Tag Archives: The Band

TMBP Extra: Since he fell out of the womb

Over the years, we’ve celebrated the birthdays of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, looking back at the periods straddling the big days in 1968-1969. Today it’s George Harrison’s turn. It may be the 73rd anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 47th anniversary of his birth. With Liverpool under bombardment during World War II, keeping the records became confused that day in 1943. But February 25 is the day George celebrated, so it’ll be the day we mark, too.

1968, in India. That's actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was a three weeks after George's.

India, 1968. That’s actually a cake for Pattie Boyd, whose birthday was three weeks after George’s.

George’s 26th birthday came just a few weeks after the Beatles wrapped up the Get Back sessions at Twickenham and Savile Row. It capped a remarkable year in his life and career,  one that could fill a book, much less a blog post.

George’s 25th year began in India, less than 10 days after the Beatles arrived to study Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their retreat lasted nearly two months (for George, who outlasted the rest of the Beatles), transforming the four men, their music and Western culture along the way.

Starting in May and lasting throughout the summer, the Beatles recorded The Beatles. The double White Album, featuring a career-high four compositions, would be released before the winter. In between, George produced Jackie Lomax and saw the release of his solo LP Wonderwall, which was recorded late 1967 and early 1968. (It’s really great, and worth infinite listens).

With Winter 1968 came another transformative overseas trip, this time on the other side of the earth from India, to upstate New York, where George spent an intimate holiday with Bob Dylan and the Band, playing and writing songs. They were not laying the groundwork for the formation of the Traveling Wilburys about 20 years later, but it’s worth the dream.

That brings us to January 1969, and you can read all about it here and in posts to come. It’s worth noting, George brought Billy Preston into the Beatles’ circle, and then later would produce him for Apple.

What happened next? George had his tonsils out a week after the rooftop concert, and was laid up for about another week.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

George breaks up with his tonsils, February 1969. Photo appears in his autobiography, I Me Mine.

He joined the rest of the Beatles on February 22, 1969, to record the first 35 takes of “I Want You,” essentially beginning the Abbey Road sessions, and that about brings things up to his 26th birthday, on February 25, 1969.

Of course, that’s not it. What about the music? Check out this list of Harrisongs composed or at least worked on seriously between his 25th and 26th birthdays (listed alphabetically, with one obvious omission I’ll explain below): “All Things Must Pass,” “Badge” (with Eric Clapton), “Circles” (eventually released in 1992), “Dehradun,” “For You Blue,” “Hear Me Lord,” “I Me Mine,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Isn’t it a Pity,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Not Guilty” (left off the White Album, was released in 1979), “Nowhere to Go” (All Things Must Pass LP outtake written with Dylan), “Old Brown Shoe,” “Piggies,” “Savoy Truffle,” “Sour Milk Sea” (written for Jackie Lomax), “Wah-Wah,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Window, Window” (another All Things Must pass outtake). And there’s probably others we don’t know the origins of that would fall in this timeframe too.

Not too shabby. As a bonus, he finally had his first song to appear on a Beatles single — “The Inner Light” was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single, released while they were in India.

Oh, he bought a Moog, too. More about that later in 1969.

George had a really good year, artistically. It was an important one spiritually, too, and he was expanding his professional horizons and stockpiling compositions. In many ways, he shaped the Get Back sessions by walking out and resetting the parameters under which the group would perform live, plus he brought Billy into the fold. His relationship with Dylan, developed when he was in New York, was a critical moment in his career and his own window into how other artists could interact, and reflecting everything that was wrong with the Beatles. While he was still not quite yet afforded the same global respect given to Paul and John, the Beatles’ junior member’s time would come in 1969, thanks in large part to something.

Sorry, I missed the punctuation. That’s thanks in part to “Something.” 

There are lots of dumb ways to spend a birthday in your 20s, but recording a few demos at EMI Studios on Abbey Road isn’t one of them.  February 25, 1969, saw George cut solo acoustic versions of “Old Brown Shoe” (first debuted during the Get Back sessions) and “All Things Must Pass” (from 1968, and rehearsed extensively in January 1969). The final song he worked on that day was “Something”, the seeds of which were planted in 1969, but he hadn’t completed as late as the final days leading to the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.

You can find takes of all three songs on Anthology 3.

The commercial and critical success of the Abbey Road release of “Something” (finally, his first A-side) — earning high praise, finally, from Lennon and McCartney — plus the LP’s “Here Comes the Sun,” changed how George Harrison, Songwriter, was viewed. The time and efforts he spent between his birthdays in 1968 and 1969 propelled him to that point.

4 Comments

Filed under Extra

TMBP Extra: Tea-room orchestra

beatles-frost-hey-judeLast Monday brought the news of the death of longtime TV interviewer David Frost.

There are far better places to read about his life and career, including the several times he hosted and interviewed The Beatles together and individually. But a specific moment in Beatles history with a tie to Frost, one touched on plenty on this blog, is worthy of its own post.

It was 45 years ago today — Sept. 8, 1968 — ITV’s “Frost on Sunday” variety show debuted the “Hey Jude” promotional video, which was filmed four days prior.  The performances — they filmed three complete takes of a dozen attempts total — along with the rooftop show nearly four months later, marked the only times The Beatles would play together to a live audience after they stopped touring in 1966.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had last worked with the group that same year  directing “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” was hired again for the shoot at Twickenham. And with the formal introduction is Frost, who is serenaded, primarily by John, with the show’s theme song (which, as it were, was written by George Martin).

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. But because it’s so good, make it 1,001:

The “greatest tea-room orchestra in the world” really does stage an inspirational, iconic performance. OK, so they weren’t really live, playing with an actual orchestra in the house over a recorded track with Paul double-tracking himself in parts and adding freshly scatted vocals during the extended outro. Musician union rules had forbid a strictly lip-synched act.

It’s a new generation of Beatlemania on display here in this new phase of the Beatles’ career. Gone are the screaming fans drowning out the group, instead replaced with the 300 guests encircling then and joining the coda’s chorus. Lindsay-Hogg captures the fresh, optimistic tone of the song, and the band’s jubilant mood, with a clip to match. Things almost get out of control, but never do. It’s perfect.

(For a fun bit of frivolity and another bit of Get Back session foreshadowing, listen in during the coda in the above clip for Paul quoting “The Weight” by The Band at around the 6:20 mark — they were already serving as a bit of inspiration).

A great first-hand account of the day from audience member Marc Sniden — the “geek with the horn-rimmed glasses and school blazer behind Ringo” — was published in a 2009 article in the Liverpool Daily Post.

They just walked in holding their guitars, then walked round and shook our hands saying, ‘Hello, I’m John’” he says, still incredulous at the memory. “It was the days of screaming, but nobody screamed. We were suddenly in the presence of God. That’s the only way I can describe it. These people had changed history. We grew up with them.

To alleviate the boredom, John started to play a song on his acoustic guitar. “Everyone went, ‘wow’,” says Marc. “Filming started before we could ask what it was. When it was later released, we realised it was Back in the USSR. That was strange.”

Marc says they were almost telepathic as a band. But, as the afternoon wore on, even they became fractious.

“Paul had been banging away on the piano and John was swearing a lot, asking ‘Haven’t you got it yet?’ to Lindsay Hogg,” says Marc. “After take 12, Paul said, ‘I think that’s enough’.”

Marc Sniden (right)

While the song gave The Beatles a monumental hit song to launch Apple Records, the experience of the performance also had its own significant repercussion: The band was open to playing before an audience again.

“They hammed it up, putting in some naughty lyrics about George Martin,” Sniden said. “It was all jokey, they were very relaxed.”

The director took notice.

“They were jamming and having a good time and having a better time than they thought they were going to have,” Lindsay-Hogg said in Steve Matteo’s 33 1/3 book on Let it Be. “So they sort of thought maybe there is some way they can do something again in some sort of performance way.”

And thus, the seed of the idea for the Get Back/Let it Be sessions was planted, before they’d even completed recording the White Album. The Beatles would be back at Twickenham with Lindsay-Hogg and producer Dennis O’Dell in less than four months time. The clip would be a cited repeatedly on the Nagra Tapes as a benchmark for what they were trying to achieve, be it the composition of the audience, the focal point of the camera or the location of the show.

Just a footnote in Frost’s long career, the “Hey Jude” promo filming proved to be a pivotal moment in The Beatles career.

6 Comments

Filed under Extra

Jan. 3, 1969: The Band plays on

The Band

The Beatles had been Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys  and others. And on Jan. 3 for the rehearsals of “All Things Must Pass,” George said, “We’re pretending to be The Band for this one.”

These are genuine rehearsals, the band learning chords, harmonies and the song in general.

(I embedded this last post about the song, but worth repeating.)

They sound mostly not good, beset by some technical woes, a lack of focus and generally sloppy play. If this was how John and Paul treated George’s songs during rehearsals for all their other albums, we’re lucky to only have recordings available for these sessions to spare him the indignity.

As the rehearsals continue, George elaborates on the sought-after vibe.

“The thing that I feel about the emotion of it is very Band-y. Rick [Danko], this one, the one who wrote really the best ones. It’s like…” [plays the first verse]

He begins to describe how he wants the backup vocals during the chorus to sound.

“If there’s people joining in, I’d appreciate it,” George says.

After a few takes, Paul offers a suggestion. “If John sings what you’re singing, and I sing harmony that’ll be the Raelettes [Ray Charles’ backup singers].

But it’s The Band that George wants the inspiration drawn from.

“The reason all their people are singing different lines is they all want to be the singer. … [And] there’s discipline where nobody’s crowding anybody else out. But it’s really great.”

As the harmonies continue to be worked out as they wrap up the day’s rehearsals of the song, John at one point remarks, “It’s getting like gospel.” But it also gets pretty sloppy. These kinds of harmonies do work for The Band, but it’s not quite working for George, Paul and John. Ultimately, some of the suggestions George had for the harmonies would show up in altered form when the song finally was released by George himself.

(First minute or so is from the Jan. 3 sessions)

George also wanted John’s organ sound to ape The Band.

“This guy Paul is looking a bit like from The Band who’s the organist [Garth Hudson], he’s really fantastic. And he’s into that so much. And it sounds a bit like a synthesizer, because the notes bend.”

So The Band gets the credit for the song’s sound. What about the lyrics? George explains to John:

“It’s Timothy Leary, I suppose.  In his ‘Psychedelic Prayers’ he had one. I remember just from years ago. … That gave me the idea for the thing.

“Apart from life.”

There indeed is the first verse, nearly verbatim, in Chapter 23 of Leary’s book.

In fact, George summarizes nearly all the above quite neatly in his 1980 tome I Me Mine, without giving quite the level of direct credit to Leary, at least for the song’s first few lines.

When I wrote “All Things Must Pass” I was trying to do a Robbie Robertson-Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into. I think the whole idea of “All Things Must Pass” has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.

Near the end of the day’s rehearsals during a break, the song’s lyrics seem to finally hit John.

“A mind can blow these clouds away. … There’s a bit of psychedelia in it, you know? Social-comment like. “

16 Comments

Filed under Day by day