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.
(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.”
“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.
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.
Let’s run through the ones we know and then learn the [new] one.
This is our format.
Paul McCartney was right. There was a format. At least there was a framework developing as the Beatles rehearsed in their second week at Twickenham.
As covered in the last post, George Harrison would have to wait a few hours for attention to return to his new “For You Blue.” Instead, with the full band ready to go nearly 90 minutes into the January 9, 1969, Nagra tapes, the Beatles tackled “Two of Us” for the fifth time in six days, initiating a sequence in which the group returned to some of the finished, core songs they’d have for their live show. Why, it was their format!
This stretch also clearly exposed the side of the Beatles that everyone (else) usually cites when describing the Get Back sessions. While I’m quick to argue January 1969 at Twickenham was not of itself the downfall of the band as it was filled with harmonious, joyous and highly fruitful moments to match the uglier, fractious component of the sessions, these guys could get pretty petulant and didn’t hide it with the tapes rolling.
A quick, carefree one-off into the song the day before, this day’s “Two of Us” rehearsal stretched about a half-hour, and quite unlike the Rocky and the Rubbers’ version, Paul insisted on serious refinement.
As loose as their run-through was early on the 8th was exactly how tense things emerged on the 9th, with consistent, stuttered efforts to get through a full song.
From the top, the group can’t find the proper pacing of “Two of Us,” with Paul pushing the others to pick it up. “Keep them all quiet, keep your instruments down so we can sort of hear what’s going on.”
They had another go at the song, and “it’s still pathetic,” in Paul’s words. He suggested the issues went beyond just the song’s speed.
As Paul nitpicked what arrangement the song needed entering the bridge, John argued, “We never got into this [part] yet,” defending himself and the others as Paul criticized the group for not knowing what’s in his head.
A fiery example of the strain came during a “Two of Us” take in which Paul barked at John, who wasn’t in perfect rehearsal position, to “get on the mic.” John, certainly responding to the tone more than the instruction itself snapped back.
“You don’t have to bitch about it, we’ll never get through it.”
The band immediately went into another take, and you can hear John loud and clear — but he came in early. You can hear Paul’s displeasure when he comes in himself at the right time. Still, they championed on.
A dark moment, for sure, but as usual for these guys, they were able to compartmentalize and still harmonize figuratively and literally. Picking apart “Two of Us” to improve the various “bits” and now focusing on the middle eight, Paul started thinking out loud.
“The two things I think of are both corny, but something better are oohs … or [a staccato “dit-dit-dit”]”
Never mind that the “oohs” are actually “aahs” when Paul, John and George instantly launch into a demonstration of the vocals, which are proposed to appear supporting the “you and I have memories” lead. This is the Beatles magic, immediate and spontaneous and completely normal, even when it comes a few minutes after one member complains about the other one’s bitchiness. The subsequent stab at the staccato vocalization came off a bit sloppier but still likable.
Concerned the backup line would sound “too thin,” George proposed, “Maybe we get a few Raelettes,” marking yet another time the group evoked Ray Charles’ backup singers. “Get three girls” with some phasing on the mics.
John’s cheeky reply was to bring in three boys instead, and George named the Dallas Boys, Britian’s first boy band (by ’69 they were into their 30s).
While they never landed the Raelettes, the Beatles would soon enlist the man seated before them, Billy Preston. (Photo from late 1968).
Ultimately, Paul asked the others to “just think of something, then” for the middle eight, and off they went into another take, this one featuring the lovely “aahs.” The song may not have dramatically improved, but the mood had over the last 25 or so minutes on the tapes.
But Paul still had something to complain about, turning his attention to a frequent (and legitimate) punching bag for the band, the equipment setup at Twickenham. If we think the tapes sound diluted, just imagine how substandard the quality must have been for the musicians on the sound stage. With the proposed show nearing — and despite some pretty ambitious ideas, uh, floated less than 24 hours earlier — improved sound needed to be addressed along with other facets of a finalized live performance.
“Just so that we can all hear, so it sounds really great here,” Paul said. “So that our voices are just as loud as they need to be. ‘Cause then we’ll be able to hear what’s wrong.”
What’s more …
“Everything we’re going to actually do like that, we could get into now. Just where the amps are going to be, and where we stand. It is a bit silly to be rehearsing sitting, facing this way, when we’re actually to be playing standing, facing that way.”
And here’s where we return to a disagreement among the principals, but with a far different result than earlier.
John: I thought we’d get into that when we do a few more.
George: We still have dance steps to learn.
Paul: And the jokes in between.
The esprit de corps resumed as the group advanced to a singular take of “Don’t Let Me Down.” There was no nibbling, no exhausting search for a missing “bit,” and even when there was a screw-up on the lyric, they powered on and completed the song in a tidy 3:10.
Far less concise, and clocking in at nearly 25 minutes of torturous micromanagement, was a brutal run of “I’ve Got a Feeling.” After a perfectly adequate (for this point in the sessions) initial run-through, Paul immediately identified just one specific spot for improvement — the same part of the song that had bedeviled the group on multiple occasions, and the same point that the struggled with in several songs — “The only bit is the break. Still not sort of dramatic enough.”
This tense sequence was up there among the least listenable parts of the entire month’s worth of tapes. Paul offered several variants on how he wants the guitar part to sound, right after his line, “All that I’ve been looking for is somebody who looks like you!”
“All the notes are clipped.”
“There shouldn’t be any recognizable jumps.”
“The notes shouldn’t ring on.”
“At the moment, it’s like a riff.”
“[The notes should be] just like falling, falling.”
“Try to sort of sing it.”
“It’s got to be like pain.”
“Certainly do anything like it’s crying.”
It’s got to be like pain. What an instruction!
Paul desperately and relentlessly attempted to communicate how he wanted the part to sound — gesticulating, vocalizing, playing it on the bass — but George simply couldn’t or wouldn’t accurately nail the brief solo.
In another editing trick that showed up in the Let it Be film, it was nailed. That’s because the film shows the January 8 “Rocky and the Rubbers” take of the song (where Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after the part is played), and spliced it on both ends of a brief portion of this sequence from January 9.
Ultimately, the part was hit satisfactorily enough for the Paul to continue the group through their core set. The mood rose again for another jubilant effort of “One After 909,” although we don’t get a complete grasp of the rehearsal due to the tape cutting in and out. We can pretty safely assume, though, that like “Don’t Let Me Down,” the band tore through a single take.
As John moved over to the piano, the Beatles practiced their stage patter, in hilariously fake sincere voices.
Paul: “Certainly, it’s a great occasion for us.”
John: “First chance we’ve had to play for you dummies for a long time.”
The playful attitude continued as Paul dabbled in a bit of “Norwegian Wood” on bass, soon to be joined briefly by Ringo on drums and George on guitar and vocals before they immediately launched into, as George called it, “the one about the window.”
It was a straightforward, strong take of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” although we don’t hear the whole thing on the tapes. Far less straightforward, but wholly enjoyable was a string of takes broken up by tape cuts, including one with John taking the lead vocal with a heavy Cockney accent.
By this point, the mood was entirely loose. The song was given a slow ballad treatment, featuring a lyric referencing the famed celebrity female impersonator Danny La Rue. Paul completed one take by answering the phone: “Hello, this is Tuesday speaking. Is that Paul? I’d like to have a word with you.”
Now, five minutes past 1 p.m., the group broke for lunch. Paul offered a brief impression of Elvis — who someone mentioned turned 34 the day earlier.
Only a few hours into a temperamental roller-coaster of a day, John replied to the rest of the 20-somethings in the group, “We all seem to be catching up to him.”
Our world lost — and the stars and heavens regained — David Bowie last week. I didn’t feel much like blogging about the Beatles for a little bit, even though this post had already been mostly written. But as the man once sang, time is waiting in the wings, and we should be on by now. So please enjoy the continuation of the Beatles’ Nagra tapes timeline, picking up with the morning of January 8, 1969, as David Bowie was celebrating his 22nd birthday across town and working on writing Space Oddity.
It’s tough to say “this is when they got serious” when there were laughs and smiles throughout, but after more than a half hour on the January 8, 1969, Nagra reels, the Beatles at least found a bit of motivation and a short-term goal to complete, getting serious in deed if not demeanor. With a concert to be staged, John, Paul, George and Ringo gathered their focus for a chirpy, energetic run-through of four songs deemed early contenders for a live show.
Paul led the proceedings, tabbing his original duet as the opener: “Johnny, ‘On Our Way Back Home.’”
If you’ve seen Let It Be — and I really hope you have and will one day again on some sort of modern entertainment replay device – you’ve been struck by how loose John and Paul are, hamming it up as they sing into the same microphone.
Paul, who Ringo in an interview the previous year referred to as“Elvis” in reference to his performance of “Lady Madonna,” was closer to the toxically impaired King, comically slurring and sneering throughout a take that both he and John sang without benefit of a lyric sheet. That’s how we end up with John, laughingly repeating his mistake “two of us wearing postcards” once the take was complete. They laughed the as they sang it during the take, too.
While Paul and John can’t often get through more than a few words without butchering a lyric, there was no turning back once they started, with this a sincere attempt at a run-through.
The sequence appears slightly edited in the film, cutting the performance in half from its actual three minutes to a minute-and-a-half. Had the group secretly abandoned the film and this leaked, conventional wisdom would have been that the group had a blast at Twickenham. Maybe they were just hamming it up for the cameras — or John was, at least — but it’s hard to deny a somewhat different spirit in the room with a watch and listen. When things were languid at Twickenham, it was painfully clear.
A visually telling edit by movie director Michael Lindsay-Hogg comes around 30 seconds into the clip, as we catch John glancing over at Yoko, who blankly stares back, as he stands oh, so close to Paul, showing some of the genuine affection that they certainly used to have and somewhere deep in there still did.
Two of us, and also Yoko
If you can use the word “tragedy” when referring to the fact a song was omitted from a compilation –- you shouldn’t, but I will, deplorably -– it’s a tragedy this take didn’t make it onto Anthology 3. It’s in the film, thus is a recognizable, published “official” release, so despite the issues with the lyrics, it’s “out there.” Consumers would have understood having an(other) imperfect take on the compilation, if not welcomed it.
In the film, the song comes out of the “shocktric shocks” sequence from a few days earlier, and then dumps into “I’ve Got a Feeling,” but in reality the group – after the improvised “You Got Me Going” and a few unserious seconds of “Twist and Shout” – delivers “Don’t Let Me Down.” Note the time between the end of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down” is less than a minute. Dallying was at a minimum. While “Don’t Let Me Down” appears several times in Let It Be, this version is not in the film.
George didn’t quite nail the introduction, but again there was no concern when the lyrics were muffed. John simply shouted “Snotgobbler!” and moves on. That’s rock and roll. So was the pre-primal scream from John as the song began. So were the lyrics “nobody ever rubbed me like she do me,” which John subs in at one point. The band played on, and musically it was relatively tight, really an achievement at this point in the song’s lifespan.
Paul beard porn from the January 8 sessions, as seen in Let it Be. Thank me later.
John came out of the high-energy take with thanks from the “band.” “God bless you, ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to say a sincere farewell from Rocky and the Rubbers, this is Dirty Mac himself saying …”
Paul cut in, all business: “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
The performance was a tick slower at the outset, and with continued lyrical miscues (especially Paul and John mismatching “oh no” and “oh yeah” early on), but it retained the same vigor as the two previous songs. Paul shouts a celebratory “good morning!” after wailing “somebody who looks like you!” as George hits the middle-eight guitar part.
This sequence made the film, notably appended to a particularly torturous rehearsal from a day later.
Three songs into the run-through, John revealed some fatigue, perhaps reflecting the weight of the previous week more than the prior 10 minutes: “Only another two days to go, then we’ll have another two off.” But Paul then offers a pick-me-up, suggesting, “Do ‘One After 909’.” So they did.
This number marked the one point in the four-song run-through the group stopped after they started, rebooting the take after George’s solo. Once again, there’s a disconnect with the film. Based on clothes alone, this performance of “One After 909” is featured visually early in the movie — after Paul’s discussion of the song with Lindsay-Hogg from a couple days earlier (as seen in the film) — but paired with the audio of a take from January 9.
The movie and even a moment of the Let It Be LP was further fleshed out with a bit of memorable dialogue coming out of “One After 909.” You’ll hear it on the Let It Be LP prior to “For You Blue,” George’s eventual lone contribution to album that was just days old, as John reads from the newspaper.
Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.
What, you thought she’d be OK with it?
Again, we have a disconnect between the movie and the tapes, as the film moves to a previous day’s take of “Oh! Darling” while in real time, the band had completed their first commitment to a run-through for a show yet to materialize. It was rough, but it was spirited, and if anything, the set must have given them the idea there would be a light at the end of the tunnel if they chose to shine it. With at least four fully formed songs, they were on their way, and the apparent positivity could easily be read to bode good fortune ahead.
Probably inspired by “One After 909,” they continued a quick dip into their back catalog.
As I write this, it’s Friday, Jan. 31. About three-and-a-half weeks ago was Jan. 7. Check your own personal calendars, news headlines and the like. It’s not that long ago. That matters to me, and this blog, because this is where the Beatles come in.
Flip (or click) back several calendar pages – 45 in fact – and we’re at January 1969, dominated by the Get Back sessions. Jan. 31 marked its final day, a short day dedicated to nailing for film and for tape usable takes of Paul’s non-rooftop-suitable “Two of Us,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” (The clips appeared in the movie prior to the rooftop show, but were in fact filmed the next day).
So what happened between Jan. 7 and Jan. 31, 1969, to recast the sessions? Well, I’m not going to give it all away at once. What else would I blog about, the recording of Sentimental Journey? (That actually seems like an interesting, star-studded, intercontinental story, but I digress.) Three and a half weeks is such a short period of time, in relative terms, and we know that the group was on the brink Jan. 7. By Jan. 31 so much memorable musical output was in the bank and in the works. Factor in that there’s 10 ½ days without George after his walkout and more than a week without any rehearsals at all, and I’m left grasping at superlatives.
To wit: From Jan. 7-13 and Jan. 21-31, 1969 (18 days, and that includes weekends not spent in the studio):
Paul wrote the majority of “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Get Back” and debuted future solo tracks “Another Day,” “Teddy Boy” and “Back Seat of My Car”
George wrote: “I Me Mine,” “Old Brown Shoe” and “Something,” as well as “Wah-Wah” at home during his break from the band.
Everything you hear on “Let It Be,” plus “Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded.
We saw the birth – and if not the birth, than at least the studio debut – of Abbey Road’s “I Want You,” “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.”
We have the rooftop show, too.
The Beatles even found time to meet with Allen Klein for the first time.
And I feel like I’m understating what happened.
So, there’s just a little bit of food for thought before I return to the timeline (soon!). Context is everything, and with January here and now gone, it provided the perfect chance to put into focus how much these guys got done throughout the madness they, for the most part, created themselves.
This is the conclusion of a three-part series on the Jan. 6, 1969, sessions for “Two of Us.” If you haven’t already, please enjoy Part I and Part II!
George: OK, I don’t mind. 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.
The line came a little more than 16 minutes into the Let it Be film. In a movie less about words and more about music — the trailer’s promise of “rapping” not withstanding — it would stand out regardless. As it is, George’s statement to Paul during the day’s rehearsal of “Two of Us” essentially became the catchphrase for the entire sessions. It’s George’s frustrations and Paul’s bossiness — and John’s disinterest, as he’s conspicuous by his absence — all in one. And because it was in the film, and the highlight of an extensive set of dialogue in it, it’s the moment we point to. At least, it’s the moment I point to.
“Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it” caps a sequence that lasted much longer than two or so minutes depicted in the film.
Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”
I get what Paul wants to do here, prove his point that a more spartan approach is ideal — especially here while they’re in the rehearsal stage. And he’s made that clear. But instead he finds a way to pick at a scab.
George, remember how you were wrong about “Hey Jude”? You’re wrong, just like that, today.
George: OK, I don’t mind. 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. But I don’t think you really know what that one is.
Missing from the film is that last line, which really gives it an extra bite. Passive-aggressive right into aggressive.
In the film, the discussion pivots from George to John wanting to listen back to tapes before he begins into “Across the Universe.” Paul’s sweater goes from orange to yellow, so not much sleuthing is needed to know that’s cut in from a different day.
After George relays his willingness to please, Paul’s actually speechless for a few seconds, before saying, audibly perturbed and in a way only Paul can say it, “OK, now come on.” He pays no mind to John, who here is actually trying to defuse the situation with a resolution that would move the session forward in the immediate.
“Do you want to take the galloping bit, and I’ll just vamp?” John cuts in to ask George. Paul continues.
Paul (to George): Look, you know, it’s not like that. … We’ve gone through this, we’ve really got to sort out this, because this is the one, you know? Now we’re rehearsing, and we’re trying to get it together for a TV show. So we really, like you said, we’ve only been through four numbers.
(George replies with an “uh-huh”)
So we’ve probably got to get some system to get through like 20 or 30 and no more. … And it’s probably going to be like sculpture. So that we get all the chords, so we can all vamp them all. Then we can all play every solo we need.
Wow! That’s a lot of songs. What a TV show that could have been, right? (This isn’t the post for it – but it will be sooner than not: What would those 30 songs be?) Anyway!
Paul: But… you know what I mean. It’s got to sound as though it’s improving.
George: It actually, it sounded to me, that for me, it was a waste of me time playing when we started it today. I just started remembering then what it was getting into the other day after playing it for an hour and a half. And suddenly I start finding that what I’m doing is starting to have something, Have some sculpture to it.
Paul: I know what you mean, it’s just that that way of doing it puts me off the way I’m trying to do it.
George: But that’s all. I can only do me that one way, however I do it, you know?
Silence. And then Paul decides to wave the white flag before being spurned. Just picking his fights, I guess.
The sarcasm drips like water from a faucet. Maybe he was looking for an excuse to quit the band a few days earlier than he ultimately did.
John: Let’s do this, because, I mean, we’re going to come to this,or whatever it is. And the thing is just to try to and think whatever … it’s going to be.
Paul: This afternoon, I think we’ve wasted a long time. I think we do waste, physically, waste a lot of time, the four of us together.
It’s Paul as boss again, this time lecturing on employee efficiency. And I don’t blame him, because he’s pretty much on target here.
The slate cuts in, and there’s some cross talk and Paul’s bass muffling some dialogue.
Paul: I’m scared of that, ‘You be the boss.’ I have been for a couple years. We all have, you know? Not pretending about that. … And that’s what we decided, you know?
This line passed right by me the first time I heard it, and it wasn’t until I was sprucing up the post that it jumped out. What’s Paul saying here? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and guess he’s saying he’s scared of the whole “be the boss” thing for a couple years? Or is he coming out and saying that he has been the boss for a couple years? I’m not sure he doesn’t think of George as a subordinate, but I don’t think he believes that of John. But I’ll give Paul a pass here, in part because the lack of reaction.
Paul: And this is why it’s chaos. That’s why we take so long. Because, really … we could play it shitty. We play it shitty 10 times, and so it’s sort of in there. And then I think we could play it quite good then. But it’s just like different approaches, you know? I think we’d be better just doing it all like the Red Norvo Five. Just really like…
John: Vamping away.
Paul: Vamping … then get the imaginative thing. … I know it’s impossible … because we don’t do it that way. … There’s no point in me trying to get you to do it how I do it.
A little reminder here — they’re not even done with their third day of the sessions, and things are already being described as a “waste of time” and “chaos.” Reading between the lines and maybe I’m off-base, but I think Yoko’s omnipresence is implied as part and parcel of the chaos. And maybe Paul has a bit of an idea that they’re moving too fast here, even though he’s part of that problem — nobody has any idea what songs they’re going to play at a live show, where the show will be or even how it will be staged.
Meanwhile, who the heck is Red Norvo? He led his quintet (there was a trio, octet and other combinations, too), playing modern jazz on a vibraphone and, it seems, famously vamping.
Paul: It’s terrible, though, seeing yourself really go down a path you’ve been down too many times, you don’t want to go down. Like us going on about this. I really don’t want to go down that path. It’s just silly. I just don’t see any solution.
The problem is that we should all arrange our own tunes. And if you want improvisation, then should just say it.
George: That’s the best way.
Paul: It’s like a point of theory, this, isn’t it? It’s not just to do with playing music. Far further reaching, this thing.
Far further reaching, indeed. So the path is set for Beatles 2.0, although we’ve already seen them act, essentially, as each others’ backup band in many instances on the White Album (and certainly before that, too). Now, they discuss codifying it, taking “I’ll play if you want me to play” to its logical conclusion.
It wasn’t an angry exchange, this one, rather very matter of fact (and difficult to hear with the band playing over the conversation). But we do see how it manifested on Abbey Road, where the band often recorded parts in separate studios simultaneously.
Isn’t this moment here, very specifically, The Beatles agreeing to ultimately break up? They’re happy to relegate the other members as their respective session players, making George no different to Paul than Hamish Stewart, or Paul no different to John than Tony Levin.
Perhaps coincidentally, the group launches into a slow, almost mournful abbreviated version with John leading on vocals. Shortly thereafter, Paul gets back to business.
Paul: What I really meant to say was, let’s do the same bit on that. That’s what I really meant to say. (“We’re on our way home”)
The band returned to the back end of the chorus, focusing on timing and cues. Mal is asked to fetch John a tea and George a beer. This can only be a good thing as the occasional brew helps fuel the odd blog post as well.
George and Ringo fool around, playing “Frère Jacques” into Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” for less than a minute. Maybe the beer helped mellow the mood, as George, with a much friendlier vibe, asks Paul how he envisions the style of “Two of Us.”
George: It was going heavier. Do you want it more countryish?
Paul: I don’t mind, I’ll just go where it goes.
The group runs through the song a few times, sometimes able to get all the way through. Tape cuts make it hard to tell just how many times they did work on it.
In addition to giving a passing, light-hearted nod to “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Loop De Loop” — they spent a bit of time on the very end of “Two of Us.” I’d most certainly say Paul was trying to “confuse it” before “unconfusing it” here, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only written about 5,000 words on just 50 minutes of “Two of Us” rehearsals.
And with that, we wrap the day’s historic and fascinating rehearsals of the song.
Having fun, the Ringo way
So given the full context of the day’s sessions (and the prior days’, too), and emotions which were especially ramped up during the torturous “Don’t Let Me Down” rehearsal that immediately preceded “Two of Us,” of course George’s famed “please you” wasn’t anything remotely out of the blue. It wasn’t even the most potent or viscous thing he said that hour.
But the delivery of “please you” was perfect, and watching it on film more than 40 years later, it’s still a great, dramatic moment. Like I wrote in the first post about “Two of Us,” it’s a passive-aggressive greatest hit. I’ve said it to bosses (they had no idea what I was referencing). I’ve said it to my wife (she did).
I think it’s remembered, even in a way that “I don’t even care” — spoken seconds earlier — isn’t. Of course, that could just be terrible VCR copies and rips over the years responsible for the muddy sound. The moment, the editing — it was just perfect for “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.”
The pity in all of this? I think the song sounds great. It’s fun, upbeat — I liken it to a driving song during a buddy movie vs. the eventual acoustic cut, which sounds like something to hold hands to in a romantic comedy. Oh well. I’ll enjoy the pacing of the song while it lasts for a few more days of the sessions.
The “Two of Us” rehearsals over, John searches for the words to “Across the Universe,” while George sneaks in a little bit of Hear Me Lord. They go back into “Universe” for one take before attention shifts to “All Things Must Pass” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” to end the day.
Rehearsals on January 6 — just the third day of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions — deteriorated to the point where The Beatles were arguing about the very nature of rehearsals and the extent to which a song need be complete in order to have a member bring it to the full band to actually bother with run-throughs.
With takes of “Two of Us” under way, Paul’s already defensive, George is already passive-aggressive. And John? Seems like he just wants to run out the clock and get the hell out of there. But at least he’s not showing any desire to have confrontation at this very specific moment in time.
When we last left things, the song — while sounding great to these ears more than 40 years later — was hung up in the intro, outro and bridge (I guess that doesn’t leave a lot, does it?). Paul had just accused George of being annoyed by him and he bemoaned the presence of the cameras. After some silence and noodling by the group, and another remark by John about the opening riff that continues to torture him, Paul repeats his preferred rehearsal style.
Paul: Doesn’t everyone agree that it’s confused at the moment? So all I’m trying to say is, let’s get the confusion, unconfuse it, then confuse it.
It’s what we’ve been doing all afternoon — this is why we’re not getting anything done. We’ve just got [to get] rolling on with it. We’ve only got 12 more days, so we’ve really got to do this methodically, this one. Unconfused, then a bit more confused, then a bit more. “Now try this drumming here, try this drumming there. Now, OK, let’s stop and look into this bit.”
Well, there’s another nice, little revelation. As of Jan. 6, it seems it’s locked in that the sessions will end Jan. 18 — or, if we’re adding in weekends, make it the 21st or 22nd (depending on whether the 6th counts against that 12 days). Presumably this is how long they’ve booked Twickenham. Talk about ambitious. As history would eventually prove, The Beatles would be out of Twickenham much earlier than that, on Jan. 14 – but that would be a direct result of George leaving the band before rejoining on a condition they abandoned the soundstage for Savile Row.
After Paul’s repeated plea to simplify first, John jumps in, almost as comic relief, continuing his complete fixation on getting out of playing the opening galloping part on guitar.
“I’ve got an idea,” John graciously offers. “I should vamp, because I’ve got to sing, and it’s hard going. But it’s annoying” (and he plays the opening riff).
George fools around on guitar over a bit, making dialogue hard to pick up, until things get clearer in this next exchange.
Paul: I’m trying to stop us all playing until we know what we are playing.
George: But you got to play in order to find out which fits and what doesn’t.
Paul: I’m thinking … we’re improvising the solos, but we play strict chords and strict rhythms around the vocals… I don’t want to say, ‘cause I really just hear myself the only one saying it. All this time…I don’t, don’t get any support or anything…you know its right, and you know its right. (He’s presumably talking to George and John).
John: OK, so I just don’t know what to do about it.
George: I’ll wait until you get your bits and then work my part out if you like. It’s like a matter of working it out with you while you’re working your bit out. You know if you got your bass bit, you know… it will take even longer.
Paul: I’m not trying to say to you, you’re doing it again as though I’m trying to say, and what we said the other day, I’m not trying to get you. What I really am trying to just say is, “Look lads” — the band, you know — “should we try it like this,” you know?
George: It’s funny now how I don’t even care.
It’s amazing honesty from George. He, for one, doesn’t seem to care at all about the cameras capturing the proceedings. But alas, the tone he spoke in was somewhat mild (and who knows what the visual was) so I can see how this didn’t end up becoming the killer line chosen for the film, like “whatever it is that will please you” became.
Meanwhile, Paul’s showing no hesitation in calling out George and John, both, in saying he’s alone in keeping things afloat. Really, for all of Paul’s flaws, he’s kind of right here about the situation. There does seem to be a bit of cart-before-the-horse when it comes to running through the songs.
And as Paul continues, not skipping a beat after George’s dismissive comment, he goes back at George, reminding him of a recent exchange the two had over a song.
Paul: This one, it’s like, “Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.”
More than 40 years later as I write this, it almost seems like “Hey Jude” was from a different generation of Beatles than the ones arguing their way through the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. But on Jan. 6, 1969, where we are today in this blog’s current timeline, it was a song recorded less than six months prior, released a little over four months earlier and had just dropped out of the UK Top 40 three weeks prior.
It’s a funny thing how prevalent the ghost of “Hey Jude” was at the time of the Twickenham sessions. The song’s sessions were easy, with rehearsals beginning July 29, ending Aug, 1. The experience of the song’s video shoot – done at the same Twickenham — helped encourage the band that the time was right to perform in front of live audiences. And like these sessions, “Hey Jude” was ultimately recorded away from the safe and familiar confines of EMI Studios at Abbey Road (where they recorded what turned out to be more rehearsals than real takes), and instead at Trident. And if outtakes are any indication, it was a pretty upbeat affair.
Thus, the experience recording the song — which happened smack in the middle of the White Album sessions — was fresh at the time of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. Paul and George had just been discussing how much they liked Wilson Pickett’s cover version just three days prior.
So what was Paul’s beef with George on “Hey Jude”? Here’s what he has to say sometime in the 1990s, as captured to print in the Anthology book:
On “Hey Jude”, when we first sat down and I sang ‘Hey Jude…’, George went ‘nanu nanu’ on his guitar. I continued, ‘Don’t make it bad…’ and he replied ‘nanu nanu’. He was answering every line – and I said, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute now. I don’t think we want that. Maybe you’d come in with answering lines later. For now I think I should start it simply first.” He was going, ‘Oh yeah, OK, fine, fine.’ But it was getting a bit like that. He wasn’t into what I was saying.
In a group it’s democratic and he didn’t have to listen to me, so I think he got pissed off with me coming on with ideas all the time. I think to his mind it was probably me trying to dominate. It wasn’t what I was trying to do – but that was how it seemed.
This, for me, was eventually what was going to break The Beatles up. I started to feel it wasn’t a good idea to have ideas, whereas in the past I’d always done that in total innocence, even though I was maybe riding roughshod.
I did want to insist that there shouldn’t be an answering guitar phrase in ‘Hey Jude’ – and that was important to me – but of course if you tell a guitarist that, and he’s not as keen on the idea as you are, it looks as if you’re knocking him out of the picture. I think that it was like, ‘Since when are you going to tell me what to play? I’m in The Beatles too.’ So I can see his point of view.
But it burned me, and I then couldn’t come up with ideas freely, so I started to have to think twice about anything I’d say – ‘Wait a minute, is this going to be seen to be pushy?’ – whereas in the past it had just been a case of, ‘Well, the hell, this would be a good idea. Let’s do this song called “Yesterday”. It’ll be all right.’
What we see here is pretty obvious: The Get Back/Let it Be sessions have been tarnished — demonized even — in part, because we actually can hear everything that happens thanks to voluminous bootlegs. Good luck finding a recording George and Paul arguing over the “Hey Jude” extra guitar part.
So in the Anthology excerpt (among other places, like in Barry Miles’ “Many Years From Now”), Paul does a pretty good job here giving what seems like an honest presentation of what was happening in 1968-69. And nearly 30 years after the fact , he was still able to run through the specifics.
And it was Paul’s reflection — “This one, it’s like, ‘Should we play guitar through ‘Hey Jude’? No, I don’t think we should.'” — is what directly prompted George to spew “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play.”
More from the “Two of Us” rehearsals, including George finally uttering that line I keep on going on about, coming up in the next post!
And it’s the highlight of the series of posts — which gets under way here — I was most eager to write before I heard a minute of the complete tapes.
George to Paul: I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you… I’ll do it.
Having just heard the band make their way through a somewhat torturous rehearsal of “Don’t Let Me Down,” the context is finally here of just why George was ready to snap at Paul. But it’s a long and, well, somewhat direct road to get to “whatever it is that will please you,” and the tension isn’t one-sided as the group pivots to Paul’s “Two of Us,” an ode to his bride-to-be, Linda.
In listening to the entirety of the “Two of Us” tapes, Paul’s ready to jump at anyone, feeling quite on the defensive. John, for one, doesn’t take the bait. And in fact, as the session for the song goes on, John actually attempts a bit of a peacemaker role once things begin to boil between Paul and George. But that comes later. George, on the other hand, is quite ready to share his feelings with Paul.
Musically, the song isn’t too much different than it had been before they broke for the weekend, on Jan. 3. It’s upbeat, and completely electric at this point. But like the final version, it’s a Paul-John duet. The first take of the day, straight from the top after they had moved on from “Don’t Let Me Down,” breaks down seconds in when John asks if he’s supposed to be singing.
Paul: Melody. You’re supposed to remember the words, too.
John: Yes, I’ve got them here.
Paul: But learn ’em.
John: I almost know ’em.
And we’re off and running! Just another 50 or so minutes of remaining rehearsals of “Two of Us” — and arguments — to go. Fasten your seat belts.
The tension never lets up — getting to “whatever it is that will please you” was inevitable.
Paul references past Beatles songs a number of times during the rehearsal, beginning with an early run-through, when he dictates to George that the guitar part during the verses should sound “like that bit in ‘Getting Better All the Time'” (meaning the staccato guitar part opening the song and that plays throughout).
After subsequent noodling around with the song, Paul tries to restore order and get down to actual business, in the orderly, McCartneyesque manner we’ve come to know and love/hate.
“OK, come on, come on,” Paul says to the group with a headmaster’s tone. “Let’s get it so we know it simply, and then we can add. We don’t know any one [song] yet straight. We keep trying to get to the bits.”
Another pass at “Two of Us” and things break down as they enter the first bridge (“You and I have memories…”). So it’s time for a band meeting (Ringo, the passive drumming robot, says nothing throughout).
Paul: We’re going to have to sort of bring it together, because we’re all at odds. We’re doing that thing we did on The Beatles — we’re all playing, you know? Like in this verse, it’s two harmonies singing, trying to say some words, right? So it’s just… (he vocally apes a guitar vamp ). And in the bits when we need bits….
John: I’m just trying to sing it and do this thing (he plays the guitar part played during the “We’re on our way home” line).
Paul: We’ve got to get the riffs when the riffs bits come in.
George: The riffs… There’s no riffs. It’s nice just to get what you’re playing. (George then starts to sing “You and I are memories…”)
Paul: But it’s not together, so that it’s not sounding together.
George: So we keep playing until we…
Paul: Or, we can stop and say it’s not together.
George: Yes, then you’ve got to carry on until you get it together. It’s all right to keep playing until it sounds like it’s blending with the rest.
Paul: I never know what to say to that, you know? ‘Cause what I want to say is, “Now, come on,” and play, but I can’t, I know. You know, and we get into that one. OK.
They’re not talking about what sounds good, what words work or don’t or the like. This is a debate about the philosophy of how to rehearse. We’re in uncharted territory. These four men are writing a record on the spot, under strict time constraints to get these songs in working order for a show that’s going to happen at some unknown locale, and very soon.
You’d think this kind of thing would have been hashed out, but then again, why would it? When they last toured, in 1966, they played about a dozen songs — nothing brand new, and some songs they’d been playing for many years. They knew the songs inside and out, plus they weren’t writing anything special for the tour or struggled under the pressure of the clock. And when they last brought new songs to the table — a few months earlier for the White Album sessions — they didn’t have the pressure of the live show.
There’s a bit of nervous laughter from Paul before he continues to offer a logic he repeats numerous times over the “Two of Us” sessions this day.
Paul: … It’s complicated now. See, if we can get it simpler, and then complicate it where it needs complications, but it’s complicated in the bit.
George: It’s not complicated.
Paul: But, I mean, you know.
George: I’ll play just the chords if you like, and then…
While George is low-key throughout, speaking in completely passive-aggressive tones, Paul grows audibly exasperated.
Paul: No, no, come on. You always get annoyed when I say that. I’m trying to help, you know? But I always hear myself annoying you…
George: No, you’re not annoying. It’s not annoying anymore (or is it “anyone”? Hard to tell).
Paul: … And I get so where I can’t say it. But you know what I mean. Just do this then, and, I don’t know. I can’t do it on film either. I don’t know if we can do it on camera.
As we see in the 2021 Get Back docuseries, at this point, Paul stands up, and paces around, showing emotion the Nagra tape audio alone doesn’t capture. It’s a clear dovetail between audio only and the audiovisual moment that was very new on first viewing in 2021.
As it would turn out, Paul returned to his seat and would end up having to continue this discussion on camera after all, and it would become one of the iconic moments of the Get Back/Let it Be sessions and the film — behind only the rooftop concert — and truly in the group’s history overall.
The in-depth look at the “Two of Us” sessions on Jan. 6, 1969, will resume in the next post. Coming very soon!
With Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, the band wrapped the second day of the sessions at Twickenham. This blog is ready to move onto Jan. 6, the next day the band assembled after the weekend, but first, I wanted to tie up a few loose ends and address a few items that didn’t quite merit their own separate posts.
• After being introduced the day before, the band continued to work on “Two of Us” in a matter that totally didn’t distinguish itself. The song had the familiar architecture and same lyrics as would be eventually released, while the tune was a little bit quicker than we’d hear. Just ordinary runthroughs churned with nothing groundbreaking and no remarkable dialogue or discussion.
• As they famously did throughout the sessions, the band covered “oldies” (by this point, we’re talking some songs that in 1969 were less than a decade old, of course). George, Paul and John each led the way at different points. And while they seemed happy — or at least not bored — they weren’t necessarily very good.
To me, this is a hallmark of what these sessions were about prior to beginning to listening to the complete tapes, when I all would see/hear were compilation bootlegs of the sessions. “The Beatles cover all these songs!” OK, great, but they’re not particularly listenable. Or at least re-listenable.
Interesting to note just how many of these songs would eventually see release by these guys on solo records (John and Paul, at least).
This environment of the oldies, however, did at least bring to the forefront their oldies, like “One After 909.”
• Plus they touched upon a number of contemporary songs, but “touching” is even too strong a term. Often it was just for a few seconds, and often it was mere mockery. And even then, it’s completely disingenuous to call it covering. In some cases, like “I’m a Tiger” by Lulu, Paul sings the chorus while George tunes up (That song, incidentally, appeared on No One’s Gonna Change Our World, the record that first debuted “Across the Universe.”).
Dylan got his due with “All Along the Watchtower,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Please Mrs. Henry.”
Paul shows his love for Canned Heat at one point in a hilarious exchange with George and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
“That Canned Heat number, I love that new one. It’s cornier than the last one, not quite as good. ‘Up the Country‘ is it?”
Paul proceeds to sing the first verse before continuing.
“It’s just got flutes playing. It’s a bit of a fruity thing they do. … Almost no soul.”
“Almost no what?” George asks.
“Soul,” says Paul. “They don’t bend the flutes or anything. But it’s great because they don’t. It’s sort of a … “
Paul offers the flute part in falsetto “doo-doo-doos” and continues..
“The end is great. They do, like, a false end.”
“They keep going with the flute!”
After some laughs, George does a few-second quote of Canned Heat’s other hit, “On the Road Again,” before the band completely changes course and reintroduces “One After 909”.
As the band departed the session, the last point of discussion caught on tape was George and Mal picking up the discussion they had about equipment earlier in the day, during the “All Things Must Pass” rehearsals. Then with the goodbyes, the day’s tapes are done.