Tag Archives: Quarrymen

Jan. 8: No blue moon in history

Having completed a spirited four-song run-through to jump-start the full band’s session at Twickenham on January 8, 1969, with the ancient “One After 909,” the Beatles managed to dig to the very bottom of the vault and the genesis of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership.

It’s a stretch to say the Beatles played “Too Bad About Sorrows” in the moments after they finished “One After 909,” itself a primeval composition, one John had said was his own, but Paul claimed to have shared credit writing. The spark of “909” propelled the group further down Memory Lane and over to 20 Forthlin Road. Dating back more than a decade to 1957, “Too Bad About Sorrows” has the distinction of being the very first Lennon/McCartney collaboration, per Paul.

We would sit down with a school notebook which I have to this day, an old tattered copybook, blue lines on white paper, and I would write down anything we came up with, starting at the top of the first page with ‘A Lennon-McCartney Original’. On the next page, ‘Another Lennon-McCartney Original’; all pages have got that. We saw ourselves as very much the next great songwriting team. Which funnily enough is what we became! We started off, I think, with a song called ‘Too Bad About Sorrows’. They all had very simple chord structures but we learned our craft that way.

Paul said much of the same here, on the South Bank Show in 1978.

Lasting about 15 seconds long, all we really hear on the January 8, 1969, performance is John singing the first line of the song — the title — over incoherent guitar and bass accompaniment, and two more garbled lines: “Too bad about love/There’ll be no tomorrow.” The performance itself is obviously forgettable as are so many of the brief stabs at songs these sessions, but this is particularly notable as it enabled the public — via decades of bootlegs and now YouTube clips like the one below sourced from those same bootlegs — to hear the very first Lennon/McCartney song.

The group would similarly perform a taste of “Too Bad About Sorrows” nearly two weeks later after the sessions shifted to Savile Row.

Straight out of the stab at “Too Bad About Sorrows,” John playfully delivered the line, “There’s no blue moon in history,” before letting out a giggle. Seconds later, he and Paul shared vocals on an impromptu version of “Just Fun,” the song John had just referenced and what is considered the second collaboration from the Lennon/McCartney team. In between, John delivered the line about “pot-smoking FBI members” that would eventually appear on the Let It Be album, and referenced in the last post.

Two days earlier, “Just Fun” had come up in conversation with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and producer Glyn Johns in a sequence that ended up in the Let It Be film as they discussed the revival of “One After 909.” Paul weakly sang the opening lines from “Just Fun” as part of a greater recounting of the early days of writing with John.

From the "Get Back" book

The Jan. 6 discussion of “Just Fun,” from the “Get Back” book.

This attempt wasn’t as comprehensive as the abbreviated January 6 version, lasting just a single line: “They said that our love was just fun.” Things broke down as George interrupted to go over new songs to be rehearsed. “Just Fun” wasn’t performed — at least at these sessions, and that we know of — by the Beatles again. Like “Too Bad About Sorrows,” this wasn’t any kind of groundbreaking performance, but it’s a slice of history that’s thankfully preserved.

Beyond the South Bank Show clip above, Paul has dusted off “Just Fun” elsewhere, including two verses’ worth of the song at a 2004 soundcheck in Zurich, of all dates and places. Quite oddly, John’s singing of the line “There’s no blue moon in history” shows up in the once indispensable 1982 documentary “The Compleat Beatles” (this author’s first real exposure to the band’s history) as background during an interview with George Martin about Beatles For Sale, for some reason. So in that strict sense, it’s actually been officially released, albeit a few seconds’ worth.

Unfortunately, “Just Fun” is a terrible, terrible, awful lyric. Even Paul agrees.

There was one called ‘Just Fun’ we couldn’t take any further: ‘They said that our love was just fun / The day that our friendship begun / There’s no blue moon / That I can see / There’s never been / In history …’ Ooops! It’s horrible, this is horrible. When we heard heard that rhyme we just went off that song in a big way. We were never really able to fix it either. But they’d get written down and we’d play ‘em. We’d say, ‘Wow, we’ve written some songs, you know, d’you wanna hear them? “Said our love was just fun …”’

There’s never been a blue moon in history? For heaven’s sake, Paul, there was a blue moon over Liverpool in August 1956, 11 months before you met John and wrote this song!

It turned out OK for these guys, though, and Lennon/McCartney — together and alone — figured it out. For instance, we all can agree that “She Said She Said” — the next song the group played on January 8, after a mention from George — is a quite terrific lyric.

Considering the band never performed the song live, and presumably hadn’t played it at all together in two-and-a-half years, the group holds together the first verse decently enough.

As we recount events two days before George left the Beatles on January 10, it’s worth marking that the original 1966 recording session of “She Said She Said” was missing Paul. He walked out after he “had a blarney” with the others, the first Beatle to tentatively leave the group.

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TMBP Extra: Fête accompli

Author’s note from July 6, 2017: I originally wrote this several years ago. Unlike the other posts on this blog, to which I try to limit any changes, I’ve come back to this one a few times, rewritten some parts, tweaked others, in an effort to more clearly bring things into a fuller circle.

There’s obviously no need to overstate the importance of July 6, 1957, to any reader of this blog. It’s the day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met after John’s Quarrymen played the Garden Fête in Woolton, and thus, everything changed in this world, and for the better.

First, a quick recap of that day, via the Beatles Anthology DVD. Take it, John!

For fun, here’s the story as portrayed in Nowhere Boy:

Let’s get back to reality and what the Quarrymen really sounded like that day, from authenticated tapes recovered decades after the fact:

There simply can’t be a more important moment in Beatles history than the birth of the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Everything came from that, not the least of which was Paul soon introducing George Harrison to John. But that’s another story.

Mark Lewisohn dedicates an entire short chapter to July 6, 1957, in his indispensable extended edition of his Beatles biography Tune In, vastly expanding upon any basic retelling of the Lennon-McCartney origin story and going so far as to tease the possibility the two actually first met — without any guitars — prior to the fête.  But no matter what happened before that day, Paul taking the initiative and confidently performing “Twenty Flight Rock” for John was the moment that mattered.

And it wasn’t merely that Paul could play “Twenty Flight Rock.”

“The thing I think that impressed him most was I knew all the words,” Paul said in the above Anthology clip.

The Beatles never covered “Twenty Flight Rock” — Paul eventually would on numerous occasions solo and with Wings — but they did give it a nod amid the Get Back sessions, on Jan. 23, 1969, by which point the recording had moved to Apple HQ at Savile Row.

More than 11 years after Paul played the song for John — impressing him enough to begin their partnership —  and some months from the last time John and Paul would work together again, Paul couldn’t quite remember the words. At all.

Alas, the elevator’s indeed broken down. There’s not much magic to the light-hearted clip, although it’s nice to hear Billy Preston, and George’s solo is pretty good. But no longer is Paul playing the song to impress John. In so many ways, it was Paul’s group by then.

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Jan. 3, 1969: Traveling on that line

When we last left you on the Nagra Tapes timeline, George wondered aloud whether it was practical for the Beatles to perform a concert consisting only of new songs, without throwing the audiences — especially the American one — a bone with an “oldie but goldie.”

They had, in fact, rehearsed such a song a few hours earlier. Well, it may not have been a goldie, but it was an original Beatles oldie dating all the way back to the days of the Quarrymen.

And while they did in fact record “One After 909” in 1963 — in fact, it was 49 years ago today, on March 5, 1963 (the same day they cut “From Me To You”) — that original recording didn’t see an official release until Anthology in 1995.

The band attacked their first take of the song (in presumably five-plus years) with much of the same gusto they gave covers of the same era during the sessions. How do we know they enjoyed playing it? They actually finished the song.

Following that first run-through, which was replete with stumbles but seemed to have John and Paul remembering all the words, the band — especially Paul — collectively marveled at the simplicity of the lyrics.

“I always meant to just change the words a bit,” John said. Paul chimed in that “it’s great,” before giving a spoken-word run-through of first verse, to George’s laughter. Then George, ever eager still to actually have a focus here, asks if the band should rehearse the song more.

A bit of that dialogue appeared in the Let It Be film, and decades later, on a podcast promoting the Let It Be … Naked release on iTunes.

“Or maybe we should do it without practicing. You know, practicing will fuck it up,” he said.

The band in fact, did return to the song — after first running through a take of the presumed John oldie “Wake Up in the Morning/Because You Love Me So.” And like the prior run-through, this take of “One After 909” was closer in spirit and pacing to the Quarrymen version than the 1963 recording.

Also like the prior take, the band continues to poke fun at the lyrics once the song is over. John bemoans, “We always thought it wasn’t finished.”  And George goes further, suggesting “Most people don’t give a shit what the words are
about, as long as it’s popping along.”

It’s rock and roll, and it’s a song, written in 1957, that is indeed seminal rock. It was a Beatles song, not a John song/Paul song/George song as the bandmates had been bringing to the sessions otherwise — and you can hear the harmony (literally and figuratively) while they play.  Really, it’s the perfect song for what they were trying to achieve during these sessions: developing a loose, off-the-cuff presentation of their songs.

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