Tag Archives: spy

Jan. 13: The Lunchroom Tape (Pt. 1)

I’ve previously dipped in and out of the lunchroom tapes in recounting the events of the weekend of January 11-12, 1969. Now that our timeline here has finally reached the afternoon of January 13, you’ll see some facts and points repeated from earlier, but now in its original canteen context.

It comes a little less than three hours into the Get Back docuseries (counting credits), about a third of the way into the entire series, and it’s a shocking and quite unnerving moment — as it should be. This could be the most unique sequence of the Beatles recorded on tape and one that most fans, even the self-proclaimed die-hards, probably didn’t know existed before November 2021.

Director Peter Jackson used the Beatles’ January 13, 1969, lunchroom tape to great effect. The chyron says it all, in clear, yellow type:

John arrives at lunchtime.

He and Paul go to the cafeteria for a private conversation.

They are unaware that the film-makers have planted a hidden microphone in a flowerpot.

Behold true flower power: A planter with a bug designed to capture a colony of Beatles. This is also where a real problem begins for viewers and, importantly, the historic record.

First, there’s the “who,” and this is the most important misrepresentation of all.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon did have a “private conversation,” insomuch as it wasn’t at a public venue but at the Twickenham Film Studios cafeteria.  But Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman and Mal Evans were there, too, and probably Neil Aspinall as well, all equal parties to the discussion.

At least one of that group knew a hidden microphone was in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s arsenal. Ringo and George Harrison found that out the previous week; they just didn’t know where or when their hired documentarian would deploy it.

“This is the bugging device, so we can surreptitiously bug your showbiz conversations,” Michael openly boasted on January 9, the day before George quit.

On separate occasions, both George and Ringo asked if “that” was the tape on which they were being secretly recorded.  A day later, on January 10, Michael suggested to the same pair that he could color the microphone to make it look like one of the director’s signature vices.

“Do you think if I paint this brown and put red on top it’ll look like a cigar?”

“You wouldn’t see the red, just the ash,” George replied.

At this moment on January 13, George was most certainly seeing red, dining away from the office that Monday. Ringo, among the quieter figures on the full lunchroom tape, never indicated any suspicion this showbiz conversation was being surreptitiously bugged.

For something so esoteric, we’re left with two distinct experiences: The Get Back version of the lunchroom, and the Nagra tape reality, which cut off suddenly after nearly 29 minutes but was recorded in a true, linear sequence — an actual conversation.

The Get Back docuseries’ timeline of events leading up to lunch was accurate: The group gathered upon John’s arrival on January 13. Paul wondered aloud where George was.

This wasn’t the first spoken moment on the lunchroom Nagra tapes – instead, that’s John, in medias res defending his relationship to Yoko in the context of his recently dissolved marriage to Cynthia.

(When John said “I would sacrifice you all for her” as the lunchroom Nagra recordings begin, a segment also transcribed in the 2021 Get Back book, any kneejerk reaction that it was about the Beatles’ current situation vis-à-vis Yoko should be tempered; on the tapes he already mentioned it was as “a husband.”)

Paul essentially began the lunchroom discussion – “So where’s George?” — with a bit of cheek. In the TV edit, John replied, “Well, he doesn’t want to be here,” per the subtitles, although it’s not entirely clear that’s what he’s really saying if you listen closely, and it’s difficult to even find that line on the Nagras.

Without going line-by-line – and I can, would you like me to? — that is the main takeaway on the televised representation of this lunch: It’s different.

On the tapes – omitted from the discussion in Get Back – Ringo quickly replied with a punchline: “It smells like George is here.”

So the evidence is clear from the absolute beginning: The Get Back lunchroom sequence and the full Nagra lunchroom tape are completely different representations of a specific, important moment in time. I don’t think the TV series was at all edited maliciously, but to dramatically distill a 29-minute sequence to six and deliver a specific narrative. I’d watch 29 minutes of this stuff, but maybe that’s why my filmmaking career never got off the ground.

Intent aside, however, it’s still an inauthentic experience. Only with this understanding can we even try to parse anything.

How scattered is the Get Back edit? Here’s a look at me and my notes.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway at the outset (and yes, more than 800 words into this post, this is only the outset): The work Peter Jackson’s crew performed to clean up the audio of the lunchroom tape is nothing short of remarkable. Listen to 10 seconds of the bootleg tapes and then 10 seconds of the audio in Get Back; the technological advances are staggering.

Michael — who later misremembered the recording as capturing George’s departure of the Beatles days earlier — considered the tape unusable, writing in his 2011 autobiography Luck & Circumstance:

My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said.

At times, the Get Back AI is a little too good, and the voices can sound almost processed and nearly garbled. Listen to the televised sequence on headphones, you’ll hear what I mean.

The chyron subtitles aren’t completely accurate, either. This could be a case of my ears vs. their ears, and my eyes vs. their claims. But, I think my eyes and ears are pretty OK.

A great example comes more than 2 1/2 minutes into the Get Back scene. In a complaint about Paul’s unwillingness accept criticism, so to speak, John  — per the subtitles — sort of mockingly says “I’m Paul McCartney” in a soundbite that took me completely by surprise when I first saw it. That’s because it’s not in the tapes.

Instead, I think John clearly says “four in a bar,” as in the rhythm. That absolutely fits the context that line was originally in, with John saying he and George would just surrender to Paul’s musical decisions to finish a song. (We’ll get to that plotline later.)

Here’s that line on the Nagra tapes in its original context:

And the “four in the bar” line, slowed down a tick:

It seems clear he does not say “I’m Paul McCartney.”

In other words: We have to proceed with genuine caution consuming this sequence.

Paul was drinking Dos Equis, and John enjoyed a glass of wine. While this has long been called the lunchroom tape, we don’t actually hear anyone dining; the clatter of cutlery is from the staff working in the cafeteria. They may not have been recorded having a feast, but plenty was eating away at the Beatles.

We don’t know what John and Yoko were doing at home besides leaving their phone off the hook, but Paul — especially — and Ringo had already spent hours speaking relatively candidly about the group’s inner relationships, not only in the context of George’s departure, but quite deeply regarding the Lennon-McCartney partnership. The day must have completely exhausted and gutted Paul even beyond the depictions we now can see in Get Back.

This is a dramatic oversimplification, but the 29-minute conversation covers several overarching and highly overlapping points, including:

  • John and Paul’s relationship with and treatment of George, and the latter’s future as a Beatle
  • The concept of being a Beatle – and also an independent individual (and tangentially, a solo musician)
  • Leadership – and bossiness
  • The Beatles’ working relationship – as in, how they made music

The conversation is scattered – like any other normal discussion between actual humans under stress and a little bit of influence. They weave in and out of each of these broad points. This isn’t a meeting with a printed agenda and action items.

John and Paul are at the center of this dialogue, but across the discussion, Linda, Yoko and Ringo participate. Mal’s engagement comes across as a servant only. If Neil is there, he’s quiet. Only the impenetrability of the tapes makes his presence a question, but he was at Twickenham prior to the lunch and part of the day’s earlier discussions, so it would make sense the ultimate insider would join any important conversation.

It can’t be repeated enough, though: Paul and John are just two of the people in this conversation. To not mention Ringo most specifically as a party to this discussion is to sideline and discount one-quarter of the Beatles, a self-proclaimed democracy of four. Much as this conversation presented John and Paul at their most unfiltered, the presence of  Linda and Yoko doubtless clouds a bit of their candor. Still, they speak in a fashion that we hardly hear through the duration of the month otherwise — especially John, who displays little in the way of wit and humor but plenty of self-refection and doubt.

But it has to be repeated: The portrayal of this discussion as a one-on-one conversation between only John and Paul is a very unfortunate failing of the excellent Get Back.

We’ve established John, Paul and Ringo are all there …

So where’s George?

His absence isn’t the only thing that makes this conversation interesting, but it jump-starts the discussion, and like an odor, it permeates the meeting. The Beatles’ problems ran deeper than George’s resignation, but without it, would this lunch have even been recorded?

Given how the tapes begin, we can establish this is close to the start of the conversation.

“It’s a festering wound,” John said of what he thought George must have been feeling, early in the discussion—as documented on the Nagras and edited into Get Back. “And yesterday (at the meeting at Ringo’s house), we allowed it to go even deeper. But we didn’t give him any bandages.”

John blamed the indifference on Beatle egos. He said he tried to “smother” his ego at the two meetings he had with George over the previous weekend – the first meeting really more an ambush. John used the same phrase – smothering his ego — to describe how he made it possible to “carry on” working with Paul. We’ll get back to that dynamic later.

On multiple occasions on the tapes — not in Get Back, since it’s not acknowledged that she’s even there — Yoko not only steers the conversation to ask about George but also remarks the ease of which they can bring George back. But …

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

John’s indecision of how he wanted to approach his and the band’s near-term future overlapped an admission that George had “been on such a good ride.”  But at the same time, he said – agreeing with something Paul had previously remarked – that George was “some other part.”

I mentioned this in a previous post: George was viewed as an other. Though never explicitly described as such, it was clear George was both musically and socially separate from John and Paul. (And this was said without an apparent realization he was temporarily estranged from his wife.) Further, the rough-edged John blamed his own management style on his upbringing, saying he knew he’s treated people “this way” since primary school.

Get Back doesn’t pull in this part of the conversation. Instead, it implies George’s absence was a direct result of Paul’s – and to a lesser extent, John’s – in-studio musical enforcement. Not necessarily “musical differences,” but exhaustion from day-to-day life as the implied Beatles session guitarist.

That may have been the case, but there’s a lot more to it.

Get Back follows up less than a minute into the sequence with this exchange, which actually happens in Minute 27 of the original tapes:

Paul: The thing is, that’s what I was trying to say to George, you know. Whereas, previously I would have said, “Take it there, with diddle-derddl-diddler-der.” But I was trying, last week, to say, “Now take it there, anything you like. Put whatever you …”

John: You see, the point is now, we both do that to George this time, and because of the buildup to it.

Paul may not have given instructions to play a guitar part verbatim, but there were several moments where he was very specific with how he wanted something to sound. It was enough that it drove George to tell Paul whatever it was that would please him, he’d do it, after all.

Was that enough to drive George out of the band, though? The Get Back portrayal of the lunchroom tapes implies his absence is the final statement of this intimate discussion, and not only is it John and Paul’s decision if George should even be a part of the band, but that this could well be the end of the Beatles as we know it, for now.

John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that because the policy has kept us together.

Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

John: Well do you want …

Paul:  If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other and we’ll all sing together.

The last bit of conversation on the Get Back portrayal is a … complicated edit job, pulling in lines from various moments in the first half of the Nagras.

There’s more to the above quotes — in their original context — and I’ll get to that. This post is only “Pt. 1” after all.

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Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

On the afternoon of January 10, 1969, seven days into the Get Back sessions and nearly 10 years into his tenure with the band — a term that began when he was 15 years old — George Harrison quit the Beatles.

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

After a cut in the Nagra tapes, which captured the exchange, George casually continued: “Get a replacement. [Place an ad] in NME and get a few people.”

While the tapes don’t capture him saying “see you ’round the clubs,” it’s too good a line to be purely apocryphal (and it’s, in fact, alluded to by others on the tapes later in the day). George then briefly shared a few words with Mal Evans and was off, his boots echoing as he departed.

Likewise, for the sake of the complete record, there is simply no indication on the tapes of what happened between the final take of “Two of Us,” and George’s departure, the immediate spark of George’s decision (if there was any). Like the Beatles themselves, the tapes were out to lunch.

Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, so proud of his spy microphone hours earlier, had the right instincts and was prepared for this moment, but he probably should have upgraded to a better model.

“My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said,” Michael wrote in his 2011 autobiography Luck and Circumstance. In his “role as documentarian,” he had asked his sound engineer to mic the flowerpot on the dining room table as George encountered the band at lunchtime. Per Michael, George concluded by saying, “See you ’round the clubs.”

George grabs his coat on his way out of the utter sty that was the studio at Twickenham, as pictured on an earlier day. (Screen capture from Beatles Anthology)

What exactly happened over lunch is a source of legitimate dispute in Beatles history. Dig in — here are varied accounts that span 50 years.

The most contemporary retelling of the events of January 10, 1969, comes from George himself, later that day, in his personal diary.

Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunch time – left the Beatles – went home and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident Studio — had chips later at Klaus and Christines went home.

George’s diary entry for January 10, 1969, as later published in the Living in the Material World book in 2011.

There wasn’t any Twitter in 1969 (although John and Yoko probably would have dominated the platform had it existed), so when George left the Beatles, it didn’t instantaneously go viral. But within days, George’s resignation was widely reported around the world — jumping off an original report by the Daily Sketch (more on their reporting to come in a subsequent post) — though he was already back with the band by the time those reports came out.

It wasn’t just that George left the Beatles. Word was out that that things got violent.

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison did NOT have a punch-up and Apple — their business company — is NOT on any financial rocks.

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

It all began when a pop weekly reported Lennon as saying that Apple was “losing money every week” and needed tightening up.

Then came the rumour that Lennon and Harrison came to blows.

But last night, after a five-hour meeting between the four Beatles and their business associates at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters, explanations came fast.

“The so-called punch-up between John and myself? There’s no truth in it. We are still good friends.”

Ringo Starr called the story of a punch-up “a load of old rubbish.” He said: “I was there when it was supposed to have taken place — it’s quite untrue.”

A few days later, on January 21, Ringo told BBC’s David Wigg that “there’s that famous old saying, you’ll always hurt the one you love,” when he was asked if the group was still close. But he spoke without any specifics regarding George’s departure, just generic reconciliatory language.

“[W]e all love each other and we all know that,” Ringo said. “But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know. Sort it out. And so we’re still really very close people.”

One of the Beatles’ official mouthpieces, the Beatles Book Monthly fan club magazine predictably poured cold water on the idea of a physical altercation in its March 1969 issue. In his diary feature, Mal Evans went as far to write there wasn’t any argument at all when George “stalked” out.

Matching the account on the tapes, Mal said George simply came over during lunch to “quietly” say he was going home. “There WASN’T a fight, physical or verbal,” Mal wrote. “There WEREN’T any tempers or shouting. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the press afterwards.”

George Harrison maintained in subsequent interviews that no punches were thrown. But another George had another memory.

“They actually came to blows,” George Martin told Phillip Norman in his 2008 biography John Lennon: The Life. “You’d think it would have been with Paul, but it was John. It was all hushed up afterwards.”

Here’s where the retelling of the day’s events descends more deeply into farce.

According to a separate account from EMI engineer Dave Harries, a frazzled Martin only arrived at Twickenham that day as Harrison departed from the studio.

As related in Ken Womack’s Martin biography Sound Pictures:

I remember that George Martin had just backed across the car park in his Triumph Herald and knocked a dent in the door of George Harrison’s Mercedes and he didn’t have time to tell him he’d dented his car before George walked out in a huff and drove off.

Just hours after engaging in passionate car talk, this wasn’t George’s finest hour.

While George Martin was around to some arguable degree that morning (and at the sessions overall), there was no doubt fellow producer Glyn Johns was there on January 10. He was an active participant on the day’s tapes.

Johns, too, wrote of his recollections of that day in his 2014 autobiography Sound Man:

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham on that cold gray afternoon with Denis [O’Dell], the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple of days later.

While an implication is there, Glyn wouldn’t spill the beans. Although in Graeme Thompson’s 2015 George Harrison biography Behind the Locked Door, Glyn conceded there may not be too many beans to spill:

When it became apparent that there was going to be a bit of an argument those of us who weren’t in the band left the room. It was clear that it would be intrusive for us to remain. So what actually was said and and what went on I don’t know, but I do know that George left the band that day. The whole thing was very uncomfortable, and it was very embarrassing for me and others who were not in the band to be close by while this was going on — to have to watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath. It was very unpleasant and I felt really awkward.

The Beatles pre-enact their January 10, 1969, fistfight more than five months before it probably didn’t happen. (From the Mad Day Out photo session in 1968).

More than 50 years after the fact, what we know with absolute certainty is that George Harrison quit the Beatles the afternoon of January 10, 1969. Everything else — most prominently whether there was a physical altercation — is ultimately speculative.

It’s not just what happened that’s in question, but the why. We’ll never unearth that last straw, the specific reason George quit when and how he ultimately did on January 10. There’s just too much open to interpretation, and as long as the tapes of the day are considered complete, there is simply no smoking gun, no spark that broke George. The conversation with Dick James, the rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Two of Us” — these moments lacked an obvious trigger beyond what were usual pockets of growing frustration.

It’s worth mentioning the other three Beatles openly discussed their feelings and opinions in the wake of George’s departure on the Nagra tapes, directly addressing his growing sense of frustration as a junior member of the group. They were aware of this, and their conclusions were consistent with much of what is discussed below.  I’ll examine those specific conversations, which also touch on off-site meetings, however, in future posts when we reach those days on the blog’s timeline.

Still, by rewinding many of the same sources we examined above in this post to construct what happened, we can put together a loose reasoning as to why George left the Beatles. Notably absent from each of these recollections is the one mentioned specifically in the original flurry of news reports — George’s fury with John over the latter’s comments about Apple’s difficult financial situation. George and John even had light-hearted discussions about business earlier in the day. It seems clear the Apple finances excuse for George’s departure was a leap of faith by the media. Musical and personal differences were responsible.

Back to Mal’s Diary in the March ’69 Beatles Book Monthly:

Singing and playing together would always be fine with [George] and the last thing he was suggesting was any break-up of the Beatles. So that day, January 10, George didn’t want to stay at Twickenham rehearsing for a show he couldn’t believe in.

And what — or who — could make George an such an unbeliever? In published interviews over the subsequent decades, George was at least consistent on why he left: His famed filmed argument with Paul (“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play“) gave him a moment of clarity.

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway, after one of those first mornings I couldn’t stand it. I decided this is it! — it’s not fun any more — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving.

His Anthology interviews, conducted in the early 1990s and first broadcast in 1995, yielded similar memories:

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I knew John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’

Paul wanted nobody playing on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”

In other words, George’s recollections were colored by the Let It Be movie. He’s just like the rest of us!

George elevated the “I’ll play” argument in a way that other recent encounters, which were also filmed but not included in the final release, did not.

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

Even Paul had the self-awareness to admit his role in George’s departure, saying in the Anthology book with a hilarious parenthetical: “These things had been going down in Let It Be. George leaving because he felt he was being told what to do (I think that’s why he left).”

Ringo was more certain of the reason, going way back. He corroborated George’s accounts in 1971, telling Melody Maker:

George had to leave because he thought Paul was dominating him. [H]e was, because Michael Lindsay-Hogg liked Paul I would think more than the rest of us.

Indeed, George called for a divorce one day after the “I’ll play” argument, but a move to actually leave was delayed. This, as George continued to match Paul in productivity (or come close) during the sessions, certainly lapping a creatively spent John. But it was George’s own songs that were afterthoughts and that treatment deeply affected him.

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

Yoko Ono has unjustifiably been blamed for a lot of terrible things over the last half-century. Among the dramatis personae of the Get Back sessions, she was largely out of the spotlight to this point on the tapes, often speaking for John but not fighting for overall attention, certainly not as the group actually made music. And, perhaps by the filmmaker’s design, Yoko was usually off-mic. But since the White Album sessions, she was a disruptive figure to the other three Beatles. While Paul earned his share of the blame, Yoko drove George out of Twickenham, too.

“[S]uperimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time,” George later said in interviews for Anthology. “John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

The accusation of bad vibes wasn’t something John quickly forgot. From his famously raw Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, conducted in December 1970:

George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ‘straight-forward,’ you know that game of ‘I’m going to be up front,’ because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’d got a lousy name in New York, and you give off bad vibes. That’s what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why.

(Emphasis added.)

George had a stubborn memory, too, to the point of remembering things that didn’t quite happen. From a 1977 interview in Crawdaddy:

There’s a scene [in Let It Be] where Paul and I are having an argument, and we’re trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I’m not there and Yoko’s just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that’s where I’d left.

A few years later in I Me Mine, George references “the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming.”

There’s only one problem with George’s accounts: There is no scene in Let It Be where Yoko is performing and “freaking out screaming.” She’s hardly in the movie at all, really. But the event in question — Yoko sitting in with the other three Beatles and “doing her screeching number” is an event that did happen. (Check the very next blog post here for the details.) The original, longer rough cut of the Let It Be film did feature Yoko jamming with the other Beatles, per Peter Jackson, and it appeared in the unreleased pre-Anthology documentary “The Long and Winding Road” (which George was not only aware of, but shared a copy with Eric Idle with as source material for The Rutles).

Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has closely followed the group’s history, the combination of the four Beatles, their associates and the passage of a half century makes for a most compelling but absolutely terrible narrator. Barring the emergence of additional footage or audio, we’ll never know the trigger for George’s departure.  Maybe Yoko did do something specific to put him over the edge (the digestive biscuit episode allegedly happened later, so that wouldn’t be it). Or it could have been something John said — or didn’t say, leaving his opinions to Yoko. Maybe the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” argument between George and Paul really did change everything.

Or maybe John had it all figured out for an interview he gave for Earth News in 1976 — a quote later used to great effect in Anthology:

[L]ike people do when they’re together, they start picking on each other. It was like, ‘It’s because of youyou got the tambourine wrong — that my whole life is a misery. It became petty, but the manifestations were on each other because we were the only ones we had.

George’s domestic situation at this precise moment is essential to the story yet is generally ignored. For the duration of the Twickenham sessions, he was estranged from his wife, Pattie, and involved with 20-year-old Charlotte Martin — Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend — who was living at Kinfauns with him for the duration of their brief affair.

After George left the Beatles on January 10, 1969, he drove back to his Esher home, ended the affair and began his reconciliation with Pattie. Oddly, those decisions didn’t reach the threshold of snacking with the Voormans’ to make his diary. It wasn’t a choice of the Beatles or Pattie, but like John suggested, perhaps George’s musical issues were amplified by his marital issues.

George wasn’t working for the Beatles anymore that afternoon, but he remained on the clock. In his first act as a temporarily liberated solo artist, George played, you know, whatever he wanted to play, and he wrote “Wah-Wah,” which later appeared on the All Things Must Pass LP and was the opener of his first solo performance, at The Concert For Bangladesh. George couldn’t have found  a more symbolic beginning to his stage debut as a solo headliner, opening with a song born from his first independent moment.

“‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal,” George later wrote in I Me Mine.

George’s hand-written lyrics to “Wah-Wah.” (Published in I Me Mine)

“It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument,” George told Crawdaddy in 1977.

“It was such a headache.”

Professional clashes with Paul, personnel issues with Yoko (and John), personal crises with Charlotte and Pattie — these were all reasons George left the Beatles. If Paul wasn’t so pushy, maybe it would have made dealing with Yoko and the problems at home easier. If Yoko wasn’t so ubiquitous and John withdrawn, maybe George could work more easily with Paul with one less work distraction. If George’s marriage was fine, maybe he could have slogged through the work day, more easily accepted his continued junior role and at least had an opportunity to unwind and unload in a relaxed home.

But each of those factors played off the other. He’s just like the rest of us.

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Jan. 10: Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 2

A half-hour or so into the January 10 Nagra tapes, the visiting Dick James finally noticed something unusual at Twickenham.

“Are we interviewing?”

“This is my bug,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg answered. “I carry it with me, always.”

Paul McCartney chimed in: “We’re just constantly on film these days.”

“Oh, I see. Something’s happening,” Dick finally concluded.

He was half-right: Something was happening soon.

George Harrison was the third Beatle to arrive at Twickenham on the 10th, continuing a pattern over the first week of the group’s January 1969 sessions. He was the first to leave a few hours later, and he wouldn’t return to this studio again.

Liberal as the members of the band were to speak their minds — or at least not be transparently cagey — with knowledge of film and tapes rolling (including Michael’s not-so-undercover portable mic), the Beatles had a secret they wanted to discuss, but they never went so far as letting the cat out of the bag or into the bug.

Dick James and the group, January 10, 1969.

“Did Neil [Aspinall] ring you last night?” Paul asked earlier in the day, with Ringo answering in the negative. “Sad news on the wheeling and dealing scene. … I don’t think he wants to say much.”

Later, on John’s arrival, George goes into slightly further detail on the meeting of the Flocculent Four.

“Neil would like us to have a shave tomorrow” — a Saturday — “only because we’re busy every other day.”

George further discussed the upcoming meeting – spinning it as a positive, in contrast with Paul’s interpretation — without other details beyond the hopes of it happening at 8 or 9 in the morning “so we can have the rest of the day to ourselves. Neil was very excited.”

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

John: Good news?
George: Yes, very. … It’s so good, he just told me briefly what it was. But I’d have to whisper it or write it on a paper and you’d have to swallow it.

Without further detail, George mentions John Eastman by name right as the microphone refocuses on Dick and Paul, clearly suggesting the meeting involved Paul’s future brother-in-law, whose legal counsel the Beatles received at some point in January 1969 regarding NEMS.

****

“Do you think if I paint this brown and put red on top it’ll look like like a cigar?” Michael asked of his spy microphone.

George: You wouldn’t see the red, just the ash.
Ringo: Hide it in one of those film cigars.
MLH: Yes, like Groucho Marx.

Perhaps the inventive director wanted to get his bug in the ear of Apple Electronics’ Magic Alex.

“To change the subject,” Glyn Johns asked as the morning continued, “That phasing device that Alexis [Mardas] has built, have you actually tried it out?” (Glyn  — along with the Beatles — are counted among the pioneers of the technique.)

“He just comes across things as he’s designing,” said George of Alex. “He just designs it and then he says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve done this.’ But he hasn’t actually made it because he’s busy building recording studios.”

Everyone would soon learn “building” was a loose interpretation. More on that when the action shifts to 3 Savile Row.

At Michael’s request, George retold the origin story of Alex’s relationship with the Beatles.

“He met John Dunbar — or John Dunbar met him. Alex asked if he could stay and build a light machine for the Stones tour. So he stayed and did that. … And then he met John, and then he met us. And he’s been there ever since.”

“Is that device he’s going to put out on records going to work?” Michael asked. “Where you can’t tape it? Great idea.”

Home taping is(n’t) killing music. (Source: Ebay)

Ringo agreed with Alex’s primitive, unrealized copy-protection scheme, but said John was against it — why would the Beatles want to stop the kids from getting their hands on music? But John held the minority opinion.

“In America they have those cassette tapes,” George said. “That means its easy if somebody buys one and then rolls off their own 4 million and sell it. Everybody loses out on that because people bought it, and yet some cunts made all the money for doing fuck-all except thieving it.”

The idea of an intrusive “This is an Apple Record” messaging dropped into the record was embraced too. “It’s a good idea,” Michael said, “because if you’re rich enough to buy a tape recorder, you’re rich enough to buy a record, really.”

(He certainly wasn’t wrong, they didn’t come cheap. But if the bootleggers were running off 4 million copies, they were aiming too high — in 1968, the Beatles “only” sold 3.47 million records total in the U.S.)

Conversation quickly shifted from Alex — “We should get all his tricks,” George said — and the record business at large to the immediate business at hand. And it gives a clear picture to George’s state of mind in the hours before he quit the Beatles.

“I’m getting tired … just coming here, I’m bored stiff.” Openly frustrated with the directionless situation and feeling trapped at Twickenham, George asked if the group was still planning on rehearsing the next day, which would be their sixth straight at work.

Michael doubted it — he wanted to get rid of a nagging cough, and anyway, “I think we’ve had quite a good week.” This was, remember, the last day of their first full week for these sessions, and just their seventh day in the studio overall.

At this point, John, who was pretty much always the last to arrive to Twickenham, did just that with Yoko. Again, Michael touts his discreet yet disclosed microphone.

“If anyone says anything interesting, will you remember it?”

“Dick James is a fascist bum,” John replied loudly, though clearly out of earshot of the publisher, who was in the midst of another business-related exchange with an inattentive Paul, touting things like “the consistency of earnings.” Referring to Dick as “pig” moments later, John’s feelings were certainly clear, but he also wasn’t confronting him, this morning anyway.

Whether it was playing for the cameras (and microphones) or just trying to keep the darker side of the business out of the studio, John was upbeat and friendly in chatting directly with Dick.

Step on the gas: The Daily Mirror from January 4, 1969.

Having hyped the “tremendous music book trade” and briefly addressing and then downplaying a published quote from the Daily Mirror from the previous weekend — “Will the Beatles record any of [the songs from the Lawrence Wright collection]? Said Mr. James: ” Now, that’s an interesting thought. … I doubt it, but it would be a gas if they did!”  — the conversation turned as at often did, back to television.

“You likely to be home tomorrow evening, watching television?” Dick asked John. “The Rolf Harris Show, Vera Lynn is on singing ‘Good Night.’

John sounded sincerely charmed his song was getting the prime-time treatment. “Oh, she’s doing that? I thought she did ‘Fool on the Hill’.”

Alas for John, “[‘Good Night’ is the] B-side,” replied Dick. “We put them back to back. … it’s a nice medium waltz. It sounds like “True Love,” that kind of feel, makes it very commercial.  (Because everything in Beatles history ties together, it’s worth nothing seven years after this conversation, George himself recorded “True Love” for his 33 1/3 LP, albeit without the original waltz arrangement.

Another cover, Arthur Conley’s version of “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” — as likely pictured in one of the photos from the Get Back Book that accompanied the Let It Be LP (look for the ATCO label) — drew George’s interest. “That’ll be the big American one? … It’s gone 50 now? Great!”

After fishing for a cigarette, Dick steered the conversation with George to a deep shared interest: cars.

“I would never have a Yankee car, not for this country,” Dick said. “They’re just a bit too big. Nineteen-feet long. ”

“And they’re so … rubbish,” George replied.

In particular, they hated the Cadillac Eldorado.

George: You look at it, and there’s all this plastic.
Dick: A load of bull all over the place.
George: Even the wood in it is like wallpaper.

They could hardly find a redeeming characteristic in American cars. “I can’t stand brakes on American cars,” Dick said, with George likewise bemoaning power brakes. “I nearly killed myself,” Dick said of owning a Buick Skylark.

Ultimately, Dick ended up with a four-door Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

George’s ride at the time was a Mercedes 600, as seen in the Let It Be film.

Not quite the driver and six months away from wrecking his British-made Austin Maxi, John broke to tell Paul, who had finished his piano stint and rejoined the others, the good news: “Vera Lynn’s done ‘Good Night’ and ‘Fool on the Hill.'”

After Dick recapped Lynn’s promotional schedule, Paul was ready to really get to work.

“OK, should we start?”

Dick left the scene having promised Paul to “send some discs down.”

And with that, the group returned to work on what had the potential to be their own next disc and the next batch of Northern Songs.

****

“If you’re listening late at night/You may think the band are not quite right
But they are/They just play it like that”

The second verse of “Only A Northern Song” was written almost two years before the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions; coincidentally, it was released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack LP 72 hours after the events of this post (in the U.S. — it came out in the U.K. a week later).

The Beatles most definitely were not quite right on January 10, 1969. George Harrison,  John and Paul’s bandmate since 1958, before anyone was a Beatles, would soon the Beatles and there’s nothing right about that. But in a sense, they were quite right, they “just play (it) like that.”

There are multiple reasons George left the Beatles on January 10, but Dick James wasn’t one of them, despite the timing of his visit and the publisher and Northern Songs historically irritating George to the point it inspired a song.  Dick wasn’t a true villain in the Beatles’ story contemporaneously, and he wasn’t a divisive figure to the group until he chose to leave their orbit by selling off Northern Songs to ATV a few months later. To this point relationship may have been deteriorating, but hadn’t in any way collapsed.

Tuesday’s on the phone to Dick James. 1968 at Savile Row.

Status as “a fascist bum” notwithstanding,  Dick — a generally respected elder like George Martin or Brian Epstein — could still talk music-hall numbers with Paul and Ringo, and cars with George. This visit said more about the Beatles themselves than Dick, reinforcing the group’s innate ability to isolate business from pleasure, whether the pleasure was making music amongst themselves or happily discussing frivolities with a man George later called a con man and thief. And even when talking business — like ownership of “Boomps-A-Daisy” and how “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” covers fared on the charts — conversation could easily veer to power brakes or the kids at home.

It may have been in Hunter Davies’ words, but in his authorized biography of the Beatles that was published only a few months earlier, he conceded “they all loved Dick James.”

The same 1968 Apple promotional film touting Magic Alex’s electronics department (as posted above) also serves a glimpse of Paul and John confronting Dick over money, with Paul firmly directing Dick to “go away, and you come back with something which you know won’t start this argument again.” Months later at Twickenham, with Dick not even aware the Beatles were filming their sessions, there was no such encounter. The argument wasn’t started again, but there wasn’t any change in their arrangement, either.

As Derek Taylor wrote in “As Time Goes By“: “Dick never liked rows with the Beatles and I cannot blame him.”

***

The scheduled meeting for the next day that so excited the Beatles didn’t materialize. They ultimately met at Ringo’s house on January 12 under completely different circumstances.

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Jan. 9: Et cetera

January 9, 1969, marked the last full day all four Beatles worked together at Twickenham during the Get Back sessions. Here are a few loose ends worth tying up before the pivot point of January 10.

“Junk” (Paul’s hand-written lyrics, from the White Album deluxe companion book)

Conceived in India in 1968 and born at Paul McCartney’s home in 1970, “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” were under a period of gestation in the studio in January 1969. These brothers in song, destined to be released together on Paul’s eponymous solo record, were likewise introduced to the Get Back sessions in tandem on January 9, 1969.

This wasn’t any attempt at a rehearsal, just a light breather between takes of “Across The Universe.”

“Remember that one?” Paul asked the room after a spinning off a quick, shuffling verse of “Teddy Boy.” That song’s story will continue later, after the action shifts to Savile Row.

“And ‘Junk’?” Paul continued.

That song, while lyrically incomplete, was formed enough to be among the May 1968 Esher demos, but except for this momentary appearance, it wouldn’t surface again during the Get Back sessions and it never seemed to be a contender for Abbey Road, either.

It’s a stretch to even call this a performance.

After mentioning the song’s title, Paul rattled off a few words (“epsilon,” “elephant,” “parachute” were the most recognizable) in an exaggerated French accent — John Lennon chipped in, too — to the tune of the song before they quickly return to “Across the Universe.”

A key takeaway from this sequence is the nostalgia with which Paul asks “remember that one” to John, as if these were songs from their childhood, not merely less than a year old. Paul, especially, will refer to the trip to India as if it was another era. More on that as we get to those portions of the tapes.

*****

We’re living in the wrong timeline.

John: “I’d like to do a number just on electric”

In another universe, John’s “Quit Your Messing Around” is hailed as essential proto-punk, a harsh, noisy sound brought into the mainstream. In ours, however, the song is a sub-30 second blast of chords followed by John’s four-word request, obscured by so many other electric (and acoustic) numbers throughout the day’s songs on the tapes.

*****

Surrounded by a film crew for a week already, the Beatles were still learning the extent of personal coverage a week into the sessions.

“This is the bugging device,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg said. “So we can surreptitiously bug your showbiz conversations.”

In this sequence, both Ringo Starr and George Harrison on separate occasions asked if “that” was the tape.

This bugging device will be a part of the story the next day of the sessions.

*****

Ringo was consistent, at least. He resisted traveling abroad for a concert, and he lobbied against needless travel for his role in The Magic Christian, too.

Film producer Denis O’Dell was working on selling Ringo on filming a scene in New York, mostly to get a single distinctive shot.

“We thought of doing one day in Wall Street,” Denis said, though conceding he was “two-minded about it.”

“If we’re just going to America for one scene … I mean, I’ll do it. I don’t think it’s worth it.. .. And who knows Wall Street? I don’t know Wall Street. Unless you put up a sign that says “Wall Street,” I’d have no idea what it looks like.”

The scene was never filmed. But four months later, Ringo joined the rest of the cast and crew on the QE2 as it sailed for New York to celebrate the end of filming.

*****

As the day’s session came to a close, John and Yoko Ono apologized to Paul — and notably not the film’s director or producer — for consistently rolling into the studio well after the others. Paul’s reply was a study in passive-aggressive behavior.

Yoko: Are we getting later and later?
Paul: … It’s getting to be a habit.
John: OK, we’ll come in …
Yoko: … around 10,
Paul: I’m getting used to it! Don’t throw me now.

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