Tag Archives: Twickenham

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: Songs for everyone

It was only 100 hours before the Beatles would return to the studio together, and the charts on both sides of the Atlantic on December 29, 1968, were a perfect illustration of why there really wasn’t any rush for them to do so.

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December 28, 1968 issue. Image from http://bapresley.com/silverthreads/

That day, the White Album retained the top spot in the British charts for the fifth straight week in the midst of a run that would see the double LP at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks and eight of nine. After a few weeks’ climb, it hit No. 1 in the United States a day earlier, on December 28, taking a much slower slog to the top. That climb vaulted the Beatles past Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman LP, the previous week’s No. 1 that was sunk to the runner-up position, and one of four records the country music star had in the top 30.

The Beatles owned multiple shares in the Billboard album charts, too, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 63) and Magical Mystery Tour (85). The latter would provide the title track for Sergio Mendez’s Fool on the Hill LP that sat at No. 11 this week 48 years ago.

Even with the White Album entrenched atop the British charts, there was plenty of Beatle-related materials moving off the shelves, with the Best of Cilla Black (No. 21) featuring four Lennon/McCartney credits and Jose Feliciano’s Feliciano! containing three Beatles covers and sitting one notch behind the Liverpudlian chanteuse (and higher at No. 7 in the U.S.).

The first post-Christmas LP chart in the U.K. was predictably littered with greatest hits and other compilations, with about a dozen such records in the top 50. Four Simon & Garfunkel records were simultaneously on that chart, with a few soundtracks and two separate live LPs recorded at London’s Talk of the Town (Tom Jones and The Seekers).

On the U.S. singles chart, Motown dominated with the label holding the top three spots: Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and Diana Ross & The Supreme’s “Love Child.” While “Hey Jude” the Beatles smash may have been fading, dropping to No. 15, “Hey Jude” the soulful Wilson Pickett cover was rising, hitting No. 43 on its way to eventually peaking at 23. That’s Duane Allman with the epic lead guitar part.

Even though the Beatles didn’t release singles from their albums (a tradition scrapped in time for their final LPs, Abbey Road and Let It Be), their presence was made on the U.K. top 50 without charting a single song of their own (”Hey Jude” dropped out a week earlier). Marmalade’s sugary cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” stood at No. 7 en route to the top spot the following week, while the Bedrock’s more authentically Caribbean-sounding version of the same song was at No. 30. That cover, produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith, would peak 10 notches higher a week later. On its way down the charts was Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” dropping to No. 39 on its last week on the charts it had topped about six weeks earlier.

Apple Records artist Mary Hopkin fell to No. 24 in the U.K. with former No. 1 hit “Those Were the Days,” as produced by Paul McCartney (it was at No. 25 in the U.S., down from it’s peak at No. 2).

What held the top spot in the British charts? It was a song written by McCartney, but not that one.  Mike McCartney, Paul’s brother under his stage name Mike McGear, wrote “Lily the Pink” with fellow Scaffold members Roger McGough and John Gorman. The song remained at No. 1 for a second consecutive week, part of a run that saw the comedy folk song reign atop the charts for four of five weeks. “Lily the Pink” had no shortage of future and contemporary star power: Elton John, Graham Nash and Tim Rice provided backup vocals, while Cream’s Jack Bruce laid down the bass line.

The Beatles wouldn’t be absent from the British charts for too long. Exactly five months after December 29, 1968, “Get Back” — which Paul developed out of a jam on January 7, 1969, and was written in the studio throughout the month during the sessions that would bear its name — would debut at No. 1 in the U.K.

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Jan. 8: An hors d’oeuvre

“All Things Must Pass” should have been a Beatles song, another gripping, iconic anthem dating to the group’s long goodbye.

gh-rs

By the time the Beatles were rehearsing and recording in January 1969, George Harrison’s emergence into a songwriter that rivaled John Lennon and Paul McCartney was essentially complete, with “All Things Must Pass” part of that transformation. Taste matters, but a fair argument could be made that the song could have been the band’s greatest.

“All Things Must Pass” — which had the potential to emerge during the Get Back sessions, be performed live and later land on the Let It Be LP — thus could have gone a long way to giving George his ‘moment’ prior to the group’s send-off of Abbey Road. It never happened. But on January 8, John and Paul gave George the option of taking his song, creating that moment and enjoying his own spotlight at the live show to come. They never said it, but based on the prior week’s tapes, the two senior members of the band were probably just disinterested in playing the song.

“Do you fancy just doing it on your own on an acoustic?” Paul asked. “That would work. But it’s a bit of a thing for you.” The “thing” in question was effort.

Paul would know about playing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar while the rest of the Beatles waited in the wings.

Would opportunity knock, but for George this time?

John was on board, too, condescendingly positing George could serve “an hors d’oeuvre” to the presumptive hungry crowd.

George didn’t directly knock the idea, but didn’t follow up on the suggestions, instead trying work Paul and John on the chorus’ harmonies. After scuttling Paul’s suggestion to begin the song with George’s instrumental opening straight into the chorus, instead of the first verse — hey, it worked for Don’t Let Me Down a few days earlier — the pair haggled over the bassist’s harmony line, with Paul complaining it moved too much.

The group spent about a half hour on the tapes working on and around “All Things Must Pass” on January 8 — returning to the song after skipping it the day before — and while there was no significant or specific alterations to the song from the previous days’ rehearsals, they capped the day’s work on the song with a legitimate, listenable and, dare I say, enjoyable take of “All Things Must Pass.” It’s a version that should have shown up, at least, on Anthology 3, in addition to George’s one-man demo from a month later.

While the day’s final take is not too dissimilar in overall form than the one ended up on the final recording on George’s solo debut the following year (excepting the orchestration and dozens of additional flourishes, of course), John’s piano part here — he had moved over from organ in the final phases of the day’s takes — added little, usually amounting to pounding out chords. Still, it’s not wholly detrimental, and Paul’s bass line is on point.  Ringo, as usual, hits the spot.

The Beatles’ greatness has been amplified by the what ifs and what could have beens, and the possibility of a “Beatles’ 1969 classic ‘All Things Must Pass’” is a genuine opportunity lost.

It sounds as good as it could at this point in what amounts to a few hours of overall rehearsal and arrangement with half to three-quarters of the band giving a fraction of effort. It’s the Beatles playing a coherent, complete version of “All Things Must Pass,” and that counts for something in a world where such a release never existed, yet we all paid money (several times, in fact, thanks to new formats, remastering, etc.) to buy “Wild Honey Pie” and “Dig It.”

There is a “rest of the story.” But the vast majority of history of “All Things Must Pass” by the Beatles is now mostly told. This pre-lunch performance marked the final time they played the song at Twickenham. They returned to it very briefly near the end of the month at Savile Row with the support of Billy Preston, who released the song a few months before George would in 1970. By January 8, 1969, the rehearsal stage was essentially over, however, and this was really the final fumes of “All Things Must Pass” as a Beatles song.

Notably, the song never appeared in the Let It Be film. “I Me Mine,” revealed earlier on January 8, did, joining “For You Blue” (which was properly introduced to the band a day later) as George’s contribution to the Get Back sessions. Despite all the hours of rehearsals, the song he carried over into January 1969 as a product of his days with Dylan and The Band, would be passed over by his own band. And it was good enough to serve as the title track of what could be argued to be the greatest Beatles solo album.

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Jan. 8: No blue moon in history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the "Get Back" book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan. 8: Rocky and the Rubbers

Our world lost — and the stars and heavens regained — David Bowie last week. I didn’t feel much like blogging about the Beatles for a little bit, even though this post had already been mostly written. But as the man once sang, time is waiting in the wings, and we should be on by now. So please enjoy the continuation of the Beatles’ Nagra tapes timeline, picking up with the morning of January 8, 1969, as David Bowie was celebrating his 22nd birthday across town and working on writing Space Oddity.

It’s tough to say “this is when they got serious” when there were laughs and smiles throughout, but after more than a half hour on the January 8, 1969, Nagra reels, the Beatles at least found a bit of motivation and a short-term goal to complete, getting serious in deed if not demeanor. With a concert to be staged, John, Paul, George and Ringo gathered their focus for a chirpy, energetic run-through of four songs deemed early contenders for a live show.

Paul led the proceedings, tabbing his original duet as the opener: “Johnny, ‘On Our Way Back Home.’”

If you’ve seen Let It Be — and I really hope you have and will one day again on some sort of modern entertainment replay device – you’ve been struck by how loose John and Paul are, hamming it up as they sing into the same microphone.

Two of Us

Paul, who Ringo in an interview the previous year referred to as“Elvis” in reference to his performance of “Lady Madonna,” was closer to the toxically impaired King, comically slurring and sneering throughout a take that both he and John sang without benefit of a lyric sheet. That’s how we end up with John, laughingly repeating his mistake “two of us wearing postcards” once the take was complete. They laughed the as they sang it during the take, too.

While Paul and John can’t often get through more than a few words without butchering a lyric, there was no turning back once they started, with this a sincere attempt at a run-through.

The sequence appears slightly edited in the film, cutting the performance in half from its actual three minutes to a minute-and-a-half. Had the group secretly abandoned the film and this leaked, conventional wisdom would have been that the group had a blast at Twickenham. Maybe they were just hamming it up for the cameras — or John was, at least — but it’s hard to deny a somewhat different spirit in the room with a watch and listen. When things were languid at Twickenham, it was painfully clear.

A visually telling edit by movie director Michael Lindsay-Hogg comes around 30 seconds into the clip, as we catch John glancing over at Yoko, who blankly stares back, as he stands oh, so close to Paul, showing some of the genuine affection that they certainly used to have and somewhere deep in there still did.

Yoko and Us

Two of us, and also Yoko

If you can use the word “tragedy” when referring to the fact a song was omitted from a compilation –- you shouldn’t, but I will, deplorably -– it’s a tragedy this take didn’t make it onto Anthology 3. It’s in the film, thus is a recognizable, published “official” release, so despite the issues with the lyrics, it’s “out there.” Consumers would have understood having an(other) imperfect take on the compilation, if not welcomed it.

In the film, the song comes out of the “shocktric shocks” sequence from a few days earlier, and then dumps into “I’ve Got a Feeling,” but in reality the group – after the improvised “You Got Me Going” and a few unserious seconds of “Twist and Shout” – delivers “Don’t Let Me Down.” Note the time between the end of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down” is less than a minute. Dallying was at a minimum. While “Don’t Let Me Down” appears several times in Let It Be, this version is not in the film.

George didn’t quite nail the introduction, but again there was no concern when the lyrics were muffed. John simply shouted “Snotgobbler!” and moves on. That’s rock and roll. So was the pre-primal scream from John as the song began.  So were the lyrics “nobody ever rubbed me like she do me,” which John subs in at one point. The band played on, and musically it was relatively tight, really an achievement at this point in the song’s lifespan.

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Paul beard porn from the January 8 sessions, as seen in Let it Be. Thank me later.

John came out of the high-energy take with thanks from the “band.” “God bless you, ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say a sincere farewell from Rocky and the Rubbers, this is Dirty Mac himself saying …”

Paul cut in, all business: “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

goodmorning

“Good morning!”

The performance was a tick slower at the outset, and with continued lyrical miscues (especially Paul and John mismatching “oh no” and “oh yeah” early on), but it retained the same vigor as the two previous songs. Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after wailing “somebody who looks like you!” as George hits the middle-eight guitar part.

This sequence made the film, notably appended to a particularly torturous rehearsal from a day later.

Three songs into the run-through, John revealed some fatigue, perhaps reflecting the weight of the previous week more than the prior 10 minutes: “Only another two days to go, then we’ll have another two off.” But Paul then offers a pick-me-up, suggesting, “Do ‘One After 909’.” So they did.

This number marked the one point in the four-song run-through the group stopped after they started, rebooting the take after George’s solo. Once again, there’s a disconnect with the film. Based on clothes alone, this performance of “One After 909” is featured visually early in the movie — after Paul’s discussion of the song with Lindsay-Hogg from a couple days earlier (as seen in the film) — but paired with the audio of a take from January 9.

The movie and even a moment of the Let It Be LP was further fleshed out with a bit of memorable dialogue coming out of “One After 909.” You’ll hear it on the Let It Be LP prior to “For You Blue,” George’s eventual lone contribution to album that was just days old, as John reads from the newspaper.

Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.

What, you thought she’d be OK with it?

Again, we have a disconnect between the movie and the tapes, as the film moves to a previous day’s take of “Oh! Darling” while in real time, the band had completed their first commitment to a run-through for a show yet to materialize. It was rough, but it was spirited, and if anything, the set must have given them the idea there would be a light at the end of the tunnel if they chose to shine it. With at least four fully formed songs, they were on their way, and the apparent positivity could easily be read to bode good fortune ahead.

Probably inspired by “One After 909,” they continued a quick dip into their back catalog.

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Jan. 8: Take a lesson from Jude

From Liverpool to Hamburg to points circling the globe, the Beatles electrified audiences, and, well, you can insert your own hyperbolic statement about the redefinition of a rock show here. Yet on January 8, 1969, 28 months since they last played proper a live concert (alternately: “only” 28 months since they last played a live concert), Beatlemania was a memory as the group searched, still, for the how and where of their upcoming live TV concert.

The Beatles’ performance of “Hey Jude” on “Frost on Saturday” that was aired nearly four months prior to the day was their new baseline. It was nothing compared to the ideal, the best in the business.

“The example of the perfect stage show is James Brown,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg declared to Paul, George and Ringo. “He’s the greatest stage show of all time, I think.”

For all the R&B the Beatles performed, there’s no evidence they covered the Godfather of Soul, but there were fans among the group. From a press conference in 1965:

Question: “I have a question for all The Beatles here. If you were sitting at home listening to record albums of other recording artists, who are some of the American recording artists that you prefer?”
John: “Otis Redding is one.”
George: “Yeah.”
Paul: “James Brown.”

Paul’s tune was unchanged several decades later, when he told Uncut in 2004 that Brown was “sodding fantastic,” while understandably saying he’s more of a Beatles fan, ultimately.

OK, stack us up against James Brown, record for record, he’s definitely hotter because he’s James Brown. But he didn’t do the stuff we did. He’s James Brown and he’s sodding fantastic. We can all agree on that. But there’s something else to The Beatles. Look, we did a lot of good music. You look at Revolver or Rubber Soul, they are decent efforts by any standards. If they’re not good, then has anyone ever been any good? Because, if they’re not good, then no-one has ever really been that good.

George, who would write in his 1980 autobiography that his favorite cover of “Something” was in fact by Brown, wasn’t quite so much a fan of his act, at least, in the opening days of 1969 — which was when, coincidentally, “Something” was in nascent form.

“I don’t know about that,” George said, dismissively, in response to Lindsay-Hogg’s declaration. “All that, with his cloak and his crown …”

When I hold you in my arms, I know that I can’t do no wrong. (ca. 2000.)

Paul and Ringo parodied Brown’s “cape routine,”Paul pleading, “Come back, Ringo, come back!” “I can’t do no more, man,” Ringo moans in response.

Lindsay-Hogg beamed in recounting a Brown performance. “He’s got comedy and everything, and he has all that bit before he comes on. And I love when he comes on with that little white suitcase that says ‘Out of Sight’ on it, with that white silk suit.”

There’s no delusion — nobody at Twickenham thought or suggested the Beatles try to stage a show like Brown’s. So instead, as they’ve done before, they returned to their own recent benchmark: “Hey Jude.”

With Paul having already mentioned earlier that morning the suggestion of “[opening] the doors [to the audience], and we’re in the middle of a number,” Lindsay-Hogg — the director of the “Hey Jude” segment — wondered if the band shouldn’t be awaiting the audience’s arrival. “It’s all collected and you’re all together, then you start, as opposed to you coming on as the Beatles, it’s like much more intimate and participated that you’re there.

“If we were to do it here, the way to do it is to make the big brotherhood again”

Paul’s on board with a rerun of audience participation, a la “Hey Jude.” But it seems he thinks his luck with the “na-nas” of 1968 wouldn’t be repeated in the new year. “If we could do it, I thought it would be great, really, if all the audience did it,” Paul says before he imitates the crowd clapping and singing responsively the “oh, yeah” in “I’ve Got a Feeling. ”

“But the British audience [would sing, mockingly, in drawn-out tones], ‘Oh, yeeees, oh yes. They’re bloody good, this mother,’”

Rehearsing "Hey Jude," September 1968.

Rehearsing “Hey Jude,” September 1968.

Lindsay-Hogg wanted nothing to do with Twickenham — or anywhere in England — as a concert locale, but this early in the sessions he’s at least showing signs of a vaguely open mind and understanding the final decision won’t be his anyway.

“I think if we do it here — and that’s an extremely long pause after that, ‘If we do it here’ — we ought to I think, which is what we’re talking about, is take a lesson from Jude. Which is another title for a song: ‘Take a Lesson From Jude.’ And make it that kind of thing where the audience is involved, but in a good way. When I say a party, I don’t mean paper hats and balloons.”

“Maybe we should have,” George chipped in.

The discussion shifted to the potential decriminalization of pot — sparked from a reading of the daily papers and the Wooton Report — and it’s around then John finally arrived and joined his mates as George said he was keeping his guitar warm for him.

With characteristic sarcasm, John replied, “I’ve been dreaming about get[ting] back to my guitar.”

The band’s all here, and a loose warmup began with some R&B — alas, not James Brown, but an improvisation led by Paul that name-dropped French fries and sausages that evolved into a song from one of Brown’s early contemporaries: Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush.” It was a song Paul later recorded for “Run Devil Run” and John rehearsed with Elephant’s Memory before his 1972 concert in New York, if the bootlegs are to believed.

“Honey Hush” wandered into “Stand By Me,” a song very definitely covered by John for “Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1975 and his last single before his comeback in 1980. This time, Paul was on vocals, and he gave it the same grandiose treatment he delivered on “I Me Mine,” adding a little “The Barber of Seville” flavor for good measure.

More than 30 years later, Paul and James Brown shared the microphone on a version of “Stand By Me.”

As the Beatles continued getting loose, a mention of one Harry Pinsker led to a cheeky rendition of the “Hare Krishna Mantra” with the Apple Records accountant in the lead role. The Radha Krsna Temple (London)’s version of the chant, as produced by George Harrison months later amid the Abbey Road sessions in the summer of 1969, peaked at No. 12 on the U.K. charts.

As they wrapped their approximation of the chant, and with discussion of staging ongoing, the Beatles began their first sincere stab at a genuine run-through of their new songs. If you’re seen the “Let It Be” film, you’ve seen much of that performance.

“Johnny,” Paul instructed laying out the set’s opener, “’On Our Way Back Home.’”

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Jan. 8: All through the day

It all came together thanks to television, LSD, a dance and a dare.

George Harrison started the fifth day of the Beatles’ sessions at Twickenham, January 8, 1969, with the dare, challenging director Michael Lindsay-Hogg with a new song in hand.

“‘I Me Mine’ it’s called,” George says to the crinkling of paper being unfolded. “Should I sing it to you? I don’t care if you don’t want it, I don’t give a shit about it. I don’t give a fuck [if it’s] going in your musical. [laughter]

“It’s a heavy waltz.”

An edited version of this moment — the origin story of what would become one of George’s two contributions to the Let It Be LP — along with a performance of the song, appears in the film of the same name in a three-minute sequence that closed out the Twickenham portion of the movie. On the Nagra tapes, the band is introduced to the song and would later work through and rehearse it roughly five separate times in the five hours of the day’s tapes, covering about an hour total.

The first 45 seconds of the song are familiar: It’s George accompanying himself on guitar to the first two verses of the song, and those lyrics are the same as would eventually be released. But to this point, there is no chorus, instead a brief flamenco-inspired guitar part bridges the verses.

After this initial debut, George interrupted himself to again gush about John’s 1969 diary — “Got up. Went to work. Came home. Watched telly. Went to bed.” — providing himself a segue to his prior night’s entertainment. Once more, it was the Beatles talking about and drawing inspiration from television.

“It was the TV, you see.” George said, recounting he was watching “that science fiction thing, but then it suddenly turned into that crap about medals and things.” That crap was an episode of the weekly program Europa, “The Titled and the Unentitled.” Per the original TV listing, the show “looks at the aspects of pomp and circumstance through European eyes-with a special report from French Television on the investiture this summer of the Prince of Wales.”

George Harrison, MBE, may have found the subject matter “crap,” but in his role as musical prospector, he found value amidst the precious medals being discussed. Specifically some incidental music during the program — Johann Strauss’ “Kaiser Walzer” — sparked George at some point between 9:55 and 10:25 p.m. GMT the night of January 7.

(George would have seen a different performance. This one is from 2008.)

“That’s what gave me the idea. Suddenly, it was the bit where they were all coming in from the ball. I think it was Austria, and they all had their medals. And there was some music that was just playing … like a 3/4 thing. Some things like that happen where you just hear something, and it registers in your head as something else. And so I just had that in there, the waltz thing.

“It’s like one of those things where they’re all swaying.”

Years later, in his pseudo autobiography that took the name of this very song, George addresses the origins of the lyrics.

I Me Mine is the ‘ego’ problem. …

I suppose having LSD was like somebody catapulting me out into space. The LSD experience was the biggest experience that I’d had up until that time. … [A]fter one dose of acid I felt I was stuck in this thing, which later I realised is called ‘relativity’. So, the big ‘I’ I’m talking about is the absolute, whereas we’re in the relative where everything is good-bad, yes-no, up-down, black-white. That’s why they called it the heaven and hell drug! But life is heaven and hell, we see it as, or make it into hell or heaven: there’s no heaven and hell beyond relativity.

So suddenly, I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego — you know, like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel, or ‘give it to me or I am’. It drove me crackers; I hated everything about my ego — it was a flash of everything false and impermanent which I disliked. But later, I learned from it: to realise that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth …

Anyway that’s what came out of it: I Me Mine. The truth within us has to be realised: when you realise that everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is and can answer the question ‘who am I’?.

After an extensive return to discussion of the “science fiction” — the series “Out of the Unknown” and the episode “Immortality Inc.” as excitedly shared in rich detail by George and Ringo — George presents the new song to Paul, who had just arrived at Twickenham.

“Is that grammatical? Flowing more freely than wine? Flowing much freer?” George asks. “If there were such a word as ‘freer’ is it ‘f-r-e-e-e-r?” George asks. “It’s ‘f-r-e-r’” Michael concludes before Paul chips in, “It’s like ‘queer.’”

It would be more than two hours until the group returned to “I Me Mine” — what they did in the interim will, of course, be the subject of subsequent posts. Once they did return to the song, George addressed John, who wasn’t yet at the studio when the song was first introduced. “Would you like to learn a new one?” George asks. “Very simple,” George assures him.

After John clowns around through a couple abbreviated spins through the song, he mockingly suggests he play the barrel organ, while George had more seriously considered adding an acoustic bass. “Want the accordion?” Paul asks George, who’s open to that sincere suggestion. “If it’s not here, then just fuck it.” Alas, Paul’s accordion — he did have one, you know — wasn’t at Twickenham. What John would really like is an electric piano setup, but that too isn’t yet available. One thing they do have is some working effects, and an upbeat John has plenty of fun with the echo.

“Are you going to teach us this?” John asks, and George supplies the band, at last, with chords to “I Me Mine.” Soon enough, however, John doesn’t play at all. Instead, as Strauss intended, he and Yoko waltz on the soundstage as George, Paul and Ringo provide the soundtrack.

imemine

George loves the antics, and doesn’t need the extra musical accompaniment John would offer anyway.

“Do you want to do that on the show?” George asks John. “That’d be great, ‘cause it’s so simple to do, the tune. But to do that waltz, or something, if you want to bag it up a bit.” Laughing, Paul offers a mock show introduction to the song: “John and Yoko would like to waltz in their white bag, And there’s a white bag waltzing around. They were doing things inside it.

“We should do it like an escapoligists thing. You can see they’re not tied at all. There’s nothing up their sleeves. And we put the bag over them.”

Excitedly, George thinks about playing up the character of the song itself, too. “Castanets on that bit,” he suggests for the flamenco part. Through the entirety of the song’s development and rehearsal, the Beatles are animated, embracing the fun of a song outside their normal sound, and thinking visually for the show. Excepting some of Paul’s offbeat ideas for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” it’s one of the rare times on the tapes the band actively discusses a performance of a song and explicitly how it could be staged.

“Are you sure that’s grammatic?” George asks once more. “Flowing more freely?” Michael assures him it’s fine.

As rehearsals continue and the group works out the transition from the verses into the flamenco bit, Paul finds a bit of inspiration, recalling “Domino,” a hit for Tony Martin nearly two decades earlier, and covered by the likes of Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Andy Williams (whose cover Paul seems to evoke most) in the years since.

While the group worked out the newest Harrisong, the conversation twisted to George’s very first composition, “Don’t Bother Me,” which surfaced on With The Beatles in 1963.

You know I was in bed, at Bourenmouth, we were on a summer season. And the doctor gave me some tonic, which must have had amphetamine or something in it. And the rest of you all just drank it to get high. And that’s when I wrote that one.

John and Yoko apparently continued to dance with enough frequency that Paul called them out on it. “You’ll spoil the spontaneity of the dance when you actually have to do it,” he said. Paul, along with George, offered dance instructions to the pair as the song sharpened quickly. Soon enough the production gained Lindsay-Hogg’s attention, as he must have missed several of the rehearsals as the day progressed.

“That’s great,” MLH says, apparently seeing the dance for the first time and being told it was for the show. “Its beautiful. The whole thing should be very Brechtian. … [The show] should be called ‘January 20, 1969,’ and that every song has a character. Like that’s the character of that one.” The conversation continues about the “very theatrical” live show. But that’s a story for another blog post.

imemine-clip

The Threetles rehearse “I Me Mine.” From the Let It Be film.

Returning to the song, Paul plays the role of fixer again, like he did with “Don’t Let Me Down” days before, as George troubleshoots the transition from the verses into the flamenco break. “That sounds like it would be a good rock bit, it gets out of the idea of the waltz.” The next take on tape (there’s a cut but it doesn’t sounds as if much time had passed) has Paul and George hashing out a chorus that starts as “my my my” to a 12-bar blues progression.

“Just do it like a beep-beep harmony,” Paul says before singing “my my my” in a high register, as he sang “beep beep, beep beep, yeah!” in “Drive My Car” less than four years earlier. This chorus then fell into the flamenco break.

We’re left with another tape cut, but here it is clear a little bit of time has elapsed. The 12-bar progression remains, but now “my my, me me, mine” is sung over it. In a few minutes that would evolve into the “I I, me me, mine” that was later immortalized on wax, but not first without a little bit of push and pull between Paul and George.

Paul: “My my” is good to sing. It’s like “mm-mah, mm-mah.”

“I, I” is not … as easy to do. … It’s like “nn-night” is easy to sing. “Rr-right.” The “mm-mah” is easy … It’s like “my, my, my” is easy to shout.”

While he says Paul can sing what he wants, George’s mind is made up and he continues to sing “I I, me me, mine.” It stuck, and Paul subsequently sang George’s suggestion for the day’s final few attempts (and, of course, on the eventual release).

The final stab at the song for the day, a complete take, is what appeared in the film. For the final hour on the tapes, the band moved onto “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” before wrapping the day with a lengthy discussion about the live show.

By way of comparison of other songs the group had been working on these first few days, the writing/rehearsal sessions for “I Me Mine” were painless. The development and improvement of the song was linear, resulting in a final run through that may not have been release-ready — nothing at Twickenham was nor was intended to be — but was a sharp, concise (clocking in at under two minutes), complete song that was a reasonable contender for the live show. At that point, with the performance looming in 11 days, that’s all they needed. “Bits” were generally worked out, and there was even a visual to add to the live production.

And about that visual: John and Yoko’s dance. It’s entirely feasible and reasonable to say their waltz, however cheeky and contrived it was, is the reason “I Me Mine” exists at all, at least in the Beatles’ catalog. To explain, we must look beyond January 8, 1969. Well past.

The Beatles didn’t attempt “I Me Mine” during the balance of the January 1969 sessions. This was it; the song’s introduction and development on January 8 marked the entirety of the Beatles’ work on the song during the Get Back sessions. George demoed three songs seven weeks later on his birthday, but “I Me Mine” wasn’t among them (instead, he recorded “Something,” “All Things Must Pass” and “Old Brown Shoe,” versions of which appeared on Anthology 3). If the Beatles ever considered “I Me Mine” for Abbey Road, evidence is lacking.

The song’s sound and words were born of TV and LSD. But the reason “I Me Mine” exists at all as a song by the Beatles is because of the dance.

rockband

You can play “I Me Mine” on the Savile Row rooftop in Rock Band: Beatles, but George himself never played the song live on either his 1974 or 1991 tours.

When John and Yoko waltzed to “I Me Mine,” the underdeveloped show idea finally had a specific visual Michael Lindsay-Hogg could attach to a song. Yet, in less than two days’ time, George quit the group, and upon his return, he made clear he didn’t want to perform any of his songs live (although he did bring several more new songs to the studio to work on). But for the purposes of the Let It Be film, the job was done. The waltz ensured a place for “I Me Mine” in the movie, and thus, required the song a place on the soundtrack. Thing is, there was never a proper recording done of the song at Twickenham, and there wasn’t suitable recording equipment there anyway. In every prior iteration of a potential Get Back/Let It Be album, as compiled by Glyn Johns, “I Me Mine” was left off, since it hadn’t otherwise been a consideration for the LP. The movie changed that.

Once the song was earmarked for the film and thus the album, the Threetles made their debut. On January 3 and 4, 1970 — almost a year to the day after George wrote the song and brought it to Twickenham — George, Paul and Ringo spent one last session together at Abbey Road, recording “I Me Mine.” John was on holiday in Denmark, but that almost didn’t matter: He had already privately quit the band more than two months earlier. As George remarked, “Dave Dee is no longer with us” as they went ahead, for one last time, to “carry on the good work that’s always gone down in [Studio] No. 2.”

Phil Spector took the recording, embellished it, doubled its length and tacked it onto Let It Be as the Beatles formally expired as a group. Like John’s “Across the Universe,” the song it follows on Let It Be and precedes on Let It Be … Naked, “I Me Mine” in its final form is not a product of 1969. It’s worth noting, too, that George turned around “I Me Mine” in a relatively complete form in less than 24 hours. John dragged out a nearly year-old “Across The Universe” and still couldn’t make it workable for the show.

The same three men who laid down “I Me Mine”  — George, Paul and Ringo — returned to the studio together 24 years later to record John’s “Free as a Bird.” Paul convinced himself it was OK to record a new Beatles song without John.

“I invented a little scenario,” Paul said of recording the group’s first song since “I Me Mine.”

“[John’s] gone away on holiday.”

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Jan. 7: Et cetera

Every day at Twickenham was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions was drama-filled and pivotal. Every day the Beatles recorded together was pivotal, if not necessarily drama-filled, right?

January 7 was a particular special day. Dramatic. Pivotal. The group talked in circles about the live show and their reasons for even remaining together. Paul bestowed us with a chunk of the Abbey Road medley as well as “The Long and Winding Road” and “Get Back.” George triedbut didn’t — quit (yet).  John worked “Across The Universe” back into the Beatles’ plans. The band very possibly invented the mashup.

Things were so interesting that we covered just about all of it in prior the prior January 7 posts. But not everything. Here are a few other significant moments that happened this day that otherwise didn’t fit into the day’s storyline:

Following their attempts to resurrect “Across the Universe,” the group spends less than 10 minutes (on tape) on “One After 909,” and they didn’t need to spend another minute more on it. It’s clear they know the song perfectly well, and the need to develop “bits” that tortured the group elsewhere was absent. After the very first run-through, imperfect but still tight given the sub-100 percent effort, Paul remarks, “That’s all we need to know of that one.” Really,  he said it all. “It’s very simple, and we shouldn’t over-rehearse.”

Billy’s missing, but every other element from the song as we know it now sounds like it’s there, from George’s whiny guitar line and solo to Paul’s and John’s vocal and Ringo’s tight beat. The song is show-ready, even in this early rehearsal.

“Don’t Let Me Down” is rehearsed again — it would be tackled every day the band was at Twickenham until George’s departure, and then again most days at Apple when they reconvened. One particular sequence sees the band return to another song, which like “One After 909,” they originally recorded in 1963. But “Devil In Her Heart” wasn’t a contender for the live show. George’s playing on “Don’t Let Me Down” was merely evocative of the Donays song later covered by the Beatles to great effect. (Skip forward to here for the transition or listen below for the entire sequence.)

I think this is less a half-hearted attempt than the group genuinely doesn’t remember how to play that song anymore. Regardless, it was merely a blip, albeit a somewhat interesting one, in the sessions.

Unlike other days, the group didn’t pay significant time to sincerely playing covers. We get to hear a loose take of Little Richard’s “Lucille” for the second and final time on the tapes (January 3 was the previous performance). That was preceded by a rehash of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” that got better as the band played, although admittedly they kicked it off from an weak position and ended up in a slightly less-so place. There’s little question the group sounds like it’s having fun playing songs they all know, even if they’re not executing well.



John also dipped into the group’s more recent catalog, plunking a few notes of “Revolution” in a sequence that soon saw him lead the group into Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula,” a song with extensive Beatle ties. It was the first record Paul ever bought, a song John played going back to the Quarrymen days and it was played live extensively in the Beatles’ early days. Ultimately, John would record it on “Rock & Roll” more than five years after these sessions, while Paul opened his landmark Unplugged appearance with the song in 1991. The song was always with George: He scrawled “Bebobalula.” on his colorful Stratocaster, Rocky.

The tapes of the day’s sessions would end with the group in the midst of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” rehearsals. As you can hear, there was no significant work done to the song since its debut the day before.

And that wraps up our coverage of January 7, 1969. Back “tomorrow,” for coverage a compelling January 8, 1969. We’ll start things off with “I Me Mine.”

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Jan. 7: Tumble blindly

As far as pitches go, it’s pretty lukewarm.

“I think it’s a waste just banishing it,” John says. “I’d sooner stick it in here.”

It is “Across the Universe” and here is the live show the Beatles were rehearsing for at Twickenham in January 1969. Decades later an established favorite in the Beatles canon, “Across the Universe” was merely an unsatisfactory recording in author John Lennon’s opinion, one that remained in the can for 11 months as of this date. But the song had definite resonance with John.

From his interview with Rolling Stone in 1970:

It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.

The song’s origin dated to 1967, when he was still married to Cynthia. From his interview with Playboy in 1980:

I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right? …

Recorded in the same February 1968 sessions that yielded “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” and “Hey Bulldog,” “Across the Universe” was initially John’s pick for a single release while the Beatles were in India the subsequent month. But unhappy with the recording, John withdrew the song for single consideration. “[N]obody was interested in doing it originally, everyone was sickened,” John said in 1980. “The tune was good, but subliminally, people don’t want to work with it sometimes.” John called the bad recording an example of “subconscious sabotage” by Paul.

Meanwhile, Paul’s “Lady Madonna” won the honor  for the single, and John “banished” the song by offering “Across the Universe” to Goons alum Spike Milligan for a charity album he was compiling to benefit the World Wildlife Fund. That part of the story comes later.

An early take of the song eventually surfaced on Anthology 2 in 1996 while another take from that same session was ultimately used as the basis for the Let It Be version before being reworked again for Let it Be … Naked.

That part of the story comes later, too.

Between February 1968 and January 1969, the Beatles had issued a 30-song LP (the White Album), two singles (“Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude“) and their Christmas album, and 10 days after this January 7, 1969, session the Yellow Submarine soundtrack would come out. But none of those releases featured “Across the Universe,” a fully recorded and mixed track.  The Beatles weren’t attempting to lay down tracks for an album at Twickenham, and this early they conceded any eventual yield from these sessions that ended up on vinyl would be a bonus.

It’s under these circumstances John thinks the time is right for a reintroduction of “Across the Universe,” on the heels of a hefty dose of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s also a window into the relatively exhausted state of John’s songwriting at this point after his explosive contributions to the White Album. Paul is writing on the spot at the sound stage and George is bringing in songs he developed the night before. John is left offering a year-old song that was already recorded as a contribution to the show, a “Cynthia” song —  presumably his last — brought forward in time to Generation Yoko. And on top of that …

It’s “another slow one,” too.  “I know that we’ll knock off a couple of fast ones,” John bemoans. “If I just wasn’t so tired when I got in …”

George expresses that it’s OK to have another slow song, and we hear a snippet of the tune to be later known as “Gimme Some Truth” for the second time these sessions. “That’s another one,” John says. “It’s a pity they’re all so similar because it would have been nice, that ‘Hypocrites’ one.

“What’s the first line?” John asks as the group begins work on “Across the Universe.”

He gave the song a pair of run-throughs just the day before, and did in fact get the opening right but not much else.  On January 7, the words were not at all flowing, like a paper cup or much of anything else, as he limps through a lackluster initial take. Once a set of lyrics finally arrived from the office, John baffled even himself with his poetry.

“Tumble blindly?” he asks with incredulity.

With lyrics in hand, work begins anew on the arrangement.

John: When we were doing it last time, we did it all right in the end.  The thing I don’t lke about the version we did, is we didn’t dig it the time we did it. All that tamboura was great.

George: I liked those girls singing as well, which you didn’t like. The whole record is great, really. It’s just another idea, another way of doing it.

John: I haven’t heard it in along time.

After John responds to Paul’s question on the status of the World Wildlife Fund LP for the second time in as many days (“they haven’t gotten it together yet”), the tape cuts before dumping us mid-rehearsal as the group continues work on the song. Pacing is an early issue, and John asks Ringo if he can remember his part from the recording. To George, the slower pace, compared to the recording, fits the song’s mood. “It couldn’t be any other way,” John replies. “I couldn’t get the words out. There’s no breath.”

The drone — played on the tamboura for the 1968 recording — was something John liked very much, and how to include that here was debated with an organ making an appearance. John briefly accompanied himself on the instrument before abandoning it, saying that playing along was “too hard.”

In the near 40 minutes on and off focused on “Across the Universe” rehearsals on the tapes, there were brief moments where the band sounded tight and the group’s harmonies clicked, but takes usually crumbled. John gave George, who was employing heavy wah-wah, carte blanche with the song’s introduction. “Whatever you’d like, you’re on your own there.”

The rare song brought to the Get Back sessions complete and — like “One After 909” (which would be be played between “Across the Universe” takes) — recorded previously as well, “Across The Universe” was a venue for the group to play out a bit of their frustrations and feeling of being trapped in their own group dynamic and in these sessions. It’s not just in the clip below, but throughout the day’s takes, the song is performed lethargically, but it’s plausible to think Paul and John believe it when they sing “nothing’s gonna change my world” so strongly together. Just a few hours earlier they backed off the brink of breakup, perhaps they were resigning themselves that the world they were in really wasn’t going to change. One take, in response to his own chorus conceding nothing was gonna change his world, John says as an aside, “I wish it fucking would.”

Nothing was gonna change that song, either — John made no attempt to solicit or attempt any significant tweaks to the song, keeping the original lyrics, structure and melodies intact. Paul applied a few spontaneous harmonies, although it was unclear if it was something that would have remained if the song advanced further in the sessions.

There are several excursions from “Across the Universe” including a second abbreviated attempt at what John seemed to consider an unfinished companion song in “Gimme Some Truth.” While John suggested writing more, the group merely played the minute or so of the song it knew and moved on.



“That’s just as exciting as the other one,” John says sarcastically as the band finishes playing a bit of the song. This would mark the end of “Gimme Some Truth” as a Beatles song as John left it in an aborted state. It would not be rehearsed again these sessions on the tapes, or presumably in any other Beatles session in 1969. George would ultimately play guitar for John when the song surfaced on Imagine in 1971 in a version as dynamic as the Beatles version was listless.

About 45 minutes after the final attempt at “Across the Universe” and several attempts of “Don’t Let Me Down” came one of the more surreal moments of the Beatles’ time at Twickenham captured on the Nagra reels. With the work day nearly complete, the group finally got to hear a copy of the original recording of “Across the Universe,” as requested by John as the song’s rehearsals began. For about 3 1/2 minutes, we listen to the band listen to themselves on record, the entirety of the World Wildlife Fund version of the song that would be released more than 11 months later, in December 1969.

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Of note, is that the sound effects were already in place on what was a freshly cut acetate. According to the liner notes accompanying the 2009 The Beatles in Mono box set, the sounds were added in January 1969, which means it was completed within the previous 144 hours. So its feasible this was the first time the group was hearing that addition, and George was vocal about his displeasure. “I don’t like that flapping,” the Beatle says of the bird. “It takes too long before it does it” (presumably meaning the song starts).  It’s difficult to hear much other discussion — although there clearly is some, along with mild attempts by the group to play along.

A sequence in the Let it Be film lasting less than a minute and 45 seconds, spliced in immediately following the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” line captures a taste of the January 7 “Across the Universe” session. The song would be rehearsed, briefly, once more two days later before being shelved completely, falling out of consideration for the live show.

The song’s association with Let It Be — the album and the film — is really a complete anachronism, but certainly not without reason.  The group spent about an hour (on the tapes) working on “Across the Universe” during the Get Back sessions, half of that on January 7 with the balance January 6 and 9. None of those takes have been formally released on record, with the only official glimpse the brief segment in the film. The song made its way onto at least one of Glyn Johns’ compilations for the aborted Get Back LP and ultimately found its way onto Phil Spector’s final Let It Be, in a production beloved by John. The anachronism carried even further onto Let It Be … Naked, which intended to reissue the original record and thus sessions in an unvarnished fashion, yet it still included a mix of the 1968 version of “Across the Universe.”

Because it was in the film and as of early 1970 was a finished Beatles product but not yet surfaced on a Beatles release, there was a perfect excuse for “Across the Universe” to make the soundtrack. To repeat John from January 7, 1969: “I think it’s a waste just banishing it. I’d sooner stick it in here.”

The group spent considerably more time on songs like “All Things Must Pass” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” during the Get Back sessions. But with the former not in the film and earmarked as a George solo song, and the latter already released on Abbey Road by the time the film was released, “Across the Universe” by comparison didn’t not make sense as an option for the Let It Be LP. This, even though it was a song that featured a master track from 1968 and strings and production from 1970. In 1969, a bird made music on “Across the Universe,” but not a Beatle.

The record as produced by Spector featured 12 songs, 11 from the January 1969 sessions. The 12th — “Across the Universe” — fell under the Let It Be banner to save it from eternal banishment.

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