Tag Archives: The Band

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.

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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 anniversary of George Harrison’s birth today, or it may be the day after the 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 1982), “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, it 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 1968, 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 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.

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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.

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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 January 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. “

 

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