Tag Archives: The Long and Winding Road

Jan. 8: Nothing is real

Far from chaotic, the Get Back sessions, if anything, could be defined by its routines. Paul arrived early to play piano, and then pretty much ran the rehearsals. George’s songs — whether written overnight or brought back for another day — were a slog for everyone else. John didn’t have much new to offer, while Ringo did Ringo things like participate in conversations and keep the beat. Turn the page to the next day on the calendar, and do it all again.

Beyond music, the daily pattern underlying the scene centered around discussion of the live concert the Beatles were trying to put together. At once a footnote to the songs, the show was simultaneously the purpose of these January sessions and thus ostensibly what mattered most. The push and pull between director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s wanderlust and the group’s default stance — to stay put — was a constant. And the more they couldn’t settle on a British venue, the closer they collectively moved toward simply staying in the very room where they were rehearsing and ruminating.

January 8, 1969, then, was no different than so many other days the Beatles spent at Twickenham the first half of the month. Discussion about the concert surfaced late in the work day, concurrent with Paul introducing the unfinished “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” to the rest of the band for the first time, and with their initial attempts at a full-band arrangement.

Yet now, to stage the “honest” sound they sought to achieve these sessions, the Beatles began to consider an ersatz solution. Rock and roll begets rocks, or something imitating it, at least.

Denis O’Dell (left) with Ringo at The Magic Christian shoot. Photo from O’Dell’s book, At The Apple’s Core.

“If we try to cover all this (Twickenham’s sound stage) and build caverns and caves, it’s nice, you see,” said Denis O’Dell, the head of Apple Films.

Why perform at the Cavern in Liverpool for the nearly 300th time, when you can simply craft your own cavern indoors? (Please don’t answer that.)

Denis had been in the film industry since before the Beatles were born, and his association with the group began in 1964, when he was associate producer on the A Hard Days Night film. It was the start of a mutually beneficial partnership to this point, which included How I Won the War (associate producer and John starred), Magical Mystery Tour (producer) and led to his appointment as an Apple executive.

Of course, you already know his name (but have to look up his number) from his time at Slaggers, and do note he is NOT related to Miss Chris O’Dell.

Denis had appeared sporadically on the tapes to this point, and here it dovetailed with one of the first times John seemed even marginally interested in what was going on with the live show.

“Then we could do what we’d like with a backing,” Denis told John. “Go black, or stark or something. Then we could control all our lights from a panel, and we could have all colors you’d like.”

“Yes. And they’ll be able to see us through everything.”

John invoked sets used by Stanley Kubrick, Denis’ boss on Dr. Strangelove (that film was the source of the footage used during the “Flying” sequence in Magical Mystery Tour), and the man floated to direct a version of Lord of the Rings starring the Beatles. An extensive recap of that aborted episode in Beatles history is discussed at length in Denis’ 2003 fine autobiography of his Beatles years, At The Apple’s Core.

The conversation would continue, with Denis asking someone to fetch George Djurkovic, art director of The Magic Christian, from the film’s set elsewhere at Twickenham to provide added insight. But while Paul continues to play “The Long and Winding Road” in the background the conversation on the tapes meandered to a new duo: Ringo — one of the stars of The Magic Christian — and Michael. While Denis and John spoke as if the live show was to be held at the studio, Michael continued negotiations on taking the show on the road with Ringo. They were the leaders of the rival factions: Stay-put Starr vs. the whole Hogg.

“If I do go, I think it’s better just to go for four or five days,” Ringo said, showing newfound flexibility. “We don’t need to go to rehearse.”

Ringo was willing to bend and travel, but there’s a catch: “I’d like to do it to a British audience.”

It’s a catch, but one Michael is willing to receive. “Can we all talk about it? Will you take the veto off if you can be convinced we can get an audience?” Michael asked.

A Roman amphitheater wasn’t artificial, but to Ringo, the whole reason to perform overseas was contrived. The only reason to travel was the “helicopter shot, you’ll see the sea, the theater. And that is, for one, two minutes, say, that shot isn’t worth me going down there when I really prefer to do it here.”

Two and a half months after Ringo suggested the Beatles perform before there for a “British audience,” John and Yoko would be married in Gibraltar (near Spain).

“I see us doing a good show here [at Twickenham], because it’s you [the Beatles],” Michael said, again conceding this could be the last TV program the band will ever do.

Speaking quickly, Michael continued:  “Everything you do has got to be good. All your albums are good. …. It’s not only you as the band, it’s not only them as songwriters, it’s the four of you.

“It’s got to be the best.”

Of course they’re the best. Like Ringo doesn’t know that?

“Every time we do anything it’s going to be the best,” Ringo replied. “Can’t we just do something straight?”

And back to Twickenham, and staying precisely put.

“At the moment, that scaffolding set and the tubular thing, it is kind of like four years ago,” Michael said. “And there’s nothing wrong with four years ago. … We’re all 28 now, or whatever we are. The audience isn’t the same, life isn’t the same.”

For the record, John, Ringo and Michael were all 28, Paul was 26 and George a wee 25. But his point remained legitimate. This wasn’t 1965 anymore.

“This place, it could be rock and roll, ” Michael began.

“It could be rock and roll in Tahiti or wherever you want to put us. What’s it called? (laughing)”

Michael’s not even sure himself. “It’s either Tunisia or Tripoli.”

Ringo asks about a British possession likewise on the Mediterranean — “What about Gibraltar?” — before turning his attention back to the room he was in and the music, ignored during the conversation.

How’s this for an idea of stripping a show down?

“See, Ringo said, “I’d watch an hour of just [Paul] playing the piano.”

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Jan. 8: Let it be hers

Mid-afternoon on January 8, 1969, at Twickenham Film Studios, Paul McCartney sat at a piano and microphone and ran though “Let It Be.” Nine months later, and 3,500 miles to the west of London, the Queen of Soul was doing the very same thing.

By that point — October 1969 — Abbey Road was in stores while “Let It Be,” along with the rest of the songs slated for the Get Back LP that would ultimately evolve into the Let It Be LP, remained on the shelf. Aretha Franklin had a copy of the unreleased track, though, and we know she had been promised that song for a long time, going back at least as far as the start of the new year. But she wasn’t getting an exclusive.

Let’s go back to Twickenham, January 8, 1969:

George:  You going to give it to Aretha Franklin?
Paul:  I’m going to do it, and give it to her.

Specifically, Paul planned to have the Beatles cut a “rough demo from the first rehearsal” once the song was complete and would “try to get her to do it as a single.” But “Let It Be” was not quite complete yet on this, the fifth day of the sessions. The melody is locked down, but Paul only presented the first verse and chorus to this point.

Weight and see: Aretha Franklin does her thing, while Duane Allman (right) does his on a cover of The Band’s “The Weight” on January 9, 1969.

Still, he knew what he had, and its potential as a cover. “It would be great for Aretha Franklin, that number,” Paul said before singing a line in an absolutely terrible imitation of her. (For the record, that same January 8, 1969, Aretha was recording her version of “The Weight” by The Band, whose influence weighed heavily on the Beatles these sessions.)

Ringo provided upbeat drum accompaniment —  exactly as laid out by Paul, with a faster tempo than would ultimately surface on the record, and with several awkwardly inserted fills.

Tongue firmly in cheek, John soon offered a lyrical tweak and a poke at Paul’s pseudo-religious lyric, suggesting “Brother Malcolm” as a nod to the group’s do-it-all assistant. (Paul will deliver that line in a few future takes.)

The group would return to the day’s on-again, off-again writing-cum-rehearsal session for “I Me Mine” followed by “The Long and Winding Road,” which like “Let It Be” was similarly unfinished lyrically and being given its first introduction on the tapes to the full band this afternoon.

These repeated truncated takes of “The Long and Winding Road” — which lasted nearly a half hour, split into two separate stagings late in the day — mainly served, as far as the Nagra reels were concerned, as background music for an increasingly captivating conversation about the eventual live show. More about that in the next post.

“The Long and Winding Road” caught George’s fancy, and he called the song “lovely.” Before the end of the day, Paul taught George the song’s chords. Likewise, Paul sketched out how to play “Let It Be,” which was played for about 10 minutes at the very end of the day’s musical portion, and George and Ringo were full participants.  The song was never to be played live in front of an audience by the Beatles, but at this point it was clearly in line for the upcoming concert, and Paul sought out additional accompaniment come showtime.

“It’s sort of gonna do like a hymn. That’s why I was thinking we could get audience participation on that,” he told George.

af-lib

The sleeve for the French release of Aretha’s version of “Let It Be.”

The January 8 session was really the formal coming-out party for “Let It Be,” marking first time Paul played it to the rest of the band these sessions (on tape, at least, but it seems clear if it had been played prior, it wasn’t as extensive).

Like “Yesterday,” the song was famously sourced from a dream, but this time around it was the lyrics that were nocturnally inspired.

Here’s Paul, as quoted in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now:

In the dream she said, “It’ll be all right.” I’m not sure if she used the words “Let it be” but that was the gist of her advice, it was “Don’t worry too much, it will turn out okay.”  It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, Oh, it was really great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song “Let It Be.” I literally started off “Mother Mary,” which was her name, “When I find myself in times of trouble,” which I certainly found myself in.

But to be clear, the trouble wasn’t dated to January 1969. Rather, like “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” materialized in 1968 amid the lengthy and tumultuous White Album sessions. The two gospel-flavored songs had another link, and that was they were written with other people in mind from the start, too: “The Long and Winding Road” was influenced by Ray Charles.

As for Ray’s future Blues Brother co-star, Aretha never did end up releasing “Let It Be” as a single in the U.S. or U.K., but it was among the standout tracks (her covers of “Elanor Rigby” and “The Weight” were among others) on her This Girl is in Love With You LP, which was released January 15, 1970 — two months before the Beatles’own version came out as a single, and 11 days after the last Beatles recording session.

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TMBP Extra: All that lies ahead

As I write this, it’s Friday, Jan. 31. About three-and-a-half weeks ago was Jan. 7. Check your own personal calendars, news headlines and the like. It’s not that long ago. That matters to me, and this blog, because this is where the Beatles come in.

Flip (or click) back several calendar pages – 45 in fact – and we’re at January 1969, dominated by the Get Back sessions. Jan. 31 marked its final day, a short day dedicated to nailing for film and for tape usable takes of Paul’s non-rooftop-suitable “Two of Us,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” (The clips appeared in the movie prior to the rooftop show, but were in fact filmed the next day).

What of Jan. 7? That’s where we left off last in the session timeline, at a genuine pivot point.  George suggested the group “have a divorce,” Paul said he’d thought about that, too. The Doldrums. It hung over the band.

So what happened between Jan. 7 and Jan. 31, 1969, to recast the sessions? Well, I’m not going to give it all away at once. What else would I blog about, the recording of Sentimental Journey? (That actually seems like an interesting, star-studded, intercontinental story, but I digress.) Three and a half weeks is such a short period of time, in relative terms, and we know that the group was on the brink Jan. 7. By Jan. 31 so much memorable musical output was in the bank and in the works. Factor in that there’s 10 ½ days without George after his walkout and more than a week without any rehearsals at all, and I’m left grasping at superlatives.

To wit: From Jan. 7-13 and Jan. 21-31, 1969 (18 days, and that includes weekends not spent in the studio):

  • Paul wrote the majority of “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Get Back” and debuted future solo tracks “Another Day,” “Teddy Boy” and “Back Seat of My Car”
  • George wrote: “I Me Mine,” “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something,” as well as “Wah-Wah” at home during his break from the band.
  • Everything you hear on “Let It Be,” plus “Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded.
  • We saw the birth – and if not the birth, than at least the studio debut – of Abbey Road’s “I Want You,”  “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
  • We have the rooftop show, too.
  • The Beatles even found time to meet with Allen Klein for the first time.

And I feel like I’m understating what happened.

So, there’s just a little bit of food for thought before I return to the timeline (soon!). Context is everything, and with January here and now gone, it provided the perfect chance to put into focus how much these guys got done throughout the madness they, for the most part, created themselves.

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TMBP Extra: Jan. 7 Power Hour

Sirvana, July 20, 2013

Before I move on with the Twickenham happenings on Jan. 7, 1969, I wanted to offer up this bit of context as Paul McCartney circles the globe on his latest world tour.

It’s more than 44 years since Jan. 7, 1969, and Paul McCartney is still playing the four songs he began that day with live: “The Long and Winding Road,” “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” and “Get Back.”

As in, 60-something hours before I posted this, the same James Paul McCartney that sat before a piano at Twickenham introducing these songs to a room of just a few people, played the very same numbers to 47,000 at Safeco Field in Seattle (playing “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” and “Get Back” with the surviving members of Nirvana). That’s after performing them hundreds and hundreds of times over the decades.

Four songs he introduced over the course of about an hour one morning in 1969 at age 26. He turned 71 in June.

According to setlist.fm, Paul played 39 songs in Seattle — seven that were introduced in January 1969 and a whopping 14 (!) originating from 1968-1969. That’s 36 percent of his show in 2013 spanning less than 24 months, the remainder covering another 50 or so years of his career.

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Jan. 7: Sing a lullaby

With Paul McCartney seated at the piano at Twickenham on the morning of Jan. 7, 1969, the seeds of the Abbey Road medley are planted. Or, at least, unveiled on tape.

Famously pinched, in part, from a poem that was more than 350 years old, “Golden Slumbers” debuted minutes into the Jan. 7 tapes, another of Paul’s performances solo at the piano.

Lyrically and musically, the song is just about what would end up on Abbey Road.

Once there was a way to travel homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling, don’t you cry
And I will sing a lullaby

While the song has its origin in a Thomas Dekker poem from 1603, the recollection of a “way back home” is Paul. Here’s the inspiration, the original verse by Dekker:

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles awake you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

Care is heavy therefore sleep you.

You are care and care must keep you.
Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,
And I will sing a lullaby,
Rock them, rock them, lullaby.

After repeats of the song, Paul transitions right into “Carry that Weight.” Of course, it sounds like the songs are made for each other, but that could be more than 40 years of built-in bias.

It’s unclear if the link was simply improvised that morning, conjured over breakfast or what. But “Carry That Weight” sure did seem to be a standalone piece when brought to the band the day before.

As the piano part winds down, implying “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which is yet to be written), instead he goes right back into “The Long and Winding Road,” the same song Paul began to play prior to “Golden Slumbers.”

Any other day, it wouldn’t strike a chord, no pun intended (really!). But on this morning, “Golden Slumbers” and “The Long and Winding Road,” separated by five months in the studio and eight on vinyl, are pieces of a puzzle that  I didn’t realize existed.

Of course, book-ending “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight”with “The Long and Winding Road” could just as well be coincidence, too. But this context, deliberate or not, sheds light on what sounds like shared DNA.

Paul’s incomplete lyric to “The Long and Winding Road” — truly debuted as the tapes began to roll on Jan. 7, 1969, just moments earlier — spoke of  this sad, Sisyphean journey.

The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.

Having completed that performance, Paul unveils the song’s echo in “Golden Slumbers.”

HL_DDS_9079800pW60Dl5XJ“Golden Slumbers” shares the yearning as “The Long and Winding Road” but, side-by-side, it sounds further removed with a stronger sense of contemplative acceptance to the singer’s situation.

The time has passed: There “once” was a way to get back homeward. So while  “The Long and Winding Road” (as written to this point, at least)  has  a sense of distant, desperate hope, “Golden Slumbers” delivers acceptance but a promise of a better tomorrow via Dekker’s original lyric (“Smiles awake you when you rise”).

It’s Paul’s “All Things Must Pass.”

Bundle “The Long and Winding Road” and “Golden Slumbers” with “Carry That Weight” — not to mention “Let it Be,” which is absent from this sequence but was first played four days prior —  and in Paul you have a man who seems to readily acknowledge and be at peace with the fate of his band more than a year before they would actually split.

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Jan. 7: Still they lead him back

paul-at-pianoA difficult Jan. 6, 1969, did not result in a collapse of the sessions at Twickenham — which were entering just its fourth day — nor a break in the band. Not yet, at least.

So with the promise of optimism any new day delivers — daylight is good at arriving at the right time, after all — Paul was again the first back at the studio Tuesday, Jan. 7. And as was the norm that developed, he kicked off the day’s tapes solo at the piano.

“The Long and Winding Road” had the most brief of debuts at the first full session, Jan. 3, lasting about 10 seconds prior to Paul launching into “Oh! Darling” during his first morning piano jam.

It’s a poignant beginning to this session, on the heels of the rough day prior. Paul has very much alluded that “The Long and Winding Road” is about the splintering of the group — although the song itself wasn’t really new. Instead it was a few months old, a product to the White Album sessions, and one he said he wrote channeling Ray Charles.

He says as much on the brand-new official Let it Be … Naked site (in an interview that was probably from the record’s original release in 2003, not from 2013, I’d guess), repeating the point about “writing as” Ray Charles, but stopping short of saying “The Long and Winding Road” is about his relationship with the group.

On the heels of saying that people read a lot into “Two of Us” being about him and John when it was actually written for Linda, Paul does leave the door open about what exactly “The Long and Winding Road” was about:

It’s to do with your personal situation at the time. You don’t always realize it.

While the song had been demoed months earlier, the song this day is in nascent form.

He plays for about five minutes, with the skeleton of the piano part in place, but just few lyrics.

The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.

Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried. …

And that’s all we hear, beyond a few scatted lyrics to what was the eventually vocal melody.

We hear the song one more time later in the day — it’s a 30-second instrumental, straight out of a short rehearsal of “Oh! Darling” right after Paul moves to the piano in advance of a lengthier session on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s just a time-filler as everyone else tunes up.

Even without the later, tacit acknowledgement, it’s very easy to read his struggles with the rest of the group in what few lyrics he did have written for “The Long and Winding Road.”  And it’s illuminating to know he felt this same sense of desperation already during the White Album sessions. It’s just another reinforcement to the thought that the Get Back/Let it Be sessions were part of the road to the breakup, not necessarily the vehicle for it.

George is confrontational and about 72 hours away from quitting the group. John is drugged, distant and tethered to Yoko. Ringo keeps a great beat but is otherwise not much of an active participant. But still, what they mean to Paul brings him back to Twickenham’s door.

The song ultimately would become a lightning rod, the most flagrant example of Phil Spector’s fingerprints on the final release and in a bit of a legal sense, the song that technically broke up The Beatles.

Listen to “The Long and Winding Road” on its own, and it’s a somber, beautiful song about not much in particular. Apply your own dysfunctional relationship here to what could be another typically McCartneyesque vague lyric.

Listen to it on this the morning after the fractious Jan. 6 sessions,  and at this moment, the fact it’s about the band — and Paul’s feeling of helplessness, which runs counter to the bossy image he’s developed — is inescapable.

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Jan. 3: Fifteen minutes of fame

The second day of sessions at Twickenham on A/B Road clock in at close to 5 1/2 hours, more than two hours of which was spent solely on “All Things Must Pass” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (a song to a post coming soon).

For sure, much of the time that falls under a certain song’s track was actually dialogue. But ultimately, there wasn’t a lot of new material introduced.

When we did get new stuff, it was a taste of some classic songs.

Indeed, the entire day’s session begins with Paul tickling at the ivories with an incredible one-two punch that lasted just over a minute and a half. “The Long and Winding Road,” right into “Oh! Darling.”  Another future Abbey Road Side 1 track — “Maxwell’s  Silver Hammer,” which wasn’t actually new, but new to the sessions — gets the solo piano treatment next. Enjoy that sequence here:

Paul continues to play, and caps an incredible 15-plus-minute stretch with one more new song, and one that eventually defined the sessions overall: Let It Be.

John, as he was throughout the entirety of the sessions, only brought in the one new track — “Gimme Some Truth” — that day. And again, it wasn’t actually new to the band.

Outside of a pair of Ringo songs we’ve covered previously and seminal songs like “One After 909,” “Because I Know You Love Me So” or “Thinking of Linking,” the balance of originals on Jan. 3 were brief tastes, and in some cases presumably improvised jams.


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