Tag Archives: Twickenham

Jan. 13: Picasso’s last words

At the conclusion of the 1956 French documentary “Le Mystère Picasso,” the grand old painter splashed his iconic signature on a print and announced (translated to English), “That’s the end.” He wasn’t bargaining with director Henri-Georges Clouzot, himself considered a master in his field. It was a declaration: This film was over.

Pablo Picasso’s paintings and his exhaustive creative process were the focus of the film, his hand usually invisible as it brushed across a transparent screen, at times in black and white, and at others in vibrant color. In the film, Picasso produced several completed paintings, and we catch occasional glimpses of him at work, creating art out of nothing in an spartan studio while holding an occasional dialogue with the film’s director. This should sound familiar.

Paul McCartney had a few occasions to come across the film. It was screened in Liverpool in June 1958, when Paul turned 16 and was nearly a year into his creative partnership with John Lennon. But odds are Paul saw it sometime between late January and March 1967, when the film was shown at the Academy Two in the West End, about 2 1/2 miles from where the Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a very short walk from other frequent haunts like the Saville Theater and the Bag O’Nails. (The documentary was broadcast on BBC-2 in May 1968, as well, but Paul was in New York at the time).

One of several films considered a reference point in the early afternoon of January 13, 1969, “Le Mystère Picasso” was mentioned by Paul as an inspiration to Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was in the midst of directing what became known as the Beatles’ Get Back project.

“They don’t sort of fast-cut the paintings,” Paul said to Michael. “And these songs are going to be our paintings at the end of it.”

The endgame for the Beatles’ documentary of the creative process was unclear even as the documentary was underway. And unlike Picasso, here the creative powers continuously bargained with the director.

That Paul, with a comparatively quiet Ringo Starr, would even waste time debating with Michael speaks to the confidence the band had to to see out this project.

Yes, yes, and then there were two. So what, the show must go on. And that’s why the Beatles were at Twickenham Film Studios to start 1969, after all: to stage a show. The rhythm section was in tow relatively early that Monday. Of the missing half, one member had already decisively quit while another was frustratingly unreachable.

Having recapped the previous day’s difficult meeting that saw George Harrison ultimately walk out in large part due to the disruptive dynamic between John and girlfriend Yoko Ono, the present conversation only looked ahead.

This initial sequence first appeared on film in the 2021 Get Back docuseries.

“If we were going to take a ship’s pool on what our communal life is going to be in the next two weeks, what are we all betting?” Michael, in his imitable way, asked Paul and Ringo.

Paul shared his hopes the current state of limbo would only be temporary. “I think we see the end of this week out,” he said. “And something will have happened, definitely. … Then we’ll say that we don’t come in next week and we sort of chuck it. Or, we come in next week, and .. make it next week.”

“Then we send the guys off to Africa,” Michael chimed in, to laugher.

Paul continued, laying out the actual logistics.

“We’ve got to stop the clock while this is all going on. Like, this isn’t counted. We should cancel that [January] 18th date, ‘cause it should definitely be the 19th already, ‘cause we’re going to lose today.”

Timing mattered, and so did location.

“We should do it here,” said Ringo, again. His desire to stay in England was a true constant in January 1969, and he only briefly toyed with the idea of traveling a few days earlier. But that was then, and now, there seemed to be true consensus on staying put at Twickenham or nearby — and that included the better halves.

Paul: I don’t really see any point anymore [in going overseas].

Ringo: There were eight of us who didn’t see any point.

Paul: And luckily we’re the Beatles, who don’t see any point.

As had been the case for nearly two weeks, while they may not have known what they wanted out of the show, they knew what they didn’t want. At least Paul knew, speaking on behalf of Beatles present and otherwise unavailable.

At once a touchstone and a millstone, the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was filmed a month earlier in London under Michael’s direction and with John as one of the performers. Paul, who had seen an early cut of the film — it wasn’t released commercially until 1996 — made clear the fast-moving Circus wasn’t a format he wanted to follow, continuing to deflate Michael.

“It didn’t look right,” Paul said. “I know it was a bad print. But like, I didn’t ever get into any one of the Who. Ever. It was the event all the time. And no one digs that. That’s over, that sort of event, I think. It really is now, if you’re trying to show him, I just really say just stick [the camera] on him.”

A “study.”

That’s what Linda Eastman suggested, and Paul repeated.

Here’s where the conversation turned to “Le Mystère Picasso” — it showed up as “The Picasso Mystery” in British movie listings. Anecdotally, Paul called it “Picasso Paints.”

Michael contended the documentary the Beatles were filming — not the grand finale concert, wherever it may be, but this ongoing build-up — was the study, but Paul suggested the examination should extend into that live performance. He saw “Le Mystère Picasso” as analogous to this Beatles concert.

“They didn’t sort of fast-cut the paintings or anything,” Paul said to Michael, who was also familiar with the film. “He just sort of painted them. They showed how he built up, and they stayed on it.”

There’s a bit of a straw-man argument going on, since Michael never contended he should litter the film with quick cuts. To the contrary, he complained about that very technique in the recently broadcast Cream Farewell Concert.

Paul brought it back to the Circus, and justifiably, as it was Michael’s most recent production and featured fellow A-listers.  It wasn’t just contemporary, but it was competition. (And perhaps moreso personally so for Paul, with John having been a Circus performer). January 1969 had seen a lot of wandering discussions on where a Beatles concert should be. Here Paul — speaking over Michael — explained how he thought it should look, regardless of location.

“Very, very bright lights, so you see every detail about [Ringo], instead of moody things. Really totally bright-lit, it hardly needs scenery or anything. Really should be about him and his drum kit. … Says it all.

“And then John: his amp, his guitar. Actually sitting there, doing it at that minute. I think if you start going in that direction, then, I think you might think of a great idea. ‘Oh, incidentally, we think it all should be done in a black bag or something.’”

Michael pushed back, saying the Circus had a very deliberate design.

“You can’t compare the two,” Michael said. “The Circus was designed as an event. It was a different concept. The Rolling Stones needed a family show, and Mick [Jagger] wanted a family show. Mick said he wanted Ed Sullivan without Ed Sullivan.”

I’ll leave the analysis of Mick’s motivation to the Rolling Stones writers and researchers (free blog name suggestion: “Traps for Troubadours”). Those intentions, though, eventually impacted the Beatles’ decision-makers.

“You don’t go off Ringo,” Paul clarified. “Don’t go off into the scenic backgrounds. Or the audience. Or the moon. It’s not necessary.”

Swept up in the vision, Linda said, “God, you have it. Ooh.” Overwhelmed by the very thought of the Beatles, she quickly giggled before regaining her composure. Linda wore her love of the Beatles on her sleeve. It went beyond her personal affection for Paul.

Paul’s right: Michael did cut away from Pete Townshend as soon as he finished the windmill. (From Rock and Roll Circus)

“I missed a lot of that Who thing the other day,” Paul continued, with Linda occasionally interjecting and overlapping her agreement. “Pete Townshend, I never saw him. I’d really like to look at him for a long time cause he fascinates me. … I’d like to really just see what he looks like after he’s done that thing (presumably his windmill guitar move). …

“You know, [I’d like to see] Keith Moon just sort of jabbering away on the drums, just for a whole number almost. OK, so you’re going to have to cut between the four of them. But it’s just that thing, really sticking with it. And I think that’s the point of this show, for us.”

Paul evoked the news again.

“The really good coverage is the shot of the fellow with the gun to a head, and the fellow who got that [camera] shot, that was the man who covered the event,” Paul said a few moments earlier. “The fellow who got the guy on the ground afterwards with the blood coming out of his head missed it. And with all that fast-cutting, [you missed it].”

Less gruesome comparisons continued. It emerged as the best way for the director and the talent to triangulate an acceptable idea for their own production:

Top of the Pops: Michael said “they never help the act. … If you just take a wide shot of [the Who] doing their act, with no particular response from the audience, they do look like they’re lunatics, but the wrong kind of lunatics.”

Ringo brought up a recent appearance from Crazy World of Arthur Brown, whose single “Fire” hit No. 1 in Summer 1968, to prove this point. “The camera needs to do something. And Arthur Brown, every time he came on … he’s so wild, and the camera’s going wild so you didn’t see anything.”

The “Hey Jude” promo film: “The comment about ‘Jude’ was that when I was doing those high bits, you didn’t see me doing them,” Paul complained to its director.

Michael, for his part, expressed regret at how the sequence turned out.

“I physically couldn’t get a camera onto you because they couldn’t hear the talk-back,” he said, referring to communication with his crew. “I should have been ready for that, but it was a mistake.”

An excerpt from “an old film” on TV the night before (probably something shown during Film Night on BBC-2): “They came down on the rooftops of Paris,” Paul said, with Glyn and Michael saying they saw the same sequence, too, at 11:15 p.m.

“And that’s really where this should all be at Twickenham. This should totally be built like those film sets. So that you can glide all over the place like on tracks and everything with your cameras, go to places that TV cameras don’t go. So you can come down out of that roof, on one long shot, right from the back there, and just come down on a thing. Slowly, like a chair lift, right down, right into Ringo’s face on the one shot, from right back from there. It’s like the old films, and have all sorts of cranes and lifts and stuff for your cameras to float around us. And just all that flowing movement. And then the songs, you know? And just really stay with us. And then that’ll create your sets then, you’ll have cameras hanging all over the place.

From Anthology

If that sequence sounds familiar, it should: It was included in the 1995 Beatles Anthology documentary. It was not included in Get Back more than a quarter-century later.

Linda continued to be unable to resist the Beatles on film, even as she sat with them in person. “Mmm, but just them,” she said.

Andy Warhol’s Empire: This was a cautionary tale. It’s one thing to linger on Ringo’s drum kit for a three minutes. It’s another to have a single, black-and-white shot of the stationary Empire State Building for eight hours.

“That idea of slowly getting into the thing and being careful not to miss anything … I really do think you’ll find the pace is there without you having to put it there,” Paul tried to explain. “It’s like with Warhol’s things is that he does go right in to the other extreme. He reckons his pace in that Empire State [sic]. But I wouldn’t agree with him, I’d think he’d be boring, but I see his point.”

Glyn does too, but he falls in with Michael, arguing that a slow study could work for a few songs, but not for a 52-minute show.

Andy and John, 1978. (Photo by Christopher Makos)

“If we’re doing that, then I really think we should do galloping horses and really go the whole hog and really have an epic,” Paul replied. “But if we are going a bit towards the Beatles, I really think get the close-up lenses and get right into one of John’s eyes. Can you do that? Look in that direction rather than trying to get a picture of John and the moon or a big amphitheater.”

It was at this moment — not Paul’s “and then there were two” line but around 15 minutes later — Paul exits the stage to speak to John on the phone.

Deep as the Nagra tapes go, and despite Michael’s prep to bug the phones, we don’t know what was said on the call. We do know the conversation continued without Paul. The top storyline coming out of the meeting at Ringo’s the day before was the frustration of Yoko speaking for John. Here, in Paul’s absence, Linda doesn’t just speak in line with Paul, but she advocates for herself, too. This sequence appears in part in Get Back.

“I have never seen a study of any musical event,” Linda said. “You want to be there, that’s the thing. (Speaking forcefully) And if I were there, I’d be staring at them. I’d never look around me once. I’d be staring at them if I were sitting in the audience. It’s like you see in the theater. Why can’t the camera be you sitting there?”

Linda’s tone is outspoken and sincere, and something that was needed to move the conversation forward, her viewpoint as an artist and a fan. It clearly put Michael at unease and somewhat on the defensive in what emerged as something of a tense, sarcastic exchange that didn’t go unnoticed 52 years later in Get Back.

MLH: I saw their last concert at Hammersmith … and I was totally aware of not only them, and they were 40 miles away [sic], but the audience, the screams, the lights.

Linda: We looked at Help! the other night again and Hard Day’s Night. And that was them playing.

MLH: Right, but it was them over an hour and a half and 30,000 [feet high]. If it is an Andy Warhol picture …

Linda (fed up and combative): Oh, don’t take the other extreme! Andy Warhol, that’s not you! .. I’m speaking like a fan! I really am.

MLH: I am too. I’m a bigger fan than you are (said laughing, and with complete sincerity)

Linda (gruffly): Oh, OK should we fight about it?

MLH: I can do it any way. But being the fan I am, I gotta keep saying I think you’re all wrong.

Linda: You want to be too sophisticated.

MLH: We ran the Circus the other night, and it’s so simple. I’m the least pretentious director you’re going to meet.

While Michael said that last line straight, it was met with laughter around the room.

Let’s just watch on a loop Linda’s body language while she talks to Michael. (From the Get Back docuseries)

This is a real argument between two artists, a photographer and a film director, with legitimate differing visions. And no one held a higher status. Linda was just 27 (older than Paul and Ringo). Michael was 28. Each had about the same amount of professional experience at their respective trades, only a couple of years.

Paul returned after a phone call that couldn’t have lasted more than two minutes. Seeing his return, as revealed in Get Back, is one of the great revealing moments in the documentary and something you never could have heard in a lifetime studying the Nagra tapes.

To this point, Paul spent the morning still in his overcoat. At any point, everyone could have called it a day and cut their losses. George wasn’t coming back. But when Paul dramatically — and joyously — removed his coat, revealing his magnificent black shirt, it was clear John wasn’t a issue.

“He’s coming in,” Paul said simply.

It’s a big deal, and the visual — of which we are now aware — really brings it to the forefront (if you’re looking for it). The Nagra tapes tell a lot, but audio alone can’t tell everything.

Through Paul’s return, Michael remained bold.

“You see, Paul, I was telling Linda when you were out, I could do it any way. Except I got to keep saying you’re wrong when I think you’re wrong.”

“Yeah, sure, great,” Paul replied, beaming and about to light a celebratory cigarette. “I’ll just keep saying I’m right when I think I’m right.

The daily circular discussion returned — again — to a pitch for Africa by Michael, one that was more quickly dismissed by Paul and Ringo than it had been, with the unspoken allegation of a trip being used as a crutch and gimmick.

Paul shared another idea he said he conceived the day before. That may have been a Sunday, but Paul’s brain had no days off.

“There’s another idea for a set: Instruments. You need a grand piano for one number, then for ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ … we should get a bit of a honky-tonk [piano]. So then you start to get the whole place just littered with instruments we could move around from. And it’s like a big game of musical chairs. Moving around on that amp, on that guitar, and it’s really planned. A whole computed setup … and then Ringo gets off and goes onto his congas for that one. That kind of sort of thing, then you get scenery, almost.

“You’re thinking of linking numbers,” Michael replied.

There were more shows used as points of reference — these guys absorbed so much TV:

The Potter’s Wheel: “They made a pot before your very eyes,” Paul explained. “Just one shot held, and it took about five minutes or something. And it was great, because you never felt bored. [I] always [watched it].”

Allow yourself the luxury of imagining a tween Paul McCartney soaking up these brief BBC interludes to the point of reminiscing about them at a moment he’s crafting on his own creative work at the height of his powers.

If the process should be the focal point, as Paul argued, it’s not enough for the instruments to create the scenery. Presaging the production of Get Back in 2021, he suggested the crew act as the supporting cast.

“Like [Glyn] switching everything over, you know, to taking all the top out of that on this track, ‘cause we want want a very biting guitar sound on this track.”

“I think that’s the documentary,” Michael argued, “because I think to go away to Glyn as opposed to a camel is distracting from you, because I think we’re getting into you. I think the documentary, we got all this in the documentary.”

Paul “totally” disagreed. “I think he’s a lot more to do with this show than a camel.”

After Neil jumped in to say Glyn was really a performer, too, Paul continued.

“That’s it! You’re going to miss him live. There he is. The camel won’t be doing anything live. Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone. It won’t be looking at your camera, it will just sort of shit in front of you. Be lucky if it does, would be a bit of action.”

Camels with Wings. “Chances are it won’t even be looking at us or anyone.” (Photo from Paul’s Twitter).

Michael was truly exasperated, interrupting Paul who had continued his pitch, off the camel but back onto the fluidity of camera movements.

“See what I wanted to do in the desert,” Michael said, “was really make to the most dramatic thing of all time.”

Michael deserves credit for a lot of things having to do with his work in January 1969, including his real desire to create something exceptional and his willingness to exchange ideas. Here, he turned his attention back to the Beatles’ past, asking what was the band’s most successful and enjoyable TV appearance. Paul said “Around the Beatles,” an answer met with consensus from the others but unfortunately there was never any follow-up questioning to ask exactly why.

Still, it was yet another inspiration. Just like …

Some country music TV show Paul and Ringo “saw at the ranch”: Sparked off a comment from do-everything assistant Mal Evans, Paul and Ringo recalled a country music show. The “ranch” is certainly Reed Pigman’s in Alton, Mo., where the Beatles stayed Sept. 19, 1964. That would likely make Slim Wilson’s local country music show the memory. It was on at 6 p.m., right before “Flipper” — which the rancher’s son explicitly remembered watching with Ringo.

“There’s just one camera, and they all walked into it.” Paul recalled, describing Wilson’s show.

Ringo continued: “If it was the guitarist’s bit, he’d just step in and do it there. They’d all take the center, and if it was violin, he’d just walk in and do his bit, and he’d get back wherever he was. They acted all the movement.”

One memory sparked another, as often happens.

Unrealized Apple promotional film: “We were thinking of doing this once for an Apple thing, getting James Taylor, Mary Hopkin,” Paul remembered.

“We were going to get our home video things and set them up. And then have an area of the room which was lit, and that was it.. And then you came in, you did your thing and then if you wanted to say anything in close-up, you’ve walked up to the camera and you said it in close-up. Then you ducked out and someone else came in, in close-up and then walked into long shot and then did his dance.”

“So we can do a switch on this,” Paul said. “Get us to do the movement. Get us to go to the camera,”

Michael sought to punch holes in the idea, saying that if you were playing piano, movement was limited.

When Paul accused Michael of just being negative, Glyn said that was a “slight” contradiction.

“We’re all contradicting ourselves,” Michael said. “It’s the only way we ever get an idea.”

It was at this point Paul estimated John would arrive in about an hour, and with that news, the stage emptied out as everyone headed to lunch.

***

As an artist, Picasso announced when his film was complete — there was no haggling in a search for a conclusion. Sure, Picasso and Clouzot probably planned things out a little better before filming.  It’s arguable the fluid state of the Beatles’ finale concert was expected to be an unspoken initial plot point of the Let It Be film, but if so, it was never pursued in the original film, only exploited later in Get Back. Maybe there’s something important to the relative age and experience of Picasso and Clouzot compared to the Beatles and Michael, too, in how it all played out.

The revealing debate between Linda and Michael justifiably reached the small screen in Get Back, but so much of the rest of this lengthy sequence remains left to the beautiful losers who labor to listen to the Nagra tapes in full. None of the revealing TV and movie comparisons above were featured in Get Back the docuseries or the book published in 2021.

Before the Let It Be film even came out, though, that sequence owned prime real estate. The very first page of dialogue in the original Get Back bookthe one originally packaged with the Let It Be LP — spans this discussion. While the transcription is sloppy and incomplete, it’s there to set the tone for the text portion of the book, despite being from Day 8.

It’s absolutely no surprise the Beatles found inspiration in literally anything they encountered in film or television, whether it was something incredibly proximate, like the Rock and Roll Circus, or a pottery interlude they watched as kids or a rural country music show they caught just once. That’s how they synthesized their musical influences too. How George — absent for the discussion on the 13th — developed “I Me Mine” from watching a waltz on TV is a perfect example of all of this.

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” almost.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg filmed a lot a footage in 1969, and most of us didn’t really know what that meant from 1970 through late 2021. Let It Be, from 1970, was nothing like Get Back in 2021, the latter deliberately not following the former’s model. But did conversations like those on January 13, 1969, inform some of Michael’s decisions of how to build his documentary?

“Get right into one of John’s eyes,” Paul suggested. And sure, we get a few seconds here and there of extreme close-ups in Michael’s Let It Be, but these are hardly studies. That’s where the luxury of an eight-hour palette benefitted films like Warhol’s 1965 Empire — and Get Back in 2021.

Michael was clear that a “wide shot … with no particular response from the audience” was the wrong route. The success of the “Hey Jude” promo — with the band surrounded by the audience — was rooted in this strategy. It may have been the unspoken reason behind the affinity for Around the Beatles, too. And perhaps it’s why the rooftop performance in Let It Be was punctuated and interrupted consistently by street-level interviews. Otherwise, the Beatles were just playing on a very tall stage (which would have worked for me, but I’m not a filmmaker).

Still, the rooftop on January 13, 1969, was simply the top level of 3 Savile Row, not The Rooftop. Inspirations, open minds and contradictions were how they got to an idea.

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 13: And then there were two

The Beatles’ work ethic stood peerless, regardless of situations and obstacles placed in their way, even if they were responsible for those very obstacles.

Morning roundtable at January 13, 1969 at Twickenham. (Photo by Ethan Russell from the 2021 Get Back book)

“It’s good you sort of said to come to work,” said Ringo Starr on January 13, 1969, in response to a conversation he had with Paul McCartney the night before. That exchange happened after Paul showed up, nearly an hour after Ringo arrived to rehearsals, despite the assurances of the remaining Beatles to show up around the same time that Monday morning.

As it stood, Neil Aspinall didn’t expect anyone to show, according to director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

George Harrison remained AWOL. He walked out on the Beatles twice in three days — January 10, 1969, from a rehearsal, and 48 hours later from a meeting — no small feat.

John Lennon was missing to start the day, too, but he never announced he was leaving the band. John was always last to the sessions, anyway.

Twickenham Film Studios served as the Beatles’ office for seven working days. January 13 was different than the others in so many ways. Paul didn’t start the morning alone at the piano. George didn’t present a last-night song. There was no music at all for hours after the first members arrived.

More than 50 years after film and audio captured its events, January 13, 1969, served a significant role in opening Part 2 of the 2021 Get Back docuseries, occupying 18 drama-fueled minutes, perhaps the entire program’s emotional core.

We know more than we did before, the visuals adding unimaginable depth to moments previously available only by audio, but the show’s presentation opens more questions.

The initial sequence in the Day 8 segment in Get Back — that is, the first 9 of those 18 minutes, prior to John’s arrival for lunch — in reality accounted for more than two hours of audio on the Nagra tapes.

Thanks to the series, we can see the extent to which Ringo looks completely cooked. It’s enough that he has an 18-month-old at home and a significant movie role weighing on him, but this is a different man from the week before.  Michael appears defeated. Paul seems anxious and affected. This is a dispirited crew and the body language in this sequence is critical viewing — fidgeting, hair- (and beard-)pulling, face-rubbing.

January 13, 1969, should have been a day of at least mild celebration. The Yellow Submarine LP — a compilation of songs from the film (released in November 1968), previously unreleased tracks and George Martin’s orchestral score — was released in the United States that day, with the record arriving at stores in the U.K. later in the week.

The Beatles were “All Together Now” on record only; today’s cut was “All together, when?”

Glyn, Mal, Michael, Ringo and Kevin, early on January 13.

For the near-hour Ringo was the lone Beatle on site, idle talk dominated. Conversations with Michael,  Tony Richmond, Glyn Johns, Mal Evans and Kevin Harrington spanned the arts, including film (Wonderwall and the new Cinecenta theater), television (What’s the Matter With Baby Jane?), books (Pinktoes, Candy) and music (Simon & Garfunkel, Little Richard, Tiny Tim and James Brown, among the dozens of other names mentioned that morning).

Of highest importance when it came to television and music, they discussed their own production still in progress, too. When questioned, Michael told Ringo that he had enough material to this point for a good documentary, with one caveat.

MLH: It depends on what we’re allowed to use, if you know what I mean. It depends on how liquid the situation is. .. In other words, if we tell it like it is … then we’ve got a very good documentary. But if …

Ringo: We’re hiding …

MLH: If we’re hiding — the word I was fishing for but not be brave enough to say — but if we’re hiding, then we don’t have much of a documentary. A couple of days and things didn’t work out, that’s it. I’ll have an apple rind … as opposed to an apple core.

Ringo: An apple pip.

The Beatles’ gradual reassembly continued with Paul’s arrival, along with girlfriend Linda Eastman. While John’s attendance was in question, but Paul was saying he still expected him, Michael quickly changed the subject to a Lennon-McCartney composition and started playing Arthur Conley’s cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on a record player.

“[Molly is a singer] on a band? .. What’s wrong with him?” Paul asked, unimpressed with the recording. “I think I like the Bedrocks‘ [cover], if anything.”

The conversation soon turned to other contemporary pop/soul acts: Love Affair, The Equals — Paul sings a bit of their 1968 hit “Baby Come Back,” in particular — and the Foundations.

The multi-ethnic British combo presently owned the No. 2 hit on the UK charts. “Build Me Up, Buttercup” finished the previous week wedged between the chart-topping “Lily The Pink” by Mike McGear’s Scaffold and Marmalade’s own version of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” (Writing that song was like printing money for Northern Songs.)

Assuredly, Paul was predisposed to the No. 1 song, co-written by his brother, and No. 3, which he himself shared the writing credit.

As for No. 2? “I love it, yeah,” Paul said of “Build Me Up, Buttercup.”

It took nearly an hour and a half on the tapes — and about 30 minutes after Paul arrived at Twickenham — for the Beatles’ rhythm section to even address how they would approach the new day, which would at best still be missing one member. It’s a relatively level-headed discussion on tape.

Paul: I just thought I’d [write] a few words for the songs we haven’t got words for and stuff, just rehearse them a bit more.

Ringo: For what?

Paul: I dunno. It doesn’t matter, though. If we do an extra week and then we decide to chuck it, it’s just with the decision that near, and then we really just split and then just see you in a year’s time.

Ringo: It’s good you sort of said to come to work [last night]. Gives you another week here together. Cause it would have been, I’d have been there, you’d have been down there.

Paul: That’s what I thought. I just thought, what am I going to do tomorrow?

Ringo: I was going to lay in, actually and do the garden. [laughter]

Linda: Paint the ceiling.

Even here it’s acknowledged any split would be temporary, even if it lasts a year. That’s a long time, but not a lifetime.

A few seconds later, all we hear is Paul singing the chorus to “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” (He actually sang it a few minutes earlier as well, in a less memorable, more upbeat moment. We hear it on the Nagra tapes again, on the last day of the Get Back sessions, too.)

Thanks to the Get Back docuseries, we now know just how emotional Paul felt, even if that moment in the series isn’t presented in its actual sequence. It was shoehorned into a later discussion (which we’ll get to below).

“Why don’t you build me up?” (From Get Back)

Instead in real-time, Linda jump-started the conversation by suggesting the Beatles solve their issues by meeting, just the four of them alone (read about this part of the conversation at length here).

The morning of January 13, two Beatles remained absent, but in the wake of Sunday’s meeting at Ringo’s, only one of them — and the relationship with his girlfriend — was the key issue. Sparking off the above discussion, Paul shared several feelings on the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership within a physical space shared by Lennon/McCartney/Ono.

“I’d rather write without Yoko, thank you. That’s the way I write,” Paul said. “I’d go off to the bathroom to write a song and come back when it was done to show it to you, and sort of say, ‘What do you think, and let’s do a couple more words now.’

“But it’s difficult starting right from scratch with Yoko there … cause I start off on a Yoko beam. I start off writing songs about white walls [said to laughter] just cause I think John and Yoko would like that. And they wouldn’t. I mean, I give them too much credit for what I think they’d like. … They’re very straight, you know.”

A short time later, Paul elaborated on the songwriting process and the overall issue of Yoko’s proximity — which Paul seems to almost guiltily take the blame for acknowledging.

“It’s a bit embarrassing cause I do think of it,” Paul said. “I start examining my emotions with Yoko there. And it’s probably silly because Yoko’s not what we’re also thinking she is.”

“The only one time we’ve done it, she was great. She really is all right. It’s the thought of her being there, and then you don’t talk to John. So then he doesn’t talk to you. And it’s like, you can screw it up just as much because she’s there as John relying on her because she’s there. … We were trying to get the last verse to ‘I Will,’ and eventually I just ended up doing it (myself), because we couldn’t actually do it. But Yoko really tried to stay out of it.”

(For his part, Paul made no mention of this incident in either the 1997 authorized biography Many Years From Now or his 2021 memoir The Lyrics, when discussing writing the words to “I Will.” We can get into any deeper meanings of the lyric “And when at last I find you, your song will fill the air” some other time.)

Back to the songwriting discussion:

Paul: They’re going overboard about it, but John always does. Yoko probably always does. So that’s their scene. You can’t go saying don’t go overboard about this thing, be sensible about it and don’t bring it to meetings. It’s his decision. None of our business interfering in that, Even when it comes into our business. Still can’t really say much unless, except, look I don’t like it, John. Then he can say “screw you” or “I like it” or “well, I won’t do it” or blah, blah.

MLH: Have you done that already?

Paul: I told him I didn’t like writing songs with him and Yoko.

Time to fire Michael as interviewer. He never asked the most obvious, slam-dunk follow-up question there could be: “How did John respond to that?”

The Beatles at the George V Hotel in Paris, 1964. (Photo by Harry Benson)

Instead, he asked Paul if the songwriting partnership had slowed down before Yoko entered John’s life. (A fair question, but not the one he should have followed up with).

“We cooled it [already] because not playing together, ever since we didn’t play together [on stage],” Paul said. “We lived together when we played together. We were in the same hotel, up at the same time every morning. Doing this, all day. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re this close all day, something grows. And then when you’re not this close, physically, something goes.”

Attempts to reach John by phone continued, unsuccessfully. Throughout, Paul, along with Linda and Ringo, recapped the Sunday meeting for the others. Linda shared her regret at attending at all, and openly bemoaned Yoko’s domineering presence. (This was covered in a previous post.)

Paul again worked to make it crystal clear that the John-Yoko relationship was sacrosanct and completely their own concern. The Beatles plus Yoko, while not an ideal conclusion, is superior to the alternative of no Beatles at all.

Over the course of 20 seconds Paul repeats the phrase “it’s not that bad.” He also applied his custom of suggesting a binary choice, something that continued throughout the day.

“There’s only two answers. One is to fight it, and fight her and try to get the Beatles back to four people without Yoko, and sort of ask Yoko sit down at board meetings. Or else the other thing is to just realize she’s there and he’s not going to split with her just for our sakes.

“Then it’s not even so much of an obstacle then, as long as we’re not trying to surmount it. While we’re still trying to get over it, it’s an obstacle. But it isn’t really. It’s not that bad. They want to stay together those two.”

Striking a sincere tone, Paul resumed: “So it’s all right, let the young lovers stay together. It shouldn’t be [changes voice to tone of serious business] ‘Can’t operate under these conditions, boy. We’re coming out.’ It’s like we’re striking! That’s what it is, it’s like a strike cause work conditions aren’t right. [laughter]. It’s not that bad.”

“We’ve done a lot of Beatles now, we’ve had a lot of Beatles, and we’ve got a lot out of Beatles. So I think John’s saying now if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko (who’d stay…)”

It’s here the tear-jerking “Build Me Up, Buttercup” moment is interjected in the film.

As the Nagra tapes rolled, we hear that neither Paul nor Linda suspected John would ever come to making that choice. Likewise Michael, who said John told him “he really did not want not to be a Beatle.”

Body language, January 13, 1969.

To be clear, Linda wasn’t being viewed as the same sort of interloper Yoko was accused of being.

“I’m know I’m talking to Paul [now], I’m not talking to Linda,” said Neil. “But when you’re talking to John, these days, I know you tend to think you’re talking to Yoko more than you’re talking to John.”

This is a struggle — it’s not what we see in Get Back, and it’s not entirely what we hear on the tapes. When the Beatles make music, Yoko doesn’t appear to intervene. She may be painting or reading the newspaper and distracting the others by her mere presence — a problem in itself — but it’s not as if she’s tugging on John’s shirt while he plays.  The greatest issue appears to be behind the scenes when the cameras and tapes aren’t rolling.

“Actually, musically, we can play better than we’ve ever been able to play,” Paul said. “I really think that. We’re all right on that. It’s just that being together thing. And like I said yesterday, underestimating each other. And talking down to each other a bit. And playing safe.”

Paul’s solution was actually what the band was in the process of doing. To him, the broken sessions at Twickenham had in fact been conducted appropriately.

“We should just work a lot, really get back into the slog. A job. Where almost 9 to 5, and then weekends off, so that there really are weekends. Then back on the slog. Cursing it, the drags and the ups and the downs. But [also] the achievements.”

Work was a good thing, at least that was what everyone said, And given the group’s workaholic nature, it’s no surprise.

“John was saying the fact that you do work inspires you,” said Michael.

“I remember when they were doing the (White) Album, George was saying that it’s so great working again,” Linda recalled.

Earlier Ringo, speaking of taking the time out to film Candy, told Michael he found the time for that role “because I have to do something.”

There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the Beatles’ work ethic.

“I understand Yoko coming, and doing all that,” Neil said. “But I don’t see why she has to sit on your amp.”

Paul and Neil, January 13, 1969.

While Paul agreed, he also said the group’s attitude needed to mature as its members did.

“I don’t see why she has to sit on the amp. And if we were in a Northern band, [affecting a Scouse accent] I’d put my foot down to that. But we’ve grown out of all that. And we really can’t go to John, ‘Look John, the union thinks that you can’t have this woman.’

“We can go on talking like this forever but I think for them to be able to compromise, I have to be able to compromise first. Then they’ll be able to, or else they have to be able to compromise first. But its silly, neither of us compromising.”

While it’s possible Paul is speaking for the others in the group, he made clear “I have to compromise,” not “we” (ie., Ringo and George as well). With Ringo sitting a few feet away from him, it probably is just himself he’s speaking for, either relinquishing the others of the need to compromise as well, or simply acknowledging it’s not important if they do.

Isn’t compromise a mutual exercise, though? Is Paul compromising or is he conceding?

“We thought that the only alternative would be for John just to say, ‘OK, well, see you then.’ And we’d not wanted that to happen. We hustle each other like mad, you know. We probably do need really sort of a central daddy figure to say, “Nine o’clock, none of the girls. Leave the girls at home, lads.’”

That is, they really needed Brian Epstein more than they even did a week earlier, when they said much of the same thing.

Neil dismissed that idea, saying it wouldn’t work. With truly incredible prescience and awareness of the group’s legacy, Paul simply replied:

It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years time. They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.

‘What?’

You see, John kept bringing this girl along. It’s not as though there’s any sort of earth-splitting row. There’s nothing wrong.

Everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

Having pitched a breakup show — covered at length here — and almost as an afterthought coming more than 90 minutes after the day’s recordings began, Michael asked about George, and Paul revealed he walked out of Sunday’s meeting.

If it wasn’t already clear enough, George’s exit was an issue, but the lesser one. Paul continued his defense of John and Yoko without any further discussion of George’s own problems, perhaps taking advantage of the stage while the couple remained absent.

George’s abrupt departure feeds the dramatic arc of the Get Back story as the conflict of the first act. It’s the dynamic of Paul-John-Yoko that’s the actual conflict of this period.

“They’re trying to be as near together as they can,” Paul said of John and Yoko. “So If she sits over here, it’s just slightly less good than if she sits very near to him. If she’s touching him then that’s even better. …”

“And it’s right, in a way. If that’s how you see it, and you can see that it can be a drag for people to sort of say, ‘Look, come to the meeting without her.’ Cause then it starts separating again from her.

“It’s very ideological.”

It’s worth noting — and perhaps Paul himself did too, even if it went unspoken — that the need for John to be near Yoko didn’t mean he can’t be near Paul, too. Just like having Yoko in the room when writing a song doesn’t mean Paul shouldn’t be there either.

Michael repeated his view that the onus was on John and Yoko to be conscious of the effect their behavior is having on the rest of the group and for them to adjust. Paul — again — acted as a contrarian, seeing it through John’s eyes, as perhaps few others had the ability to. He was no mere devil’s advocate. Paul trusted John, and even if he didn’t deep down, it’s what he wanted the others to believe.

“See, they’d say that the other way was true. If we do what we’d want to do it might screw it up for them. [Now speaking softly] And they don’t want to be screwed up.”

Another attempt to reach John failed. “Telephone’s engaged.” Ringo joked they should send a telegram.

After an extended silence, and several audible sighs on the Nagra tapes, Paul uttered five of the most memorable words in all of the Get Back docuseries.

And then there were two.

The moment is gut-wrenching. An uncomfortably long 31 seconds in Get Back. That’s five seconds longer than the entirety of “Her Majesty.” We should celebrate Peter Jackson for the scene’s dramatic effect, and likewise be grateful to Michael Lindsay-Hogg and his crew for capturing this moment in real time.

While it’s arguably the most poignant moment of the Beatles on film, it’s not exactly the same on tape.

Roll the Nagras and you hear:

Paul: And then there were two. [said to laughter and no pause]

Ringo: Tom & Jerry.

Michael: Simon & Garfunkel

Ringo: I know, I said it because you told me. … Simon & Garfunkel used to be Tom & Jerry.

Linda: Oh I know, “Hey Schoolgirl.” (she begins to sing)

Paul: That’s what they used to call themselves?

I’m not suggesting the tears in Get Back were CGI. Compressing more than two hours of dialogue into nine minutes for a TV series seems like a near-impossible task, and to make it compelling while still retaining the integrity of the moment even more so.

“And then there were two” is the emotional heart of Get Back, just as “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” serves that role for Let It Be.  While both lines have become something of catchphrases for their respective films, it’s important to remember the original context surrounding each one as they are amplified, lest these moments get oversimplified.

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

TMBP Extra: Jan. 10, 1969 recap

More than a half century removed, it’s pretty easy to say George Harrison was on a clear trajectory to cut his losses and walk away from the Beatles a week into the Get Back sessions and cut bait on January 10, 1969.

But even on that Friday morning at Twickenham Film Studios, was George a man with a plan to leave the group? Here’s how the day played out:

  • Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 1: Unpacking the day George quit the Beatles, a day that began with a visit from Dick James, and featured a deep dive into their extended publishing catalog, family greetings and Zsa Zsa Gabor stories.
  • Only the Northern Songs, Pt. 2: “Fascist bum” or friend to the Beatles? Maybe Dick James was both. Here’s the second part of our deep dive into the publisher’s visit to the band, hours before George left. Featuring Magic Alex stories, car talk, hidden mics and secret meetings.
  • Knew it wouldn’t last: In the hour before George quits, his performance and motivation are in question during rehearsals for the increasingly dynamic “Get Back”
  • On his way home: Deemed “faceless” by Paul McCartney “Two of Us” goes through a final set of rehearsals before the entire trajectory of the Beatles’ Get Back sessions changes completely. Plus, peeling back a myth about the song and Grapefruit.
  • See you ’round the clubs: On January 10, 1969, George Harrison quit the Beatles. This is the story of what happened that afternoon, what didn’t happen and the reasons why. It’s peak They May Be Parted, — my longest post to date.
  • A quick one, while he’s away: With George gone, the Beatles carried on as a trio with a vocal plus-one. Here’s what happened when Yoko Ono took a seat on George’s blue cushion.
  • Go on, as if nothing’s happening: No plans, no guitarist, no problem for the Beatles, who completed their first full week at Twickenham with no clarity on who, where or what the future would bring. “If (George) doesn’t come back by Tuesday,” John Lennon said, “we get Clapton.”
  • Et cetera: A box for George and a bag for John. Song notation and interview negotiation. There’s a story in these stray conversations that didn’t quite fit in other posts.

4 Comments

Filed under Extra, Recap

Jan. 10: Et cetera

January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipicesomething we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so. 

Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.

***

While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism. 

“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.

“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”

“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”

Nevertheless, make the most of it.

George Martin clarified the deeper issue.

“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”

Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career. 

“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”  

***

In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.

Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.

“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”

“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”

“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”

Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”

“Hence the expression,” Michael replied, “Papa’s got a brand-new bag.”

***

When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.

“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”

It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”

When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”

George Martin, proofreader

The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.

On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.

“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.

“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”

***

While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.

“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.

“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”

***

Hugh Curry, January 1969

No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.

At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …

“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”

“Goddamn sinister”

Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure. 

“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”

After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m. 

Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple. 

“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!” 

John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.

Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.

Yoko: Oh, you like it?

Curry: No, I don’t.

The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.

“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.” 

Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”

Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.

A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada. 

And speaking of record labels … 

“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked. 

“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.” 

1 Comment

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: Go on, as if nothing’s happening

“It seems highly unlikely we’d be on,” the guitarist told the director.

With a member of the band unexpectedly AWOL, he was justifiably skeptical the Beatles could stage the big concert to end the film.

“I mean, the law of averages are against it,” he continued. “I think if you could get the juggler on with a couple more clubs, that’d fill in a bit of time.”

That guitarist speaking was George Harrison, and the production was A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first feature, filmed Spring 1964. On the afternoon of Friday, January 10, 1969, it wasn’t a self-deprecating Ringo Starr who was missing, it was a self-reliant George himself, having sprung Twickenham during his “Winter of Discontent.” This left the remaining Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg juggling ideas for how to close what would become “Let It Be,” their final film, and who else would be on stage playing lead guitar.  

Michael and Ringo, January 1969. From Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

More than a week into the Get Back sessions, Michael continued making similar iterations of the same pitch for the show.

“One of my ideas is if we go to, like, anywhere, that we mightn’t just announce any times for the concert at all,” he said to Paul McCartney later in the day on the 10th. “We’ll set them (the Beatles) up in whatever desert we do it in, and they start to play. And one by one, and ten by ten, people will come in.”

Inane, I’d call that,” Paul replied with a comedic aggression. “Straight off the top of my head. … Imbecilic. Salacious.”

(Like in his songwriting, at times, Paul sometimes spoke words that simply sounded good, even if they didn’t make sense in context.)

Michael deflected the response, saying “‘imbecilic’ sounded like a bad bug you get the flu from.”

Regaining focus, he invoked the show’s target date, 10 days hence: “I though that could make a very kind of groovy, trendy opening. Seriously, like: January 20, 1969.”

Moments later, the director and the others in the room — which extended beyond just the band — discussed the issue of visas and difficulties several of the Beatles’ peers (Donovan, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) faced getting into the United States. They were open to several options, including Mexico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean destinations.

“And Catalina, which George said wasn’t very nice,” Michael said.

Not that it mattered what George thought then, he’d quit the group almost an hour earlier.

“So what’s our next move?” Michael asked the others. 

“We split George’s instruments,” John Lennon said to laughter.

It was clear in the immediate they were not considering splitting the band, though. If the Beatles were going to be on the move, it would just be in a different iteration. Abandoning the project wasn’t a consideration at present.

The conversation would shortly return to locations, with the Roman amphitheater at Sabratha in Tunisia remaining at the forefront, all other contenders just conversation pieces to keep the group engaged. Michael’s long-preferred destination, he enlisted a “reconnaissance team” that included Beatles assistant Mal Evans and producer Denis O’Dell slated to scout the venue the upcoming Monday.

“There has to be someone to say, ‘The weather’s fine, come on in,’” Michael said.

Paul repeated familiar, feasible suggestions (The Cavern Club, Tower Ballroom) along with new nearby options (the Underground) and  more distant, outlandish and outrageous ones (“the mouth of a volcano near Ecuador”). 

“I think we should do it for more than 500 people,” Michael added.

It was a tough time to think big. This was an afternoon and evening of distractions and interruptions.

In the wake of George’s departure, there were several coincidental arrivals at Twickenham: A package arrived for Paul (marked “‘handle tenderly”); several “EMI heavies” wandered around the soundstage; a CBC interviewer prepped John and Yoko for an infamous interview that would come a few days later.

Rather than return to a full rehearsal, the group joined Michael in telling several imbecilic (and salacious) knock-knock jokes. Of more interest was Michael discussing his career and relationship with Orson Welles, whom decades later he would discover was his father. One lengthy anecdote (which was also detailed in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance”) described Michael acting in Welles’ 1960 stage production of “Chimes of Midnight” when Welles briefly stormed out of the production in anger. 

“See you ’round the clubs!” Glyn Johns reacted, laughing — and confirming George’s earlier valedictory statement, which wasn’t caught on tape. 

An afternoon replete with nostalgia would soon continue after Paul returned to the piano (you can hear “The Long and Winding Road” and “Adagio for Strings” clearly on the tapes in the background). After quizzing the band on whether they had endured any scuffles with their fans (Ringo recalled being kicked in the head), Michael asked if they looked back fondly on their frenzied touring period.

John replied with an affected accent, the voice of a ragged bluesman looking back on a lifetime, not merely a few years earlier:

Why, I think of it every day. I think what fun we had when we was [sic] the Beatles, playing and rocking with the group around the world. I said, ‘Richard, you remember that?’ He says, ‘No, I hadn’t joined you then.’

One of the not-so-fond memories: “Having eggs thrown at us in Australia was one of my big moments,” John said.

Reminded by Ringo he had missed part of the 1964 Australian tour (although he was there for the egging in Brisbane), John evoked the name of the rare Beatle stand-in. 

Jimmie Nicol: Now making a living as the 29th Beatle in New Mexico,” John said of the fill-in drummer, who was actually in old Mexico at the time.  

Now with the band facing a new vacancy, would they soon get to Beatle No. 30?

As if on cue, moments later, Michael barked an instruction for additional equipment: 

“Glyn, Yoko wants a mic.” 

She was back, but the music was hardly intense, with Paul having moved onto his White Album ode “Martha My Dear.”  Now, her vocals were largely calm and controlled, more comedic than anything.

While Yoko once again wailed, John — in conversation with Michael — laid out his plans to replace George. He didn’t suggest Yoko. 

A few hours earlier, George told the other Beatles, “You need Eric Clapton.” The time had come for John to heed the advice, sharing it with Michael. 

“I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play, ” John said. “Eric would be pleased. He left Cream because they’re all soloists. … The point is, if George leaves, do we want to carry on as Beatles?”

Harsh feedback shortly overwhelmed the room, obscuring some of the conversation on the tapes. But the discussion continued, as Yoko again passionately called out John’s name.

MLH: Maybe for the show, you would just say George is sick.

John:  (Sincerely): No, I mean, if he leaves, he leaves.

MLH: But what’s the consensus, do you want to go on with the show and the work?

John: Yeah. If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Clapton.

Yoko: John!

John: Whaaaaat? (laughter) 

John and Yoko continued to repeat each other’s names, but this was the couple playing for laughs.  Meanwhile, John and Michael’s discussion continued through the call-and-response, bringing together the issue of show location with locking down a replacement guitarist.

MLH: And what about the venues? … If George comes back we go away, and if Clapton comes in we stay here.

John: We should just go on, as if nothing’s happening.

MLH: I think we should go away.

So eager to get the show on the road, Michael had the potential logistics lined up in his head, proposing the group spend the following week at Twickenham and the week after abroad, all conforming to the group’s timetable, which was in part defined by Ringo’s filming schedule for The Magic Christian. 

“What I’ve always thought is we leave here next weekend (January 18-19) and do the show the following weekend (January 25-26) there, if we decide to go there,” Michael said. “And then come back on Monday (January 27), which is just inside Ringo’s seven days.”  (The January 20, 1969, date floated previously must have only applied to a domestic show or an alternative, abbreviated schedule.)

Michael’s plans to this point were more extensive than expected, implying there really was no option, at least that he was eager to prepare, other than Sabratha. 

“We’ve arranged everything food-wise to come in from Germany,” Michael said, adding for the skeptics, “I do not joke. It’s the same food from the American [military] base.”

Eric Clapton and John Lennon, from the Rock & Roll Circus, December 1968.

And if it wasn’t enough John was trying to enlist Eric Clapton to join the Beatles, Michael casually suggested a near reunion of Cream, if it meant just getting Paul and John to Libya for rehearsals, and Ringo — who was least receptive to travelling — to be minimally overseas.

“We can get out a session man for a couple days,” Michael said. “Or Ginger Baker can come for a few days. Just to kind of routine it.”

The discussion between John and Michael petered out as John joined Paul and Yoko on another jam. Unlike earlier, when the Beatles played hard blues rock out of rage, this improvisation was more subdued, a more gentle and at times an arguably pleasant performance, containing elements of “Castle of the King of Birds.” Paul was on piano, John on guitar and Ringo on tambourine with Yoko providing another disruptive vocal — although not quite as consistently intense than earlier in the day.

Soon, Paul shifted to the drums — and it’s a noticeable drop in quality from Ringo to Paul, as strong as the latter is as a multi-instrumentalist. More importantly, it freed up Ringo, who returned to conversing with Michael. But first, he played up for the cameras (and tapes).

Yeah, rock it to me baby, that’s what I like. You may think this is a full orchestra, but if you look closely you can see there’s only two people playing and one person singing. I know it sounds like Benny Goodman, but don’t worry. It’s the big sound of 1969! You bet your life. Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me. (Laughter)

Interested in the filmmaking, Ringo asked Michael precisely what he was doing — “I thought what we should do is the first sessions when you came back, make it very hand-held looking,” Michael said, pulling the curtain behind the sausage-making. More importantly, Michael shared his first-hand view on what he saw after George walked out. 

“And the interesting thing is, Paul went to his amp. … I don’t know if you knew what you did, psychologically, after lunch. You (addressing Paul, who joined them) went at your amp like you shut the door into a closet. … And you (Ringo) were playing very hard. … And John was doing whatever he was doing.”

Ringo, Paul and Michael continued their conversation, as John provided background music — “Sun King” and “Dear Prudence.”

MLH: Have you ever had coverage when you were doing a whole album?

Ringo: No. 

MLH: Have you ever wanted it?

Ringo: No.

Like it or not, the Beatles — what presently remained of them — were getting blanket coverage, and the real drama was happening in the studio, not on location.

“Are we meeting again Monday?” Michael asked hopefully in the waning moments of the day’s session.

“Yeah, I’ll have Eric, Jimi (Hendrix, although it could feasibly be Jimmy Page) and Tommy (Evans of the Iveys, perhaps?) lined up,” John replied, with varying and low degrees of sincerity.

Paul’s set his bar much lower. 

“A7, D7, G7,” he instructed Maureen Starkey, who was visiting Twickenham that afternoon. “Get ’em off over the weekend and you’re in.”

(Ironically, armed with those chords, Maureen would have been able to fill in for George on his For You Blue.)

Paul with guitar protégée Maureen Starkey. From the Get Back trailer.

Before splitting for the day, Michael made sure to capture the scene. “We have this well-documented. And a lot of shots of the empty cushion.” We’ll see what Peter Jackson shows us in Get Back ’21, but this footage was left on the cutting-room floor of the final cut of Let It Be.

“And I guess that’s it,” wrapped up Michael, who wished the others luck in their planned weekend business meeting, which would include George. “And I hope everything really goes swell. I’d like to say, I’ve enjoyed our week together, hope one day we have another one like it.”

“Surely,” Paul replied. “Why not?”

And thus ended the first full work week of the Get Back sessions.  While George was kicking Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend out of his own house, John pushed the concept of welcoming Eric into the Beatles’ office. 

As you certainly know, Clapton never joined the Beatles, and John didn’t bring him in the following Tuesday, even though George wasn’t back. There clearly wasn’t an actual offer anyway.

Here’s Paul, from the Anthology book:

After George went we had a meeting out at John’s house, and I think John’s first comment was, ‘Let’s get Eric in.’ I said, “No!” I think John was half-joking. We thought, “No, wait a minute. George has left and we can’t have this — it isn’t good enough.’

For his part, Clapton repeatedly downplayed the idea he was an actual fallback option for the Beatles. In modern parlance, Clapton thought John used him as clickbait, and the friendship he had with George would have been a blocker anyway. 

Eric, from the April 1998 issue of Mojo

There may have been [a suggestion the Beatles would ask him to join]. The problem with that was, I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George — which was exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy, that I could be like a gun-slinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing, because I was too much a mate of George’s.

Several years later, after George’s death, Clapton literally laughed at the idea of joining the Beatles when he was interviewed for Martin Scorsese’s 2011 documentary “Living in the Material World”.

As he said in the clip, the Beatles could be the most close-knit quartet, but at the same time, “the cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled.” 

The latter led the Beatles to this moment. After their first full day at Twickenham, on January 3, George described with envy The Band‘s ability to blur their domestic and working lives, something he witnessed first-hand when he visited the group and Bob Dylan six weeks prior.  “They’ve got all that gear there, but … they’re just living, and they happen to be a band as well.”

His relationships with his wife and his band in distress, George had neither element 10 days into January 1969 — he wasn’t living properly, and he didn’t feel like a useful member of the Beatles.  

While he’d join John Lennon as a member of the Dirty Mac before and the Plastic Ono Band later, Eric Clapton was neither asked, nor was he seemingly willing to accept an assignment with the Beatles.

The Beatles didn’t need Eric Clapton, a gunslinger for hire. They needed George Harrison. 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: A quick one, while he’s away

Their man had been gone, for nigh on a few minutes.

John Lennon played a familiar riff on his guitar, the country-western lick from the middle of The Who’s 1966 mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Soon be home!” sang John. Paul McCartney added an aggressive harmony as John wailed the refrain.

After a brief fade in the tapes, John returned with a spontaneous scream that devolved into a wheeze, then a cough. On regaining his composure, he barked an instruction:

OK, George, take it!

Then John giggled.

George Harrison quit the Beatles after lunch on Friday, January 10, 1969, and at the end of the second week of the Get Back sessions, the Fab Four were a sub-fab three-piece — John, Paul and Ringo Starr. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, was there too, a given since the previous year.

“So pissed,” John said in response to nobody, certainly meaning drunk in the British vernacular, but it registered as the Americanism, too: anger at George’s brazen and sudden departure.

Just like they did when Ringo quit during the White Album sessions less then five months earlier, and just like they did a year later when John was far gone from the group, the remaining Beatles immediately continued as a three-piece.

The music restarted behind an angry riff from John, and Paul and Ringo quickly fell into the jam. The riff was another iteration of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which earlier in the week was manifest in Paul’s improvised “My Imagination,” and previously formed the foundation of “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.”

John taunted George again.

Soon be home!”

The band begins at ten to six: Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others at the filming of the Rock & Roll Circus.

The Beatles’ repeated riff was rough, much in the spirit of the Who, whom John watched up close a month earlier, when director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was in the same role at the scene of the crime. That was when the Who stole the show from the Rolling Stones at the latter’s own Rock & Roll Circus — an incident George himself referenced only three days before.

This quick one came grooving up slowly, with the improv running in spurts for about 20 minutes, John’s full-throated scream ending one portion of the jam. The Beatles briefly “covering” the Who, itself a terrific curio, isn’t nearly the most important takeaway.

Yoko Ono at Twickenham, January 10, 1969.

The most shocking moment filmed for a Beatles movie ended up on the cutting-room floor — perhaps it makes the final edit of the forthcoming Get Back ’21 — and came several minutes into the jam.

That’s when Yoko seized the spotlight and filled a vacuum, her voice dramatically piercing the Twickenham soundstage during what Michael later described in his autobiography as a “half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums.” But the most memorable instrument was Yoko’s voice.

Ringo recounted the afternoon in the 1990s for the Anthology book:

None of us realised until we went to lunch that George had gone home. When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.

Emphasis mine.

Before and after

She wasn’t simply there. She was there on George’s blue cushion, and she was there on George’s microphone.  George eventually found out, too. As described in the previous post, George referred to Yoko “just screaming, doing her screeching number” in a 1977 interview, a moment he didn’t witness but later saw on film.

Yoko wailed to the band’s furious, repetitive backing in a sequence of organized chaos. It’s “Whole Lotta Yoko” blended with “Helter Skelter,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko” tied into “John John (Let’s Hope For Peace)“. Previewing her vocals from the last song in the above list, she repeatedly, violently called out John’s name.  It’s a harsh listen.

Ringo Starr “playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before.” From the unreleased The Long and Winding Road documentary.

Musically, the improvisation veered into slightly different corners of blues rock and it maintained the same general, rollicking intensity throughout.

Either you like Yoko or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able to persuade you either way (and I wouldn’t try to change your mind anyway). It’s reasonable, though, to describe her performance as completely in character.

Ringo indeed played a little out of his mind, and at one point, Paul abandoned the bass line to evoke feedback — John did the same with his guitar. At a couple separate moments, John returned to the “soon be home” riff from “A Quick One,” but he didn’t sing along. Throughout the entire performance, there’s no attempt by the others to join Yoko on vocals, but the remaining Beatles were a pretty good hard-rock combo when they chose to be. Even Yoko took notice of Ringo’s aggressive performance, changing her lyric to call out Ringo’s name, an unintentionally funny moment after a hypnotic repetition of John’s name. There was no full roll call, though. Yoko never shouted “Paul.”

Somebody calls out his name …

While there was frustration and anger in the wake of George’s temporary flight from the Beatles, one can sense momentary release. Paul’s project was at a standstill, but his most difficult relation had fled. John had one fewer person — and the most vocal one — balking at Yoko’s presence. Still, the Beatles lost their lead guitarist and junior songwriter. He left them, and that clearly was a big problem.

The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’ – Yoko Ono, January 10, 1969 (or was it Nigel Tufnel, 1984?)

For Yoko, though, there was no frustration, only relief. At this instant, the blue cushion was hers. She went from sitting beside John to inheriting her own equal space. If George was 25 percent of the world’s greatest democracy, then she, in this moment, owned that share — the solo vocalist alongside the guitarist, bassist and drummer. In the currently available film of this sequence, from the aborted The Long and Winding Road documentary and in various Internet destinations, we see a broad smile on Yoko’s face as she sings John’s name.

Yoko’s experience from every other day with the Beatles informs how she must have approached midday January 10, 1969. From an Anthology-era interview with Newsweek:

I was just trying to sit there very quietly without disturbing them. You know, John always wanted me there and if I was not there, John might not have gone to those sessions.

This session marked her opportunity to be an artist and create a needed disturbance. The jam couldn’t have completely satisfied her creative need, but at worst, it allowed her to collaborate with John in his primary space, and scratch a specific itch.

After about 20 minutes, starting with the initial “A Quick One” sequence, the jam abruptly concluded as John searched for technical help with a microphone.

“OK, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,'” barked John, as this incarnation of the Threetles (or the first Plastic Ono Band, for that matter) rehearsed their newest material in a fashion they’d never present onstage. The performance was jagged and angry, and just a few days after dismissing their farewell concert, the Beatles became their own version of Cream, the disintegrating power trio. Yoko did not participate in this part of the session.

Then it turned. “Everybody had a hard year,” was sung by John with such extreme gruff, it turned over into laughter. The stab at the song devolved into Paul playing the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon (for the second time that day) to close it out.

Then John yodeled.

Remember when John said he was “pissed”? The British slang was definitely the vibe. The Beatles had no care in the world and were, in this moment of relative bedlam, enjoying themselves. The full-throated “Don’t Let Me Down” was the closest they came to a sincere attempt at a song, and it wasn’t particularly sincere. The next 15 minutes on the tapes featured John and Paul trading small bites of a variety of oldies (“Til There Was You,” “C’mon Everybody” “Mack The Knife,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “On a Sunny Island”). The hilarious performance devolved into moos, baas, barks, meows and whistles.

A highlight — so to speak — from this sequence was John’s droll destruction of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” as Paul played willing accomplice.

George’s departure from the group completely stalled any momentum toward planning the Beatles’ live show as well as reasonably developing new songs in progress. Yet, John, Paul and Ringo stayed in the studio and played purely for their own amusement. This is the Beatles at Friday afternoon happy hour. Meanwhile, Michael continued to discuss how to power the show — and group — forward.

Though we’d still hear her perform with the Beatles again before the end of the day, the band’s long-term future wasn’t ever going to include Yoko Ono — the Beatles weren’t the proto-Plastic Ono Band, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul and Ringo would have allowed it even if John insisted.  The question now, was in what form the band would progress.

***

When I first started listening to the Purple Chick A/B Road bootleg about nine years ago, diving into a hulking torrent file of the Nagra Tapes, the first track I listened to was on the January 10, 1969, set of files, one marked “A Quick One While He’s Away.” I had Beatles bootlegs on vinyl and cassette for a long time, and knew full well the general scope of the Get Back sessions, but I hadn’t listened to every possible cover song or outtake from the era. (That would be crazy!)  I didn’t know they attempted “A Quick One.”

After playing the track, I realized they never did attempt it at all. But listening to the context around the track — George’s departure from the group, which I also knew much about, but never heard on tape — convinced me to make a better effort and listen to the entirety of the tapes from the very beginning, and really study what happened. That curiosity directly led to creating this blog, weeks later.

11 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

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

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

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

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

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

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

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

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

(Emphasis added.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was such a headache.”

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

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

34 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: On his way home

Following a lengthy but productive workshop of “Get Back” early on January 10, 1969, Paul McCartney conceded the Beatles were “going to hate these [new songs by the time] we do them [live].” And they were already starting to feel it.

“My favorite” was John Lennon’s glib reply after Paul introduced “Two of Us” as the next song to be rehearsed.

The song’s author himself was salty, too, with Paul criticizing the song at the start of this 30-minute sequence as “faceless” after the day’s first run-through.

“Yes,” agreed John. “Make a demo for Grapefruit.”

(This throwaway joke is worthy of a brief sidebar. It’s treated as fact that the band Grapefruit, who were signed to Apple Publishing and named by John after Yoko Ono’s book of the same name, were offered — but refused — to record “Two of Us.” That fact appears sourced entirely from the above quote by John, which also appeared in the book packaged with the Let It Be LP.  Not discernible in print, John said this with a laugh, seemingly underwhelmed by Grapefruit at this point in their career and jokingly ready to hand off this faceless effort to a juice-less Grapefruit.)

A slightly defensive Paul backed off his critique. “No, it’s all right, the song. It’s just not very interesting to me yet.”

With the same treatment we can still see today in the Let It Be film, electric and energetic, John proposed a solution that would come once the group convened at Savile Row: Unplug.

“The question’s always the same, and the answer’s always the same. Maybe in the studio, it’s acoustic.”

When he wasn’t micromanaging (see below), Paul had no problem opening the floor to an organic solution, and he sounded especially — and uncharacteristically — happy to see the working week nearly over.  “OK, just run through it. … See, George, you can just [plays galloping guitar part], and then try to tart it up. I know that’s what I said not to do last time, but it’s Friday. Let’s try it.”

After another attempt petered out,  Paul refocused on the song’s bridge, sounding an air of desperation. “We’ve just got to do something about this middle eight before it’s too late. … It’s time for riffs. That’s the only thing that’s going to help all of this.” Still, his own detailed suggestions crossed into the comical.

“Do something slow, four in the bar, with a little bit of kick to it,” Paul said before laughing at the absurdity of his requested word salad. Still, the group added minor flourishes here and there, with Ringo working a bossa-nova tempo in the bridge at one point, while later trying a “Peggy Sue”-inspired pattern.

Frustrated, Paul conceded that he’d “never been stuck with the middle eight, but it’s all right.” John countered that it was a typical middle eight, while George — who was largely quiet during the “Two of Us” session — suggested the group mix in a Mellotron part.

The mood has remained light as Paul evoked a 21-year-old pop singer and a 46-year-old balladeer whose biggest hit was produced by George Martin in 1956.  “It’s like a rock middle eight now, it’s a bit better. It’s not so Sandie Shaw. A bit more Eve Boswell.”

And while Paul said the middle eight remained lacking — John proposed, to laughs, some choreography –“Two of Us” rehearsals wrapped up on the tapes, with the final takes featuring a variety of experimental parts, including a guitar part from George that had a echo of the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney” (or maybe it’s just by way of his own “If I Needed Someone”).

In those same final moments — and ultimately the song didn’t advance much further from where they began that day — Paul sang “four of us” at one point. That was quite poignant, because just minutes later on the tapes, the Beatles would, in fact, consist of just three of them.

2 Comments

Filed under Day by day

Jan. 10: Knew it wouldn’t last

If I needed someone, George Harrison vs. Eric Clapton edition. (Insert Pattie Boyd joke here)

“You need Eric Clapton.”

“No, you need George Harrison.”

As the Beatles worked on the days-old “Get Back,” it was Harrison himself who suggested they call on his friend, the erstwhile Cream sharpshooter, to add an extra line or a solo to the quickly developing song.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney disagreed, trying to prop up George’s confidence and desire — and offer a specific instruction, too, as the band continued work after Dick James departed Twickenham on January 10, 1969.

With George the next to leave the venue and indeed the group, the exchange reads as a tidy — albeit exaggerated and deceptive — emblematic microcosm of the present situation. George was itching to leave, but maybe the rest of the band didn’t know it. Maybe George wasn’t certain just yet either.

The full group worked on “Get Back” and “Two of Us” that Friday, and both songs received a bit of tough love, mainly from its songwriter. But Paul pushed the others, too.

A deep, ongoing concern for Paul was George’s power chord that immediately followed the phrase “Get Back,” a chord he called “passe” in an earlier exchange with session arranger Glyn Johns.

“That suggests something to be, this chord,” Paul said. “We should try to get away from that,” as Paul subsequently refers to the chord as “passe” again, this time directly to George.

Paul: It was a couple of years ago.

George: No it wasn’t, it’s just a chord. … Some chords fit things.

Paul: Chords, like fashions and stuff. But it’s like drainies (drainpipe trousers).

George: Some drainies suit different occasions.

He eventually shrugged off the cross-talk, and the group continued to attack “Get Back,” with George searching for a power chord more in line with the latest trouser fashion.

“For the three of us, that’s good enough for the rock-and-roll thing,” Paul said just prior to George bringing up Clapton as a supplement to the song.

“Just doing simple things until it’s your go,” Paul told George. “Because otherwise you get the guitar conflicting with what you’re singing and all that. And then I’m trying to sing louder to get over the guitar. If you (George) vamp, then it takes away from his (John’s) vamping. It’s like the big, soft, lead guitarist, who just stands there and …”

Little, soft, lead guitarist” interrupted George — who at 5-foot-10 stood the same height as Clapton (who would famously be called on again soon, but that’s for another post).

“No, the big one in our head, who just sort of goes [Paul played straight, staccato power chords]. You can either do that soft or good. I really think it’ll happen better if we’re just keeping it going. A clipped offbeat. ‘She’s a Woman.’ That was just a better rhythm than we have. And ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on the organ.”

Facing this tall order, the group moved into other facets of “Get Back,” including Ringo’s drum pattern, the vocal combinations, guitar solos — including a proposal for both John and George to each have one — and the lyrical content. While “Pakistanis” and “Puerto Ricans” tracked well enough to remain useful to Paul (“Meanwhile back at home there’s 20 Pakistanis living in a council flat”), he didn’t try to further deepen the political discourse.  Instead characters like Sweet Loretta Martin and Jojo Jackson were introduced, and while the latter eventually lost the surname, both survived to the rooftop and into posterity.

“It fits — it’s a drag queen. ‘Get back to where you once belonged,’ Paul said.

John chipped in another line that mostly stuck: “But he knew it wouldn’t last.” Paul added the companion rhyme “California grass” although he conceded, “It’s daft, but we’ll straighten it out later.” (He didn’t).

While John and Paul actively hashed out the lyrics as a team, George was uninvolved and clearly disinterested in collaborating beyond defending his guitar parts (and later, making suggestions on a drum pattern to Ringo). Still, there was serious momentum toward building “Get Back,” and John was clearly into the song throughout, delivering a ripping vocal on several takes, at times singing the verses and chorus in unison with Paul or even solo.

Repeated stabs offered positive results, including funky takes featuring a groovy wah-wah solo by George. The song was fast and electric, and a strong example of the Twickenham sessions at their best, genuinely spirited.  

And while John was eager to deepen the arrangement, Paul again tempered the organic enthusiasm. “We still haven’t gotten one straight through yet.” If it wasn’t the guitar part in the chorus, it was the guitar in the verses that nagged him.

Paul also worked to manage a since-discarded introduction that featured the three guitarists playing a “big, long, clear chord” while Ringo was asked to work out an extended arrangement on tom toms, squeezing in as long an introduction as feasible.

“What are you trying to do, jazz?” John laughingly asked Ringo, who’d again be be on the end of a tongue-in-cheek jab when Paul called him “Dave Clark” after a particularly mundane drum part. (It was a running joke, too: John likewise invoked Clark months later during the recording of “Polythene Pam.”)

Despite the work, the mood at the moment was light. The melody line of “Get Back” reminded John of the old Perry Como hit “Catch a Falling Star,” prompting some giggles followed by a verse of that song.  An even more unlikely reference came moments earlier, when — in referencing “Long Tall Sally” — Paul broke into the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon, with Ringo joining in.

As the Beatles wrapped this early-day stab at “Get Back,” the song settled into a defined structure, really starting to resemble the song Paul still trots out in concert a half-century later.

With the group ready to shift to “Two of Us,” John took note of the overall pace of the sessions at Twickenham.

“We’ve never learned this many numbers at once, have we?”

The pace of new material strained John’s attention span. That’s not a surprise. But in the hours before George left the band on January 10, 1969, the message from Paul to the lead guitarist was clear: You need to keep up, too. It wasn’t about handling the quantity of songs, which was John’s problem. It was about keeping up with the quality.

George’s chord selection was “passe.” It was of “a couple years ago.”  George may have been matching Paul in productivity, consistently delivering new songs to the sessions, lapping John’s contributions. But he sill was very much the junior partner in this first month of the band’s final full year.

When George suggested the group bring in Clapton, it wasn’t a genuine dismissal of his own talents. It came from a clear weariness, an exhaustion. How could George not feel completely weary for the position he was put in by Paul, who was quick to call his own lyrics “daft” yet also describe George’s playing as “passe”?

And that only described the most recent hour. Only 72 hours before he called for a divorce. Since that moment, things were no more improved in the studio than they were at home.

The Beatles needed George Harrison, but did George Harrison need the Beatles?

Comments Off on Jan. 10: Knew it wouldn’t last

Filed under Day by day

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

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

“Are we interviewing?”

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

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

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

He was half-right: Something was happening soon.

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

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

Dick James and the group, January 10, 1969.

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

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

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

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

Closer, let me whisper in your ear.

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In particular, they hated the Cadillac Eldorado.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, should we start?”

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

9 Comments

Filed under Day by day