Tag Archives: piano

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.

 

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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”

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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.

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