paul’s skepticism remained. But he was willing to keep options open and the live concert plans … uh, afloat.

My major objections to that: Traveling, one. Setting up and everything — I’m sure we can do that. Then, there’s that thing, which may not seem much, but we’re doing a live show, and we’re doing it in Arabia (laughter), and everyone’s waiting to see the lads rocking again. So, like, I’ll tell you what then, I’ll come in with it as long as you can get a couple of boats, the QE2. And then give away the tickets here, as you would have done, but the ticket includes a boat journey as well.

The composition of the audience was a sticking point, especially for Ringo, and there’s something virtuous to be said for the lads’ loyalty and desire to be rocking again before an audience that was with them from the start.

“We’ve got to get the right audience for Russia,” Michael said. “If we can get the right audience over there, which we can get over there.”

George wasn’t easily swayed. “What is the point of doing it abroad… apart from getting a great holiday? I’d much rather do it and then go away.”

Reminding the band of Twickenham’s relatively pedestrian features, Denis replied, presumably waving his hand at the scene around him, “To get away from that, that’s really the answer.”

“It’s ‘Around the Beatles ‘69′,” John acknowledged after a brief exchange about potential set possibilities on the Twickenham stage.

Paul, having had enough at the end of a long day, aggressively presented a compromise.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll offer you. If we’re going away, and we hire a boat to take the audience with you, we’ll do a bloody show on the boat, and then we’ll do a show when we get there, in the moonlight. … Final dress rehearsals on the boat.”

History never stopped chasing the Beatles, and sometimes it caught up to them. They didn’t want to repeat a past accomplishment, whether it was “Around The Beatles” or a stadium show. But Paul’s suggestion would have done just that: Bringing along a select audience to a performance at sea would combine a pair of episodes from the other side of their career.

Feb. 20, 1962, just a month after Brian Epstein formally signed on to manage them, the Beatles — that’s still John, Paul, George and Pete, at this point — performed an important show at Floral Hall in Southport. From Mark Lewisohn’s biblical epic Tune-In:

[Epstein’s] principal involvement in the Floral Hall night was two-fold: to help sell the 1200 tickets and to book the talent that would provide continuous dancing for four hours — five groups headed by POLYDOR RECORDING STARS, THE BEATLES. He circulated typed leaflets among Beatles fans and on the record counters at all three Nems shops, announcing affordable coach trips: fans could pay 8s, 6d for return transportation, admission to the hall and, afterwards, the chance to mingle with the musicians and get their autographs. These special all-in tickets were sold only in the Whitechapel shop, outside which the chartered buses would leave. The Beatles were taking a Liverpool audience with them for a night out up the coast.

Emphasis mine.

Instead of towing British passengers across the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the Beatles brought their fans from their Cavern Club base in Liverpool about 20 miles up the A565.

That was by bus. Six months before the Floral Hall show, the Beatles made the first of four appearances on the Riverboat Shuffle, a concert series on the MV Royal Iris, a ferry cruising in the River Mersey.

For Paul — who would record parts of Wings’ London Town on a boat in the Virgin Islands in May 1977 — the Royal Iris performances made enough of a lasting impact that he referenced them decades later on his 2007 LP Memory Almost Full:

The journey wasn’t as important to Michael as the destination: the Roman amphitheater in Sabratha, Libya.

“I don’t think anything is going to beat a perfect acoustic place, by the water, out of doors, a perfect theater, with perfect acoustics,” he said.

John was on board. “Just singing a number, sunset and the dawn and all that. Gentle, and the moon, and all that for the songs, you know.”

“I think we’re going to do rock and roll at dawn or at night, and we can have the change of day over something like this,” Michael replied. “Because I’m sure we can do the rock and roll there if we get the right audience.”

All-important consensus was building between the two most powerful members of the band, and it was more than wanderlust and closer to finding a way to heal that wound — do something different, but still be together as The Beatles.

“Last year, when we were doing the album, like you said, we suddenly said we don’t need to do it here, in EMI in London,” Paul said. You can listen along to this particular sequence on the “Fly on the Wall” bonus CD packed with Let It Be … Naked.

John excitedly picked up the argument.

“Every time we’ve done an album, we’ve said, ‘Why are we stuck in EMI, we could be doing it in L.A.! We could be in France! And every time we do it, and here we are again, building another bloody castle around us, and this time we [should] do it there. And not only would we be doing it, physically making the album there, but it takes [off] all that weight of, ‘Where’s the gimmick, what is it?’ God’s the gimmick. And the only problem we’ve got now is an audience, you know.”

For a moment, at least, Paul’s skepticism vanished.

“It makes it kind of an adventure, doesn’t it?”

3 Comments

Filed under Day by day